Chapter 1: Abrasion
It took a dislocated shoulder to shock Yui out of the monotony of a peasant's life. She'd almost forgotten what to do, but her training gradually trickled in. The kid lay on the ground, whimpering. He had visible swelling and deformation of the joint.
"He fell from the tree," repeated her little brother. He was one of the six siblings she had, which wasn't unusual in these times. Commoners didn't have family planning or effective contraceptives. "What do we do? Should we pop his shoulder back in?"
The Hennepin maneuver, she remembered.
Finally, Yui moved. "I'll do it." She bent down. The boy was already supine and in position, so that made her job easier.
"You sure?" Her brother shifted from foot to foot. "Maybe we should bring him to old Anzu..."
The kid moaned again. "It hurts so bad!"
"We're not moving him," said Yui calmly. "Sen, go get my kosode. The torn one." The addendum wasn't necessary. She only had two pairs of clothing.
For once, her brother listened to her without argument. Yui then turned her attention to the boy on the floor. With one hand, she pressed his arm to his side, and with the other, she grasped his wrist. Yui bent his elbow to ninety degrees and began rotating his upper arm. The boy yelped, and she waited for his upper arm muscles to relax. Then, she continued rotating. After she'd rotated his arm about a hundred degrees, reduction of the shoulder was achieved.
"You popped it back in!" said the kid after he'd finished screaming.
By then, Sen had returned. Yui took the cloth and fashioned it into a crude sling.
"So, your arm works?" Her brother poked at his friend's shoulder.
The boy flexed his hand experimentally. "It didn't hurt as bad as I thought."
"Don't move it," she snapped. "Keep it still for a few days. Put some—" Yui stopped. She'd forgotten that peasants didn't have ice. Or Tylenol. "Keep it still," she said again.
Neither of the boys paid attention, immediately running off. Yui sighed and returned to the hut. Despite her good deed of the day, she still had clothes to mend.
Two days later, their humble home had two visitors. Both were women, but while one was middle aged, the other was positively ancient.
"Elder Anzu," greeted Yui's mother, bowing low. "Riko-san." She bowed again, this time shallowly. "You need help?"
The old woman inclined her head, while Riko bowed much more deeply than she needed to.
"Your daughter Yui has done my family a service." Riko bowed for a second time. "I am in her debt."
"She did?" Her mother gaped at the two guests.
"Indeed. I wish to speak to her," Riko said, hands clasped. Unlike the majority of the village, Riko had been educated. Her father was the village scribe, and he'd taught all his children.
Her mother turned around, eyes darting across her children's faces until she found her middle child. "C'mere, um... come here, Yui."
Yui dutifully approached the adults and bowed. "What can I do, honored elders?"
Another bow, deeper than the one Riko had given to her mother. Her arms were outstretched with a bundle. Stunned, Yui accepted the gift without a word. She looked down. It was a kosode, and it was made of cotton, not hemp.
"Thank you for helping my son," said Riko sincerely. "You fixed his shoulder and sacrificed your own clothing to bind his arm."
Yui mumbled something affirmative, still in awe of the clothing. Cotton. She hadn't worn that since her last life. She rubbed it between her fingers, aware that she was being uncouth. Yui didn't deserve it. She had simply set a shoulder, nothing extraordinary. Yui murmured her thanks, which Riko waved away before taking her leave. The old woman, however, hadn't moved.
"You did a good job, too," Anzu rasped, speaking for the first time since her arrival. "Most people tear up the arm and make it worse. Yours was a clean fix. Riko's son ain't needed my help. You must got a real talent for healing, or you're as lucky as the Sage, bless his soul. I'd be happy with either." Anzu fixed Yui with a hard stare. "Be my student, girl. My last two students died, and I'm not getting any younger. There'd be no healer without me, and heavens help a village without one."
Yui shrugged. Her mother glanced at her, hopeful and eager. Certainly, one less mouth to feed would be one less burden. And it would, maybe, be interesting. The events of yesterday had brought a painful reminder of just how boring this life was.
"Sure," said Yui easily. "I'll be your student."
Anzu was a hard teacher, but she was fair. Yui memorized the medicinal uses of the local plants, their locations, and the various brews and tinctures that could be made from them. The rest of Anzu's lessons, Yui knew. Her hand was steady as she stitched wounds and staunched blood. To her credit, or perhaps against it, Anzu never asked questions. Yui's knowledge was quietly accepted, even when it seemed strange. Her insistence on boiling water, cleaning needles, and washing cloth was soon followed by Anzu herself.
The two fell into an easy rhythm. They rose at dawn, gathered plants, created poultices, helped their fellow villagers, and meditated. Yui didn't know why they did the last one, but she gave Anzu the same courtesy by not asking too many questions. After a year, the old woman gave the answer to Yui's silent query.
"It warms the soul," said Anzu suddenly one morning. They had just finished their daily meditation. "It gets peace of mind." Her eyes grew bright. "And it lets us use life itself."
With a grunt, Anzu stood. Yui followed her into the back of the hut where the herbs and other medicines were stored. With shaking hands, Anzu withdrew a small clay pot from the back. Yui knew the ins and out of the different concoctions, but she had never seen this before. Anzu lifted the lid, revealing a thick, almost translucent paste. The bright green color reminded her of neem and turmeric.
Yui pressed her finger to the tincture. She gasped and jerked back. It had felt cold and warm and sharp, all at once—like static, but deeper and slower.
Anzu smiled. "This my life's work, and the healers' work before me. It just looks like turmeric and neem paste, right?"
She'd been correct, then. Yui nodded, pleased but intensely curious.
"But it ain't just paste." She leaned forward and whispered, "It's infused with my life. Use it only for the worst cases."
Yui was skeptical. Of course she was. That skepticism remained until she saw Anzu make more of it. Pale green sparks drifted from the woman's hands and sunk into the mix.
"I'll teach you how. If you want," said Anzu, solemn. "It ain't something to do lightly."
Her response was the same as before. "Sure," Yui said, and she smiled.
It took months, but Yui eventually learned how to harness the sparks of life deep in her core. The energy danced on her fingertips, sharp and soft and contradictory. It took even more time to mix the sparks with the different tinctures. It surprised both of them that Yui had more life energy than Anzu.
"Perhaps it's your youngness," mused the older woman. "I didn't learn the art until I'd seen thirty seasons. My last student had started when she'd had twenty, and she also had more than me. You've only ten years, and the young've more life."
Anzu only had enough energy for one poultice a month, but Yui had enough for three. Regardless, Anzu hid away all the infused medicine, using it sparingly. As the months passed, Yui increased the amount of life energy she could put in the mixes as she tried to master the new skill. She settled into a different, more pleasant sort of monotony, one that was shaken only by Anzu's death. Her teacher had died a month after she'd declared Yui to be competent. (Privately, Yui wondered if Anzu had lingered for just long enough to ensure that the village had a healer to replace her.)
It had been sad, certainly. Yui and the village had mourned the loss of such a respected elder. But Anzu had reached her eightieth year. Her death was no tragedy or shock. Instead, everyone gave their thanks that Anzu had lived such a lengthy and rich life. They were more practical about death, here. They had to be.
Yui quickly filled her role as a healer. Despite just reaching adolescence, she was treated with respect in matters of healing. (The village had different ideas about age, too. Peasants couldn't afford extended childhoods.) A year passed, and then two. Yui treated the villagers, made her tinctures, and experimented with her life energy. She settled into another, comfortable pattern.
Her monotony was broken again by another visitor, this time of a different sort—shinobi.
The sharp knock on the door interrupted Yui's preparation of the willow leaf paste. She sighed, putting aside the pestle.
"Come in!" she said, raising her voice.
Her little brother entered, face pale. "They need you in the village center," he said quietly, which immediately made Yui worried. Sen was anything but quiet.
"What's wrong?" She wiped her hands and stood. "You alright? Anyone hurt?"
"No—" He shook his head from side to side before hesitating. "Well, we ain't hurt. It's a stranger. I mean, he's hurt. They're hurt. A ninja. Two of 'em."
Yui's breath caught, but she kept up her appearance of calm. "Alright."
She followed Sen out the door, uneasy. They'd built their village in perhaps the worst place. Oh, the land was quite fertile, and the nearby stream fulfilled their water-related needs. There was also a trade route that was close, though few caravans deigned to go off trail to visit them. Unfortunately, the land was also in between the Uchiha and Senju clans. The last few years had been relatively peaceful, thanks to sheer luck and poverty, but the village was no stranger to shinobi conflict.
Almost every adult had gathered in the village center. The crowd parted as she made her way through the people. Everyone whispered, fear present in their hunched shoulders and hushed voices. They formed a wide ring around the elders and the two ninja in the center.
"Yui-san," greeted Elder Dai. He was the de-facto head of the village by virtue of his age. Beside him were the three other elders, including the village scribe. None looked happy. She inclined her head and murmured a greeting to each. They nodded in response, frowns etched deep into their faces.
Finally, Yui could clearly see the two ninja in question. One was a grizzled, scarred man in red armor, the picture of a lethal assassin. His right arm was bleeding and limp by his side, while the other clutched an unconscious child. The other ninja was no more than a boy. The child had pale brown hair, though the unusual hair color was overshadowed by the enormous gash on his chest and his shallow breathing.
"Please." The older man looked close to falling on his knees. "I beg of you, please help us."
"Why should we, shinobi?" Elder Dai fixed the ninja with a cold glare, though sweat gathered on his forehead and his hands shook. "Your kind has harmed our village before."
The man did not even blink at the accusation. "If not me, then the boy. He is innocent!"
"He is a shinobi, just as you." Still, the elder's eyes shifted to the child in his arm. "If we help you, then other ninja will come. They find you, and they will kill us all."
"I swear on it." The ninja's voice cracked. "I swear on every god that will hear me, I will never allow for that, if only you help us."
"What is the word of a shinobi worth?" Elder Dai sighed, weary. "You are just as likely to kill us yourself. Regardless, it is not my choice. That belongs to the healer."
The village was waiting for her decision, and Yui realized that they would defer to her. For some reason, that surprised her.
The ninja were murderers, surely. Yui had heard all the stories. Assassins for hire, mercenaries willing to fight for any lord, men who could summon fire and storms... many considered them to be the children of demons. At the very least, they were callous and unconcerned with collateral damage. But if Yui did not help, they would die soon. The boy's chest barely rose, and the man had lost a great deal of blood. She had a responsibility to help and heal. Didn't she? Yui's memories of her last life blurred with her present one. She'd taken an oath. Had she?
"I… yes," Yui said. "I will heal them." She glanced and the village elders and added, "But that's it. I won't offer any sanctuary. They'll leave after that."
Elder Dai nodded, satisfied. "Very well. This village is no place for you, shinobi, but our healer has offered her help."
The ninja's shoulders sagged further. "Oh, thank you," he croaked. "I am in her debt." He did not say another word as he followed Yui to her hut. She couldn't help but wonder if she'd made a mistake by deciding to help him. All the same, she methodically tended to their wounds.
The boy had the most serious injuries, including a broken leg and the chest wound. She set the leg, and the boy only moaned softly. Yui grimaced before cleaning the gash. It wasn't infected, but the wound was very deep. It was nothing short of a miracle that the cut had avoided everything vital. After stitching it shut with hemp thread, she moved to add poultice and bandages.
"Wait." The older man was holding her arm, now, and it was too late to flinch. Yui's heart rate sped up. She hadn't seen him move. Not at all. Yui became hyperaware of how easily he could kill her, even in his weakened state.
The man took the poultice jar from her and stared. "What is this?"
"T-Turmeric and willow bark," she stuttered. "To avoid infections and help with the pain."
The ninja took a deep breath and exhaled. Finally, he nodded and handed it back.
At first, her hand trembled, but she forced it to still. Yui wrapped the bandages and washed her hands. After she had disinfected everything, she approached the older man. His eyes were glazed over, and his muscles were taut.
"Shinobi-san," said Yui, slowly, respectfully, trying to hide her fear, "I need to tend to your wounds."
He jerked and glanced around. His gaze settled on hers, blank, before slow recognition petered in.
"Very well." The ninja's posture was the embodiment of rigidity.
She fixed his arm quickly, though Yui worried that he'd lost too much blood. He bore the ministrations with stoic silence, which Yui was happy to mimic. The second she finished, he stood.
"We must go." With great care and tenderness, he picked up the child. Before the man left, he paused by the door. "What is your name?" he asked, though it was more of a command.
"Yui," she answered, flinching as she met his dark eyes.
"I am Butsuma of the Senju clan." He spoke in a low, quiet rumble, though Yui could hear sincerity in every word. "I am in your debt. Ask a favor of me or my clan, and I will grant it."
Yui blinked, and he vanished. She jerked back. Had he… had he truly disappeared into thin air? It seemed like the fantastical stories she'd heard about ninja may not have been exaggerated. She inched forward, examining the place where he'd last been. Perhaps Yui was imagining it, but she could've sworn she felt a trace of life energy by the doorway.
She would not meet a ninja for quite some time after, but the bustle of village life more than kept her busy. Yui's life was made more complicated, though, by the arrival of the traveling market. It was business as usual as the villagers bartered with what little cloth and surplus food they had. Then one of the merchants fell ill, as did several of his companions, and the caravan's healer was unable to cure them. Now truly desperate, the cohort asked Yui to help.
Yui approached the sick area the merchants had set up and grimaced at the delirious moans and the stench of human waste. Whoever this healer was, he had clearly triaged poorly, to say nothing of his quarantine procedures. Well, she couldn't entirely blame him. This place didn't have advanced medicine. With that in mind, Yui ignored the doctor's snide comments about her social status and gender and got to work.
The patients had varying symptoms, including diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and cough. Several also had blinding headaches and pneumonia. All the symptoms were indicative of a gastrointestinal disease, which gave Yui pause. The cause was most likely contaminated water.
After organizing the half-a-dozen patients in order of priority, Yui returned with her remedies and firewood. Despite the doctor's protests, Yui began boiling the water (her own supply, not the merchant's) and administering pain killers. She explained the rationale behind her "irrational" behavior, but the man wasn't convinced. It took the sharp words of one of the prone merchants to convince the man to back off.
Over the next week or two, the most patients recovered. The doctor also turned from skeptical to curious, which Yui considered as another achievement. Unfortunately, she could not cure everyone. An older woman passed away a few days after treatment had started. Yui knew that diseases like these had a ten percent mortality rate at the best of times. It was impossible to save everyone, and this wasn't her first death, literally and metaphorically. The woman's passing still stung, however. It could've been easily cured back in her time. More than ever, Yui really wished she had modern antibiotics.
(Though…they had plenty of citrus fruit here. She could certainly try to make some penicillin. It was a real pain in the ass to distill, even with fancy technology, and Yui didn't have even the bare minimum of lab equipment. Perhaps she could use life energy as a substitute for some of the missing equipment? The train of thought was certainly one to pursue.)
After giving her some spare clothing and food in thanks, the merchant caravan left soon after. Yui was quickly caught up in the bustle of planting season and all the injuries that it caused. She also helped her family when she could. On a farm, an extra hand could make a world of difference.
Four weeks after the merchant caravan's departure, another group of merchants arrived. Now, that was certainly unusual. The village wasn't big enough for a name, let alone frequent visits by outsiders. The new group of merchants had apparently come to have their wounds treated. They'd fallen prey to a bandit attack, escaping only with what the bandits had deemed unworthy.
Yui wasn't one to talk when treating patients, not beyond the minimal soothing words and explanations. But as Yui bandaged the last man, she couldn't help but sate her curiosity.
"Was it luck that you stumbled upon our little village?" she asked, looking the man over.
He shook his head. "A friend of mine mentioned getting treatment for his stomach sickness in a village by this route, one marked by three orange trees. After the attack," he swallowed here, eyes darting to side, "I decided to try my luck. I made the right choice, obviously." The merchant gave her a wan smile.
Yui smiled back and pronounced him free to go. This time, the group gave her several earthen containers in return for her treatment and one metal pot for a container of her salve. Yui gave them a life-energy infused one for that; the metal was worth more than everything she had.
That marked the beginning of the steady trickle of merchants and travelers that would stop by their village. Despite being lucrative, the trade route that passed by wasn't the safest; it frequently fell prey to bandits and ninja warfare. The travelers quickly took advantage of nearby village with a competent, willing healer, a rarity in these parts.
The villagers also took advantage of the increased traffic. One of the women began to make extra pastries to barter, and the blacksmith began offering his services and spare nails, and so on. One girl even gained a merchant sweetheart, much to the dismay of her parents. With all the traders, money began to be used more frequently as a method of exchange.
Yui began to treat the occasional ninja, too. Most came with the caravans as guards, but they also appeared at all hours, often in the middle of the night. She never asked for their names, and they usually never gave it. Most of the times, they'd disappear after treatment. The occasional ninja with severe injuries might have stayed for a little more time, but they also disappeared without warning. Sometimes a ninja paid before treatment, sometimes after, sometimes vanishing without paying at all, only for a pouch of coins or bread to appear on her doorstep days later.
After becoming accustomed to the secretive nature of ninja, Yui couldn't help but be surprised when one marched to her front door and knocked.
She opened the door to see a tall teen about her age. His long, untied hair framed his face, his skin was tanned, and he wore tight-fitting red armor over dark clothes. Everything about him screamed ninja—everything besides his bright smile.
"Hello!" he said cheerfully. "I'm Senju Hashirama. Are you the healer Yui?"
She blinked at him and nodded. Yui certainly hadn't expected an introduction. Nevertheless, she stepped aside and gestured for him to come in.
"Great! So I'm in the right place." He bounded inside, ooh-ing and aah-ing over her humble little clinic. With all the merchants that came by, her rooms had a disparate sense of decoration that clashed with the neat, organized supplies. Scarfs from the Land of Wind hung besides pottery from Earth and hairpieces from Lightning.
After a few minutes of his enthused examination, Yui finally asked, "You hurt?"
Hashirama stopped in his pursual of a porcelain cup and stepped back with a sheepish grin. "Not… exactly. I'm returning from a long trip, and I've heard a lot about you, so I thought I'd stop by and thank you."
She raised an eyebrow. "Why?"
He dipped his head, dark eyes meeting her own. "For saving my brother's life, of course. Without your aid, he wouldn't have survived the journey."
Yui stared at him, uncomprehending.
"His name's Kawarama." At her continued silence, he added, "You treated his stomach wound?"
"Ninja don't usually tell me their names," she said dryly, "and I've treated many stomach wounds."
Hashirama gave her a smile that was surprisingly rueful, though it soon brightened to its former intensity. "He was with my father, Butsuma. He had a gash on his hand."
The memory returned in full force. She couldn't forget the first two outsiders that she'd ever treated, though years had passed since then.
"I remember now." Yui could see the resemblance clearly. The hair, skin, even the armor… though Hashirama was far more buoyant and bright than she remembered Butsuma—or any ninja—being. (Then again, she only met them when they were injured.) "He said that he owed me a favor." She paused, unsure if she should continue. It was Hashirama's turn to be silent, though the silence was more encouraging than standoffish. "Did he mean it?"
"Of course! Ninja might not follow a code like the samurai, but we have our own sense of honor." His response was immediate. For a moment, Yui worried that she'd offended him, but Hashirama's following words dispersed her fears. "And what we value most is family." He stepped forward, and his dark eyes shone with sincerity. "We truly are in your debt."
Yui was somewhat mollified, though doubt remained. He'd been receptive to her earlier question, though, so she went ahead and asked. "That was a long time ago. Why come now?"
He laughed and scratched his head. "Well… I was busy."
She stared at him. Hashirama stared back. He began to fidget, though it was far more graceful and fluid than random twitches had any right to be.
"Alright, also because I wanted to know if the rumors were true," he admitted. Hashirama's words were both sheepish and soft and just a little hesitant. "Do you really heal everyone who comes to your door, regardless of what they can pay? Ninja, nobles, and farmers alike?"
"So you do," Hashirama breathed. And his incandescent smile softened with respect and hope. "Why?"
She shrugged, looking away, uncomfortable and embarrassed. Yui occupied herself with adding kindling to the fire. Medicine wasn't a basic right in this time. it was something that people paid for if they could and died for if they couldn't. Through no intention of her own, her ideas were revolutionary. She let the crackle of the fire fill the silence for a moment, then two, then three.
"Why not?" she answered in the end.
Before Hashirama could respond, the door opened.
"Hey sis!" Sen chirped as he stuck his head in. "I was wondering if—" At the sight of the ninja, her brother froze as if struck dumb. After gawking for an embarrassingly long time, Sen found his voice again. "S-Sorry, I didn't know that you were treating, um… I'll come back later?"
Yui glanced at the man in question, wondering if he'd revert to more ninja-like behavior in the presence of someone else.
"No, no, it's fine!" Hashirama waved a hand with good cheer. "I'm Hashirama, by the way. I came to talk to your sister."
"Oh?" Sen's doubt was clear as day, but he stepped in all the same. He eyed both the ninja and her. "You alright?" he mumbled, sidling up to her.
She gave him a half-smile and squeezed his shoulder in response. It wasn't like Sen could do anything if she was in trouble, but the thought was sweet.
"Anyway," Sen said louder, "Can I eat lunch here? Ume-nee is bringing over her newest man." He wrinkled his nose. "He's a huge ass, but she threatened to whip my hide if I said anything."
Yui gave an amused sigh. Ume was their older sister, and she had somewhat of a reputation when it came to men. Her latest conquest was a hired hand with plenty of muscles but little manners, if Sen's ranting was to be believed.
She looked back to Hashirama. He was looking at Sen with a rather wistful expression, though it changed when he noticed her scrutiny.
"Lunch, huh?" Hashirama's mien remained longing, though now it was an entirely different sort. "A warm meal… I'm sure you'll enjoy it. How wonderful." He gave a deep, bone-weary sigh that seemed overly dramatic.
Both Yui and her brother exchanged looks of disbelief. She then turned her gaze back to Hashirama, whose wide eyes were a touch too innocent.
"Do you wanna join us?" said Yui slowly.
He lit up, and his grin was bright enough to wash out the sun. "Why, thank you! I'd absolutely love too."
Yui knew that she made a decent soup. She had plenty of extra herbs, and she'd spent time experimenting with different combinations. Still, her soup didn't deserve Hashirama's blissful expression and praise.
"This is the best soup in the whole world!" he enthused as he ate with rapture. "I've never eaten anything so amazing!"
Sen poked at a chunk of vegetable in his bowl. "Uh, Yui-nee's food is okay, but it's not that good."
Hashirama chuckled. "Well, I've been traveling for a long time. Try eating nothing but dried meat and stale rice cakes for two weeks and then tell me if the soup tastes good."
"Two weeks?" Sen gaped. "Where were you going?"
He winked at the boy. "It's a secret."
Yui raised an eyebrow at that. So Hashirama could be surreptitious and ninja-like, then.
"Were you fighting against samurai?" Sen's eyes were big and excited. "Oh, maybe against demons? Or the giant sand snakes that the merchants were talking about?"
Hashirama shook his head, amused. "No, not this time. The mission wasn't very hard, but boy, it was tedious. I'm afraid that I can't say much more about it."
"Huh. Okay." Sen ate the vegetable he'd been prodding with his spoon. "Hey, shinobi-san... what's it like being a ninja?"
Hashirama was quiet for almost a minute.
"It's hard," he said finally. "It's… it's not a life that most would willingly choose. Family and," a slight pause, "friends are lost faster than you can blink. There's so much violence and blood… just a never-ending cycle of death."
His hand clenched the spoon, though his bowl had been empty for a while. Yui served him another ladle full, and he gave her grateful smile. He made no move to drink anymore, however. He simply stared at the bowl.
"It makes me wonder if peace is even possible," Hashirama murmured. "If there could ever be a world where children don't have to fight." His smile faded. "That's been my dream for so long… naive as it is." He gave a weak laugh. "I don't even know why I'm telling you this. Sorry, I've ruined the mood."
Yui set her own spoon down. "It's possible," she said, calmly but clearly. "I don't think people can live in a world without any fighting. We're too violent for that. Fighting can be controlled, though. There don't have to be so much violence like now. It can become and be more rare, until finally, there's something that's close to peace. A world where most kids don't need to go to war is definitely possible. It'd be hard and it'd take years and years, but it's possible. Even if it doesn't happen in our lifetime."
She spoke with all the conviction of someone who'd lived in country where children were required to go to school—where child soldiers were seen as an atrocity and tragedy, not an unavoidable fact of life.
Both Sen and Hashirama were staring at her now, and Yui suddenly felt self-conscious. This was the most she'd said at once in a long, long time. She normally didn't speak much in this life. At first, it had been because of the difficulty of a new language. Afterwards, it had simply become habit.
"You really think so?" There was no hint of a smile on Hashirama's face. He was entirely, completely serious.
His eyes were full of bemused wonderment. "Of all the places…" He shook his head, a grin tugging at the corner of his lips. "I didn't expect to find a kindred spirit here." Hashirama ate another spoonful of the soup and sighed, this time contentedly.
"It's no trouble at all," she replied. And Yui smiled back.
Chapter 2: Incision
Yui's village begins to catch the notice of other people.
Her brother Sen called out to Yui just as she headed into the woods.
"Hey, sis! Hold on!"
She paused until he'd caught up. Yui waited for his response, but he was uncharacteristically quiet.
Sen hesitated, scuffing his foot against the dirt. "Uh, are you going to get more herbs today?"
Yui blinked but nodded. Though it depended on what she needed, Yui usually would go every other day to find plants in the forest; some only worked well when fresh. She did have a garden for the easier-to-grow plants, but it wasn't like she could go to the supermarket to buy seeds and fertilizer. Some herbs were too finicky to cultivate.
"Oh. Can I help?"
She nodded again. Whether it be helping her with the mortar and pestle, learning how to bandage wounds, or gather herbs, Sen had lately taken an interest in medicine. After grabbing a basket, he followed her down the small path into the woods, one that had been made by healers before her.
"D'you get much ninja to treat?" he asked as he followed her. Sen had become rather curious about her shinobi patients since he'd met Hashirama. "Are most of them like the one that stayed for lunch?"
She shrugged. "They're all a little weird."
"Or a lot weird," said Sen with a laugh.
Her thoughts turned to the ninja that had visited a few days ago. Hashirama had left after thanking her profusely and tentatively asking if he could come again someday. Yui, of course, had assured him that he could. As Sen had remarked, Hashirama was a little strange, but perhaps that was part of his charm. She hadn't met anyone with genuine ambitions in a long time. Not many people could dream when they were preoccupied with survival.
As they stopped to pick leaves and roots, Yui pointed out the names and uses for each one.
"Shiso leaves are for colds," she said, gesturing to a plant tucked behind an oak tree. "The seeds can be crushed to make oil. The wild, weedy ones ain't as good as the one in our garden, but I like taking some anyway."
Sen scampered to grab a few leaves, eyebrows furrowed with concentration.
"Over there is—"
"Burdock!" finished Sen. "The leaves are itchy, right? But the roots are really good for… um, fever?"
Yui smiled. "That's right. And that one over there?"
"Bay leaves!" He reached out to grab some, but Yui pulled him back.
"No, that's rhododendron." She gave him a hard look before pointing to the flowers. "Bay laurel has yellow flowers and light green leaves. Rhododendron has red, purple, and white flowers and dark leaves. It's also poisonous."
Sen cringed. "Oh. Sorry."
"It's fine. Just be careful. Picking the wrong berries or leaves could kill someone," said Yui, gentler than before. "Now, what're bay leaves used for?"
"Headaches?" he wagered.
"Stomach aches. They're also good for pregnant women."
They continued in silence for a while longer. Sen seemed to be glancing over every few seconds. Clearly, he had something on his mind. She'd wait. If it was important, he'd tell her. She brushed the dirt off the burdock root and sighed. Yui would kill for a fully stocked medical cabinet.
Most of these herbs did have medicinal properties. The problem was concentration. Back in the modern world, the components that did the healing were often isolated and distilled to increase potency. Willow bark contained salicin, a chemical compound that could be synthesized into acetylsalicylic acid, more commonly known as aspirin. Back in her original world, there had been ongoing debate about the efficacy of medicinal herbs. Sometimes, it wasn't possible to isolate all the complex interactions between compounds, and medicine didn't like not knowing.
That debate had no relevance now, of course. Here, Yui could only use the raw plants and hope for the best. She paused in front of an oak tree that she collected bark from. Unfortunately, she had no idea how to isolate salicin or aspirin. In comparison, the story and process of penicillin was well known. It had a low success rate due to the finicky nature of the fungus and the resulting low production, but the basic method could be done. On the other hand, no one really knew or cared about aspirin. It had been synthesized more than a hundred years ago and was ubiquitous the world over.
She turned away. Sen was scuffing his foot against the ground, something he only did when nervous.
"What is it?"
"Well…" He took a deep breath and blurted it out all at once. "Can I be your apprentice?"
Yui stared at him, somewhat surprised. Sure, Sen had been helping more, but each time he'd had some sort of excuse: their sister Ume had a new boyfriend over for lunch, he was hiding from their mom, or something similar. In hindsight, though, it was obvious.
Fidgeting, he continued, "I'll work hard, I promise! I'll remember the herbs and make the mixtures and do everything right!"
"Why do you want to be a healer?" she asked slowly.
"Um, mom says I need to choose what to do. She ain't gettin' younger, and Hiro-nii's gonna take over the farm and Jiro's already a tanner and… it's just me now and I'm the only boy without work and I'm—"
"Breathe," said Yui, interrupting his rambling.
He stopped, took a deep breath, and continued at a more sedate pace. "So I've been thinking about what I wanna do, you know. The blacksmith's been looking for an apprentice, and I don't wanna do that. I… I like working with you. I think that's what I wanna keep doing." He scratched his head and gave a sheepish laugh. "And unlike the blacksmith, I don't gotta pay you if I become your apprentice."
With the steady growth of the village in the last few years, it had become more difficult to do everything by herself. Besides, Sen was eager and determined. He'd be a good student. And disseminating more medical knowledge was definitely a goal of hers.
Yui stepped forward and squeezed his shoulder. "Sounds good to me."
"Thanks, Yui-nee!" Sen beamed at her and hugged her tightly. "I'm gonna be the best healer ever."
She laughed softly. "I'm sure you will."
Despite its strategic location, the village had been too poor for anyone to take any interest in it. Farmers didn't have many objects of value besides crops and dirt. However, as the village expanded and became a small post for healing and rest, its wealth grew along with its size. Luckily, the village had mostly experienced peace during the last few years.
Unfortunately, their luck didn't last forever.
The end of winter was a slow season. Thanks to a surprise snowstorm, no travelers had arrived in the village for several days, and Yui had taken advantage of the downtime to carve a small wooden stethoscope for Sen to use. She had no rubber or plastic, so the rigid, hollow tube would have to do.
The first clue of the impending danger was the man who'd burst into her hut, his head bleeding.
"There's… there's danger," he slurred, nearly collapsing on the floor.
She rushed to his side and eased him into a chair. Sen had clean bandages ready which Yui took. She wiped the blood from his face and began wrapping his head. The man was Ume's current suitor, a hired hand named Kaito.
"Gotta… gotta help," he rambled incoherently. "Gotta help."
Kaito almost definitely had a concussion. Yui waved off Sen's offered willow bark concoction; salicin could increase bleeding, which was definitely to be avoided.
"Bring the ginger," she murmured. Ginger could relieve pain while acting as an anti-inflammatory. "Kaito, do you remember what happened?"
"There's danger," he repeated. "Gotta help?"
She checked his eyes, which were blinking normally. As she watched his motor functions, Yui made Kaito drink the warm ginger juice that Sen brought. Kaito's hands were steady as he raised the glass to his lips. Hopefully, his injury wouldn't be too severe. It was always difficult to tell with traumatic brain injuries. Yui stepped back and allowed Sen to bandage the few scrapes that Kaito had on his legs. There wasn't anything more she could do for him but wait and see if his responsiveness decreased.
She could hear screams and shouting from outside. Yui tensed, glancing at her patient and brother.
"Sen," she said, quiet but urgent, "I need you to move Kaito to the shed. Go through the back. Watch how he acts and keep him awake. Don't come out until I say, okay?"
He hesitated. "But I can't leave—"
"No." Yui grabbed him by the shoulders. "Do it. I don't want you or Kaito to be hurt. Understand?"
Sen nodded slowly and rapidly blinked his eyes. "I-I understand."
With some difficulty, he led the stumbling man through the back door. She bit her lip, uncertain if she should join them. If she left the hut empty, then any injured person who stumbled in would be without aid.
The door slammed open, making her choice for her. A tall, unfamiliar man sneered down at her. A scar bisected his forehead, and a sword hung by his side. Blood dripped from the length of the blade, staining his trousers and the floor.
"Are you the healer?" he drawled out, rubbing his boots on the floor to clean off the melting slush. The man stretched out his hand. His knuckles were barely scraped, and on his pointer finger was a large, golden ring. "I'm hurt. Will you fix me up?"
She nodded, not trusting her voice to be steady. Yui grabbed more bandages and began wrapping his hands. As she started on his index finger, he grabbed her hand tightly enough to bruise.
"Don't cover the ring, sweetheart." The ring in question had a large, green stone. Yui dimly wondered if it was real.
Yui nodded again, using a different bandage to wrap the remaining fingers.
"Much better," he crooned. The man scanned the room, lingering on the scarves and pottery. "I bet you're the richest one here, huh?"
Yui said nothing.
"Can you fucking talk?" He grabbed the jar on the table and threw it onto the floor. The clay vessel splintered into pieces and salve splattered across the floor.
"Yes," she murmured, voice quavering.
"See?" The man calmed down abruptly, giving her a bright smile. One tooth was wooden, and a few others were rotting. "That wasn't so hard, was it?"
"Not hard," said Yui, doing her best to not look at either the man or the mess. She could still hear people screaming.
"Good. I have another question for you." He grabbed her chin and raised her head so their eyes were level. "Where is the money?"
"In the chest by the corner." She didn't keep all her money in the same place, but about a third of it was in that box. It didn't have a lock. Why would their small village have a locksmith?
The man moved his hand to her wrist, dragging her along as he wrenched open the lid and snatched the bag of coins. His thumb pressed at the gap between her radius and ulna, increasing in pressure when Yui tried to wrench away. He rummaged through the box with his other hand and made a pleased sound.
"Not bad. Not bad at all."
He then pulled the scarves from their place on the wall, tearing a few, and for good measure, he knocked over the vase beside them. He opened a few of the jars on the table but quickly grew bored after discovering that most of them were ointments or tinctures. She tried to pull from his grip, hoping to run away or at least get something to hit him with, but he held her too tightly. After her third attempt, the man finally reacted.
"Fucking stop moving!" He slapped her across the face. Yui blinked rapidly as tears streamed down her face and spots danced in her eyes. "If you try again, it'll be worse. Do you understand?" He shook her violently. "Do you understand?"
"Yes." The word came out in a hoarse whisper.
He continued to break any object that caught his fancy, throwing them onto the floor with increased ferocity. Once he finished ransacking her hut, the man let go of her wrist and eyed her. He touched her cheek and frowned.
"You're quite plain, you know. Too dirty, brown, and peasant. Still, maybe I should take you with me. We could use a healer."
"It wouldn't be in your best interest," she choked out as her heart rate rose. Her eyes darted to the side. He was between her and both exits. "I make more money in this village. You come back, and I'll have more. If you take me, then you won't get nothing."
The bandit hummed, contemplative. Then, he stepped forward and struck her cheek hard enough to make her head slam against the floor.
"Uppity bitch," he snarled. "You're too ugly for me." The man spit on the floor. "When I come back, you better have more money."
Yui watched as he left. Slowly, she picked herself off the ground and touched her cheek. It was bleeding, and her entire face throbbed. She was also shaking, in fear and relief and in anger. She looked around at the devastation surrounding her. Shards of pottery and ointments she'd spent months making now covered the floor. Gifts from friends and people she'd helped were torn apart and broken. He'd ruined her home, the one place where she felt safe and human and useful.
Yui closed her eyes and sobbed. She hadn't been so scared since… she didn't remember being so scared in any life. Perhaps during her death, but she had no memories of that time. A sharp pain shot through her face each time she took a shaky breath—had he broken her cheekbone or was it just a facial contusion? Her temples echoed with the same stabbing ache, and Yui hoped that she hadn't gotten a concussion like Kaito had. She rested her head against the wall. All she wanted to do was curl up in a corner, but Yui knew that if she didn't get up now, she'd be scared forever.
Sen. Taiko. Her family and the villagers. She reminded herself of what was at stake. Everything hurt as she stood up, bringing fresh tears to her eyes. Yui stepped over the wreckage and searched the clinic room for jars that hadn't been broken in that man's rampage. After rubbing some salve on her face, Yui staggered out the door. Anger and sorrow could wait. First, she had to assess the situation and do what she could to help.
It could have been much worse. Three men and three women had been injured by the bandits, and two people had bled out before Yui could have helped them. If she had access to blood transfusions, then they too would have likely survived. Three more had died from infections that could have been treated with antibiotics. She hated being reminded of how futile some deaths were, of the knowledge and treatments that lingered out of her reach.
The bandits had stolen and destroyed a fair amount, but their goal had been to set an example, sow fear, and escape quickly. It had worked somewhat. From what she heard, the bandits had been impossibly fast and strong. Even Taiko, one of the largest men in the village, had been unable to react to the single punch that had felled him.
Rounin, the villagers whispered among themselves. Rogue samurai who had abandoned the code and turned to banditry, using their hard-won prowess for selfish deeds. They were as skilled as ninja but more reviled. Ninja were and always had been mercenaries for hire. Rounin, on the other hand, were betrayers—men who'd turned their backs on a life of honor, and the bandits embodied the worst of the rumors.
Still, the village gradually rebuilt itself, and Yui did the same. Cleaning everything the bandit had broken was painful, but she refused to leave her clinic in disarray. She salvaged the items she could and threw away the rest. She had stored plenty of medicine in the shed, so Yui had a buffer of supplies as she made more to replace the salves she'd lost. Her physical injuries took longer to heal, especially the wound on her face, but she'd been lucky to avoid a concussion or traumatic brain injury.
While Yui had made her own resolutions, she wondered what the village's inhabitants would do. Was everyone so used to being beaten down that they would live with it? Would they try to band together? Or would they turn on the more fortunate? Fear was a powerful motivator, and it could make people act in unimaginable ways.
She had worried about the last one. Yui was a quiet, private person. She had a good reputation, but people thought she was a little standoffish, if not downright aloof. Yui was also a major reason for the transformation of the village into a trading outpost and rest stop, and her medical services made her wealthier than most. Certainly, a few people blamed her. She did make a good scapegoat.
Surprisingly or not, that wasn't the case for the majority. People were angry but not at her. They had gotten a taste of fortune and peace, and they didn't want to lose it. Immediately, the villagers began doing what they could to prevent a repeat of the situation. Along with nails and the usual farmstead objects, the blacksmith started smithing spear tips.
One of the farmers had been conscripted into the local lord's army during a war two decades ago, and he started training able-bodied men with pitchforks. Yui had no illusions about their actual ability. If they ever had to fight against bandits or ninja, they'd be slaughtered.
Yui decided to help out anyway. This was her home, too. Quietly, she used nightshade and wolf's bane to make a poison that could be smeared on the edge of a blade. (She gave it to the old, trained farmer and murmured an explanation. He accepted it with grim eyes. The younger men might have protested the use of poison, but he was too weary for that.) Yui made another one that could be slipped into someone's drink and hid it innocuously behind a vase. She told Sen to never touch it, and he promised her with solemnity.
One of her usual merchants, a thin woman who traveled the route to Wind Country, came to the village a week after. Tsubaki came by less for healing and more to trade items for her salves. Always with her was a pale-haired, masked ninja who worked as her bodyguard. It had taken a year of acquaintance before he'd introduced himself with a sharply barked "Hatake." The ninja didn't comment on the houses that were being rebuilt nor the bruised, slowly-healing fracture on Yui's cheek, but his eyes lingered.
Tsubaki was more forward. "Bandits?" she asked.
Yui nodded. "Probably rounin."
The merchant made a noise of understanding. "They're likely the same men who've been harassing the trade route. Those bandits made an attempt on my own wares, but Hatake here scared them off." She frowned. "They've been more and more daring. Those bastards actually attacked Lord Fukuyama's own caravan and his tax collectors. I hear that Lord Fukuyama's placed a high bounty for their heads." Tsubaki shook her head with grim amusement, causing the glass beads in her hair to jingle. "The problem should be fixed soon enough."
The merchant continued with a steady stream of gossip, more than used to Yui's lack of participation. After they did their usual trade, with Tsubaki giving glassware for salves and Yui patching up Hatake's few scrapes, Yui broke their routine and spoke first.
"I got something to ask you."
Tsubaki's thin eyebrows were raised as high as humanly possible, and Hatake lifted his head to stare from his shadowy corner.
"Oh?" said Tsubaki. "This is new. What is it?"
"I need a special kind of glass." With a piece of charcoal, Yui sketched crude pictures of laboratory glassware, describing its transparency, volume, and high heat resistance. It was about time that she made an effort to synthesize something. She then continued, drawing an even worse picture of a weapon.
"It looks like this, with a little block to put arrows on and a bow-like thing on top." Yui didn't know the word for it in this language.
"A crossbow?" Tsubaki's face was furrowed, and Hatake was suddenly much closer to her.
"Yeah, that." Yui committed the word to memory. "A crossbow. Do you think you could get one?"
Tsubaki stared at the drawings for several moments and fixed Yui with a long, scrutinizing look.
"I can do the glassware," she said. "And I'll do it cheap, too. There were a few nobles who wanted something similar, so it's not that much extra work. Just give me extra containers of that special pain-killing paste." The merchant tapped the sketch of the crossbow. "I could probably do this. They're common in Lightning, and I've got some friends there. It'd be difficult, and it'll cost you extra."
Yui gave a short nod and smiled. "I can pay." They haggled over the price for a few minutes before coming to a figure that satisfied them both. Yui promised to pay half now and the other half upon delivery.
Tsubaki blinked and inclined her head. For a second, it seemed like she had something to ask, but she shook her head and decided against it. "It's been a pleasure doing business with you," she said instead, "and it will be my pleasure to help."
Two weeks after the bandit attack, the snow had completely melted, bringing with it true spring and many travelers. There were a spate of children being born too, and Yui trudged back to her hut after delivering the second child in two days. It had been an easy birth for the mother, but delivering children always made Yui both exhausted and relieved.
She wouldn't have many opportunities to rest; three more were due any day now. It was no surprise. There were always a sudden surge of births nine months after the harvest festival. She dreaded this time of year for that very reason. Despite her best efforts, she couldn't single-handedly fix every complication with her crude tools—maternal mortality would remain insanely high without antibiotics.
She heard voices as she opened the door, but Yui assumed that Sen had returned from helping their mother with spring planting.
"She's finally here."
She stopped midway through opening the door. It wasn't Sen. Yui glanced at the strangers, noting that the two of them were clearly ninja. Both were abnormally pale with pitch-black hair and matching, dark eyes. Their armor was a mix of gray and blue, and they had swords hanging by their sides.
"Need help?" she asked. Yui flipped the sign outside to "closed" as she shut the door behind her.
The taller man with a mane of wild hair stepped forward. On his right shoulder pad was an emblazoned fan. Over the last several years, Yui had gotten better at recognizing the people of different nations and the ninja of different clans, and she was almost certain that these two were Uchiha.
"My brother is hurt," announced the man, cold and unyielding. His pale, sculpted features lended a disdainful tinge to his scrutiny. "Give him the best treatment you have."
She nodded, somewhat intimidated by his overwhelming presence. Yui stepped forward to examine the smirking younger man with due haste. As she came closer, Yui realized that the two men weren't as old as she'd first thought. They were likely in their late teens, about the same age as her.
"Brother, don't scare off the poor little healer," said her patient, chuckling. "There's no need to be so terrifying to everyone."
The other ninja simply scoffed as Yui began the examination. Her fingers ghosted over the burns and scrapes on his arms. They were all superficial, but they extended to his shoulders and looked rather painful.
"I will put some salve and bandage them," she murmured to the younger teen.
"Please do!" he said with a wider smirk as his brother glared.
While doing her utmost to ignore the other shinobi's intimidating visage, Yui grabbed the cloth and energy-infused ointment. She wouldn't normally use her special medicine for injuries like these, but Yui thought it best to placate the already tense ninja. If they wanted her best, she'd give it to them. As she cleaned the wounds, Yui couldn't help but listen to their conversation.
"If it wasn't for Hashirama, I'd have been right there, and you wouldn't have gotten wounded."
She very carefully did not react to the name. Yui didn't know if it was a common one among ninja—could they possibly be talking about the strange shinobi that she knew?
"Don't worry about it. I'm fine! I just didn't expect for his damn brother to use fire release. How many elements does that bastard know?"
She began placing the salve, and the teen gasped and jerked away. His brother was behind her before she could even breathe. Yui could feel his fingers on her shoulder, and she froze. Yui had noticed that ninja were initially a bit twitchy when she used her special salve, and she'd suspected that it had something to do with life energy, but no one had overreacted to this degree.
"Izuna, what is it?" he snarled.
"No, no, I'm alright! It's just…" her patient—whose name was apparently Izuna—stared at her, "the ointment has chakra."
His brother stepped back, and Yui let out a breath.
"What?" said the older one, skeptical.
He grabbed the jar from her and scooped some salve out with his fingers instead of using the conveniently placed spoon. Though the tension in the room was tangible and life-threatening, Yui was still annoyed. She didn't want any cross-contamination because of ninja getting their grubby hands in her medicine. The man's eyes widened slightly as he rubbed the ointment between his fingers.
"See?" Izuna almost crossed his arms, wincing as he remembered the injuries covering them.
"You weren't lying." He set the jar down and stared at Yui. "How in the world did you, a peasant healer in the middle of nowhere, learn how to use chakra to heal?" He didn't say it dismissively but in a matter-of fact manner, as if describing the weather or the color of grass.
"Chakra?" She frowned. "Is that related to life energy?"
The two brothers exchanged looks.
"Life energy. How quaint." The man raised an eyebrow. "The proper term for it is chakra. How did you learn to use it? And what is its purpose in this medicine?"
It seemed like ninja were familiar with… chakra, as they called it. Perhaps they used it to achieve all the fantastical feats that were attributed to them.
"I was taught by the healer before me. It speeds the healing a little." It was no miracle solution, but her patients healed about ten-percent faster when she used it. Yui kept her face blank as she removed the spoon and pushed the lid on the jar. She turned to her patient. "I will have to use a different ointment to avoid infection."
"Why?" asked Izuna.
"It's..." Yui paused, not knowing the right word, "it's dirty, now." She grabbed another jar of the same salve and finished her task in silence. Assuming that the wounds didn't get infected, they would heal quickly and without extensive scarring.
"My goodness," drawled the older brother, looking almost amused as he gave her completed work a once-over. "I'm almost impressed by your handiwork. A competent healer with the ability to use chakra is such a rarity. Perhaps we should bring you back with us."
Yui flinched back, her hand reflexively touching her bruised, still-healing cheek. Her eyes darted to the poison behind the vase as she was reminded of the bandit who'd threatened to do the same.
"I'm more useful here, and this time of year is real busy, with all the births," she said, voice shaking despite her best efforts. "Seiko and Aoi are due any day, and three more women are expecting, and with the beginning of spring planting, there'll be more accidents in the field. My village needs me now. If, if you can please let me stay…"
The two brothers exchanged another, longer look.
"I meant it only as a jest," murmured the older one, inclining his head. "We have no desire to actually spirit you away."
Yui gave a short nod in acknowledgement and glanced away. Despite their profession, she had rarely felt threatened by the ninja she'd treated. These were no real exception. They were intimidating, yes, and the older one in particular had a focused kind of intensity that commanded everyone's attention and made her a little nervous. Still, they'd been courteous the entire time. To her embarrassment, she may have slightly overreacted to his innocuous comment.
"So, what other ointments do you have? Do they also have chakra?" Izuna's attempt to change the subject was obvious, but Yui was no less relieved.
"Some of them. Others don't." She began listing the different medicines she had, their ingredients, and their purpose. Reciting the various herbs and components was familiar and soothing. Yui felt her fear begin to subside."... with the addition of mint and lavender for the smell," she finished.
"Impressive." Izuna flexed his arm to test his range and ease of movement. The cloves in the ointment had likely numbed the pain, but it was best to avoid opening the injuries again. Yui gave him a disapproving look and shook her head. With a sheepish grin, he lowered his arms.
"Healer, you share all this information so easily," said the still-nameless ninja, his lips twitching with what appeared to be amusement. "Aren't you afraid of people stealing it and making their own?"
"No." She gave him a dubious glance as she began cleaning up.
"Because," Yui said slowly, "if they wanna know, I'll just tell them."
Medical information was not meant to be hoarded. That defeated the entire purpose of accessible medical care. She had no problem with people wanting to make and learn about medicine. If anything, Yui encouraged it.
The man stared at her for several moments, his mild condescension replaced by disbelief. His brother seemed just as baffled.
"That's… not the best way to run a business," said Izuna.
"I'm not running a business." Yui stepped back after her once over, satisfied with her work. "I'm not here to make money."
"What?" Izuna raised both eyebrows and stared at his brother. "I thought Akio was making shit up when he said the healer didn't charge anything. Maybe he wasn't lying."
The other man blinked. "It can't be true. That's nonsense." He turned the full force of his unnerving gaze on her, and Yui felt a jolt of fear again. "How much do we owe you?"
Yui looked away and swallowed. "As much as you wanna give. If you don't wanna pay, you don't got to."
His eyes narrowed. "Are you making a joke?" His already deep voice dropped further in pitch. "What are you trying to imply?"
She shook her head. "Nothing like that. I don' mean it like that," she assured hastily. "But if you're not wanting to pay, you—" Yui paused, let out a shaky breath, and continued at a slower pace. "If you wanna give something, you can. Most do. Some do before healing, some after, and some not at all. I'm not gonna make you pay anything."
"So you have no guarantees?" asked the shinobi. He frowned. "What if someone promises to pay and then reneges?"
Yui tilted her head at the unfamiliar word, but context clues were enough for her to guess at the meaning. "Then they don't pay. It's based on honor, really."
She'd treated people destitute enough that a payment would devastate their life, and from them, she'd refused to accept anything. She'd also had wealthy merchants who, upon hearing that the medical care was technically free, had left without paying a dime. However, the vast majority of people paid at least something. They would technically be in her debt if they didn't. In this feudal society, honor was an important—if not the most vital—part of society. There weren't background checks here; reputation was all anyone could go on.
"Don't you know?" The man's tone was darkly sardonic, but his expression was blank. "Ninja don't have honor."
"That's not true." Immediately, Hashirama's words came to mind, as did the quiet loyalty most ninja gave in return for healing. Yui rubbed her clammy hands together, but she continued regardless of the older Uchiha's intensity. "They've got their own sense of honor... based on family, uh," she cleared her throat, "instead of a written code."
The pressure in the room alleviated somewhat. The man chuckled, looking at her distantly. "How strange." He rubbed his forehead, though his smile lingered. "Someone once said the same thing to me before. You remind me..." He grimaced. "Regardless, it isn't relevant."
It was Izuna's turn to look displeased. "Healer, so you treat anyone who walks in through your door?" he asked with an oddly sharp edge.
"Everyone? Any ninja who needs help?" His eyes narrowed, and he stepped forward.
Yui raised her head. In this matter, she would not be intimidated. She met his unnerving gaze straight-on. "Everyone." The single word held all of her conviction. "Merchant, peasant, and ninja alike."
"Everyone," she repeated firmly.
His brother put his hand on the younger one's shoulder. "Little brother, let us put this matter to rest. I doubt that this healer will be swayed to do otherwise." He turned to face her, and his eyes were softer than before. "I am Madara," he said, finally introducing himself. "Do you sell the chakra-infused salves?"
"I do. But unlike treatment, they're extra." Yui wasn't that generous. The salves took time and energy, and giving them away would mean less stock to treat others with. Doubly so with the chakra infused ones.
Madara gave a short nod. "So, to the matter of payment. I posses no currency at the moment, and I doubt Izuna does either."
"No, I don't. As strange as it seems, I rarely bring coins with me to the battlefield," Izuna said with a sardonic lilt.
Madara ignored his brother. "Do you accept alternate forms of payment?"
She nodded again.
"Very well." His gaze dropped to her cheek. "Who injured you?"
She stopped part way through cleaning the table. "Why do you wanna know?"
"As I said. Payment." Madara pushed back the fringe covering his eyes, and… though Yui would never call him gentle, the intensity she'd seen in his face became a bone-deep sincerity.
Yui grimaced. She didn't want to remember it. The less she thought about it, the better. Still, Yui described the man in slow, halting speech. The encounter was burned into mind regardless, and if her help could lead to those bandits' capture, Yui would do what she could. She gave every detail she remembered, down to the large emerald ring on his finger. The two ninja listened intently, but to her surprise, Madara gave a low chuckle after she finished.
"How fortuitous," he murmured under his breath. He continued, louder. "Very well. I swear on my… honor," his lip twisted upwards at that word, "as an Uchiha that I will pay you for my brother's treatment and a jar of salve."
Yui hesitated. While she didn't mind waiting for payment given in return for medical treatment, she usually asked for something upfront when it concerned the tinctures and salves she made.
Madara drew a short blade from his sleeve and placed it on the table. "Collateral," he said. "I shall return, healer." Beside his brother, Izuna inclined his head.
Yui nodded. To her utter lack of surprise, the two men took that opportunity to vanish, leaving the faint sensation of life energy—or chakra, as they'd called it—lingering by her door. She sighed and glanced at the table. The jar of salve was missing, too. Yui picked up the knife that had replaced it. The blade gleamed in the fading light.
Though Yui didn't know much about weapons, even she could tell that it was very high quality. The knife would certainly come in handy for the impromptu surgeries she did. It looked much sharper than her old, iron one. Honestly, it was enough payment, but Yui doubted that the two ninja would agree with her assessment.
While ninja were warriors, Yui had rarely seen any as forceful and self-assured as the brothers that had arrived, especially the older one. She had a feeling that this wouldn't be the last she'd see of them.
The door opened again. "Sorry for disturbing you, sis!" panted Sen, peeking in. "I saw that the sign was closed, but Kiko is going into labor, and early, too!"
Yui set the knife down on the table and got back to work.
Thank you for all your kind comments! As always, I appreciate your support.
Chapter 3: Laceration
Madara lends a hand. Hashirama makes a mess. Yui gets an idea.
A week later, Yui found a hand on her doorstep. She blinked, but it was still there. Taking in a deep breath, Yui gingerly stepped over the hand and went into her hut. After grabbing a ragged cloth, she picked the severed limb and took it inside.
The stump was cauterized, and the hand had already undergone rigor mortis. She didn't have much experience in guessing time since amputation, but by the lack of major decomposition, Yui estimated that less than ten hours had passed. It looked like a man's hand, large and calloused, and it was clenched around a paper. The fingers were bandaged except the ring finger, which had a gold ring with a large, green gemstone.
Her breath caught. Carefully, she pried open the fingers. Yui unfolded the paper, but she couldn't read the writing. Instead of the simple, boxy alphabet she was used to, it was a complicated multitude of symbols that reminded her of Chinese. She tucked the note into her pocket for later and looked back to the hand. She'd have to dispose of it, of course. Keeping severed hands without proper refrigeration was just asking for her clinic to become a disease vector. Yui removed the ring and placed it behind one of her jars. Then, she picked the limb back up.
Yui was in the process of burying it in her garden when Sen returned from his trip to gather herbs. He glanced at the hand and then the hole.
"I don't… I probably shouldn't ask." It had taken a while, but Yui had finally drilled the concept of discretion into her brother's head. Perhaps she should be concerned that Sen was so accepting of her burying limbs, but that was a matter for another time.
With more satisfaction than was probably healthy, Yui kicked the hand into the hole. It'd clearly belonged to the bandit that had terrorized her village, and it removed a weight from her shoulders that Yui didn't realize had existed. She wasn't exactly… glad that he was dead (or at least incapacitated), but she was certainly relieved. No longer would she have to worry about his return.
Yui thought back to the two Uchiha brothers who'd asked about the bandit. It was probably their handiwork, though she wouldn't know for sure until she read the note. The village didn't have too many educated, literate people, but there was one major exception.
Yui tossed the last bit of dirt into the hole and packed it tight. She needed to visit Elder Saburo.
After finishing her errands for the day (and making sure that Sen was actually meditating instead of falling asleep), Yui visited the village scribe.
"Healer Yui," he greeted, opening the door. "What brings this pleasure?"
She bowed. "Elder Saburo. I've a favor to ask."
He welcomed her inside and gestured to a mat by a low table. He offered her tea, which she declined. Once they were both settled, Saburo cleared his throat and spoke.
"I admit that I'm quite curious. What is this favor you speak of?"
Yui pulled out the piece of paper and handed it to him. "I can't read it," she admitted. "Can you? Is it in a different language?"
The scribe examined it. "Yes, I can read it, and no, it isn't a different language. It is a different alphabet, though." He hummed. "I've rarely seen it since my time in the city."
"A different alphabet?"
"Yes. There are technically three for our language. There's the one you know, hiragana. It's the most common form of writing. Then, there's kanji. Each syllable can represent both a concept and a sound. We actually borrowed it from the Land of Iron centuries ago." He tapped the letter. "That's what this is written in. It's a more formal writing system preferred by the upper classes."
The elder rubbed his fingers on the paper and brought it close to his face. "The parchment is of fine quality, and the handwriting is quite nice, too. It's not beautiful, but it's clear and stark… almost elegant in its simplicity. Who gave this to you?"
Yui didn't reply, instead looking down at the table. She didn't need to worry about HIPAA violations, but old habits died hard, and privacy was another issue she firmly believed in—especially that of her patients.
The elder coughed. "Forgive me for rambling. I've talked about everything but the actual contents. Let me read it aloud for you." He cleared his throat again. "Literally, it says, 'The debt has been paid in full.' However, there is a second meaning. The symbols refer to an old saying: to kill two birds with one stone." Saburo squinted. "Wait, there's something else written at the bottom. It says… 'Keep the knife.'"
"I see. Thank you," she said slowly. She'd suspected as much, but it was now clear that the hand had been from Madara. When he'd said 'alternate forms of payment', she hadn't expected that. Yui wondered if the two brothers would return, and if they did, would they continue to pay her in limbs? She certainly hoped not.
"Is there anything else you need, Yui?" Saburo's question brought her back to reality.
She nodded. "Yes. Elder, will you teach me to read the other alphabets?" Yui had considered herself literate enough in this language… before she'd learned the existence of two other alphabets. It was a bit humiliating to have to ask others to read for her.
"Of course, but I have a condition of my own."
Yui was taken aback. The elder, despite his age, was in good health. And surely he had to know that she'd treat him regardless of any favor. Still, she waited for him to continue.
"Take my grandson as your apprentice," he said. "Unlike my granddaughter, he's taken no interest in scribing, but he's in need of a profession. Even worse, he's been enamoured with the idea of becoming a soldier."
"You think I'll convince him?"
"He respects you a great deal. He always has, ever since you fixed his arm all those years ago." Saburo sighed. "Even if he refuses, I'll still teach you… but I'd appreciate it greatly if you made an effort."
Yui considered it. With spring in full swing, it would be nice to have another hand around. (She privately winced at her phrasing.) Even with Sen, business had increased dramatically, perhaps more than two people could comfortably handle.
"Alright," she agreed. "I'll ask."
The more Yui thought about it, the more she warmed up to the idea. With another student to share the load, Yui could focus on the issues that had long been pushed to the side, from distilling penicillin to studying chakra to simply writing down what she knew in a proper manual. Yui could actually plan for the future instead of simply reacting to what came.
She smiled. It would be nice to have ambitions again.
Eiji, the scribe's grandson, was surprisingly eager to accept the offer to be her apprentice. Sen was happy to have someone to share the workload, but Yui privately thought he was a little jealous of the divided attention. The two boys had already been friends, but now their relationship took on a slight, competitive edge.
She didn't mind that. Sen threw himself into studies even more, and Eiji was just as eager to catch up. As Yui expected, with two boys helping, things ran a little smoother. Sure, it was a little more work to teach two people, but the payoff was worth it.
Along with the practical, hands-on style that her old teacher had used, Yui also lectured the two boys. Not just about herbs, of course, but some of the more technical, scientific knowledge she remembered from her last life. Cells, germ theory, and so on. It was during one of these same lectures that Yui noticed Eiji writing down everything she said in a little bounded book. She trailed off, suddenly hit with an idea.
"Can I see that?" she asked Eiji.
Startled, he looked down at the pages and back up. "The book?"
He handed it to her, and Yui flipped through the pages, impressed. The handwriting was neat, the information was nicely organized, and there were even detailed, accurate drawings of various plants and bodyparts.
Yui did have her own notes on medicine, but they were haphazard ones written in both languages she knew. (She couldn't use just one; she didn't know the equivalent terminology half the time for either science or chakra.) But Yui was learning how to write properly, and she might as well put it to good use. What if she made a little medical primer? Not necessarily a textbook like Gray's Anatomy, but something more accessible, more colloquial. Something that emphasized cleanliness and proper habits, explained simple tools like a stethoscope, and so on. She knew merchants who dealt in parchment and literature. Perhaps...
"Oh, sorry." Yui handed the book back to him and continued with her lecture. First, she had to teach her students. She could complete that thought, pursue that idea, another time.
Yui opened the door to see Hashirama standing there with a smile and a small brown pouch. She hadn't seen him in a couple weeks, but he looked just as cheerful as she remembered.
"Yui-san!" he greeted. "How are you doing?"
"Fine." She gave a small smile of her own as she gestured for him to come inside.
Hashirama abruptly stopped when he saw the inside of her house, and his eyes darting from the scarf-less walls to scuff marks on the floor. Finally, he turned to her and stared at her cheek. She touched it self-consciously. It had mostly healed, but there was a shiny pink scar where the man had struck her. Hopefully, it would fade in time.
"What happened?" he asked, his voice soft and gentle even as a strange static filled the air. Hashirama reached out with his hand but stopped, letting it rest by his side instead.
"Bandits. Rounin. They... made a mess." The understatement rang loudly in the room. She glanced at him, oddly nervous. His eyes were darker than she'd ever seen.
"Is that so?" His voice was still soft, but it had a deeper undercurrent that gave her pause.
"It got taken care of," she said.
He sighed. "I'm glad." Then, just as quickly, he perked up. "How? And by who?"
Yui thought about Madara and his brother as well as the angry way they'd spoken about a Hashirama. She wasn't sure if they were talking about the man in front of her, but it was a rather odd coincidence. The Senju and Uchiha didn't get along regardless; was it that general animosity, or was some sort of personal enmity between the two?
No matter the answer, it was none of her business.
"It got taken care of," she repeated, quiet but unyielding.
He looked at her for a moment, thoughtful and slow. For a second, Yui thought he'd continue asking. Instead, Hashirama dropped the subject and held out the pouch, his face returning to its usual cheer.
"This is for you!" His smile was surprisingly bashful.
Yui stared at him, confusion present in raise of her eyebrows. "What? Why?"
"Can't I give a friend a gift?" said Hashirama almost cheekily, just borderline enough that Yui couldn't tell if he was being serious.
She raised her eyebrows higher. "You can. But is that why you did it? Or is there something else?"
He blinked at her with false innocence and pressed a hand to his chest. "Alas, how can you cast such suspicion on me? Can't I deign to be kind to a noble person such as yourself?"
Despite herself, Yui chuckled at his overdrawn theatrics. "I like to know what I'm getting into," she said, amused. "How do I know that I'm not signing my soul away in exchange?"
She was mostly teasing, but Yui wasn't immune to the conventions of this world. Gifts suggested obligation, and she didn't want to be beholden, even if it was to Hashirama—someone who'd been nothing but kind to her.
"It's nothing that dramatic, sadly," said Hashirama with a grin. "It's just a couple of seeds from the Senju garden." He opened up the pouch and them in his hand, pointing at a shiny black seed. "This one's comfrey, but it's been specially bred to have no needles. It's still a pain reliever that's great for topical use, and it's an ambient chakra absorber, too, so it's even more effective."
He then pointed at a wrinkled, golden-browned seed. "This is yellowcress. It's great for getting rid of coughs really quickly! It's also another that we specifically bred, so like the comfrey, it passively absorbs chakra." Hashirama paused, giving her a look that seemed almost anxious. "Sorry, I think I might be rambling a bit..."
"You're not rambling enough," she grumbled, mind whirling with a hundred questions. Yui stepped closer, examining the seeds in his palm. "Wait, plants can get... chakra?" Despite her apparent use of it in the salves, she wasn't familiar with what it was or anything about it, really.
"Well," he said, smiling brighter, "all living things create and use chakra, but only a few can store it. Humans are one of them, but some plants and animals can do it also."
She gave a slow nod, still absolutely uncertain as to where and what chakra originated from. Was it like ATP? Was it just magic with no rational laws? "Will it mess with the chakra I put into the salves?"
"Hm, I'm not sure, perhaps—" He stopped suddenly. "Oh right, you make these really great tinctures with chakra! My clansmen were telling me about them." Hashirama almost bounced in place but abruptly became almost formal, looking at her through long lashes. "Would you mind showing me?"
Yui suddenly realized that they'd gotten completely off-topic. "I don't mind." Before he could say anything, she continued, "If you tell me why you brought the seeds."
He looked at her for a long moment. "I was thinking about what you said earlier... about helping people because you can." Hashirama turned away slightly, his face profiled against the sunshine streaming from the window. Despite the light, he seemed rather melancholy. "Ninja don't do that. They don't try to make the world better. At least, they aren't supposed to. So I thought I'd help someone who was."
She nodded slowly. "Ninja like their secrets," she said, pointing out the obvious. "And from what you say, these are special seeds. Won't your clan be upset?"
He smiled. It seemed to be his default response, regardless of how he felt. "They'd have to know about it to be upset."
"You went behind their backs? I thought ninja valued family the most." Yui didn't hide her surprise. After all, it was Hashirama who'd told her that.
"I did, and we still do... It's just, everything is so… I'm going about this backwards, aren't I?" He sighed, collected his thoughts, and continued. "The Senju have the best healers in the world. There are only one-or-two shinobi clans with a better grasp of chakra-healing and medicine, and none of them are as large or have as many resources as us. What we know, what we could do, it could save so many lives!"
Yui waited for him to continue. Hashirama spoke like someone who'd held it all in, just waiting for the opportunity to speak—but once given it, didn't know what say.
His short laugh sounded almost bitter. "We don't, of course. Ninja would never give up an advantage. But it's not just that. I'm not sure how to say this… it's just that, well... healing people is a short-term solution." He blinked and shook his head quickly. "No, no, I didn't mean that it's bad to help people. It's just that without addressing the cause, it—"
"It might help, but it won't fix the problem," she said with a nod. Like bailing a leaking boat with a cup, or putting a bandaid over a missing limb.
"Exactly! If we gathered all our resources and knowledge, and not just for medicine but for anything…" he trailed off, looking almost frustrated. "I don't know if I'm even making any sense."
"You are." Yui stepped closer to him, eyes wide with excitement. Even after so long in this world, she missed the ease of access to information that her old one had—the universal acknowledgement that some knowledge should be shared for the greater good. If Yui knew the words, she could talk for hours about the propagation and resulting growth of knowledge. "The more people know about something, the more they can improve it. Medicine that only one person knows, a technique that lives and dies with one person, is useless. Some things shouldn't be secrets."
"Yes," he breathed out. "If people could just put aside their differences, we could do so much more. We could be so much stronger."
She held her hand out. "Come with me to the shed."
Hashirama blinked. "W-What?" he said, sounding flustered.
"The salve you asked about." She smiled at him. "I'm going to teach you how to make it."
Yui made all her medicine in the shed to avoid contamination. All the shelves were neatly labeled, with ingredients on one side and the finished products on the other. (She was pleased to see that Sen had washed all the bowls before running off to meet with his definitely-not-a-girlfriend.) Yui began with the same salve that old Anzu had demonstrated all those years ago—the neem and turmeric paste. She explained the properties of each herb and the every step of the process. Hashimara simply listened intently, occasionally asking a question for clarity.
"And this," she said, finished with the initial paste, "is when the chakra is mixed in."
Yui slowly added the green sparks of chakra to the first batch, folding them into the mix with a spatula, like one would do with dough. Hashirama leaned over with interest, his long hair almost brushing against the sides of the bowl.
"Put your hair up," Yui scolded.
"Ah, sorry!" Sheepishly, he gathered his hair in a loose ponytail before realizing he had nothing to tie it with. Hashirama gave her a helpless look.
With a sigh, Yui pulled off the leather strip around her wrist. She didn't have any elastic hair ties, but she continued her last life's habit of keeping a spare. Yui held it out to him. Hashirama took it with a cheerful "thanks!" before attempting to tie it with one hand. After a few attempts, he finally succeeded, but half of his hair was hanging loose.
"Let me," she murmured, stepping closer.
Hesitant, Yui looked at him for permission. Ninja were rather touchy about… well, being touched. Hashirama nodded, and she moved behind him. Carefully, she pulled his hair together. He went completely still under her touch. With a bit of envy, Yui noted that his hair was soft and silky, completely unlike her coarse locks. She tied his hair and stepped back, feeling rather pleased. Hashirama looked different like that, she noted. Sharper, somehow, without curtain of hair framing his face.
"Thank you," he said again with a smile that was almost bashful.
Yui waved her hand dismissively before returning to the bowl. "Continue?"
She resumed her chakra infusion. Hashirama had closed his eyes, but his furrowed brow suggested that he was intensely concentrating on… something. Once the mixture had been saturated with chakra, she stopped.
Immediately, Hashirama opened his eye. "I've never felt someone use chakra like that before," he said, peering at the salve. "Could I touch it?"
Yui scooped some with a spoon and handed it to him. He rubbed the mix between his fingers and made a noise of surprise.
"This is a mix of Yin and Yang chakra," he said. "Most healing ninjutsu strictly uses one or the other, but the way you infused it into the mixture makes it more stable than most like it. How long does it last?"
"It depends on the mixture, though the chakra usually stays for three months or so before it loses strength."
"Interesting!" Hashirama's grin was full of excitement. "Most of the salves the Senju use have more chakra, but they barely last for a week. Sure, the ones with chakra-absorbing plants last a little longer, but even they don't stay for three whole months."
That was interesting but not entirely surprising. Now that she thought about it, she didn't treat many Senju compared to, say, Uchiha or other ninja clans. The few Senju clan members that she did run into tended to have very severe or recent injuries. If they had competent healers, then it was no wonder they preferred to be treated within their clan.
"Want to try making it?" Yui asked, scooping the second batch of neem and turmeric paste into a bowl.
"I'd love to." He raised his hand over the bowl and glanced back at her. "So I just… add chakra to it? Like those sparks?"
Hashirama took a deep breath. the heavy charge of chakra filled the air, followed by a blinding flash of green light and a loud, wet splatter. Yui blinked the white spots from her eyes and stared. The paste had exploded, covering the table, floor—and Hashirama. He stood there shell-shocked as turmeric and neem salve slowly dripped from his cheek.
She blinked, brushing off the paste that had gotten on her neck. "Are… you alright?"
He nodded slowly, stared at the empty bowl, and stuttered out, "I-I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to—"
Yui began to laugh. The sight of Hashirama, standing there forlorn and stunned, was just so funny that she had to lean against the wall for support. She laughed helplessly, and every time she thought she'd gotten herself under control, Yui would glance at his face and burst into laughter again. He joined her, covering his bright-red face with his green hands as he shook with laughter. Finally, she wiped the tears from her eyes as the last few laughs escaped.
"Sorry about the mess," he said, still red.
"It's fine. It won't take long to clean up." She chuckled to herself as she grabbed a rag. "You haven't done this before, huh? Or is the Senju clan's method this… explosive?"
"No, I'm pretty sure we don't do it like that." He joined her, and they began to clean the shed. "You're right, though. I haven't made medicine before," he admitted. "I usually just use the healing jutsu."
There was that odd term again. "So all Senju don't learn medical techniques?" It seemed like it'd be a good idea to teach soldiers how to fix themselves up.
Hashirama gave a wry smile. "It's reserved for women."
She raised an eyebrow at him. While it was true that many village healers tended to be women, it was considered to be a respectable job for either gender. No one had blinked twice at her picking Sen or Eiji to be her apprentices. Apparently, the Senju clan didn't feel the same way.
"But I wanted to learn, so I did." This time, his laugh was grim rather than carefree. "Father wasn't happy."
A world of dull, old anger seemed to be packed into those three words. Her only experience with the man had been when she'd healed Hashirama's brother; he'd seemed like any other desperate father, but ten minutes wasn't enough to judge a man's character.
Quietly, she returned the topic to less sensitive grounds. "If you didn't learn how to make medicine, then what techniques did you learn? What's the… healing jutsu you mentioned earlier?"
It worked. He grinned at her and pulled out a kunai. "It'd be easier to show you."
Yui narrowed her eyes. "What are you doing?" She watched with horror as he made a shallow cut along the top of his hand. "Are you crazy?" she demanded, looking around for a bandage. "Why would you just—"
"Watch this." Hashirama placed his other hand over his injury, and a soft, green glow emanated from it. Then, the skin instantly knitted back together, and it was like he'd never been cut in the first place. She looked blankly at it for several moments.
"Yui?" he asked, looking a little concerned at her silence.
"What the fuck?" she said finally.
Yui grabbed his hands and stared at them intently, rubbing her fingers over the callouses and old scars on his palm as if they would turn green again. Then, she touched the area that was supposed to be injured… but it was completely unblemished. She added a few more choice curse words and expressions that she'd picked up from farmers and merchants and who-knows-where, combining them into one colorful string of expletives.
Yui knew that ninja could do incredible things. She'd seen them disappear and move faster than the eye could follow. A few had even shown her some neat parlor tricks, like summoning a flame or sticking objects to their hands. But they were all things that could be explained away—small magic, like the kind she did with salves and tinctures.
This, though… this instant healing was just so beyond the pale that it was the dreams of science-fiction, the idea that it could just immediately be fixed with a snap of the fingers…
Yui was so used to comparing her old world with this world and being disappointed. The technology was barely in the industrial era, and even that was only in the major cities. The culture was strictly hierarchical, martial, and rooted in tradition and superstition, often to the detriment of women and the lower classes. This world had no antibiotics, blood transfusions, advanced surgical techniques, or anything else that were hallmarks of modern medicine.
She had dedicated both lives to the pursuit of that last one. Slowly, she had made progress working with limits of the human body and this world. Yui had even accepted the role of chakra in her medicine, appreciating its increased efficacy. And now, to see something from this world that defied all her knowledge of medicine, that broke the limitations of the human body, that surpassed any technique she had ever known from her last life—it was world-shattering.
Hashirama was staring at her, wide-eyed. Yui let go of his hands but continued to glare. "How did you do that?"
"I'll need a fish, or something smaller," he mused, saying what sounded like a complete non sequitur. He grinned, cheeky as he parroted her words. "Want me to teach you how?"
Yui sat at the table, exhausted and head pounding. Trying do the magic healing that Hashirama had shown her was utterly exhausting. He'd shown her the simplest healing exercise, but Yui still had failed. She hadn't used chakra in any way besides putting it in the salves or tinctures, so it had been like flying a plane after only ever riding a bike. She was intensely grateful for her sister Ume sending some lunch. Yui didn't think she'd be able to move, let alone cook. At the same time, though, she picked at the rice with chopsticks, feeling hungry but too tired to eat.
Sen was scowling at her while an anxious Eiji glanced between the two siblings.
"What did you do? What happened?" demanded Sen. "We were only gone for like three hours!"
She sighed, massaging her temples. "Later," said Yui, voice hoarse. "Sen, can you infuse the rest of the neem and turmeric paste with chakra?"
"Didn't you say that you were going to finish that today?"
"I… something came up. Can you and Eiji handle it?"
"I'm not very good at the chakra thing," Eiji mumbled.
She closed her eyes and rested her head on the table. "I"m sure you both can handle it."
The sound of a scraping chair suggested that Sen had gotten up. Yui, though, kept her eyes closed. She would just rest her head for a minute… and before she knew it, she was fast asleep.
The next month passed as routine, but two more items were added to her list: Yui worked on trying the new chakra exercise that Hashirama had shown her, and she roped Eiji's help in writing and illustrating the primer. While with the former she'd made little progress, Yui completed the latter in less time than she'd expected. This was probably because she'd already written it down in one way or another, so the real issue was with compiling it together.
Toshihiro, a paper merchant, came through the village about once every three months. He and his guards were rarely injured, though; instead, he was one of the many merchants who simply bought her medicines or used the village as a rest point. Toshihiro was a dramatic person, with brightly colored clothes and the flowing accent of the capital, and he was also a bit forward.
"Oh, Yui-san!" he said, bowing with a flourish. "It has been too long since I have seen your shining face. How my heart has longed for you!"
He, of course, ignored the apprentice present: Sen seemed nearly murderous, but he stayed quiet, knowing better than to interrupt a conversation with a client.
His four guards shifted, also clearly uncomfortable. They all looked young and inexperienced: two were samurai, judging from the armor, sword, and hair, but the other two seemed to be ninja. The red fang tattoos on their cheeks and the giant dogs at their side gave them a fierce, savage appearance in direct contrast to their polished samurai counterparts. It seemed like an odd combination to her, but Toshihiro had always been a man with too much money and not enough good taste.
Yui politely nodded. "Toshihiro-san." She looked at the guards. "Need anything?"
They shook their heads and refused politely, though one of the shaggy dogs let out a plaintive whine.
"Shut it," muttered one of the ninja. The dog let out a low bark before settling down.
She looked back to Toshihiro, who was still waxing poetic about the "gleam of her dirt-brown eyes" and "limp, wooden hair."
"Toshihiro-san, I have a business proposition for you."
He stopped abruptly. "Oh? Have you decided to accept my declarations of love?"
"Business proposition," she stressed.
"Business? In that case," Toshihiro pulled out what seemed to be an actual ink pen from his pouch, "take this token from me, though it pales in comparison to my feelings! It was first made in Lightning Country, and now you can own it for just half the price! Just for you. Unlike a brush—"
"How difficult would it be to publish a book?" she interrupted, though the idea of owning a real pen was admittedly tempting.
That threw him off guard. "Well… with the printing press, it's easy to make copies. To gain access to a press, however, you'd need a sponsor or someone with connections. Why do you ask? Is there something you need a copy of?"
"I want to publish something I wrote."
The merchant let out a short, sharp laugh. "A book? You?" He opened his mouth once, closed it, and resumed his flattering tone. "My dear, you have wit and beauty beyond compare, but a book…"
Yui handed him a copy of the primer. She'd agonized over it, rewriting it twice before getting help from both the old scribe and Eiji. It was simple but clear, with helpful tips on herbal medicine, how to make a basic stethoscope as well as the most important rule she followed—basic sanitation. Clean medical instruments, boil water, and of course, washing hands. Simply doing so before eating and after defecating could cut the incidence of diarrhea and similar diseases by half. (But putting this information out there wouldn't guarantee that people would listen; the first doctor to suggest washing hand in between surgeries had been ridiculed and shunned until his death. Still, Yui had to try.)
Toshihiro took the booklet with an amused grin and began flipping through it. His smile faded, and his eyes instead gleamed with something shrewd.
"It's a little rough and unedited. The pictures are a nice addition, admittedly," he said, closing it. "It has potential, but I might have difficulty finding a sponsor. If—and I stress that it's unlikely—if I find someone… it could perhaps be sold. I doubt it'd sell well, but it could be sold. Now, on the off chance that I do find a sponsor, I'd take, say… seventy percent of the profit minus whatever the sponsor asks. What say you?"
She haggled with him over his cut but only half-heartedly. Considering that she already lived comfortably, Yui didn't really care about the profits; she just didn't want to be ripped off. After discussing the details more in depth, including the actual cut of the hypothetical sponsor, they agreed on two-thirds for him and one-third for her of the remaining profit.
"Excellent. That's settled, then."
"Shouldn't we sign a contract? Yui asked pointedly.
"Ah… if you wish." He looked not even a little regretful. Yui had no doubt that he'd have neglected it entirely had she not brought it up. Toshihiro pulled out a long strip of parchment and a brush with inkwell. His new ink pen, she noted with amusement, was nowhere to be seen.
With a sigh, Toshihiro pulled out a second one and wrote down three lines on each paper. "Are you satisfied?" With a smug smirk, he belatedly added, "my dear. I can read it out loud to you if you so desire."
Yui took a copy and read it carefully, looking for any loophole, but found it to be surprisingly straightforward. His handwriting was as flowery as his speech and far more elegant.
She looked up. "Sen, come here." She glanced to the men in the back and gave a polite smile. "Shinobi-san and Samurai-san, could you witness this contract as well?"
The two Inuzuka exchanged startled looks, but after some silent decision making, the taller one stepped forward, his long-furred hound following after. The samurai were much more unanimous. Immediately, the one with the red sash around his waist walked to the table.
The merchant frowned briefly but said, "What a wonderful idea!" With something that was almost a sigh, he added another line to each scroll stating "witnesses."
Yui signed first, taking the ink brush and writing her name in small, neat letters at the bottom with the simple script she was most familiar. Toshihiro signed after, taking out his fancy pen and adding large, elaborate flourishes. He tucked the pen back into his pocket and gestured for his two guards to use the ink brush. In the more complicated alphabet (sans the ornamental flourishes of his boss), the samurai wrote his name carefully, while the ninja dipped his thumb into the ink and pressed it onto the page. Finally, Sen wrote his name in wide, sloppy strokes, seemingly taking his anger out on the brush.
"Are you satisfied?" Toshihiro said with just a hint of irritation.
She smiled. "Actually, about that pen…"
Yui watched Eiji practice his suturing skills on a banana peel when there was a sudden gust of air from the now-opened door. She hurried over to it and checked to see if anyone was outside. No one. It couldn't have done so of its own accord, and it wasn't windy enough.
Frowning, Yui turned around and nearly jumped out of her skin at the sight of Madara standing casually in the back. Eiji was more vocal, yelping and throwing the banana at the intruder. It landed a few feet in front of the ninja, who barely gave it a disdainful look. He raised an arched eyebrow and turned his coal-black gaze to her student.
"Eiji-kun," she said, eyeing Madara with slight disapproval, "could you join Sen in the shed?"
The boy gave her a nervous look. Unlike her brother, he had absolutely no experience with ninja. "A-Ah, alright, sensei." Ducking his head, Eiji rushed out.
Yui made sure both doors were closed, flipping the sign to "closed" as she usually did when treating ninja. They really were unhealthily paranoid at times. (Then again, perhaps it was the right amount of paranoid. She wouldn't know.)
"You didn't have to scare him."
"Oh, I think I did." He smirked back at her, smugness radiating from his languid posture.
She shook her head and bent down to pick up the banana peel. "Don't do that."
Madara made a noncommittal sound as he prowled around the room, oddly reminding her of the feral cat that lounged in her garden. "Perhaps." He paused when he noticed the knife he'd given to her on a side table. "Healer," he said, still smirking, "have you made much use of it?"
"Of course," she reassured him. "It's very sharp and works excellent for surgeries. Thanks for that."
"I see." Perhaps it was just her imagination, but Madara seemed a little taken aback by her answer. Just as quickly, he resumed his haughty mask as he inspected her home. Despite his grace, Yui couldn't help but notice the way he favored his right leg, always standing in a way that put all his weight on the other. She waited for him to announce why he'd arrived, but he remained silent.
"Did you need something?" she asked as he toyed with the glass beads that Tsubaki had once given her.
"Hm?" He looked up as if he'd forgotten her presence. "Oh, right. Could I purchase more of that salve from you?"
Yui nodded. She pulled two jars of the antibacterial salve from the cupboard and two more containers of the pain-relieving ointment. These ones were actually the first batch that used the special chakra-plants that Hashirama had given her. They were much more potent than the medicine made with just chakra.
"Excellent." Madara placed a bag of coins on the table, pulling open the draw strings so that she could see the mix of copper and silver coins inside.
"This is too much," Yui protested.
His scoff was entirely derisive. "Do not undervalue your own work. It's insulting to both parties involved."
With a sigh, she conceded the point and took the bag. "How is your brother?" Yui asked politely. Izuna hadn't come in for a follow-up, so she assumed that he'd done well.
"Doing well," he conceded with something resembling manners. "The medicine was more than adequate and decreased his recovery time."
"Good." She stepped closer. "And you?"
Madara's eyes narrowed slightly. "What do you mean?"
"Do you need healing?"
He chuckled. "Of course not."
As Yui had noticed earlier, Madara was still favoring his right leg. Even of the ninja that came into her clinic expressively for treatment, many were rather cagey and evasive about their injuries. It surprised her not at all that Madara might be the same. Now that she thought about it, many of those same ninja tended to be Uchiha. Yui only occasionally got Senju, but on the contrary, she treated Uchiha rather frequently. Did they not have healers like Hashirama's clan did?
"Your pant leg," she said. "Could you lift it for me?"
"What?" His voice was quiet and sharp as a knife's edge, and chakra-pressure filled the air.
"Show me your right leg." She stood resolute, her pure exasperation clashing against his stony expression.
"Do you really think you can demand anything from me?" Perhaps it was her imagination, but his eyes seemed to flicker with red.
Yui breathed through the tense atmosphere and continued, feeling more annoyed than scared this time around. "This is my job. I treated your clansmen and brother. You pay me for salves. Let me treat you."
His gaze drifted to the side, and his glower deepened at such unnecessary affront and indignity—Gods, she'd asked him to show her his leg, not take off his pants.
"Fine." Madara abruptly sat down. Reaching down, he rolled up his pant to his knee. Yui knelt down him and grimaced. His shin was black with bruising. The swelling present wasn't indicative of a broken bone, but it sure looked painful.
"I'm going to put some numbing cream before bandaging it. Do you want pain medicine?"
With a fearsome scowl, he shook his head. Yui decided not to push her luck. She thought back to Hashirama's healing technique and wished she could just magically make the bruise go away. Unfortunately, Yui hadn't yet been successful, so she'd have to do it the normal way: After washing her hands, she began to administer the medicine. Yui was surprised at how warm Madara's skin was.
"Do you have a fever?"
Madara looked at her. "No," he said after a pause.
"Perhaps I should check—"
"No." The dark edge of finality in his voice made her flinch back, but Yui continued to bandage his leg like nothing had happened.
Once she finished, she looked up hesitantly. His pale skin was just a tad flushed and feverish. "I… would you like me to also pack some cold medicine?"
He closed his eyes. "If it will get you to shut up."
Yui didn't sigh, but it was a close thing. She added a container of willow bark and yellowcress tincture to the collection of four jars. "I've included a small cup with the medicine. Drink one full cup a day until the cold gets better."
"Fine," he said curtly, gathering the different medicine into a sack.
"And stay off the leg," added Yui.
"That's not an option."
She sighed. "At the very least, be careful with it."
He scoffed in return. Then, after mumbling something that sounded oddly enough like "thank you," Madara left.
"Next time, knock," she called out after his retreating form.
The door slammed shut. Madara probably hadn't heard her, and even if he had, he wouldn't have listened. Yui shook her head. Ninja could be such a pain.
Throughout the story, my lovely group of beta-readers include: GwendolynStacy, PyrothTenka, masqvia, Iaso, fishbake, orpheus-under-starlight, and Duesal Bladesinger. Thank you all for reading!
Chapter 4: Avulsion
Yui becomes ambitious. Ambitions are flammable.
Tsubaki arrived late with a crate full of glassware, another crate of crossbows and ammunition, and an injured ninja bodyguard. Normally, the merchant came about once a month; she made one long trip to Wind Country and several shorter trips across the Land of Fire to sell her wares. Yui hadn't seen Tsubaki in over four months, however, and both she and Hatake looked exhausted and haggard. The ninja in particular had bruises and cuts littering his abdomen, though none were serious.
"I got you the supplies," said Tsubaki, her smile weak. Her normally colorful glass beads—free advertising, as she called them—were in dull, neutral shades and chipped. "It was a desert storm's worth of trouble, but it's there. Well, I couldn't get all the glassware, but I did get the flat pans and the containers with measurements."
The excitement that Yui felt at having actual laboratory equipment was tempered by guilt and concern for her friend. "Were you delayed by my supplies?" she asked, voice low. Yui slathered the healing gel over Hatake's midsection and began bandaging, feeling even worse.
Tsubaki gave her a startled look. "What? No, it's not your fault." She blinked, her tired eyes regaining a spark of their usual curiosity. "Haven't you been affected by the fighting?"
Yui shook her head. "What fighting?" Sure, she'd noticed that there had been less people coming to the village, but Yui had chalked it up as a coincidence.
"The Senju and Uchiha, bastards that they are, have increased the number of their skirmishes." The merchant scowled. "Their chaos has spread to the trade routes and other villages, and other more unsavory characters have taken advantage of that." Tsubaki's anger drained away as she sighed, long and slow, and slumped against the chair. "Has Chiyuku really not had any problems?"
"Chiyuku?" Yui asked, puzzled by the unfamiliar word. She finished wrapping up Hatake's injuries, and he thanked her quietly before shrugging on his shirt. That settled, Yui put a kettle on the fire; green tea, both Tsubaki and Hatake's preferred kind.
"Very funny." Tsubaki chuckled but paused at Yui's confused expression. "Wait, you're serious?" At Yui's slow nod, the merchant gave an amused smile. "It's this town. Everyone on the road calls it Chiyuku."
Yui never called her home by any name. It had always been "the village" in her mind, the only place she'd ever known in this world. At most, it had been "the village by the orange trees" when discussing it with outsiders. Now, apparently, it was big enough to have an actual label. Yui felt a surge of pride that her home had grown so much.
"What does Chiyuku mean?"
Tsubaki's smile grew wider. "Oh, it's an archaic, formal term for a healing ward."
Yui stopped, and as realization dawned, her blush deepened. There could only be one reason for that: her clinic. Had they really named the whole village for her work? She pressed her hands to her cheeks, feeling embarrassed and bashful and delighted all at once. Yui covered it up by hurrying over to the tea kettle, but judging from Tsubaki and Hatake's smiles, neither were convinced.
She did her best to change the subject as she served them tea. "No, ah... Chiyuku hasn't seen any conflict." Actually, Yui had seen more serious injuries from the ninja that dropped by, and there had been more Uchiha and even Senju seeking treatment. The puzzle pieces were beginning to come together.
"I appreciate it, Yui-san," said Tsubaki, inhaling deeply. "You don't know how much I needed this." She took a sip and sighed. "Wonderful as always." Tsubaki cleared her throat. "Well, I'm glad to hear that this town has been spared from the violence, and I hope your luck continues. Rumor has it that this 'skirmish' might escalate into all-out war."
"How horrible," Yui murmured. Hatake grunted in agreement as he drank his tea in one fell swoop.
Tsubaki tapped the edge of the stone cup. "So, about the salves—"
Hatake burst into action, drawing his sword and shoving Tsubaki behind him in one seamless movement that was too fast to see. The merchant squawked as tea splattered over the floor, and Yui glanced around wildly to see the cause of his sudden protectiveness. Her heart shuddered when she considered the possibility of rounin attacking once more, but Yui's fear subsided when she saw the woman crouched in her window.
Yui stepped from behind the ninja. "Emigiku-san," she greeted with concern. It wasn't the kunoichi's real name—in fact, it was a pseudonym that geisha usually used—but it was the one Yui knew her by.
Emigiku was maybe the most beautiful woman she knew, and Yui had never seen her look worse. Half of the kunoichi's blonde hair was in an intricate coif, while the other half was loose, draped over her shoulder and almost reaching her waist. The once-elaborate silk kimono was torn to shreds, the remains barely covering her body. Dark bruises shone through the pale, traditional makeup. Worse, her thigh had a large, weeping gash with blood crusted down to her ankle.
"Perhaps I should come another time?" Emigiku's said softly, her blue eyes flickering from the other ninja to Yui. Hatake radiated threatening chakra, enough to foul the air of the entire clinic.
"No. Come in."
Glaring at Yui, Hatake continued to hold his sword steady.
Yui met his gaze, unwavering. "She needs healing."
He looked at her for a long moment before nodding and lowering his sword. Hatake still kept it drawn, though, and ensured that Tsubaki remained behind him. Emigiku, still focusing on her fellow ninja, jumped from the windowsill and landed gracefully despite her injuries. Then, she buckled to the floor, stumbling against the wall as the last of her strength left her. Yui hurried to her side and eased the kunoichi into a chair. With care and efficiency, she irrigated the wound and cleared the dried blood.
Tsubaki made a sound of horror. "Tanuki's ass, that's horrible!"
"It hurts worse than it looks." Emigiku gave a strained chuckle. Yui cleaned her hands, grabbed a needle and hemp thread (both sterilized in boiling water, of course), and began stitching it shut.
"Considering how it looks, that's really saying something." Grimacing, the merchant looked away at the sight before catching her bodyguard's annoyed expression. "Oh, come on!" Tsubaki nudged him. "If you can't protect me from a half-dead kunoichi, then I need my money back."
Hatake grumbled to himself, but his glare faded. Yui smiled to herself as she tied the thread with a surgeon's knot. When she first started treating ninja, hell would've frozen before two of them would be in the same vicinity. Then again, they hadn't had the chance. Not enough few shinobi had come to her clinic for that to have be an issue.
"Where are your two little apprentices?" said Emigiku with low purr, though her eyes were fixed on Hatake. "I haven't seen them in a while."
"Busy with another patient in the village." Yui didn't bother hiding her smirk. The two boys had helped treat Emigiku, one of the few ninja who didn't mind her students being around—in fact, she delighted in using her charm to fluster them.
After applying chakra-turmeric salve for its antibiotic properties, Yui began wrapping the wound. (Yet another change: with two apprentices, she didn't have to worry about chakra-medicine shortages.)
"Such a shame," she murmured. "Then again, Yui-chan, your lovely face is more than enough for me." Emigiku had no qualms about turning her charm towards anyone, Yui included.
"I'll giving you some salve. Apply it each time you change the bandages. Do it often," said Yui, more than used to Emigiku's florid words. "Come back if it looks infected."
"Of course. I'll repay you as soon as I can." Emigiku's payments were varied and interesting: it had included rare plants, beautiful kimonos, and jewelry.
"One more thing." Yui went to her shelf and grabbed a spare kosode. Perhaps Yui was feeling extra sentimental after learning the village's new name, but she was struck by how far she'd come. About a decade ago, Yui'd had two pairs of clothing. Now, she had more than enough to spare. She handed the kosode and the medicine to the kunoichi.
"Thank you." With a soft, sincere smile, Emigiku shrugged out of her torn kimono (to the sputtering of Hatake and a gasp from Tsubaki) and pulled on the simple cotton clothing. She twisted the loose hair into a tight bun, pinned it with a sharp-looking needle, and ducked her head. "I should be going."
"Stay for tea?"
Emigiku glanced at Hatake and Tsubaki before declining. "It'd be best if I don't." She waved at the two other visitors before exiting as she came. Yui sighed before pouring another cup of tea for herself, Tsubaki, and Hatake. She'd have to clean the spill from earlier, but that could wait.
"You get interesting patients," said Tsubaki faintly.
Yui laughed as she sipped her tea. "I certainly do."
Sen and Eiji were wonderful students, dedicated and enthusiastic, but they were also teenage boys. Their incessant chatter about that cute girl at the festival or how much sake they drank was amusing… to a certain point. The two were now infusing salves with chakra in the shed, so Yui had a blessed moment of silence.
With the two boys to take the load off the menial tasks and simple injuries, Yui had more time to focus on the serious cases and her experimentation. She'd begun making an agar-substitute for the penicillium and collecting samples. Soon, she'd be able to start cultivating strains. Antibiotics aside, there were other medicines she could try making. Aspirin, for one, or paracetamol, though her memory was still fuzzy on the details...
There was a loud knock at the door, and there went her moment. She stood and opened it to see Hashirama as well as a strange shinobi. Yui had gotten used to unusual appearances, but this man was odd by even ninja standards. He seemed to be a direct contrast to Hashirama—the new shinobi had wild silver hair and equally pale skin. Accusing maroon eyes stared at her, and Yui almost thought that the three red markings on his face were cuts. Blue armor and a dull metal headpiece completed his fierce visage.
"So this is where you've been running off to," said the man, eyes narrowing. "Or should I say to whom?"
Hashirama scowled at his companion. "Don't be rude." He turned to Yui and gave her his usual bright smile. "Yui-san, this is my brother Tobirama. Please forgive him."
"You're just giving out names?" said his brother, exasperated. Yui gave him a second, critical examination. She couldn't see the resemblance to either of his brothers or father.
True irritation flashed on Hashirama's face. "This is the healer who saved Kawarama, remember? Didn't I tell you?"
"No. You didn't tell me anything. You just dragged me here after I confronted you." When Tobirama looked at her again, all the hostility had faded. "Thank you for treating our younger brother," he said frankly, even bowing to her. "You must be the healer who offers aid to our clansmen without requiring payment." The last three words were spoken with just a hint of incredulity.
"No need to thank me," she mumbled. "Come inside."
Yui always made extra tea since her little clinic had no shortage of visitors, so she poured an extra cup for Hashirama and Tobirama. The former drank his with enthusiasm, while the latter simply nodded and kept it in his hands. Hashirama gave his brother a vexed look, but Tobirama ignored it and stared at her jars of medicine. The silence stretched on for a little longer.
"Are these new cups?" said Hashirama suddenly. "They're very nice."
Yui blinked and glanced at the pottery in question, which was a pale gray with painted blue flower petals. A man from the Land of Iron had given them to her a week ago for treating his cough. "They're new," she answered, surprised he'd noticed. "Thank you."
Tobirama was now scrutinizing the cup with the same intensity he had given to her and her medicine.
"So… I've tried making the salves you showed me." Hashirama set his cup down, and Yui refilled it. Tobirama's, of course, was still full.
"Any luck?" Her lips twitched. "Compared to last time, it wouldn't be hard to get better."
He turned red, and Yui laughed quietly. "I've improved a little," Hashirama said, coughing. He tried and failed to sip his tea with nonchalance. Tobirama's eyebrows had risen high enough to disappear into his shaggy hair. "I think I'm still using a little too much chakra since they don't turn out as well as yours."
She shrugged. "I got years of practice."
"How about you?" Hashirama asked. "What did you think of those chakra exercises?"
He'd told her how to improve her control, which involved sticking a leaf to one's forehead and keeping it there as long as one could. Yui could do so for a rather long time, and her two apprentices practiced rather obsessively. For them, it was yet another game to compete at. Over the last few months, Yui had noticed that the three of them had increased the amount of salves they could make—in some ways, it seemed that chakra use was like exercising a muscle.
"It's been useful. I still don't know how you got the skin to just heal up like—"
"You taught her chakra healing?" interrupted Tobirama, voice rising just a tad in pitch. His face was deliberately neutral as he glanced from Yui to Hashirama.
"I did. It was the least I could do." Hashirama didn't look at his brother, but his voice was hard. "Yui-san, you were saying?"
She blinked, pausing for a second as she tried to recall her train of thought. "Ah, yes. I was wondering about whether your chakra healing kills infections."
"Infections?" Hashirama frowned, eyes half-lidded in concentration. "What do you mean?"
Despite himself, Tobirama grudgingly added, "And what does that have to do with chakra healing?"
"Does it… does it kill what causes the infection?" Yui continued on, picking up steam. "Because, if the healing just makes the skin grow back and cover it, then the, um, the cause of the infection—"
"Miasma?" asked Tobirama.
She hesitated. Yui was familiar with the theory of miasma, which held disease was caused by bad air. It had been the prevailing explanation for disease during the last few centuries, both in this world and the last one. Over three hundred years had passed before her old world embraced germ theory, and people had definitely shot the messengers multiple times. It would probably be best to just say miasma. And yet…
"The cause of the infection," she repeated, "could be sealed in. Worse, the usual signs of an infection—like wound discharge—might not be there. It could cause the infection to be ignored until it's too late."
Hashirama and Tobirama were silent for several moments.
"Tobirama," began her friend. "Those fevers..."
"Like with Rika, she'd been healed but—"
"Maybe it's not chakra shock—"
"But infection?" Tobirama ran a hand through his unruly hair, realization and dismay clear in his frown. "Rika healed herself, so chakra shock makes no sense at all, but infection…"
"It would spread," she said quietly. At this stage, there were still no antibiotics. The most Yui could do was trying to prevent it, but once it progressed far enough, it was all up to chance. The thought made her mood sour. She wanted penicillin so badly, but trying to find the right strain of fungi and cultivating it and stressing it would just take so long, and the longer it took the more people would die. Sometimes, it felt like she could never do enough.
"Is there anything we can do to stop it?" Hashirama's earnest question stopped her growing despondency in its tracks. There was no point in agonizing over something she couldn't fix.
"Well, keeping the infection from happening is the best thing." She glanced at her full cup and sipped her now-cold tea. "Clean the wound before chakra-healing it and use medicine to ward it off. If the infection actually happens, treat it like usual." Yui shrugged. "Pot marigold, cinnamon, honey… I'm assuming that the Senju have their own remedies."
"Yes, but I'm not certain anymore that ours are better," he admitted, rubbing his neck. "As you and I proved, more chakra doesn't equate to better medicine."
Tobirama's expression, Yui noted, seemed to become more and more strained. "So you've been making… medicine with her?" said the brother.
"So what if I have?"
She set her cup down, tired of the brothers' back and forth. "Everyone should have access to medicine and knowledge," Yui said firmly. "Hashirama asked me to share. Why wouldn't I?"
Tobirama was looking at Yui as if he was seeing her for the first time. Then, he asked her the same question she had heard from countless ninja, merchants, travelers, and peasants alike.
She gave the same answer. "Everyone."
He looked down at his own cup of tea. Though his face was as blank as it had been, Yui still got the feeling that he was deliberating. Finally, he took a sip. Then, in a low voice, Tobirama said, "So, infections."
She smiled at him and waited for him to continue.
"You don't think miasma causes them?"
It was Yui's turn to be surprised. "I, uh…" Taken off guard, she trailed off and stared.
"Your hesitation was rather obvious," he said, not haughtily but almost droll in his tone. "When I said miasma, you simply ignored it. So it wasn't ignorance of terminology but something else. What do you think causes it? Bad spirits? Imbalance of humors?"
Her smile was just as dry. "And here, I can't say more."
"You don't know?"
"I do. I just don't know what to call them." How was she supposed to explain germ theory to someone without knowing the words for any of them? It was one thing to explain it to Eiji or Sen, who accepted her English terminology with little question. This was a whole another matter. As she so often did, Yui cut her thoughts short. "But I will know how to fix it."
"How are you going to do that?" He was still polite, of course, but skepticism had returned to Tobirama's tone.
"I'm going to make a medicine." And it would do nothing short of changing the world.
Yui had been planning for a long, long time. She'd ordered the glassware, of course, but she hadn't been sitting still while waiting for its delivery. With her extra funds, she'd build a second shed solely for penicillin. Now that she had all the supplies needed, Yui was almost vibrating with excitement.
"I still don' know what we're doing," said Sen, rubbing his eyes.
"Me," Eiji yawned, "neither."
She'd made them wake up obnoxiously early for this, but Yui didn't care. If she was successful, she could jumpstart this world into the realm of modern medicine.
"Remember what I said about what makes people sick?" she asked them.
"Yeah. Jyaamuzu. The tiny creatures that live everywhere." Eiji's response was prompt and immediate. She'd taught them using English terms simply because she didn't know what the actual words were. It led to some interesting pronunciations, but names weren't as important as the actual concept.
"Excellent. Now, germs don't just affect people. They can hurt animals, plants, and even mold."
"Okay…" Sen rubbed his eyes a second time for emphasis. "What does this have to do with waking up so early?"
She raised her eyebrows and looked at her little brother. After a moment under her stare, he glanced away and mumbled an apology for interrupting.
They were both great students, but each boy had different interests. Eiji soaked up the theoretical knowledge, but he was more hesitant when it came to actually treating people. On the other hand, Sen had little interest in the whys, but he had a great bedside manner and a confident, hands-on approach. To be a good medical professional, however, one needed both. Hence why Yui drilled them equally.
"As I was saying, germs can hurt mold. Just like how people have ways to fight sickness—fevers and so on—mold and mushrooms do the same. There is one special blue-green mold that produces a medicine that can kill germs. We're going to find a way to grow it."
"And how're we gonna do that?" said Sen, skeptical.
Yui gestured to the gelatin-like substance she had made from boiling bones and connective tissue provided by the village butcher. The village was located in the interior of Fire Country, so she had no seaweed to make agar from. This would be the best substitute until she found a way to get them. "We'll let mold grow on these, and we'll keep trying."
Yui had no illusions about how long this would take or the potential viability of this experiment. Even after the discovery of penicillin, it had taken twenty years before it had been actually used to treat infections. There was also the problem of stressing the fungi—penicillin was a secondary metabolite, and the fungi only produced the antibiotic when not undergoing active growth. The original discoverer of penicillin had accidentally done so by leaving his culture in the cold. Yui couldn't use the same method: it was in the dead of summer, and this region of Fire Country experienced mild winters.
Even if, by some miracle, they found the right strain of fungus, cultivated it, and stressed it so that penicillin was produced, Yui would have to figure out how to actually purify it. Besides the antibiotic, the fungus produced multiple byproducts that weren't beneficial for humans. Isolating the antibiotic would require chemicals and equipment that she didn't yet have. Yui didn't have a proper lab. She didn't have a proper anything.
But one step at a time. Yui would worry about it when she got to it. First, finding the fungus. Everything else could come after.
Yui's older sister Ume strolled into the clinic with a cheerful grin. Like her sister, she had tanned skin from years in the outdoors, dark hair, and equally dark eyes. Unlike Yui, however, Ume was talkative and widely known as the village beauty.
"If it isn't my little sister Yui!" She glanced at the two morose boys in the corner. Yui had ran them through drills of all the medicinal plants, and their brains were still recovering. "And my littler brother and his little friend, o'course."
"Ume-nee," Yui said. Her apprentices mumbled something in greeting as well.
Ume whirled around, hands on her hips. "My, my, you've got some new things, huh? What's that fan from? A merchant sweet on you, maybe?"
Yui laughed. "As if. Just another grateful patient."
"Aw, Yui!" Ume plopped down on the chair and dropped her package on the floor, lounging with her head back and feet on the table. "You keep actin' like that. If you don't try to get a boy, then those rumors about you bein' that god's new concubine will keep getting bigger. Then you won't never get a man! It's not like you don't got no looks. You're my sister! Of course you got looks."
"Oh?" Yui said, noncommittal.
A god's concubine was a new one, but she could parse where it came from. A woman who wasn't interested in getting married—who preferred working to courtship—was outside of society's norms. Clearly, there had to be some sort of explanation. Yui had heard rumors about her being a nun or spirit, to name a few. There were negative rumors as well, but those weren't as popular. (The truth about her knowledge, of course, was stranger than all the conjecture.)
She was used to her sister's playful teasing about those same rumors—Ume always made sure to share the most salacious and ridiculous ones. Of all her siblings, Yui was closest to Sen and Ume; the others were much older and busy with their own lives.
As expected, her sister took that as a cue to continue chattering. "I brought you some food, too. Knowing what you're up to, you didn't likely cooked nothing proper. And it ain't like the boys know how to make something decent. I got you curry, you know! Made how you like it, too."
Before Yui could even thank her, she'd proceeded onto the next subject. Sen and Eiji watched from the corner, more than used to her nonstop personality but fascinated despite themselves. It was hard not to be—Ume was someone who reveled in the attention.
After Ume had proceeded onto the latest scandal involving the blacksmith's daughter, a traveling merchant, and the farmer from across the street, Sen spoke.
"Ume-nee," he interrupted, which was an already miraculous feat, "did you just come to drop lunch, or…"
She gasped. "That's right! I almost forgot. I've been not feeling well, you know, and I gotta talk to Yui."
Ume looked at the boys, who looked back. She cleared her throat. They continued to look at her.
"I wanna talk to Yui." Ume stared, her eyes slowly narrowing as she fixed Sen with a harsh look that only big sisters could pull off. "Just Yui."
"What?" Sen sat up, scowling. "Why not? We're healers, too!"
"Healers-in-training," Eiji corrected, but he too sounded indignant.
"Cause I gotta do women talk. Now, shoo!"
"Why does it feel like we're always being kicked out?" grumbled Sen, but they left without further complaint.
Though Sen meant it in jest, it was something that Yui had been musing about. Patients, from villagers to shinobi, didn't have the same trust in her students. Part of it was time—Yui had been a healer for nearly a decade, while Sen had been learning for only a year and Eiji for even less. However, she sincerely hoped that was the only issue. If her teachings didn't live on, then the change she'd brought would only be temporary.
Yui drew her attention to the present and realized that her sister was being uncustomarily silent. "Ume-nee?" she asked.
"Ah, yeah." Ume fidgeted, looking aside. "Um, you see… I've been feeling a bit tired, lately, and I was wondering if you got any fancy brews that I could use?"
Yui looked at her, taking in the baggy eyes and anxiousness hidden behind her sister's shaky smile. "Is there anything else?" she said quietly.
"Just… I've been a little sick, lately, you know… throwin' up a little, and my—" her voice cracked. "I missed my, you know, my flow last month, and…"
The silence stretched for a moment longer.
"You think you're pregnant?"
Ume nodded, tears coming to her eyes.
With clinical detachment, Yui asked her a series of questions about her possible pregnancy. As Ume answered, detailing her symptoms in more detail, pregnancy seemed more likely. Her sister had missed one month of her menstrual cycle, so at most, she was six-to-seven weeks pregnant.
Yui deliberated for a second, unsure how to phrase it, but decided that bluntness was the best course. Keeping her voice calm and light, she asked, "Do you know who the father is?"
"It's Kaito," said Ume immediately. "He's the only one I…" She didn't say any more.
"What do you plan to do?" This society was unforgiving of unmarried women with children. It was perhaps the worst sin a woman could commit. Yui didn't share their beliefs, of course, but… it would be hard.
Yui was placed in the unfamiliar position of receiving silence. Wrapping her arms tight around her stomach like a barrier, her sister shuddered as she sobbed. Yui knelt by her and wrapped Ume in a gentle hug. She wanted to say that it'd be alright, but Yui hated to lie.
The dangers of pregnancy were obvious, but terminating it was also dangerous. Abortion did not have the near-zero chance of complications that her old world had. Here, it was a dangerous and messy process with a high chance of failure. The abortifacients she had access to were little more than poison at this point, but Yui would rather administer it herself. At least then she could remedy any complications.
A desperate woman would be willing to do anything. A few years ago, a young girl had become pregnant with a traveling merchant's child. Unwilling to confide her 'shame' to anyone, she'd taken raw nightshade, and Yui had found her bleeding out. It had been too late.
"Ume-nee, no matter what you do, I'll support you." She hesitated. "Do you not want to … have the child?"
"I do!" said Ume immediately. "How could I not? It's Kaito's child. I love him, I… I love him, Yui." She wiped her tears and took a deep breath, bringing to front the hardiness and self-possession that a peasant's life cultivated. Sentimentality could wait. "We were gonna get married anyway. We can get married a little sooner, I guess. know he's jus' a hired hand, but—I love him." Ume nodded, mind made up. "I'm gonna marry him, Yui. He'll say yes. I know it."
She smiled at her older sister. "Congrats, Ume-nee. And you know what they say. The first child can come any time after the wedding—"
"But the second always takes nine months," finished Ume. They both giggled, more from relief than from any true humor. Ume grabbed her sister in another tight hug, her smile already becoming more confident though her voice still shook. "Thank you, little sis. I feel better now. I thought I was losin' my mind!"
"No worries." Yui patted her sister on the back. "Things happen." She drew back and gave her a firm look. "But we gotta be prepared for them, okay? I'm gonna go over the stuff you gotta do now that you're with child. I'll be damned if I let my future niece or nephew be unhealthy."
"Got it." Ume wiped one last stray tear. "I promise I'll listen."
Yui squeezed her sister's hand. "Don't worry, Ume-nee. You'll be the best mom."
She grinned back. "Somehow, I got a feeling that you'd be a better one."
As usual, when Yui had a Senju patient, the wound was a severe one. Touka was no exception. The kunoichi was every bit a warrior, with utilitarian gray armor and harsh eyes, but her hair was tied into an intricate topknot that was both elegant and practical. From the little Yui had picked up about ninja, the vast majority of kunoichi worked as support. She supposed that Touka had to be very skilled order to bypass the strict gender norms and be a frontline combatant.
Even injured, Touka held herself with confidence. Her broken arm was the least of her wounds—Yui was more concerned about the kunoichi's abdominal gash. It was deep, though thankfully there was no stomach perforation, and the burns stretching outwards had cauterized it. However, infection was always the most concerning part.
"It's been a while, Yui-san," said Touka as she examined her newly-splinted arm. "As nice as it is to see you, I can't say that I'm glad to meet again." She smiled, softening her severe features and making it clear that she'd spoken in jest.
"It'd be nice if we met without you being hurt," Yui agreed. She stepped back, eyeing her handiwork. "Need any salves or medicine to take back with you?"
Touka shook her head. "I should be fine for—"
"Healer!" came a singsong voice as a man slid in through the window. It was another of her repeat patients, Uchiha Rai, an older man with a permanent smirk and a tendency to brag about his children. "If you don't mind, I—"
The Senju and Uchiha locked eyes, and the air seemed to still as they all stopped. Yui stood there for a full second, because this had never happened before. It had never happened before. For a second, the silence gave her hope. Rai's face was frozen with shock but nothing else. Touka's eyes didn't flicker to the exit, and she didn't immediately reach for a weapon.
The moment passed. Rai moved first, his face twisting up into a snarl.
"You," he breathed. There was a searing heat and a surge of chakra, and everything was moving too fast. Glass splintered as her table crashed against the wall, objects were thrown by people moving too quick to see, demons and darkness crawled at the edges of her vision, impossible and grotesque, the world closed in with vertigo she hadn't felt since—
Smoke. Overpowering black clouds billowed through her room, and Yui was confronted with the horrifying realization that her clinic was burning. She stumbled blindly for the exit, and someone grabbed her and pulled her away from the inferno.
"No," she croaked, coughing with smoke inhalation. "No…"
The two ninja disappeared and reappearing with intertwining blurs as the continued fighting around the ruins of her livelihood. The villagers bustled into action, grabbing buckets of water from the rivers and wells, soaking the surrounding buildings and attempting to quell the growing fire. Embers drifted around her, and two voices—Sen and Eiji, perhaps—were murmuring words of comfort, but Yui didn't hear them.
"No, no…" Irrationally, she stood to go inside, to get something, but her apprentices held her back. The ninja were still fighting, their destruction beginning to spread. "No, stop!"
The din was unbearable.
"Stop it!" she yelled, voice tearing under the strain. "Stop it, stop it now!"
Touka and Rai halted for a second, stunned to hear her raise her voice. In some corner of her mind, Yui was aware that others in the village were doing the same, but she only had eyes for the ninja.
"Look what you did!" Yui gestured towards what was left of her clinic, face red and shaking and she had never been so angry or heartbroken or disappointed, and how could they do this to her home? "How dare you?"
They stood, motionless and silent and blank-faced, though Rai's mouth was wide with horror and Touka's eyes were full of regret.
Touka made an aborted movement, as if to step forward, and Rai flinched back, glancing from her to Yui.
"But—" He faltered, hand outstretched. Touka tensed and curled in on herself as she clutched at her side.
"Get out of my home!" She was screaming, now. "Get out, and don't you dare come back! Take your fighting with you! Leave, dammit, leave!"
Hesitance. Then, the two ninja were gone, as if they'd never been there, leaving nothing but the smoldering remains of her clinic to show for it.
Yui buried her face in her hands and cried.
Chapter 5: Contusion
Yui rebuilds step by step, brick by brick, but not alone. A promise is a promise.
Peasants didn't linger. They picked themselves up, brushed off the ashes, and moved on. Yui tried. She really did. Yui fell back into a routine as she bandaged wounds, delivered children, and eased colds, using her sheds as a temporary clinic.
She was fine. She was doing fine.
Yet, every time she saw the burnt ruins of her home, it felt like her heart had been torn out. The clinic still smoldered in her mind. Yui was no stranger to violence or destruction, but this had shaken her. The bandit attack—that was expected, a dispassionate occurrence, like an earthquake or flood. This, though… this had happened because of her patients, her friends. And now, her whole clinic was gone.
There were small mercies, though. No one in the village had gotten hurt. The two sheds had been singed and one was missing half its roof, but both were intact, as were its contents. The garden had been wrecked. However, Hashirama's plants had enough green growth that they'd likely recover. Yui had seeds for the rest. She was back down to two decent kusode, but they were better than what she'd had before. Yui had to keep reminding herself of everything she still had, or she'd wallow forever in despair.
With more force than necessary, Yui yanked out one of the weeds in her garden, hissing as thorn lodged itself in her palm. She pulled it out and tossed it onto the pile before stomping on the upturned dirt.
"Are… you ok, Yui-sensei?" mumbled Eiji, eyeing her as he halfheartedly prodded a dandelion.
"Fine." She rubbed her cheek and huffed. "Where's Sen?"
He scowled. "With his newest girlfriend. Don't ask me her name. I don't know."
"Did he go to Mika's house to check on the baby?"
"Yeah, Sen said that the mom and baby are both doing good. Mika was a worried that he was sleeping too much," he snorted in amusement, "but the baby's feeding well."
She shook her head. The boys were both at an age where girls stopped becoming a passing fancy. Sen had embraced—literally and metaphorically—the concept of courtship, taking full advantage of his increased status. Being an apprentice to the village healer, apparently, was very popular with the ladies. On the other hand, Eiji was either more discreet or uninterested.
Yui pulled up another dandelion, debating whether she should bring it to the shed. These weeds had medicinal properties, and when cooked properly, were rather tasty. She had a large supply already, but one more couldn't hurt. Eiji pulled up the one he'd been toying with and cursed. He'd only ripped out the stem, leaving the root in the ground.
"G'morning!" called out a hoarse voice. A woman carrying several bundles stumbled down the path, coughs wracking her body. Aki was a semi-frequent visitor from a village two days away. Every month, the woman would come to purchase cold medicine for her chronic illness and the others in her village, as their own healer had passed away last year.
"Your cough's gotten worse," Yui commented, frowning. "You've been taking all the medicine?"
"Ah, yes, but I ran out. My nephew came down with a cold, so I shared—" Aki came to a sudden stop, horror growing on her face as she stared at the burnt remains. "No," she rasped, coughing once. "It was true. No, how could they? What are you..." Her hand went to her heart. "Your place… it's gone."
Yui stood. "I can still treat you." She gestured towards the shed that had become the temporary clinic. "My medicine's in there."
Gratitude and relief made her slump. "Oh, goodness. Bless you, healer. Bless you."
Yui glanced at her Eiji, and he nodded. "I'll finish weeding for you," he mumbled dolefully, glaring at the crabgrass in the corner. "It shouldn't take too long."
"Thank you," she said to her apprentice. Then, she offered an arm to her patient for support, steadying her as the woman had another coughing fit. "Let's go inside. I'll give you something extra for your cough."
Aki gave her a broken-toothed smile, and Yui was reminded of why she did this at all. "Bless you, healer. You give us more than we deserve."
"No," said Yui, smiling back. "I don't give enough."
After the destruction of her home, Yui felt like she couldn't do anything without someone coming to help her. It was... touching, truly, how so many people had checked on her on some pretense or another. Just yesterday, the village carpenter promised to replace her furniture for free as payment for delivering his child—which had happened three years ago—and the blacksmith had given her a kettle to replace the one that had been burnt. Eiji's mother had given her an extra serving of rice, claiming that she'd forgotten to pay Yui back for healing a long-forgotten cold. Yui hadn't even cooked for weeks as one villager or another used some excuse to give her food.
The regular merchants were just as generous, with Tsubaki giving her extra glassware on the cheap, cloth merchants slipping extra fabric in their payment, others giving her pottery, and so on. Instead of letting her pay or placing her in their debt, almost all of them claimed that they were repaying her for some feigned obligation or the other. She'd never recover everything, but Yui'd replaced her essentials very fast. All that was left was to rebuild her clinic.
Equally generous, if not more, were the ninja's responses. Emigiku, for one, left behind kimonos, each more elaborate than the last (and likely not obtained legally). Others left money or a smattering of supplies—one man named Shikari had left a 'sympathy' note with detailed instructions on how to gain revenge on the clans involved—but all of the ninja, however, knew exactly who'd done it.
"Uchiha," they'd mutter under their breath, followed by an equally vitriolic, "Senju."
A member from those two clans, however, hadn't been to her clinic in nearly three weeks. It made Yui wonder. Where they afraid she wouldn't treat them? That she'd bar them from her clinic entirely? With no way to contact them, she could only wait until they came to her.
On a muggy summer day, Yui brushed back her hair from sweaty face and stared at another one of her failed cultures. The gelatin base worked, but she was still having trouble finding the right mold that would produce penicillin. She sighed and began to clean up.
"Yui-nee?" said Sen, opening the door to the shed. He spoke carefully, each syllable enunciated and clear. "Someone's here to see you."
To see her—not for treatment? Perhaps it was a merchant wanting to purchase medicine, though she wasn't sure why Sen hadn't said their name. He was familiar with most of them, and the ones he didn't know would likely share their names with him.
"I'll be there in a second." She scrubbed the last bit of mold and put it in boiling water to sanitize it.
"I think… you should probably go now. I'll finish it up."
Yui glanced at him, finally noticing the stiff way he was standing, fists clenched, eyes wide. Ninja. "Alright," she said quietly, washing her hands. "I'll come."
The outside heat was just as oppressive as the inside humidity of her shed. Yui wiped the sweat from her forehead again and looked around for the ninja who had come—but not for treatment. He was crouched by the garden, fingers brushing the delicate new growth of her plants. For a moment, she didn't recognize him. His brown hair was tied back, and he was lacking his tell-tale red armor. Then, he stood and stepped forward.
"On behalf of my clan and Touka," Hashirama said immediately, meeting her gaze, "I sincerely profess, th-that I, that we…" He stumbled and tried to continue regardless, voice rising. "For the great wrong done to—" He cut off again, swallowed, and glanced down at the ground as if berating himself.
When Hashirama looked up, all formality had vanished, and his eyes were full of determination and heartbreak. "Oh, Yui-san, I'm so sorry. I would've come sooner, but… I couldn't be spared."
She stared at him for a long moment, noticing the bags under his eyes and a sallow complexion that spoke of overwork. Yui doubted she looked much better. Like her, he was exhausted, but his exhaustion was the kind she saw on those coming to her from recent battle—the kind that spoke of war.
"How is Touka?" she said finally.
He blinked, and the beginnings of cautious relief spread on his face. "She's doing well. Your stitches held until she made it back, and our healers took care of the rest."
They were both quiet for a moment, each taking in the other. Then, Hashirama broke the fragile silence.
"I'm here to make things right, Yui-san."
He was empty-handed, and she wondered exactly how he would try.
"I'm still practicing this," he admitted. "It might not be the best, but it should help."
The general frame of her home's replacement had been built, but it would be weeks before it could be completed. With deliberate steps, Hashirama paced around the its borders, making one round, then two, before stepping back and closing his eyes. Twisting his hands in a strange manner, Hashirama breathed in and held it. Then, he breathed out, and a surge of chakra saturated everything, filling the air and dancing on her skin, deep and heavy and thrumming like the empty air of an old forest. Hashirama took another breath, and when he exhaled, trees burst from the ground. They grew taller and then bent, folding and twisting further until they became the shape of her clinic.
Yui stared. She stared and stared and wondered if this was some fever dream, some cruel illusion—if this could possibly real.
"I know it can't make up for what happened, for everything you lost." Hashirama's voice was strained, and his hands were shaking. "But I hope it… that it…"
He swayed once, and Yui finally snapped out of her daze. She rushed to his side and eased him down to the ground, checking his pulse and temperature with ease born of habit.
"I'm fine," Hashirama insisted, attempting to push aside her hands. "It's just a lack of sleep and mild chakra exhaustion. I'll be fine, really. When I get home, I'll sleep, and I'll be as good as new!"
"You grew a house." She laughed out of sheer astonishment. "How? How are you fine? How did you do that?"
He laughed too, weak and shallow instead of with his usual brightness. "Ah, well… what can I say? It's just something I've been able to do."
"I'll say." She shook her head, concerned and stunned despite his assurances. "You never stop amazing me."
He gave in and laid back, looking up at her with a wry smile. "I could say the same."
They stayed like that for a few moments, Yui speechless at the impossibility of what she'd seen, Hashirama teetering at the edge of exhaustion. Her thoughts revolved nothing but the newly-grown house, full of awe and disbelief—and they came crashing down as she remembered why it had been needed in the first place. Yui never wanted it to happen again. She looked at the man sitting beside her. He was a friend, a ninja, and the son of the Senju clan leader. He was unlike anyone she'd ever met, someone who dreamed beyond the confines of this society. Hashirama had been so kind to her, so giving. But she still had more to ask.
"Hashirama-san…" she began, trailing off. "Do you remember that favor your father promised?"
"Hm? Yes?" Hashirama looked, and his smile was now gentle.
"I know that it... I know it's been paid over already, but can I ask for one more?"
He sat up. "Yui-san, we still owe you too much to repay. Of course you can ask, and I'll do whatever I can to fulfill it."
"I want my clinic to be a place where no one fights." She struggled for a moment to think of the phrase before finally remembering. "I want it to be neutral ground. Officially. I want your clan's word." Yui paused and added, "And I will talk to the Uchiha, too."
Hashirama's eyes widened. "You're familiar with them."
She swallowed, now nervous. He'd talked about a world without conflict, but for all she knew, they were just words. "I, I know that the Senju and Uchiha don't get along—"
He grasped her hands. "Yui-san," he breathed, "if this… this could be the first step for peace…"
Hashirama face lit up with hope and determination. "My father will do it. I will make sure of it."
Yui couldn't help but smile back. "Thank you," she said, packing all her joy and gratitude into those two words. "For everything."
"No, Yui-san. Thank you."
The house wasn't perfectly built; there were a few gaps in the walls and roofs that had to be patched over. However, Yui was able to move in near immediately. It was bigger than her old clinic, with four rooms instead of two, and the whole place thrummed lightly of chakra even days later. Everytime she looked at her clinic, Yui felt a warm sort of affection and awe at the complete impossibility of Hashirama growing a house for her.
Everyone else, of course, felt the same way. As a consequence, the rumors about her being blessed—about her being a goddess—increased ten fold. She bore them with bemusement, unsure what to make of the small shrine that had been built for the God of Medicine outside her home. (Secretly, Yui wondered if the offerings were for the god… or for her.)
A week after Hashirama's arrival, a young man arrived at her doorstep. He looked to be Sen's age, in his late teens, if not a little older. From the tight-fitting armor, he was clearly a ninja. Yui gave him a careful look, lingering at the x-shaped scar covering his cheek and the pale-brown hair. He looked strangely familiar.
The teen bowed deeply. "You do us great honor, Yui-san," he said, handing her a bound scroll. "It is done."
"Thank you," she murmured back, taking it.
With another bow, he vanished. She hardly blinked, going back inside to the table.
"Watcha got there, Yui-nee?" Sen perked up from stitching the banana peel. "More payment?"
Yui shook her head and unwrapped the scroll. She puzzled through the kanji, asking Eiji for help on the more complicated ones. When she reached the wax seal with the Senju crest at the end, Yui smiled. Hashirama had come through; his clan had officially sworn to treat her clinic as a neutral place free of violence.
"A promise," answered Yui, finally. "A promise for peace."
Only a few days after his Senju counterpart made amends, Madara appeared. More specifically, he appeared outside her clinic and knocked, a fact which Yui pointed out with immediate disbelief.
He stared at her, then the clinic, before looking back at her with an expression bordering on uncomfortable.
She stepped aside, and Madara entered with none of his perfunctory assurance. He wasn't shy or hesitant—indeed, Yui wasn't convinced he could ever be—but almost… muted. Madara reached out and touched the walls of her clinic, breathing in sharply. Then, he turned around. In his hands was a cloth bag (and no severed limbs, she was glad to see), which Madara held out to her after a moment of consideration.
"Healer, I have come to make amends."
Yui took the bag and waited.
He paused, expecting her to speak, and continued stiffly. "It is but a mere token. It is not enough to repay you—"
"You're right," she agreed.
Madara halted. "What?" He didn't stammer, but the incredulity made the single word rise sharply in pitch.
"It's not enough." Yui set the pouch on the table. It was heavy, and its contents clinked softly; she had no doubt that it was money.
"Then… what is it you want?" He didn't sound offended. Instead, slight curiosity undermined the affected disinterest in his words and expression.
She spoke, enunciating each unfamiliar word. "I want an accord of neutrality for my clinic."
"Neutrality?" he repeated, sharp and dry. "You want your clinic to officially be neutral ground?"
"Yeah—ah, yes. Yes, I do." Yui looked at his hands before meeting his eyes again. "You won't fight in my village. No one from your clan."
He exhaled, almost long enough to be a sigh. "It is a fanciful thought, but the Senju would never agree. Their current leader is a hateful old man who refuses—"
Yui pulled the scroll from her shelf and placed it on the table. Madara stared at it. He glanced at her before unrolling it. His eyes skimmed the scroll, and for the second time, an expression of pure shock overcame him. For a moment, he stood frozen in disbelief, but then, confusion and suspicion and finally, hope, flickered across his face.
"I…" he began. Madara stopped. He read it again, and another time, before he looked up. "What if I say no?"
This time, she was the one who sighed. Yui sat down and gestured for him to join her, and he obliged with deliberate grace. The tea kettle whistled. Yui made no move to get it.
"There's nothing I can do," she said finally.
"What are you saying?" he asked, a hint of haughtiness returning to his tone.
"With ninja, I'm always at a disadvantage." She folded her hands, calm and level. "You could kill me without blinking, and I couldn't stop you. I can't make you do anything."
Madara bristled just as the steam hissed again. "That isn't true. You could always threaten not to give us treatment or medicine."
Yui was quiet for a bit. She'd be lying if she said that the thought had never crossed her mind. But each time, she came to the same conclusion.
"No. I won't use medicine to force people." Yui looked at him, unyielding. This was another line she refused to cross. "Healing is a right. I won't ever hold it over anyone's head. It's not..." It's not conditional, she wanted to say, but words failed her again. "If I was to stop giving your clan medicine, who would get hurt most?"
He said nothing, instead watching her with scrutiny that bordered on piercing.
She continued, picking up steam, "It wouldn't be the people who didn't agree. It wouldn't be the ones with the power to say yes or no. It'd be the kids, the poor, the ones who can't get treatment by themselves. Who'd I be hurting?" Yui pressed her hand flat on the table and spoke with utter conviction. "I don't get to chose who deserves healing and who doesn't."
The kettle whistled for the third time in the stretching silence. "And," she said, wry as she added an afterthought, "telling ninja 'No' makes them want to kill me more."
Now, Madara seemed almost amused. "You have no trouble defying ninja. And if you fear for your life so much, you could learn to defend yourself. You already do know how to use chakra."
Yui laughed. "Defend myself? What ninja's gonna teach me?" She rose to take the kettle from the fire. "Besides, I don't think as much people would come for help if they thought I could hurt them." She looked over her shoulder as she added more wood to the fire. "You never really answered me, though. D'you think the Uchiha clan would agree to neutral ground?"
He didn't sigh, but as he breathed out, his tense posture loosened into something more informal. "Yes," Madara said, quiet. "Of course we would. Your medicine has been invaluable to the clan, healer, mitigating one of the disadvantages my clan has long had. The only concern would be of the Senju reciprocating, but you've already handled that."
She smiled, soft and slow, and brought the kettle over. "Tea?"
He nodded, looking away, and Yui poured him a cup.
"So you think the leader of the Uchiha clan will agree?" she asked.
"Well, of course." Madara blinked at her. "After all, I am the leader of the Uchiha clan."
She paused mid-pour. "Oh." That… certainly explained a lot, from his demeanor to his aura of command. He never talked about himself, not really, but Yui still turned pink with embarrassment from not having realized sooner.
A small smirk pulled at his lips, but Madara let it pass without comment.
They both drank their tea, content with silence, until he suddenly asked her a question. "Do you think peace is possible?"
"Of course," she answered without hesitation.
"But you said earlier that there is nothing you could do against ninja. Against violence." Madara narrowed his eyes. "How can you be certain about peace if you are so powerless?"
"Physically, yes. And in the way you think about power." Yui sipped at her tea and grimaced. She had let it steep too long, and now it was bitter. "But there are other ways to change things. Kind words. Good deeds. Friendships."
His short laugh was mocking. "Has it worked?" he said, harsh and sardonic.
"Has it?" she repeated softly. Yui glanced at the scroll on the table and then at him.
Madara paused. His frown couldn't be called conflicted, but it no longer held that same conviction. "What if..." he said after a moment, subdued. "What if peace were truly impossible?"
"It doesn't mean we should stop trying." Yui continued drinking her tea despite the taste; Madara had set it aside long ago. "If we think we can't change something, then we never will."
He stared at her for long enough to make the silence uncomfortable, and for a second, it seemed like there was a crimson glint in his eyes. "You're quite naive."
"That doesn't mean I'm wrong."
"No," he agreed, and his smile was sharp and honest and just a little tentative. "No, it doesn't."
The book merchant returned, entourage in tow. This time, Toshihiro had his three ninja guards (as well as their four dogs) and three samurai. Also present was a thin man who seemed to be in his mid-thirties. Round spectacles slipped from his nose, and he wore the traditional, pale green haori of professional doctors. Before, having so many people in her clinic would have been unbearably crowded, but her new, larger one meant that it was only a little cramped.
"Ah, Yui-san!" Toshihiro swept in, embroidered kimono sleeves flapping as he bowed shallowly but ostentatiously. "I have returned, as I always shall do. Your exquisiteness elaborates me to return!"
The doctor and the older samurai frowned at that, but neither commented.
"I heard rumors that this whole place burned down, but I am certainly ineffably delighted to hear that was just that: rumors."
Yui didn't bother to correct him as he continued with his praise. Finally, he'd wound himself down enough to get to the actual point.
"Which brings me to one of the reasons I have made the dangerous, dangerous travail to reach your humble abode." With another flourish, he presented her with a bound book. She took it, joy rising up as she saw the printed words on the title page. Yui's Medical Primer. Sen and Eiji, who'd been gawking at the samurai from the corner of the room, crowded her.
"Look, look!" said Eiji as he pointed at one of his printed illustrations. "I drew that!"
"It has your name on it, Yui-nee!" Sen seemed just as proud as he finished sounding out the words of the title.
Toshihiro cleared his throat. "Perhaps you could send the children out while so we can finish discussing matters? We wouldn't want them getting in the way, and I've so dearly longed to speak with you."
The two boys bristled. At around eighteen years old, they were adults by every measure. The merchant's words were nothing but pure condescension, and Sen's red face suggested that his temper was about to flare. Yui touched his shoulder and gave Toshihiro a firm look.
"My apprentices know how to behave," she said quietly.
His nose wrinkled. "Very well." Toshihiro placed a bag of coins on the table. "Enclosed is your twenty-five percent cut of the profits. It sold rather well in the rural areas, I must admit, even though it failed miserably in the capital and cities. Such a shame that they do not see your wisdom!"
"Twenty-five percent?" Yui frowned at him. "We agreed on one-third."
"Did we?" His put-upon expression of utter shock was convincing to no one, but the way he glanced back at the samurai was. The oldest one had accompanied the merchant when they'd made the agreement, and he seemed rather displeased.. "Ah, goodness. Ah, forgive me, dearest. It must have slipped my mind."
Toshihiro placed a few more coins in the pouch and paused. "Are you certain it wasn't thirty-percent?"
"Should I bring the contract?" She wasn't bluffing—she'd kept the contract and other important papers in her shed. Yui didn't care that much about a few coins, but it was the principle of the matter. She refused to be swindled, especially when she'd been so generous with the initial terms. Of course, Toshihiro could have lied about how much profit he'd made in total, but there wasn't much she could do about that.
"No need! I remember now, it was certainly one-third. How foolish I have been! As I grow older, these memory lapses happen from time to time, especially when I bask in your presence."
"Bullshit," mumbled Sen.
Yui gave her brother a harsh glance before fixing Toshihiro with a frown. She let him squirm under her gaze (and those of his retainers, specifically the samurai) before letting the matter drop.
"It didn't sell good in the cities?" she asked. Regardless, Yui was glad to hear that her book was doing well in the rural areas—which tended to have less knowledge of medicine, anyway.
"No, it did not." Toshihiro's words were clipped. Unexpectedly, he did not continue.
For a second, his eyes were full of all the poorly-hidden disdain he held for her. "Because," he said slowly, as if speaking to a dim child, "you're a peasant woman from the outskirts with no true medical knowledge. Why in the world would trained doctors in the cultured cities listen to you?" His saccharine smile returned. "No matter. You will always be like the sun to me, shining your bright knowledge onto those who listen."
Yui knew, consciously, of the ingrained sexism in this society. She saw examples of it everyday, of the unspoken rules that controlled what women could and couldn't do. And yet… and yet, Yui had forgotten that they could affect her too. She'd been so used to being an outlier, someone who was treated with near-equal respect despite her gender—not an exception, per se, but someone who the rules bent around.
But that was only in her village. That was only by her patients.
"Well," he said, the smirk lingering on his face, "you managed to impress at least one esteemed doctor. You certainly have some luck, my loveliest." He gestured towards aforementioned man. "May I introduce Doctor Makoto?"
The doctor stepped forward. "A pleasure, Yui-san, to be formally acquainted at last." His voice was soft, and he rubbed the bridge of his nose where his glasses had sat.
"I believe he wanted to discuss some matters concerning your… book. Possibly to correct certain medical inaccuracies, though I know how infallible you are." Toshihiro's smugness grew. "Now, while you two, ah, continue on, I shall proceed to the village. There was this one… tart that I wanted to sample." He snapped at his entourage. "Noburo, Kon, you two stay with the doctor. The rest, follow me."
Dutifully, the rest of the guards shuffled after him, leaving only the elder samurai and the youngest Inuzuka behind—and his large, bear-like dog, who whuffed once before lying on the floor. Eiji edged backwards, eyeing the dog with contained panic, while Sen crouched down and stared at it from several feet away.
Doctor Makoto cleaned his glasses for the third time as he squinted at her. Finally, he sighed, and with trembling fingers, placed them back on the bridge of his nose.
"Do you remember me?" he asked, wry.
Perhaps he was a tad familiar, but he didn't stand out from the sea of faces that had passed through her clinic. "Afraid not," she admitted.
"That doesn't surprise me. It's been almost a decade since we met." The doctor smiled at her, and it was self-deprecating but also rather kind, even as he fidgeted with his sleeve. "You may not remember me, but I remember you. How could I not? I've been thinking of you almost every day."
Yui paused, surprised. Had he been one of her patients? She cast her mind back ten years, only a year after Old Anzu's passing, trying to remember.
"I was a young man then, one who'd only become a doctor at his father's request. I'd just graduated, and I was restless and unhappy, convinced that I'd made the wrong choice in listening to him. So, like any other foolish boy, I decided that I wanted an adventure. I wanted to run away. And I did."
Makoto spoke like someone who had rehearsed this moment a hundred times in his head, each word deliberate and smooth. "Instead of working as a court doctor for one noble or another, as my father wished, I found a traveling caravan heading to Earth Country. They needed a healer, so I offered my services. They gladly took me along. Little did they know. Little did I know."
He continued, "It went smoothly at first. Then, everyone started becoming sick with cholera, and I panicked. I was arrogant, stupid… and worst of all, I didn't know what to do. As a last resort, the merchant leading the caravan had asked the local healer of a nearby village for help." The doctor paused. "And out comes this little slip of a girl, barely past her tenth year. She did everything I couldn't. She separated the patients, procured clean water, treated the symptoms… this girl healed them. I was utterly affronted."
Everyone, from Eiji and Sen to the ninja and samurai, were listening. The doctor blinked, noticing his audience was more than just her, and smiled again, just as wry.
"Even after we left the village, I couldn't help but think about her. How could this peasant girl do what I couldn't? When we returned from the trip, I threw myself back into my studies, determined to be better. As I grew older, it became less competitive and more admiring. This girl did what I couldn't, without any of the advantages I had, and that thought became tinged with sadness. How unfair it was, that I had access to so much and she didn't. As rumors of a village with an incredible healer arose, I immediately thought of her. Could it be?"
Doctor Makoto pointed to the book. "This was the last straw, of course. Yui's Primer. Written by someone with the same name as that girl from a decade ago, full of information that a village healer shouldn't have. I knew none of my colleagues would take it seriously because they didn't know." He met her eyes, and gone was the twitchy man of her first impressions. "You changed my life. I am here to repay the debt, Yui-sensei."
Yui was at loss for words. Dim memories resurfaced, of a merchant caravan who had stopped by, of gastrointestinal disease and a whiny healer. It had been so long ago, such an ordinary event, and yet, to know that she had made such an impact…
He cleared his throat and took out another copy of her book. This one was dog-eared and bent and underlined thoroughly. The doctor flipped open to a marked page and pointed at a circled word.
"Here, you wrote about animalcules and their—"
"Animal... culs?" she interrupted.
Tugging at his sleeves, Doctor Makoto explained, "You called them jyaamuzu and said that they were the cause of sickness. The tiny creatures that can be seen under a microscope—that is, a glass device that allows for one to look at small things. The official term for jyaamuzu is animalcules, you see. Some agree that they cause diseases, but most doctors consider miasma to be the source."
She nodded, committing the terms to memory.
He murmured something to the samurai, who brought forward a sack of books. "In here, I have my old medical texts. I hope you will accept them from me."
Yui's eyes widened. A chance to learn the current state of medicine in this world—the advanced kind found in the cities—and gauge its state? To learn the actual terms this world used instead of her cobbled mishmash?
"I-I'd love to," she stammered out. "But, what do you want for it?"
Doctor Makoto bowed, lower than he had to. "Teach me what you know, Yui-sensei, and let me rewrite your book. My colleagues would never listen to a peasant woman, but they might listen to me. In return, I will tell you what I know and what medicine has already done, and half of the proceeds will go to you."
It took her just a moment. She wouldn't get credit, but that didn't matter. Not when this could change so much. Yui bowed back. "It'd be my honor."
He straightened. "No," he said, his smile wobbling, "it'd be mine."
Thanks to y'all for your support, and reminding me that I need to continue cross-posting on AO3. And thanks to my beta readers as always.
Chapter 6: Inflammation
Growing pains, individually and as a whole.
Her quest for penicillin continued, but this time, she involved the village. Yui's requests for people to bring her moldy bread and fruit were greeted with amused indulgence. Since she could actually grow the fungi in her gelatin base, it was time to search for a better strain. Yui still had to figure out better ways to stress the fungi to produce the antibiotic, but all lasting progress was slow.
By now, the villagers had learned not to question her methods. Dr. Makoto, on the other hand, had nothing but questions. He'd spent two weeks soaking in her methods and helping her through the textbooks. Judging from the information in the books, this world had reached the equivalent of late-1800s Europe, with a few areas that were better or worse. Often, when she explained a concept with her English mishmash, Dr. Makoto would correct her with the actual term. Each time it happened, he would go quiet, tugging at his sleeves in that nervous habit of his.
He was still politely skeptical about the role of 'animalcules' and the potential of penicillium, but nothing, from the wooden stethoscopes she used to the chakra salves, was spared the brunt of his baffled enthusiasm. After her demonstration of the stethoscope, Dr. Makoto wrote down her explanation of its theory and the design for a modern, binaural one, certain that his colleagues would be as easy to convince of its potential. In contrast to that easy acceptance, her use of chakra left him utterly stunned.
"I can't believe it," he repeated for the fifth time, testing the salve between his fingers. "You're capable of healing with chakra."
"Don't they use chakra in the cities?" Judging from the textbooks he'd given her, medicine was more advanced there, so doctors should have at least some knowledge. At least, more than she did.
"Well, I suppose they do." Dr. Makoto frowned. "The best doctors can put their hands on a patient and use chakra to diagnose fluid in the lungs or a weak heart. It's simply... the secrets of chakra are reserved to the most elite master-apprentice lines. Court doctors guard their knowledge jealously."
Here again, Yui ran head first into the attitudes of this world. She wasn't surprised, but she didn't have to accept it, either. Dr. Makoto gazed longingly at her glowing hands as she made another batch.
"I can teach you chakra, too," she said as she finished kneading the chakra into the salve.
He jerked his head up so fast that his glasses almost flew off his face. "What?"
Yui shrugged. "You said you wanted to learn what I knew."
For a second, Dr. Makoto seemed almost close to tears. His lower lip trembled as the silence stretched. Then, he took a deep breath, composed himself, and bowed. "I would be honored, Yui-sensei, but…" he was still bowing as he spoke, careful with just a hint of stutter, "there is a question that I have had, that I must ask first."
"Please don't bow." She fiddled with her hands, flustered as always by his unnecessary decorum. Despite his time in the village, Dr. Makoto always kept a certain distance. He respected and deferred to her in matters of medicine, but Yui made him uncomfortable. The doctor always spoke to her, asking questions and listening, answering her when she asked—but never speaking casually, never asking anything personal or volunteering. He was a liberal man by this society's standards, but his progressiveness was hard fought and rough, the kind gained from having preconceptions battered and rearranged. "Ask away."
Dr. Makoto straightened slowly but kept his shoulders hunched, his eyes weary as he mused over his question, halting and low. "How do you know what you know?"
"My old teacher," Yui said. She'd expected his question for some time and had prepared an answer, suspecting that part of his unease was caused by the way she pushed at the boundaries of this world. "Old Anzu knew how to make chakra salves. I learned from her, though some ninja taught me tricks."
"Ninja?" he trailed off, blinking, before shaking his head. "Never mind that. It isn't the chakra I mean, or rather, not just the chakra. It's everything together."
"What do you mean?" She tried to keep her tone neutral, but Yui wasn't a good liar, even when she had time to prepare.
"How do you know all these details about medicine and science and the human body?" said Dr. Makoto. "You know ideas and facts without knowing the proper names, so you weren't taught formally by someone. Yet, your understanding equals—if not surpasses—that of foremost leaders in those fields. One or two discoveries I could put aside as a brilliant intellect or luck, but what you know…" He swallowed, his gaze drifting to the window. "I'm a man of science, Yui-sensei. I don't hold to superstitions about gods and spirits. But what you know… it's nothing short of miraculous."
She was quiet. In this case, the truth was more fantastic than the rumors. The source of her knowledge, that other world… it wasn't something that Yui liked remembering. At this point, there wasn't much she did remember beyond the practical applications. She preferred it that way, when one memory blurred into to the next, and all she had to do was focus on now.
"I don't know," she said finally. It was still the truth. Yui didn't know why or how she'd been given this second life. All she could do was live it. "I just know it."
He removed his spectacles and cleaned them with his sleeve. "Unbelievable," he murmured. "Simply incredible." The doctor looked to the side, almost reluctant. "I suppose it really is a miracle." Spoken by anyone else, it would be a compliment. Dr. Makoto said it with discontent.
Yui shrugged. While half-truthful answers didn't stop him, another question might. "Do you want to make the salve?"
Dr. Makoto straightened, all hesitation forgotten as his curiosity took a turn. "Oh, do I!"
Smiling, Yui described the routine of meditation and chakra exercises that she'd put Eiji and Sen through. In contrast to her old teacher's method, this one took even less time. Old Anzu had thrown Yui headfirst into the lake; after several months of meditation, she'd started directly with salve-making. Yui had spent six months practicing before she'd seen results. It would still take Dr. Makoto a month at the least before he produced chakra, but from the determination in his eyes, Yui knew he'd do it. Once he was able to access chakra, she'd teach him how to make the salve. And perhaps he could pass it on.
She paused in the middle of her demonstration. "Dr. Makoto, could you do two things for me when you go back to the city?"
"If it is in my power, certainly."
"Can you send me more stuff about healing and, uh, science?"
He nodded. "Yes, of course. I was planning on doing so anyway."
"Thanks," she said. "And, the other thing. Will you teach your friends how to use chakra, too?"
A gamut of emotions ran across his face, from surprise to hesitation and finally, uncertainty. It settled like that, heavy, and he didn't speak.
The doctor sighed, removing his glasses and reaching up to rub his face. "I'm so used to hoarding each trick of the trade and hiding each fought-for technique. It's still my first instinct. Hearing you say that, asking me to just share it, it's humbling." He gave her a wan smile. "Well, I'll be rewriting your book, anyway. I might as well add a chapter about chakra. Perhaps not as detailed, but it wouldn't hurt to include some basic information."
Before Yui could say anything in response, the door to the shed opened, and in strolled a ninja. Scars crisscrossed his lip, emphasizing his languid smirk. He wore simple armor, and his long, coarse hair was pulled into a high ponytail.
"Hey, Yui-san." Shikari, one of her usual ninja clients, gave a half-shrug. "Sorry to interrupt you when you're with someone else, but I think I broke my leg. Could you fix it for me?"
Dr. Makoto froze while Yui helped Shikari take a seat. After giving the doctor a dispassionate once-over, Shikari completely ignored him. Yui pulled some supplies from the shelf and began to treat him. She'd prefer to do it in the clinic, but Yui wasn't going to move him when his leg was in that state.
"It is broken. Did you walk far on it?" she asked, disapproving, as she wrapped it up.
"Yeah, unfortunately. Didn't have much of a choice."
It was a clean, closed break, and Shikari had only a few injuries, so after Yui cleaned the few scrapes and splinted the leg, he was good to go. Shikari mumbled his thanks, giving her an actual smile instead of his usual disinterested stare. He handed her a few coins from his sash and promised to bring her some rare herbs to make up the difference.
"Stay off the—" she began, and Dr. Makoto yelped when Shikari disappeared in a puff of smoke, "... leg." Yui sighed. She was all too familiar with speaking to empty air.
A moment passed, and Dr. Makoto loosened somewhat, exhaling a shaky breath. "Didn't you... say something about ninja?" he squeaked out.
"I did. I treat them, too." With a nonchalant shake of her head, she pointed at the half-finished salve. "Let's continue. I'll show you the leaf trick after this."
Dr. Makoto let out another quavering sigh, swallowing his questions for once, and Yui resumed her lesson.
Sen and Eiji had taken over much of the day-to-day treatment of the village, leaving Yui to act as a specialist for the worst cases and the village outsiders. With more spare time, she occupied herself with testing different strains of penicillium fungi to find one that actually produced the antibiotic. Dr. Makoto helped with treatment as well, but when he wasn't learning or teaching her terminology, he stayed in the other shed, trying to produce chakra.
Her older sister also took advantage of her spare time. Ume had conscripted her two youngest siblings—and anyone who would listen—to help with the logistics or at least serve as an audience for her complaints. Though there was only a week until the wedding, Ume dithered, going back and forth between different dresses and decorations and foods. The actual marriage ceremony would be private and traditional, held in the shrine with only the couple's immediate family, but there would be a celebration afterwards. Yui managed to escape the discussion with a feigned excuse (though Sen wasn't as lucky). She loved her sister, truly, but there was only so much of wedding planning she could handle.
Despite the sunshine, the weather began to hint of fall again, and Yui shivered lightly as she walked to her home. As she approached the clinic, Yui noticed a figure slumped against the wall. She hurried forward, immediately worried. Had someone collapsed outside? From exhaustion, perhaps, but the armor suggested ninja, so blood loss or something more dramatic was likely—
The man stood as she came closer, putting her fears to rest. "Yui-san!" Hashirama yawned, turning it into a half-laugh that fooled no one.
"It's good to see you again," she said, smiling. "Sorry for making you wait."
He shook his head. "No, it's my fault! I'm the one who always drops by unannounced."
Yui ushered him to the warm interior of her home. The humid air was rich with the smell of the stew and rice she'd left to simmer. After she cleared the table and tasted the food (passable, though it needed a little salt), Yui ignored his polite protests and served him a late lunch.
"I'm hungry," she said with finality. "I'm gonna eat. You better, too."
"Alright, alright. Thank you." Hashirama accepted the two bowls and chopsticks. "I feel like I'm imposing."
A smile tugged upwards on her lips. "D'you remember the first time you stayed for lunch?"
He flushed. "Yeah, well…" Hashirama scratched at his cheek, sheepish, and smiled as he glanced at her with shared amusement. The smile turned into a stifled yawn that he tried to cover up by drinking soup.
"Been sleeping well?" she asked, frowning. Through the grapevine, Yui heard that the magnitude of the Uchiha-Senju conflict had decreased to the occasion skirmish, though most considered it a temporary lull.
He laughed again, more hollow than before, and didn't reply. Hashirama took a bite of the rice and looked down, tapping his fingers lightly against his knee. He held himself with a weariness that seemed almost brittle. Murmuring a compliment, Hashirama tried a little of the stew. "It's really good," he repeated, taking another bite.
Though concerned, Yui let the silence continue as they ate, and it wasn't until after they finished that he spoke again.
"I'm being rude," Hashirama said. He put his chopsticks down and gave her another smile—a valiant effort, but Yui knew him well enough to doubt its sincerity. "What have you been up to, Yui-san?"
She shrugged. "Teaching. Making medicine. Preparing for the wedding."
He knocked over the bowl. "You're getting married?" His voice cracked, and Hashirama stared, wide-eyed. He stammered an incoherent mix between an apology and a question as he picked up the empty bowl.
"No, not me. My sister. In a week."
"A-Ah, well, I guess… I should congratulate…" It took a second for her words to register. "Oh. Oh!" His shoulders slumped. "Of course, give her my congratulations!" This time, his smile was blinding and familiar.
She raised her eyebrows but didn't dwell. "I will."
"It's quite funny," said Hashirama, still grinning. "My brother Tobirama is getting married, too. I mean, it's an engagement and the wedding probably won't happen for a while, and, well… " he trailed off, a tad sheepish.
"He is?" She smiled at his rambling and thought back to the pale-haired, taciturn man who contrasted with Hashirama's appearance and demeanor. "Give him my congrats, too."
"Yes, of course." Just as quickly as it had left, a subdued pall rose over him again. "Yes, whenever it happens."
Yui filled his bowl with more rice and fixed him with another careful look. Hashirama had no injuries—Yui had never seen him with any—but he resumed the same nervous pattern against his knee. He was leaner, still had eyebags, and he toyed with the kunai strapped to his belt as his eyes flickered from the window to the doors.
"Hashirama-san, are you okay?" she said softly.
A moment passed. Then two, and three, and Yui repeated herself, thinking that he hadn't heard her.
His hands trembled, and he pushed them flat against the table. "I'm fine."
"I'm fine. Thank you for asking."
She ate her soup, glancing up ever so often at Hashirama. He was lost in his own thoughts but strung like a taut wire, sitting on the edge of his chair like he was ready to run out at any moment. The door opened, and Hashirama made an aborted movement to stand, hand coming to his kunai again before he forced himself to still. The low hum of chakra prickled her skin before it disappeared all at once.
Dr. Makoto ran in, out of breath. "I think I did it! I think I got the leaf to stick!" He was almost shaking with excitement. "It felt… It felt like holding snow, except warm at the same…" Dr. Makoto saw the ninja sitting at the table and stopped.
Hashirama stared back, blank-faced, lips twitching downwards before his usual pleasantness returned. "Who is this?" he asked with light curiosity.
"A friend of mine, Dr. Makoto. He's helping me with the book."
Hashirama nodded, familiar with her project. "Are you teaching him the chakra exercise I showed you?" That same airy tone, but it was somehow different. Sharper, perhaps. "Who else have you taught?"
"I'm teaching him, yeah," she said slowly. "It's for the salves. I've taught my two apprentices, and I... wanna put how to use chakra in the rewritten book."
"I see." Hashirama traced a finger along the woodgrain of the table. His voice was carefully cheerful, and his face had that awful, neutral smile. For once, the open book of his emotions was closed, and that bothered her.
"Perhaps I'll come another time," said Dr. Makoto, his voice cracking. "Sorry to interrupt. Should I turn the sign to 'closed?'"
"Please," she murmured back.
Just as quickly as he came, Dr. Makoto retreated.
The following silence was heavy. Not a warm lull between topics or the gentle, companionable quiet of two people sharing tea—but tense, smothering uncertainty. Hashirama still didn't look at her, staring at his hands like they were a map. Yui picked up her chopsticks and put them down.
"Hashirama-san?" Yui asked again. "Did I… Did I do something to make you mad?"
He shook his head immediately. "No, it's not that, it's just… it's been difficult." The understatement was obvious enough to make him grimace. Hashirama sighed. "I'm still a ninja, Yui-san. Some things are hard to explain."
Yui looked away, embarrassed and taken aback. She hadn't meant to pry. Wind blew the door open again; Dr. Makoto hadn't shut the door all the way. The warm air rushed out, and the cold draft made her shiver. Yui stood to close it and paused, facing the door. With anyone else, she'd leave it there. But Hashirama wasn't anyone else. With him, she felt comfortable enough—concerned enough that she'd risk asking just to know.
"Is this about teaching other people the leaf trick?"
"No!" he said. "Well, no, not… that's not why I'm... I mean," Hashirama sighed again, "that's a different matter. It's not my place to tell you what you can or can't do." He unsheathed his kunai, shifting it from one hand to the next. "Still, I don't think it's wise to put it in a book. Not everyone should know how to use chakra."
"Why not?" Yui blinked at him. "Isn't it good if more people know chakra healing? It could help so much people."
"And hurt even more," said Hashirama, voice low.
"You don't know that."
His laugh was bitter. "Yui-san, I'm well-versed in the ways that chakra can be misused. Even the medical kind."
She frowned. "Well, it's hard to learn chakra when you don't have a teacher. I don't think that lots of people will figure it out from a book. And the only other advice we'll put are meditation and how to make the salves."
"But they'll have access to chakra, and that's the first step. Some things shouldn't be shared."
His vehemence surprised her, and his last sentence fell between them, curdling the air. Yui reached out, hand outstretched but purposeless, as if to check for a fever that wasn't there. "Hashirama-san, I thought you wanted to do it different. What happened to everything you said about working together? About sharing what we know?"
"I'm still a ninja, Yui-san!" he said again, voice raised. "I can't be as selfless as you!"
She stepped back, stricken at his overreaction. Hashirama sheathed his kunai and didn't meet her eyes.
"I'm sorry," he murmured, and without another word, he left her home. The door closed, and she was alone.
Slowly, Yui sat back down. She didn't ask questions about her patients, not beyond what she needed to treat them. Yui kept a certain distance, partially because her role as their healer required it. But Hashirama had never been her patient. He had never been anyone but a frequent visitor—someone who came by to see her, not her medicine—a refreshing conversation partner who shared her ideals… a friend, even. But something had changed.
"What's wrong?" Yui said to the air. "Can I help?"
The worst moments weren't when she failed. They were when she could do nothing at all.
Yui kept herself busy. She doubled her efforts with penicillin, spent more time rewriting the book with Dr. Makoto, increased the lessons with her apprentice, and even helped her sister finish the wedding preparations. Soon, Ume's big day arrived. After sake was exchanged in the shrine, the celebrations for the newlywed couple began.
Ume smiled and laughed, radiant in the blue silk kimono that Yui had given her. Her now-husband had eyes only for her. The couple accepted the gifts and blessings from the guests, and everyone murmured compliments about how beautiful the bride looked.
"I remember my wedding," said their mother. "It was much less fancy, and Genta near dropped the cups." She smiled wistfully. "I wish he was here to see this. Can't always get what we wish, though, but at least we're here for now."
Riko, Eiji's mother, chuckled. "Ah, that's the truth. We might be gone, but our children'll be much happier than us. Your daughter is already quite lucky. Look how radiant she is!"
"As she is. As it should be." Her mother beamed. "It's the best day of her life!"
The single best day, Yui mused. When the majority of women were told that marriage and children was the ideal, only future… she glanced at her calloused hands, struck by a sentiment that increased as time passed. So much wasted potential.
"Soon, we'll be seeing you up there, ah, Yui-san?" said Riko.
"Oh?" Yui looked up. "Oh, perhaps."
Her mother snorted. "Dunno if there's anyone good enough for Yui, here. She ain't seeing twice at a man. I thought that one doctor man would be it, but she keeps saying no. Not sure why."
"He came for learning, Mother," explained Yui for the hundredth time. "He hasn't asked me, because he's not here for courtship."
"Ah, bah. Men are never nowhere for courtship." She exchanged glances with Riko. "You gotta put the thought in his head. Make it clear that you're a woman, Yui! You're too cold. Ain't no man want someone so serious."
"I'm sure she'll find someone," Riko consoled. "Your daughter's quite accomplished."
"Men don't want accomplished…"
She gave a polite smile and excused herself from the conversation. Unfortunately for her mother, Yui didn't plan on seeking anyone out. While it was true that women had a subservient role, the gender dynamics of this world couldn't be summed up in a neat sentence. Many women in her village worked in one way or another, as bakers, farmers, or weavers. The village was too poor for anything else—or it used to be.
As the increasing trade and wealth from the cities flowed in, so did its norms. Having a wife who could stay home was a sign of class, and more women were leaving their jobs when they got married. This was why Yui had resigned herself to spinsterhood. Companionship, and perhaps love, would be nice. But she would never stop her work for anyone.
"Hey, everyone, a toast to the lucky groom and bride!" shouted Kaito's brother. Everyone cheered and raised a cup, Yui included.
After sipping the strong rice wine, she set her cup down and left the crowd, nodding to the people respectfully greeting her as she passed. Yui leaned against a tree and watched the festivities. Sen was drunk and giggling with his girlfriend—Ami or Hanae, she wasn't sure—while Eiji poked at the fried rice in his bowl. Ume was with their two older sisters, while her new husband Kaito was being hazed by her two older brothers. (Yui wasn't as close to them; the age gap meant that they had already settled into their lives. She hadn't made much of an effort either, admittedly. There was never enough time.)
A few girls accosted Dr. Makoto, eyes fluttering as they asked question after question. The older man stammered and blushed, pulling at his sleeves. He caught Yui's gaze and gave her a helpless shrug, much to her amusement. The doctor stepped towards her, but before he could make any progress, one of the girls stumbled into him and derailed his plan.
"Join us, Dr. Makoto! Let's dance! Kenichi's about to sing!"
Yui sighed and rested her head against the bark. Someone else brought out a lute. People began to dance and clap, and Yui considered getting drunk. A few travelers were dragged into the celebration; she could see the cloth merchant Miori with a village boy, and the baker's daughter had even convinced a samurai guard to join her.
There were no ninja in the crowd, though. She wasn't surprised. Yui thought of Hashirama and Madara and the other shinobi she'd met. All of them had lives different enough to be from a separate world and an unearthly poise to match. Did they even know how to dance? Would they want to? None had gained their grace through something as banal as dancing—in the end, they were still ninja.
Ume laughed loudly as her husband picked her up and spun her around on the dance floor. The gathered people cheered and egged him on, and with a loud whoop, Taiko put her on his back in a piggyback carry. Ume beat her hands against his chest, playful as she scolded his audacity.
Yui didn't regret her decisions. But as she looked at the newlywed couple, radiant in their happiness... sometimes, though, she wondered.
After a month and a half, Dr. Makoto returned to the capital. True to his word, he continued to send her letters and books, giving her biweekly reports on his progress with the rewritten primer, chakra, and the stethoscope.
The last one caught on quickly, he explained; more and more doctors were using it to diagnose heart and lung conditions. Dr. Makoto was credited with its invention, and while that stung a little bit, Yui reminded herself that she hadn't invented it, either.
They were still debating over how much information they should include about chakra. Dr. Makoto also wanted to err on the side of caution—remembering what he'd said earlier, she wondered if he simply wanted to keep the information for himself—but Yui thought they should go ahead and include it. Dr. Makoto did have a point, however. The ability to use chakra was an impressive bargaining tool for convincing other doctors to share information, and putting it in the book would negate that.
As the weeks passed, life continued. Ume announced she was expecting, much to the pleasure of their mother, who always wanted more grandchildren. Yui continued treating patients with her two apprentices. She saw Tsubaki again and the usual crowd of merchants, travelers, and ninja. Though Yui wondered (and worried) about Hashirama, Yui neither saw nor heard anything from him. Was the war wearing on him? Was his clan and family alright?
Her idle musing was interrupted by heavy footsteps and a single word that made her breath stop.
"Bandits!" Sen flung open the door and said it again, out of breath, face flushed. "The militia's all flapped, but they ain't…" He took a deep breath and continued, looking almost excited. "They aren't running, though! They're gonna fight 'em off!"
Eiji edged in behind him, pale and trembling. "I hear it's an army."
"Oh, shut up, Eiji." Sen nudged him. "An army? Yeah, like we wouldn't hear a damn army marching through."
Yui had gathered her wits enough to respond. "Boys, into the shed."
"Aw, what? But—"
"You know what to do. Into the shed, now." Her voice brooked no argument, even if it was shaking.
Hands twisting, Eiji mumbled in agreement, walking across the room to the back door. Sen didn't follow. Eiji paused and turned back to look at his fellow apprentice.
"Sen?" he asked.
"Sen," repeated Yui. "Into the shed."
She stilled as the shouting grew louder. "Sen," she said, voice climbing higher, "what are you doing? Go to the shed."
"I'm gonna go help. I can't just sit in the shed and do nothing while others go fight!" Sen ran through the front door before she could say anything.
"Sen. Sen!" she shouted after him. "Get back inside! You'll get yourself—"
The door shut. Her head spun as she clutched the table, panic rising all at once.
"I h-have to go after him." Eji pressed his hands over his face for a brief second, shaking.
"I can't leave him, sensei." He closed his eyes, murmured something, and ran out after Sen.
Yui sank into her chair and tried to breathe. She couldn't go after them. If people came to the clinic, hurt, and there was no one to help… their deaths would be on her conscience. Her breaths were short, too short, and terror muddled every thought—but terror wouldn't help. Yui tried counting to slow her breath. When that failed, she started reciting the uses of different plants, hoping the familiarity would soothe her, but her eyes kept going to the vial behind an empty jar.
Nightshade, poisonous… symptoms include loss of voice, dilated pupils, hallucinations, and eventually death. When diluted, it can be used as medicine, but it is toxic enough to be unadvised. It played again and again in her mind as she thought of every worst case scenario.
Sen. Eiji. Those stupid, stupid boys. If anything happened to them, she'd never forgive herself.
Yui rubbed her faded scar and stared at the door. Half of her wanted to grab the boys, hide them her room and bar the door, while the other half wanted to join them outside and see what was happening. It was the not-knowing that got to her—having to sit on a chair, tense, hands on her knees as she listened to every muffled shout, reciting an ode to nightshade like an incoherent prayer. She breathed out. How much time had passed? The shouting was closer, and Yui grabbed the knife that Madara had given her.
The door opened, and she screamed, fumbling with her weapon as she knocked off a cup from the table.
"Healer, Healer Yui, it's me, Hiroshi!" The man gasped as he clutched at his left eye and blood dripped down his face. "The bandits, they're pushing closer to the village center. One of them got me."
She snapped into healer mode, categorizing his injuries. The bandit had cut through his eye, slashing from the bridge of his nose to his ear. Piercing wounds like that could easily get infected, leading to blindness or even the loss of the eye. Worse, if it perforated the brain cavity… there was always the chance of death.
She cleaned the blood and began bandaging him, working in silence as the shouting ebbed and flowed, interrupted by Hiroshi's heavy breathing. She counted the time by his breaths, growing more anxious as ten minutes passed, and then thirty, before she lost count altogether. Hiroshi's other eye was closed; only his coughs gave sign that he was awake.
The shouts suddenly turned to cheering, and Hiroshi opened his eyes. They looked at each other, praying and hoping but unwilling to voice it. The cheering grew louder, and after the door to her clinic opened again, it became deafening.
"We won!" Akito, Hiroshi's younger brother, leaned in, his joy undercut by concern. "Brother, are you alright?"
"Yeah," rasped Hiroshi, trying to stand. Yui prevented him with a frown. "Yeah, I'll live."
Eiji edged into the clinic, supporting Ikuro, the old farmer who led the militia. "We, uh… might need some help, though," said her apprentice sheepishly.
Unlike Hiroshi, the old farmer only had a long but shallow gash along his side and a puncture wound on his shoulder. Akito and Eiji were uninjured, but Sen—
"Where's Sen?" she said, voice catching even as she started treating Ikuro.
Eiji looked around. "He's right… he was right behind me."
Her heart froze, but she forced herself to continue cleaning away the blood. "Where's Sen?" she said again, this time at a pitch bordering on shrill.
"I'm right here!" Sen ducked inside while carrying a sobbing girl about ten years of age. Her knees were scraped, but otherwise, they both looked fine. "Sorry, I had to stop and grab Mie."
"You're okay," she said, closing her eyes briefly as her legs went weak with relief. She opened them and fixed Sen with the harshest glare she could muster, and he faltered, closing his mouth. She continued, tone cold. "Treat Mie. Eiji, help me with Ikuro."
"Y-Yeah, okay…" he mumbled, setting her down and grabbing the bandages, and Eiji nodded, bringing the salves for pain killing.
Akito quickly started a full retelling of the events, with Ikuro interjecting once or twice. (The one time Sen tried to comment, Yui's expression turned so frosty that he didn't try to speak again.) "They weren't like those rounin. These bastards—sorry, healer, didn't mean to curse—didn't move so fast-like."
"Little more than starving peasants," muttered Ikuro. "Filth, the lot."
Hiroshi interjected, the news having brightened his spirit. "And they all yelled an' tried to get us to give 'em money and food, but I guess they don't expect us to have these fancy crossbows! Should've seen their faces when the first arrows poked them through." Hiroshi laughed and then hissed as the injury tugged at his wound. Yui shot him a disapproving look. "Aw, don't worry, healer… it don't even hurt that much anymore."
"Oh, but it will," Ikuro snorted. "You just a few more minutes and see."
Yui said nothing as she continued bandaging, but internally, she agreed. He was clearly trying to put on a brave face for his little brother, but no one was buying it, not even Akito, who hovered around him like a worried bee.
Akito continued for his brother, glancing every so often at Hiroshi. "We got most of 'em with the first volley. But a few got lucky, and one guy was damn fast! Oh, pardon, healer… erm, yeah, he got my brother in the eye, lucky devil. I got him back, though." He grinned, almost clasping Hiroshi on the shoulder before remembering his injuries.
"I was careless. Another one got me, but I took care of him. Was my own damn fault. Thank gods, none the other militia members got hurt." Ikuro grunted, rubbing his gray beard. "The rest ran. That one merchant, the one from up north… he set his ninja guards on the runners. They ain't gonna bother no one anymore."
"You protected the village," said Yui, nodding. "Thank you."
"Th-Thank you for fixin' us up! And giving us the crossbows. They were real useful-like." Hiroshi blushed. "We're just doin' our job."
"And I'm just doing mine." She smiled and felt like she could breathe again, though her smile faltered at the blood dripping from Akito's crossbow. Yui looked away. Perhaps she should feel guilty, trying to be a force for peace and progress yet supplying villagers with weapons. But she didn't. Not really. Instead, she felt satisfaction. Grim satisfaction, but satisfaction nonetheless.
Progress also meant equity. If providing her village with crossbows could keep them safe, putting them on more equal ground, then it was worth it. The bandits were gone. The village had actually scared them—the crossbows had worked. It was worth it, she reminded herself. This was a black mark she could handle.
After giving the men some final instructions about their wounds, stressing to Hiroshi the importance of rest and keeping his bandages clean, she sent them on their way. Little Mie, after having her knees bandaged, gave Sen a big hug before running away, red-faced.
Now, the three of them were alone, and both Eiji and Sen cringed away from her blank-faced silence. Yui walked over to the basin of fresh water in the corner and began washing her hands.
"Sensei, I…" Eiji trailed off.
"It was my fault. Don't blame Eiji." Sen's anxious bravado didn't fool any of them.
She let his words hang in the air and didn't respond, instead scrubbing at each finger. Her fear for her two apprentices had congealed into noxious anger for their foolish, reckless behavior. Despite the danger, they'd run out anyway, young and stupid and intoxicated by their silly notions of invincibility.
"N-No, I wanted to follow Sen!" said Eiji. "I made my own choice! It's my fault, too."
He scowled at his friend. "If I didn't run out, then Eiji wouldn't've."
"That's not true! I'm just as brave as you are!" snapped Eiji.
"I didn't mean it like that." Sen hastily backtracked. "I just meant, uh, you wouldn't—" He stopped before digging himself deeper. Eiji didn't push it either and kept quiet as he glanced at Yui from the corner of his eye.
Yui waited for a few more moments, letting them marinate in their discomfort as she dried her hands. Finally, she spoke. "You could've died."
Sen looked down. "Yeah. Sorry for making you worry."
"But you're not sorry for running out."
His nervous tone faded into defiance. "I'm not. I couldn't just let them do the fighting for us. I had to help. I'm a man now, not a coward, and I won't hide behind anyone!" Though Eiji didn't say anything, he was also nodding along.
Trying to control her anger, she took a deep breath. "It's not a healer's job to run out and fight—"
"Yeah, yeah, I know, do no harm," said Sen, sardonic as he quoted the translated phrase she always used. "But what if I do more harm by not helping?"
Her tenuous grip on her fear and anger broke. "You can't save anyone if you're dead, Sen! Your first priority should be your own life!"
He laughed. "Oh yeah, Sis? Then how come you never join us in the shed?"
She stared, shocked by both his outward defiance and his words. "I…" she began, "that's different. I'm the target, and someone has to stay in the clinic to help—"
"Why is it never one of us?" Eiji spoke up, low but clear.
"We're not kids anymore." Sen met her eyes, and his honest sincerity kept her from responding. "We're healers, just like you. Don't you trust us to do our jobs? You don't have to send us to hide every time there's bandits or a ninja comes into the clinic. We can help. That's what you taught us to do!"
She sighed. They really were grown up, even if she still thought of them as the same boys who'd followed her around like puppies, asking her question after question and getting into trouble. Well, that hadn't changed, at least. "Yeah," Yui admitted. "I guess I coddle you two a little."
"A little?" mumbled Sen. "You don't let us stay for any of the important stuff! How are we supposed to learn if you don't let us do anything?"
Yui frowned. "Looks like you didn't learn the most important lesson. Like you said, you're healers. Don't you forget that. Your job is to help, not to fight! You'd do much more good by healing people afterwards. Don't run out again, understand? You're my apprentices, and if you get yourselves killed while trying to fight, then others might die because there ain't enough healers to help them! You were both stupid and reckless to run outside like that! You have a brain. Use it!"
Her hash words made Eiji flinch and her brother drop his gaze.
She softened her tone. "But, I guess… I could give you a little more responsibility. Sometimes. As long as you promise to never do that again!"
"Like when the ninja come?" Sen said. "Will you let us stay then?"
"Don't push it!" Eiji nudged him, and Sen nudged him back, irritated.
She thought it over. Well, she had considered it before… and if ninja were to trust her students, they'd have to start eventually. "Alright," she agreed. "Not always, but sometimes."
Though Sen and Eiji were clearly startled by her agreement, they both grinned. "Yeah! We promise to listen! And don't worry about us. We can handle anything." Sen puffed out his chest. "Besides, everything worked out. The militia scared the bandits, and we patched everyone up. And the brewer said he'd give free drinks to the fighters, so there's gonna be a party!"
Yui almost touched her scar again, but she refrained. The boys were right. Scaring away bandits without a single death was something to celebrate, not muse over. When life was so fragile, people had to be joyful when they could. "I guess we should go there and join them—"
"Alright!" cheered Eiji, and Sen was almost out the door.
"—after you both clean the clinic and both sheds, of course."
Sen stopped, dismayed, and Eiji stared in horror at the medicine lining the table. "All of it? Now?"
"Of course. We aren't leaving the clinic like this." Yui gestured at the loose bandages, salves, and bloodstains on the floor. "I expect it to be gleaming." She grabbed her butterfly-patterned shawl and draped it across her shoulders.
"Wait. Where are you going?" called Sen as she pushed open the door.
"To the party, of course." She glanced back, raising her eyebrows. "You didn't think I'd let you off so easily, did you? You did say you wanted more responsibility. Start with this." Yui smiled at their groans and left the boys to their work.
Yui hummed, off-pitch and flat, as she rearranged her shelves. She kept switching between a drinking tune and something that vaguely sounded like a song from her old life, one she couldn't quite remember.
"Sis, you're a great healer, but please don't became an entertainer," Sen said, sighing.
"I gotta agree." Eiji snickered to himself.
"As do I," said a low voice. They all jumped. Madara was leaning against the table, arms crossed. He smirked, adding, "It's been a while, healer."
"Hey, you can't say that about my sis—" started Sen, but Eiji elbowed him, cutting him off.
Yui gave Madara a once-over, checking for injuries. He looked perfectly fine: better than usual, in fact, considering that the gauntness had faded and his pale skin was less sallow.
"You hurt?" she asked anyway. "Or are you here to pick up more salves?"
"No. I'm here for the usual supplies." Though an Uchiha clan-member always dropped by every two or three weeks to buy more medicine, Madara hadn't come personally in a few months.
"One more jar of pain-killing paste."
She nodded. Sen and Eiji started to head out, but she stopped them. "Madara-san, could my apprentices stay?"
Slowly, Madara moved his gaze to the two boys. Eiji was looking down and wringing his hands, but Sen stared straight at the ninja, not bothering to hide his displeasure. Perhaps Yui was just imagining it, but as Madara stared back at her brother, his expression seemed to change. How, she wasn't sure, but it was different. Blunter, maybe. After another moment, he shifted his gaze to her.
Eiji hurried to the fire, watching the water heat up, while Sen took his position next to a shelf by the door. As Yui grabbed the various jars (and sent her brother to grab a few from the shed, which was probably for the best, considering how he was trying to burn a hole into the ninja with his eyes), Madara simply watched.
"Is your village alright?" said Madara after a moment.
She stopped in place. "What?"
"I heard there have been attacks." His tone was flat and neutral, and his posture was exactly the same.
Yui nodded slowly. After that one bandit attack, there were three more in the next month. Chiyuku had finally become wealthy enough to attract interest, but it was still small enough to look like an easy target. The militia had scared away two of them, and though the other gang of bandits had been made of rounin, they'd made the mistake of attacking when a caravan of merchants had camped outside the village—a caravan operated by many wealthy merchants and protected by many angry samurai. There were injuries and two deaths, but… as peasants always said, it could have been worse. It didn't make her any less guilty because of her inability to save them, though, or any less sad.
"But the village has fared well?" said Madara, sounding a tad exasperated.
"Er, uh… yeah." Sheepish, she put an empty jar aside to be refilled. "They were all taken care of."
"Really." His dubiousness grated on her nerves, but that was tempered by his expression of disappointment. "So you don't require any assistance in that regard?"
Yui thought of the hand that had appeared on her doorstep. "No, but thanks," she said dryly. He'd have to pay the old-fashioned way.
With one of his usual not-a-sighs, Madara dropped a bag of coins on the table as Sen returned with the extra jars. Sen placed the jars on the same table and stepped back, standing just behind Yui.
"Much appreciated, as always." Madara gathered the jars into a simple sack.
"Wanna stay for tea?" asked Yui, fully expecting to be rejected, ignoring how Sen grumbled and Eiji looked rather pained at the thought.
She shrugged, unsurprised. Sen relaxed, and Eiji looked less likely to faint at a loud noise. Sack in his hand, Madara didn't move. A moment passed. He was still in her clinic, still as a statue.
"Uh, Madara-san, did you need something else?" Yui blinked at him, wondering if she'd forgotten to include a jar.
"No." He lingered by the table, full of self-possession but missing his usual languidness.
Sen shifted behind her, and Eiji coughed weakly.
"Do you have a grudge against the bandits who attacked you?" Madara asked. He straightened and pushed off the table in a sudden movement, startling Sen, Eiji, and her for the second time.
"Do you want revenge on them?" he said. His eyes were narrowed, but he didn't meet her gaze. Instead, he stared to the left of her and gave the full brunt of his visual displeasure to the wall.
"There's no point now." She eyed the boiling water, wondering if it'd be too rude to continue with her errands. Well, he wasn't getting to the point, and there was no point in her wasting time. Yui grabbed the dirty towels and began cleaning. "They're all dead."
"Yes, but if they weren't, would you want to take revenge?"
Yui wrung out the cloth and considered his question. Yui had supplied her village with crossbows, not because she wanted vengeance but fairness. Or so she liked to tell herself. If the bandit with the ring, the one who'd ransacked her hut, if he were still alive… would she want him dead?
"A little," she admitted. "I'd want him gone. But I wouldn't want them gone because… it's not that I wanna make 'em feel what I, uh," Yui paused as she grabbed another towel, "I don't want them to feel pain just because they…" She felt silent again. "Part of me does want that," she said finally, voice low. "But a bigger part of me just wants it to be over."
"Explain." Madara's sharp command made Sen bristle and even Eiji frown. Madara only had eyes for the wall, though, and he didn't avert his gaze from the wood grain that still whispered with chakra.
"At a certain point, does it even matter how it happens?" The thought dragged on her, weary and faded. "Does it matter if the bandit dies or rots in jail or retires to a farm with grandchildren? As long as he doesn't come back, it doesn't matter, as long as it's over and he never bothers me again."
"As long as it's over," he echoed. Softer, Madara added, "As long as there's peace."
Yui dropped another dirty cloth into the water, and Sen brought her another full basket that needed to be sanitized.
"Where should the line be drawn?" Madara's eyes were half-lidded, now. "What shouldn't we let go in the name of peace?"
"Why're you asking me?"
He opened his eyes and finally looked at her. "What?"
"I'm just a peasant." The steam had made her sweaty, and Yui brushed away the hair that stuck to her face. "I don't know enough for my opinion to matter."
"Humor me," he said, his lips twitching.
She sighed. "Peace… it's worth forgiveness. It's worth compromise. If it means giving away all your pride, then fine. It's something beyond individual petiness."
"You say this with such confidence, healer." His smirk was back, but it had an edge. "You think peace is worth my pride. Is that really so? Is peace worth losing one's identity?"
"I don't know what it's worth to you. But that's what's it worth to me." Yui stood up and turned around. "Is there anything else you needed, Madara-san?"
He shook his head. "Very well. I see where you stand." Without another word, Madara disappeared.
Sen rolled her eyes. "Gods damn, these ninja are so dramatic."
"And weird," added Eiji. "Why'd he ask you all those strange questions? It's not like we have anything to do with their stupid wars."
Yui looked down at the boiling water and wondered too.
Thanks as always for all your support. Y'all are also welcome to join my fandom discord: www.discord.gg/wNncyM4. Seriously, you are all the best.
Chapter 7: Concussion
Communication is important. So is courage. Sometimes, as Yui can attest, they're the same.
Thunder woke her. She threw off her blanket and stumbled to the window, peering out. Lightning, but no rain: a dry thunderstorm, common in the fall. Yui took a deep breath as another air-splitting rumble wracked the house.
Storms like these, in the dry, dead seasons, caused fires. Most of the buildings in Chiyuku were made of wood. She clutched her hands tightly as the heat choked the breath out of her lungs, filling the air with the stench of ashes and acrid smoke, and all she could do was pick up the pieces again.
Yui breathed out and tried to think of anything else. Marigold helped with rashes, ringworm, and muscle pain. Feverfew prevented headaches. Chamomile cured indigestion, colic, and skin inflammation. She listed them once. She listed them twice. Lightning flashed in the distance, and Yui sighed. She wouldn't be able to sleep, now, but some lavender tea could help. With jumbled thoughts of lightning rods and wildfires, she walked to the main room of her home. Yui filled the kettle and lit the fire. Eiji and Sen were sleeping in the other room, but being teenage boys, nothing would wake them.
Thunder rumbled. She closed her eyes, and when she opened them again, Hashirama was in front of her, kneeling by the fire.
"Hashi…" her voice caught.
Blood covered him. It coated his hands, dried in brown flakes, and dark stains speckled his red armor and boots. He was still. There was no fidgeting, no sheepish explanation, no pained gasps—just pale stillness and silence. Was Hashirama going into shock? Yui pushed away all her emotions, grabbing bandages and hot water before rushing to his side. When she reached out to feel his pulse, he spoke.
"It's not mine," he murmured.
"Where does it hurt—"
"The blood isn't mine, Yui-san. I'm not injured," he said, and he closed his eyes.
She stopped. Yui didn't want to know. Still, she asked. "What happened?"
"I killed him." Careful, level, slow, each word enunciated. His face didn't change when he said it, still blank and pale. She'd been partially right. Hashirama was in shock, but not the medical kind caused by blood loss.
"Hashirama," Yui said, applying the firm, understanding voice she used with patients, "you need to clean up, okay?" She wet the towel in hot water and gave it to him. His eyes fluttered open, and he took it and stared at the brown, coarse cloth.
"It won't help," he said, quiet. Regardless, Hashirama began to clean his hands, methodically scrubbing at the dried blood stuck underneath his fingernails. The towel was dyed red before he even finished. Yui brought him another one and went to check on the tea. She added some chamomile, another sprig of lavender, and a spoon of black tea leaves.
Once his hands were clean, Hashirama rubbed his face with the towel, dipping it in water before starting with his neck. After hesitating, he unbuckled his stained armor and set it aside. Yui brought him a cup of tea and a thick blanket. A merchant from the Land of Snow had given it to her; a pattern of tiny trees were embroidered into the quilt, which was softer and warmer than anything she had. Yui wrapped it around Hashirama. He murmured his thanks and looked down.
"I don't even know why I'm here," he said. "I'm sorry."
"What happened?" she asked again.
Steam rose from their cups. Yui drank her tea as she waited. His head was bowed, and he didn't respond until the tea had gone cold.
"I was escorting a prominent noble, a long-time ally of our clan. Some say that he'll become daimyo." His sentences were clipped, like he was giving a report. "We were attacked. I reacted, killing the assailants, and…" Hashirama set his cup down. "It was a child. A young boy. The kid was the age my youngest brother had been before he died." His laugh sounded like something breaking. "They're calling me the God of Shinobi, Yui. I can raise forests and tear apart armies but I can't undo what has already been done."
The fire crackled.
"I'm no god. I'm just a shinobi, another murderer for hire." He sighed, bitter. "People call us monsters. I don't think they're wrong."
Yui never thought too hard about her patients, about what they did or who they were. She just… treated them, the same as anyone else, and called what they did none of her business.
That didn't change the fact that shinobi were killers. They did horrible things, intentionally, sometimes beyond forgiveness. They were dogs of war, and they did it all… for what? People kept killing, and people kept dying, and Yui patched up the ones who didn't and sent them off to fight again.
And yet—she looked at Hashirama's pale face.
"You're not a monster," she said finally. "You're not a god, either. You're just... Hashirama. You're human. Same as anyone else."
"What you do is wrong, yes." Her acknowledgement drew a line between them, and Hashirama withdrew into himself, curling in on the blanket. She continued, quiet, "But you know it's wrong. That's what's different about you. You don't accept it. As long as you don't, there's still hope. Are you still trying to change it?"
"Good," she said, and she wouldn't let him argue otherwise. "That's all we can do in this world. Try."
It was the one precept she lived by, the one thing that kept her going through all those sleepless nights when she remembered every failure.
"But I don't know if I really can." Barely audible, he added, "I don't know if I should."
"That's not for me to decide, Hashirama. I don't live the life you do."
His next words came unwillingly. "What if… what if I make it worse?" He closed his eyes. The warm, red light from the fire flickered against his skin, throwing his face into sharp relief.
"There's always a chance of that. We all make mistakes. With our jobs, it can mean death." Yui hadn't saved everyone. She could still see each face and name and cause of death, reminders of what she did wrong and everything beyond her reach. "But how can you live with yourself if you do nothing?"
He mulled over her words, his hands clasped around the cup, eyes still closed. "My father is dying."
The non sequitur made her pause. "I'm sorry."
Hashirama sighed again, long and heavy. "I've expected it for so long. A shinobi walks with death. It can take us at anytime, and I've always been prepared for that. In some ways, I'll miss him, but..." He looked at her, straightening slightly, and his voice wavered. "He's suffering so much. Everyone expected him to die on the battlefield, in a blaze of will and glory, not… not like this. It'd be more merciful to let him go. It'll happen any day, now. " Hashirama cleared his throat. "If… when he dies, I'll become the leader of the Senju clan."
She waited as Hashirama composed himself. He drank the cold tea, draining it halfway, and spoke.
"I'll be in a position to bring change. Real, lasting change. Madara's already the leader of the Uchiha, and I know he's shared these ideals before. We're so close to to peace. I can feel it." As he went on, his words became faster, louder. "We've done it on a smaller scale with your clinic. People doubted that the Senju and Uchiha could agree on anything, and we've proved them wrong. I've had so many people doubt that it was possible. I never did."
He took a deep breath, and the bravado faded just as fast. "At least, I never did, not when it was just a dream. Yet, now that I'm in sight of it, when I'm within a hair's breadth of fulfilling it, I'm…" Hashirama trailed into silence and started again. "The clan is already treating me as the defacto head. My brother is… they all want me to be my father. A true shinobi."
Thunder rattled the frames of the house, and Yui added more kindling. Lightning struck again, further off, and she counted the seconds before the distant rumble reached them. Hashirama didn't even react. The smoldering charcoal caught, and the fire returned. Yui forced herself to watch the flames twist, trying to think of nothing but now.
"I can't." He straightened as if a weight had fallen from his shoulders. "I can't be the shinobi they want me to be. No. I don't want to."
Hashirama's smile was tenuous. "You make it sound so simple."
She looked up from the fire. "The choice is simple, Hashirama. It's everything after that's complicated. Change isn't easy. It's never easy."
"Is it worth it?"
"We won't know."
She had saved lives, and that would always be her legacy, but to leave a lasting impact—she couldn't decide that. Her knowledge could die with her, and her hopes could die before her. Her efforts could be reversed and lost to time or ignored and ridiculed. Yui would never know. Neither would he. They both sat in silence, lost in their own dreams, until the fire died for a second time.
"Thank you, Yui-san." He stood, and one by one, buckled each piece of armor. She watched each practiced movement, the fluid ease reminding her of just how different their lives were. He hesitated before buckling the last piece of armor. "I'm… I'm sorry for how I acted before. I mean, when we last met. I shouldn't have let my frustration get the better of me. And, uh, I always seem to be interrupting everything. I'm sorry for telling you before—"
"Hashirama, it's fine," she said, amused despite herself. "You don't have to apologize. We're friends, right?"
"Of course!" He blinked as if the question was a surprise. "But that's exactly why I need to apologize! This is the last one, I promise." Hashirama ducked his head. "Sorry for barging in without knocking."
Yui chuckled. "You're the only ninja who bothers."
His parting smile was shaky, soft, but real. Hashirama closed the door behind him. Thunder rumbled again, and she sat drinking tea long into the night.
The leaves faded from green to yellow as fall overtook summer. Yui was eating lunch in her garden full of dying branches and last blooms when a giant dog walked up to her, tail wagging. It was the size of a wolf and… rather familiar looking, on second glance.
"Hey there, healer," drawled a husky voice. "Hope you don't mind me interrupting."
A boy about fourteen or so grinned at her. Two red, triangular markings were on his cheeks, and his shaggy brown hair reached his shoulders. Yui suddenly remembered why he and his dog looked so familiar; the boy was one of the ninja that accompanied Toshihiro, the book merchant. His name was Kyou or Kin or something like that. He had no visible injuries, and he shifted from one foot to another with casual ease.
She smiled back, setting aside the bowl of rice. "It's fine. Did you come for healing, or is Toshihiro here—"
He laughed. "Nah, nah. I came here 'cause of the doctor. Dr. Makoto, I mean." He pointed to himself with his thumb. "I'm Kon, by the way. And my partner here is Tora." The dog let out a happy bark and ducked his head.
"Nice to meet you." Yui nodded. The dog let out a whuff, and Yui glanced at him, amused. "Both of you. You mentioned that Dr. Makoto sent you?" That was surprising. Usually, the doctor had his letters delivered by other caravans or merchants heading to the village.
"Yeah. We bonded on the trip to Chiyuku, and he thought the job was important enough to give to a gal like me," said Kon, giving a languid shrug.
Yui blinked and adjusted her assumption of Kon's gender to female and her age to sixteen or so.
"Is it a message?" asked Yui.
Kon unslung the bag on her back. "Well, yeah, but more. Weird stuff, smells kinda funny, but the doctor said it was important." She handed it to Yui and fished around in a cloth pouch on her hip, finally pulling out a surprisingly uncrumpled paper "Here's the letter. He said to read it first."
Yui took it. "Thanks." She smiled at the teen. "Want some food—"
"Nah." Kon scratched her head. "I mean, I appreciate it, but I gotta pee. Holler my name if you need me." With a jaunty wave, she jogged away. After barking once, the dog followed her.
Shaking her head, Yui smiled and opened the letter. She skimmed the beginning, consisting of enthusiastic, positive updates on the progress of the book, but slowed down once Dr. Makoto began to mention chakra.
I have become quite the talk of the medical community with my use of chakra, he wrote. Some decry it as a peasant's remedy or parlor trick, but most have been won over with my demonstration of it. Many of my colleagues are willing to part with recipes or techniques that, just a month ago, they would have never dared to trade. This is agreeable on all sides, I hope; knowledge of chakra is spread responsibly, and we gain some new techniques as well.
Perhaps the most valuable and useful knowledge I have gained is access to asalic. (Here, Yui paused and reread the sentence. She didn't understand everything the doctor wrote, but she could usually puzzle out strange words with context clues. This term, though, was completely unfamiliar.) You likely do not know it, but asalic is a powerful painkiller and fever suppressant. It is a more powerful form of the medicine found in willow bark.
It hit her like a thunderbolt. "Aspirin?" she said aloud, stunned.
I have sent you a package of the synthesized form as well as directions on how to make it. Admittedly, without pure chemicals or proper equipment, it will be difficult to synthesize, especially considering the instability of its base components. (I myself purchase the product from my chemist colleague.) If you wish, I can continue to send you a delivery of asalic with my letters.
She finished reading the rest of the letter, barely paying attention to the rest, before rushing inside to respond. Yui normally relied on Eiji's help to proofread or write—his handwriting was better than hers—but he was checking Hiroshi's eye. She was too excited to wait. Yui wrote as much as she could about the uses of aspirin before backtracking and thanking him profusely, assuring him that she'd greatly appreciate him sending 'asalic' or other medicine with his letters.
Pressing her brush to the paper, Yui hesitated. Had Dr. Makoto not traded with his colleague, then she would have never gotten honest-to-god, actual aspirin. She thought of Hashirama and what he'd said, of the rounin who'd ransacked her place and the samurai with their faster-than-sight movement. It would be naive to insist that spreading knowledge of chakra would have no downsides. This way, maybe… this way, other healers would be able to use chakra while preventing widespread abuse.
Yet, it rankled her. The idea that this knowledge, which could do so much good, would be held among the elite, hoarded away by chosen court doctors. Yes, chakra could burn down houses, but chakra could raise walls of stone and bring floods—which could also build houses and water fields. Chakra could heal instantaneously. It was miraculous, and miracles deserved to be shared. But not yet, she decided.
Yui dipped her pen in ink, and she wrote that it would be better to trade information of chakra-healing with other doctors instead of putting it in the book.
First, she'd get all the knowledge she could from those court doctors. Once her techniques of chakra and medicine lost their value as bargain chips... perhaps then. She'd consider it then. Mind made up, Yui rolled up the letter and tied it with a piece of string.
Being a healer meant slow, pleasant days with no patients to tend to—and days where everything fell apart. Today was the latter. She was woken up just before sunrise by banging on her door; the cobbler's wife was going into labor a month early. Yui had just gathered her apprentices and supplies when another farmer rushed in, frantic about his brother's accident with an axe. And on her way to the fields, she found out that Hiroshi's eye was likely infected.
"Sen, go with Akio and help with the delivery. I'll join you after. Eiji, check on Hiroshi again. Take some asalic and check for fever." They both nodded, heading in opposite directions while she followed the farmer to his fields.
The second she saw his brother, Yui knew that it was bad. The axe had severed his popliteal artery, and though he'd had the presence of mind to tie a tourniquet, it was too late. His heart rate was less than sixty beats per minute, his respiration was barely better, and he'd lost consciousness. Yui's hands were coated with bright red arterial blood as she desperately tried to close the wound, but his limbs were cold, his skin was clammy. His breath slowed. Yui felt his pulse weaken, weaken, and finally, it stopped.
The farmer thanked her through his tears, resignation and despair choking his words. In comparison to this dull, undeserved gratitude, Yui almost preferred anger and accusation. It was what she deserved. His friends and family had come to the field, and they quietly ushered him away from the body as they moved it from the fields. Yui left shortly after. There wasn't anything she could do for the dead.
She had only one thought as she walked slowly to the village: if only.
If only Yui had everything she remembered from the other world, blood transfusions and antibiotics and advanced surgery, everything from those half-faded dreams and uncertain realities… if only she remembered more about how they were made and what to do. Yes, some patients would have died regardless. But not today, not with this patient. Life in this world, in this time, existed on a whim. It could be taken away at any time, no matter what she did.
"I have to keep trying," Yui said aloud. "I have to."
She'd done good. She'd saved lives, spread knowledge, even attempting to bring medicine that was still several decades away: the same antibiotics she needed.
(It was never enough.)
Yui trudged to the door and pushed it open. The day had just begun, but she was tired. She washed her hands in the bucket with soap, her hands cold and sticky. Yui closed her eyes and steeled herself. There was still a baby to deliver and a village to care for and medicine to make.
She could do this. She didn't want to.
Yui dumped the bloody needle and thread into a basket and looked around for fresh ones. There were none in the clinic, so she hurried to the shed. She opened the door and saw Sen sitting in the corner, head down.
"Sen?" She blinked. "I thought you were…" Yui stopped.
"They didn't make it. Not the mom, not the baby. It was a breech birth. The baby… the baby was stillborn, and the mom bled out." He looked up, his eyes red and face stained with tears. "Did yours?"
She shook her head. She sat down next to him and pulled him closer. He didn't protest or complain, instead curling against her, resting his head on her shoulder. Sen shook, and Yui realized that he was trying to hold back tears.
"It's okay to cry," she murmured, and he began to sob. Yui let him cry, gently stroking his hair as he tried to collect himself.
"You should've been there," he choked out, and his words were like a jolt of ice.
He roughly wiped away the tears. "I'm not good enough. If you'd picked a better apprentice or if Eiji had gone there or if it wasn't me, then they would've survived."
"I'm not like you or Eiji! I'm not smart and I don't get things as fast! Things… things don't make sense to me like they do to you! I can't be the best healer. I can't even be good." His sobbing grew louder. "I failed. I failed, and now they're dead! It's not fair. They didn't need to die!"
"Oh, Sen…" He'd been bottling this up for so long. How hadn't she noticed it? Yui hugged him tighter. "It's not your fault—"
"It feels like it, okay?"
She was quiet. "It always feels like it," Yui admitted. "No matter how much we know it's not. I feel it, too." She rested her head against the wall. "I feel the same way about every patient I couldn't save. I see their faces, sometimes, and I wish..."
"You? But you're so good!" he blurted out. "The only people you can't save are the impossible ones!"
She almost felt like laughing at that, but she was too tired to summon up amusement. If only he knew. "I've made mistakes, too. I always feel that if only I was better, I would've saved more." Yui brushed back his hair and sighed. "Sen, you might not get theory as easily as Eiji, but you work harder anyway. And you're better with the practical parts of it, and more importantly, you're good with people."
"Like that helps," he mumbled.
"It does. You're better with people than I am," she said frankly. "People like having you treat them. You know what to say to make them feel better, and that's one of the most important things." She looked down. "Sen, no matter how good we are, people will die. It's one of the hardest parts about being a healer. Don't be so hard on yourself, ok?"
"Okay." He was crying again. "Yui-nee… does it get better?"
"It'll pass. There'll always be regret, but it'll pass."
"It hurts, though."
"I know." She closed her eyes. "I know."
All day and last night had been nonstop work. They'd spent all night with Hiroshi: his infection had gotten worse, and after careful monitoring, his fever had broken with the dawn. He hadn't been their only patient, though. There was another delivery after, a broken leg to set, a nasty cold that could develop into pneumonia, a chopped-off finger and something that looked like but hopefully wasn't chicken pox.
Eiji was helping her describe a new type of glassware she needed for her experiment when a knock came at the door. Sen snorted as he measured out doses of powdered aspirin to wrap in little pouches, and Yui exchanged an exasperated look with her apprentices. Every time they sat down to write, something interrupted them.
She stood up and opened the door. "Yes?"
Tobirama, Hashirama's brother, looked at her. With the bright red marks on his cheeks, matching red eyes, and a head of white hair, he was as imposing as she remembered. His armor was scuffed, and bandages covered his legs, but he looked otherwise fine—minus his uncomfortable, rigid posture.
"Healer," he said, tilting his head. "I am here on behalf of my brother. He is currently… occupied with the duties of a clan head and sent me in his stead."
"I see," she murmured. So it had finally happened. "I'm sorry about your dad."
"Thank you." His words were as stiff as his pasture, and he looked to the left instead of meeting her gaze.
He followed her in, looking more self-conscious by the moment. Eiji and Sen gawked at him, unabashed, eyes widening as they beheld the strange-colored ninja. She poured a cup of tea for herself and Tobirama; the boys had just eaten, so they refused. They sipped their tea quietly for a few moments while her apprentices whispered badly. Tobirama continued to look more and more uneasy by the moment.
"I hear you're getting married?" she asked to break the awkward silence.
"Yes." Tobirama shifted slightly, glancing at her apprentices and then the tea.
"Wow, he's so weird looking," whispered Sen. "Who'd want to marry him?"
"Almost as weird as those ninjas with the white eyes," agreed Eiji. "Is he an albino—"
"Boys!" She glared at them. "If you can't behave yourself in front of a guest, then leave! You could always organize the shed."
"We already did that!"
"Then do it again." She stared at them until they sighed and left. "Sorry about that, Tobirama-san."
"It's… fine." He took a sip from his cup. "They meant no harm."
"It was rude," she said firmly. "They'll get a talking to."
They were still teenagers, prone to dumb miscalculations, and it had been a long day for all of them. After a night with no sleep and nonstop work, a little loose talk was understandable. But if they expected to stay, they'd better keep their mouth shut regardless.
Tobirama glanced at her baggy eyes and unkempt hair. "I do not wish to inconvenience you." His eyes drifted to the stains on her sleeves before returning to peer at his cup.
She shook her head. "Don't worry about it. Are you here for salves?"
"Yes." He hesitated. "And more." Tobirama pulled out a pouch of coins and two scrolls and put it on the table. "The coins are for payment, but the scrolls are a token of appreciation."
"For what?" she asked, puzzled.
He tapped the scroll, and there was a puff of smoke. As it cleared, on top of the scroll appeared a book. Yui stared, more confused, and looked back the paper. How in the world did he make the book appear like that?
"My brother wanted to give you this."
She picked up the book. It was small, roughly bound, faded. Despite its shabby appearance, her eyes widened at the title: Chakra and Medicine.
"My gods," whispered Yui.
She picked up the the cover, almost welling up with emotion, her exhaustion fading as she held it in her hands. Hashirama had given this to her… Hashirama had trusted her with this knowledge, his clan's knowledge. Written on the inside cover, in long, sprawling characters, was a note:
I know you said not to apologize, so I'll thank you instead.
"I also have a token to offer." He bowed, shallow, and straightened. "You have been a great help to my clan and my brother."
"You didn't need to do that," she said, flustered. "I should be thanking you. I'm just being a friend."
"Ninja do not have many of those. My brother..." Tobirama paused for a moment and continued in the same calm voice, gesturing to the two scrolls on the table. "These are known as sealing scrolls. If you channel chakra into them, then you can store objects inside."
The significance of his gifted objects caught up with her, and she gasped, wide-eyed. "You have pocket dimensions?" She said the last two words in English, causing Tobirama to frown. "I mean, you have a way of making the scroll a kind of… pocket to keep things in? And it doesn't get heavy?"
Tobirama looked pleased. "Yes, indeed. The scroll is a sort of doorway. Would you like to try using it?"
"Try resealing the book."
After placing the book on top of the scroll, she channeled chakra into the scroll and gasped as the book disappeared into the paper. She picked it up; it was just as light as any other scroll.
"Incredible," she whispered. It was more than incredible; it could be life-changing. Technology like this would've revolutionized her old world, transforming international trade and shipping. It could do even more for this one. "What can I put in this? How much before it stops working?" she asked, feeling excitement build. "What about food? Or water?"
Tobirama raised a pale eyebrow, and he gave her something almost like a smile. "As long as it fits on the paper, it should fit in the scroll. Anything below this height," he gestured, raising his hand a foot above the table, "should be fine. If the object is too big, then it won't seal. Food won't spoil for as long as it remains in the seal. The seal will stop working if water causes the ink—"
"Food won't spoil?" Yui blurted out. Could the seal be like a pocket dimension that opened to a contained vacuum? And she'd thought that chakra couldn't surprise her anymore. Her head was spinning with all the potential applications. "If I put something hot in there, will it still be hot when I take it out?"
She sat down, stunned. "I… gods." Did the seal stop time? Or was it simply insulated?
"Don't put anything living inside the seal," Tobirama added belatedly. "It won't be living when you take it out."
Yui stared at the scroll. How had this technology not changed everything? "How d'you make this? Why don't more people—" She stopped and looked at him.
Tobirama stared back, gaze steady.
Of course. Of course, ninja wouldn't want to share anything that gave them an advantage, no matter how many people it would help. Still, she had to try. "Can you teach me how to make one?"
"I cannot." Low, clear, and resolute, it was the voice of someone who could not be moved.
Yui picked up the other scroll, her enthusiasm tempered by disappointment. She wondered how common these sealing scrolls were and what a 'seal' even was. Perhaps she could send a letter to Makoto about it or ask one of her merchant regulars. "Tobirama-san, how—"
He stood up, hand on his sword. Every inch of him screamed with tension, his face blank as the air crackled lightly with cold, sharp chakra. "Stand behind me."
"Yui-san, stand behind me, now."
She stood up. The door opened.
"Hey, healer." Izuna smiled, teeth bared, eyes flickering red and black. She flinched back, and thick, noxious chakra clashed, suffocating, and she could see her clinic burning again and tasted ashes as her lungs seized up. "Think you could take a look at my burn?"
The two men stared at each other. Tobirama took one step and then another. He stopped in front of Izuna. "You're lucky I don't cut you down now," he said, low, almost a whisper.
The Uchiha laughed. "If it wasn't for the treaty, you'd be dead."
Tobirama gripped the hilt of his sword. The chakra grew in intensity, a thick storm of embers and static. Her nails dug into her palms as her head spun. Not again. No, it couldn't happen again. It couldn't. She wanted to shout or say something, anything. Her words caught in her throat and spots danced in front of her eyes, and all Yui could do was breathe.
With another slow step, hand on his sword, Tobirama stopped next to Izuna. One facing the door, the other her, the Uchiha and Senju stood side by side. The tension in the air weighed down. All that was needed was a spark for her clinic to burst into flames.
"Treat your injury, Uchiha."
Tobirama stepped past Izuna and walked through the doorway. The door closed, and Yui gasped, taking in a deep breath as she sunk back into her chair. The overpowering chakra faded, and Yui winced as she splayed out her fingers on the table; her palms were bleeding.
"Please don't fight," she murmured weakly.
Izuna laughed again, just as grim as before. "How dare you."
She stared, startled out of her relief. "What?"
"How dare you take the moral high ground and presume to command my clan?" The same fire-and-ember chakra rose again, making her flinch. His coal black eyes narrowed as he walked towards her. "You, a peasant naive enough to say stupid things like 'don't fight' without understanding? Don't fight? Rich, coming from a profiteer like you! It's bad enough that you treat the Senju, but you have the audacity to stick your nose in our war and make demands, even forcing treaties on us!"
Izuna pressed his hand on the table and leaned forward. "Listen, healer. If we were to end the war, that means everyone who ever died against a Senju has died for nothing! And here you go, talking about peace and forgiveness as if you know anything at all." His face twisted from a snarl into a sickeningly false smile. "But how could someone like you understand honor? You didn't even take revenge after the Senju burned your house down."
The shock that had kept her from speaking disappeared. "The Senju?" asked Yui, finding her voice. "It was just the Senju who burned down my home?"
Izuna paused, reluctant. Some of the heat faded from his voice as he added, "After we did, too."
"So you want me to take revenge?" Yui stared at him, bemused but most of all, angry. What in the world was this ninja thinking, coming into her clinic and saying this to her? "Do you want me to stop treating you and your clan?"
Izuna shook his head. "No, of course not!" His hair fell into his eyes, and he raised his other arm to brush it aside and winced. A burn, second-degree, judging by the blistering, stretched from his knuckles to his wrist. "It's better for us that you don't take revenge, but… any principled person would have done so. Don't you feel anything at all?"
How… how could he say that to her? Her hands shook with anger and exhaustion and old fear. She didn't feel anything? Those sleepless nights, those dreams of smoke, her instinct to flinch when she heard the crackle of fire—those were nothing? Her first cotton kosode and carved plates and silk scarves, memories she had of each traveler, everything she mourned and missed, it was nothing?
She tried to control her breathing but couldn't. It came out in shaky breaths as she grabbed bandages and salve from her shelves. "Just because I don't say anything," Yui cut a strip with more force than necessary, "doesn't mean I don't feel it." She didn't bother to hide her rage. "Let me treat your hand."
His self-righteous glare faded into dawning regret, but he set his mouth and held out his arm. "I'm only speaking the truth."
It was the last straw. Perhaps if he'd come another day, when she wasn't as exhausted, then maybe she would have kept her temper. Maybe she would have remembered that this man could slaughter her village without blinking.
"Shinobi," she sneered. Her face flushed red as anger rose, even as she cleaned his wound with cold water. He was decrying everything her life's work, the dream she devoted every waking day to. "You come here, ask for healing, and talk down me? You think I ain't—you think I don't notice it? How dare you?"
Yui had more to say. She had so much more to say, about how counterproductive this all was, how useless, how this wasted lives and resources and children, that the techniques that ninja hoarded away could change the world a dozen times over if they didn't insist on slaughtering each other… but she didn't know the words. She didn't know how to say it, so she asked a question instead. "Why are you fighting?"
Izuna gaped at her, mouth open and blinking, and it took him a few seconds before he responded with the same unceasing conviction. "Because they've killed my—"
"Why did your clans start fighting?" She applied salve to his wound and stared him in the eyes, close enough to count his eyelashes.
He was quiet for a moment. "We were hired on the opposing sides of wars—"
Yui let out a short, harsh laugh. "So it's not even your own fight, and you defend it so well!"
"Look, you don't understand—" he began, gritting his teeth.
"I don't. I don't, and you ninja keep dragging me into it!" she shouted. "It's not enough for me to treat you, is it? I have to pick sides? No. No, I won't, and don't ask me again!" She grabbed the jars of salve and slammed them on the table. "You don't gotta like me, and I don't gotta like you. I'm your healer. You're my patient. That's all that matters." She pointed to the container of chakra-infused mint and honey paste. "Put this on your burn and change the bandages. You've been hurt enough times to know what to do. D'you need anything else?"
Slowly, Izuna picked them up and put it in a cloth satchel. "Well, I…"
"Do you need anything else?" she repeated.
"No." He handed her the pouch of coins and hesitated.
"Take care of your wound." She ushered him out the door and slammed it shut behind him.
Chakra lingered in the air like smoke she couldn't air out. Yui ran her hand through her hair, untying the leather strap and letting the strands frame her face. She closed her eyes for a moment and then pulled her hair into a bun. Today had been miserable.
Yui glanced at the table. Two scrolls, one containing a book and the other empty, waiting to be filled, rested on top.
Tomorrow, though, could change everything.
On a brisk fall day with wind cold enough to cut, Yui decided to test the effect of chakra on two strains of fungi.
The two most promising samples came from a moldy piece of bread from the blacksmith's pantry, and the other came from a rotting orange a child had found. Both exhibited a slight halo effect: a ring around the fungi where bacteria didn't grow.
Yui stared at the culture to imprint the image in her mind. Yellow and brown bacterial colonies surrounded but did not touch the white and blue fungal circles in the gelatin mold. She used a ruler—procured by Tsubaki—to measure the length of the ring: about a centimeter and a half.
She rubbed her hands together, taking deep breaths and clearing her mind. After a decade of practice, Yui could slip into the meditative state needed for chakra at will... usually. Today, her stomach churned, and several seconds passed before the chakra gathered in her palms, prickling and brought her hands closer to the fungi and let chakra fall in a thick, sparking stream.
"Come on," she murmured, soft enough to be a prayer. Yui let the light fade, blinking back the spots in her eyes, and held her breath.
She didn't see much of a difference. Shaking her head at her foolishness, Yui sighed. Chakra might be the closest thing to magic, but what did she expect to happen? For all the bacteria to magically disappear? Even if the chakra had killed the bacteria, it wasn't something she could tell by just looking at it, not without a microscope. Yui repeated the process with the other strain of fungi. Still no change, and the ruler confirmed it. But science was rarely dramatic shifts. Instead, it was gradual, repeated steps. With that in mind, Yui left two samples alone as control groups.
She repeated the process on the second day, and when when she measured the length of the halo, she noticed that the halo was now two centimeters long. The other chakra-stressed fungi was still a centimeter and a half, as were the control group. Perhaps it was a fluke.
On the fourth day, the difference was visible. The halos around the chakra-treated fungi were twice as large as the ones left alone. Yui had stressed the fungi. She had increased the production of penicillin in an unholy alliance of half-baked science and chakra. It had… she didn't know why, but for some reason, it reminded her of the first day she'd witnessed chakra, with old Anzu shattering her preconceptions with a dozen green sparks.
"Penicillin," she whispered, looking at the fungi, and this time, it really was a prayer. Yui laughed, and then cried, before finally washing her face and getting back to testing another batch.
She had all sorts of speculation about it, all of them centered around chakra's anti-infective properties. But her passion had never been research or theory. She'd never cared for labs and trials and textbooks, only taking the mantle of 'inventor' out of sheer necessity. Yet, she had done it.
Yes, there was more to do. Yui still had to find a way to extract it, to increase production to viable levels, to convince people that it could work… there were ways to go before she could use it to treat someone. But it was a start. Yui was one step closer to antibiotics and modern medicine, one step closer to dragging this world forward, and she could feel it, deep in her bones, giddy with the promise of a better future.
I honestly have no idea what I'm doing with the chapter summaries; I just thought I'd fill them out since AO3 gives me the option, haha. Thanks to all my wonderful readers!
Chapter 8: Infection
How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.
Penicillin becoming a concrete possibility instead of a distant hypothetical filled Yui with frantic determination. She couldn't isolate the antibiotic herself; the process was too complicated and expensive to do alone. For penicillin to be distilled, people had to believe it could work… and for that to happen, she had to convince people of germ theory. Rather, she had to convince Dr. Makoto, who had to convince his colleagues.
Thankfully, Yui had the advantage of knowing how it had happened before. This world already knew that spontaneous generation wasn't accurate, so she could move right onto Pasteur's famous experiment. With Eiji's help, Yui detailed the theory behind it. The book she'd written already talked about how boiling water, milk, or wine would prevent diseases and spoilage. This time, Yui aimed to explain why.
She dipped her pen into the inkwell, writing the steps of the experiment that helped prove that germs were the cause of diseases—and not bad air. Yui paused as a thought came to her. In her old world, the term 'pasteurization' had come from the man who'd discovered the technique: Louis Pasteur. In this world, would the process be named after Makoto? Makotozation? Or, perhaps, Yuization? She shook her head, amused at the thought, and continued writing.
Her other project involved the sealing scrolls given to her by Tobirama. He'd said that anything living put inside them wouldn't survive… and did that mean everything? Including germs?
She tested it with a simple experiment. Like Pasteur, she prepared two sealed glass containers with broth. The first she simply left alone. Yui sealed the other one, kept it inside the scroll for five minutes, and took it out. After two days, the broth in the first container grew cloudy and spoiled. The once-sealed one, on the other hand, remained clear.
Yui blinked, stunned at how easy it was. There she had it. Her own little sterilization machine.
Yawning, Yui walked back from her sister's house. Listening to her sister's nonstop stream of gossip and playing with her giggling niece was always a refreshing break from her duties, but as always, she had to return. Today was windy and brisk, and she drew her shawl tighter around her.
Yui opened the door to her clinic, glad to be back in the warmth, and blinked at the sight of Madara. He was still wearing his red armor, but instead of being scuffed and dirty, it was faintly polished. Sen was standing across from him, glaring.
"You need something?" she asked, interrupting the stony silence with slight caution. It was far too soon for the Uchiha to come for more medicine. Izuna had picked them up just two weeks ago.
"I wanted to talk to you."
Something about his smile was less mocking than usual, but she wasn't reassured. Yui glanced at Sen, inclining her head towards the back door. He shook his head and refused to move. With a sigh, Yui glanced back to Madara and waited for him to continue.
"I wanted to apologize on behalf of my clan." He paused for a moment. "Again," he said, dry. "It feels like we've had this conversation before."
Yui approached him, hesitant, untying the shawl around her neck and draping it on her chair. She didn't sit down. Instead, she kept one hand back and the other by her side. Sen stepped forward, stopping just to the left of her. Despite her brother's cheerful, chatty nature, his anger—real anger, not just irritation—started with quiet. And now… Yui didn't know why, but Sen was furious. He'd hold his tongue, though. He always did.
Madara stayed at the other end of the clinic, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. He watched her and Sen, quiet for just a moment, and continued. "More specifically, I want to apologize for my brother. He was wrong to say what he did, especially after what you've done for us."
"You're apologizing for him," she repeated.
The silence grew when Madara refused to elaborate. The last time, his apology after the clinic's destruction had seemed like an act of great contrition. This time… it felt more like Madara was apologizing because his brother wouldn't.
She sighed and took a seat. "Sit, please." They might as well get on with it.
Sen remained standing, but Madara sat down, hunched forward on the stool like he was preparing for war.
"You're always doing this, though." Sen spoke, low and harsh, and Yui glanced at him, startled.
Madara simply raised an eyebrow at Sen.
"A ninja comes in. He screws up. He comes back later and apologizes, and we gotta clean up after him." Her brother leaned forward, hands flat on the table. "And repeat, and repeat, and repeat. When does this end? When do you ninja—"
"No, I have to say it! I'm tired of them walking over you like this! Ninja aren't good for anything but trouble anyway."
"Is that what you think?" said Madara. "That ninja only exist to destroy?" His voice was mild, his expression was placid, but his fingers played with the hilt of the knife strapped to his belt.
That belief was easy to keep. Even Yui found her thoughts drifting in that direction from time to time when she had to treat the aftermath of their actions. But ninja wouldn't exist if there weren't people who paid for them, and pinning all the crimes of a system on an individual was futile. Moreover, it was never smart to proclaim that belief to ninja, no matter how friendly they were.
"I haven't seen 'em do anything else," Sen said.
"Sen, that's enough—"
"It's fine." Despite his well-kept appearance, Madara's eyes were haggard. "Let him say his piece. I'd like to hear it."
"I…" Sen's anger seemed to drain, but he pushed on. "Well, what else is there to say? You heard me just fine."
Madara didn't stand. His gaze slid away from her brother with casual disregard. "Certainly, ninja aren't saints. But we're far from the demons you make us out to be. I'm rather disappointed by your ignorance. It seems like your sister's sense hasn't carried on to you."
Sen bristled. Yui didn't know whether to intervene or shake her head with exasperation.
"Listen, boy. Who do you think clears those roads of bandits? Why do you think your town is attacked less often than any other? Did you think it was a coincidence?" He looked back at Sen with a smile. "Did you think it was your quaint militia?"
"Much of the work we do is based around protection. And the rest…" Madara shrugged, languid. "Lords hire us to take care of their problems and fight in their wars. If we didn't, who do you think would? You. Your fellow villagers would be conscripted, and you'd be dying instead of us."
Sen hunched his shoulders but pressed on. "Your fight with the Senju doesn't have anything to do with that."
"Yes, but I'm changing that," he said with the easy self-assurance he wore like a cloak. Madara eyed him, waiting for a response. When none came, he continued speaking, voice dropping. "I don't allow people to speak to me like that without consequence. But, in light of what you and your sister have done for my clan… I'll let it go." Despite the warning, Madara seemed more amused than angry. "Now, do you have any other complaints, or can I get back to doing what I came here for?"
Yui cleared her throat, getting both men's attention. "No threats, please," she said, low. Madara tilted his head in acknowledgement, lips twitching, and Sen cringed. She sighed. "I think you were apologizing."
"Ah, yes. My brother was being a fool. Uncharacteristically so. After his actions, it might not seem like it, but he is truly grateful for your help. Running into Tobirama, of all people, so soon after witnessing a battle between our clans made him lose his temper." His eyes darkened. "He hadn't taken my suggestion for peace that well, either. It was a matter of poor timing."
He looked down at his clasped hands. His next words were acerbic, his face pinched and drawn. Normally, his snarl would be intimidating, but he just looked tired. "Izuna doesn't want the fighting to end until they're all dead. He thinks that it's the only way for real peace. My brother, he… he doesn't know how to forgive. And he doesn't know what to do with forgiveness." He spoke slowly. "Izuna is my only surviving brother." He hesitated again, and when he continued, his words were even softer. "I once had three more, all younger. They died because of the Senju."
Sen inhaled sharply, stricken at the thought of losing a sibling. As the youngest, he was the one that everyone else babied, and neither of them had memories of their oldest sister's passing or their mother's stillborn child. Yui could hardly fathom losing one sibling, let alone three. But why was Madara telling her this?
"Izuna was never the same after that. Izuna blames the Senju, yes, but he blames himself more. What kind of older brother can't protect their younger siblings?"
His laugh was broken, and for the first time, Madara looked vulnerable. Yui's breath caught. A ninja could never show weakness, and yet Madara, the quintessential shinobi, was allowing them a glimpse.
"But my brother is wrong. Peace is possible." Just as quickly, the moment of weakness disappeared, leaving only resolve. He smiled again, but it lacked his usual sharpness. "Now that Hashirama is the leader of the Senju clan, we're able to work towards the dream we both had since we were young. Though I'd lost faith, he never did."
"A world where kids don't got to fight." Yui thought of Hashirama sitting by the fire all those nights ago. The warm glow of the embers had made him look tired. Now, the sunlight cast different shadows on Madara, but the effect was the same.
"Yes." He chuckled quietly. "We'd first met as children ourselves, though we were ignorant of the other's identity. I'd suspected it, and I think he did, too, but if neither of us asked, then… it was easy to pretend. Easy to pretend we were just two friends instead of sworn enemies."
"And now you can make it the truth."
"I suppose so." Instead of the hope and excitement she'd expected, Madara's eyes were grim. "Our clans are in a shaky ceasefire, but it's a start. Both of us have to wrangle the more militant factions of our clans, the ones who don't want to let the conflict go. People like my brother. But just because something hasn't been done before doesn't mean it can't be done. Your clinic helped me realize that that," he said. "I admit that I'm not entirely convinced of your methods or desire to share so freely—it seems rather foolish—but I'm willing to be convinced."
He reached into his pouch and pulled out a tightly-bound scroll. "In here is a jutsu that is used to numb pain. I… borrowed it from another clan." Madara gave her his usual smirk, sardonic with just an edge of sincerity.
She took the scroll. "Thank you," said Yui, holding his gaze. Not only for the information but the trust he'd shown, the honesty that ran counterintuitive to the kind of life he lived.
Madara gave a slow nod. His eyes flickered to Sen, and his expression shuttered.
"Sorry," said Sen suddenly. "I shouldn't have said all that stuff. I was rude. You're a patient, and you being a ninja don't change—" he swallowed, "it doesn't change that. I should've asked before blaming you." He crossed his arms and lifted his chin up, defiant. "I don't take all of it back, though! You ninja still make a lot a messes. And while you're figuring everything out, we still gotta clean up after you."
Madara looked at him for a moment, cold and sharp-edged again, before softening. With a languid smile, he vanished.
Sen blinked. "Wait, that's it? He's not gonna say anything back?
"Well, disappearing without warning is basically a ninja's version of goodbye."
"Does that mean he's not gonna stab me in my sleep?"
"Probably," Yui said, smiling. "That was good of you to apologize."
He shrugged. "I was kinda wrong. Not all wrong, but a little bit."
"You're still not off the hook for yelling at him, though. It's not a good habit to get into, yelling at people who could kill us without blinking." Her tone was dry, fully aware of her hypocrisy. Not so long ago, she'd done the same to Izuna, who was more volatile than his brother. "I know it's not fair, but we're at their mercy. We shouldn't push it."
"Maybe, but they're at ours. We don't gotta fix them."
"Yes, we do," she said, firm.
Sen sighed but didn't protest. "Before you make me clean the shed for the hundredth time, can I first see what he gave you?"
"Alright." Of course, Yui was curious too.
She opened the scroll and pressed it flat on the table so he could see. In thin, long strokes of ink were paragraphs of descriptions and theory. Detailed diagrams were interspersed between the blocks of text. Yui skimmed it, pleased at recognizing most of the terms. She'd been working her way through Hashirama's book as well as Dr. Makoto's, and all three texts agreed on the basics. In particular, this scroll talked about the numbing properties of chakra.
"Interesting," she murmured, and she sat down to read.
Tsubaki chattered away as Yui cleaned up her injuries. Besides the road rash covering both arms, Tsubaki was in good health and more vibrant than usual, literally and metaphorically; her glass beads were in every shape and color, glittering as light shone through them.
"How ironic that I was injured, not by bandits or ninja, but by my own caravan!" said Tsubaki, laughing and shaking her head. "I haven't seen any fighting in a while, though, especially in this cursed stretch of land—not including Chiyuku, of course." She gave Yui a sideways glance. "Thanks to a certain someone, this town's blessed to be free of that ninja bullshit. Still, it seems like the conflict between both the Senju, Uchiha, and the war-hungry lords has faded a little."
Tsubaki lowered her voice, though the only other people there were the two apprentices and Hatake. "I hear that one of the newer daimyo has gotten involved, Lord Hosokawa. He's been consolidating power like mad, and rumor has it that he has been dealing with both shinobi clans—Senju and Uchiha. Not only that, I hear that Lord Hosokawa's forced Lord Fukuyama and Lord Motonari to stop their silly fight." She snorted. "If he keeps this up, Fire Country might have one daimyo for once."
Yui nodded, contemplative. She didn't keep track of politics that much, but thanks to her merchant patients, she had a better understanding of what went on nowadays. Lord Fukuyama—the same lord who'd placed the bounty on those bandits who'd ransacked her home—was technically the liege of their village. Unfortunately, the land of his bitter rival Lord Motonari was right next to them. One hired Uchiha, the other Senju, and all jokeyed for power over their sworn enemy. Now, though… Yui thought back to Hashirama and Madara's words. Perhaps there was a reason behind Lord Hosokawa's meteoric rise.
"Peace," she said out loud.
"Peace? Between who, the Senju and Uchiha?" said Hatake, derisive.
"Sounds strange, doesn't it?" Tsubaki mused. "If a few years ago, someone had told me that both clans might actually, well, stop fighting, I'd have called them insane."
The look on Hatake's face suggested that he still thought so. He stepped closer as Yui slathered salve on Tsubaki's arms, his frown deepening.
Tsubaki looked up at him and rolled her eyes. "Oh, stop being a busybody, R—Hatake."
Yui pointedly ignored the slip and continued her administrations. "Does it hurt anywhere else?"
The merchant shook her head. "I know my shoulders are going to be sore in the morning, but other than that, it's just my arms and knees."
"I'll give you something to kill the pain."
"Thank you!" said Tsubaki, smiling. She watched as Yui went to her shelves, stocked with glass and wooden jars. "Oh, that reminds me. I have your special glassware and crossbow bolts, but a few jars are broken thanks to that little accident."
"That's fine." Yui had asked for more flat pans for the penicillin experiment so that she could run a few more strains. She'd also requested glass jars for the salves; with the amount of people who bought them, Yui was always running a little low. "You can bring the rest the next time you come around."
"Of course." Tsubaki paused, tossing her hair back so that the beads clinked like windchimes. Hatake snorted in the corner. After shooting him a glare, she cleared her throat and continued. "Thankfully, the other thing I'd brought wasn't damaged."
"The other thing?
"Do you remember what we talked about the last time we met?"
Yui nodded. A few months ago, Tsubaki had finally given into her curiosity and had asked about the purpose of all those strange glass objects. Yui had told her, obviously, and Tsubaki had been impressed, if a little puzzled by it all. She'd already been vaguely familiar with the concept; one of her clients was an eccentric noble who studied animalcules.
"Well, I have something that might help with that."
She grinned. "Hatake, if you would?"
The pale-haired ninja grunted and picked up one of the crates they'd brought into the clinic. With surprising gentleness, he set it on the table. Then, he unclasped the latch and lifted the lid.
Yui gasped when she saw what was inside.
It was archaic compared to what she remembered, with a brass body and simple glass lenses, but to Yui, it was like rediscovering fire after stumbling in the darkness for so long. She didn't know what to say. She stared at the the microscope and then at Tsubaki, overwhelmed with gratitude and questions.
Tsubaki gave her a soft smile. "Yeah. I didn't think I could get it, honestly. Microscopes are rare and specialized, and not many people can make them. Of those who can, even fewer are willing to sell them to a merchant. There's always that fear of rival makers getting their hands on them and taking them apart. But! I managed to get a really simple one from a maker who buys glass from me. I assume you're interested in buying it?"
"Yeah. Yes, I am," said Yui, voice thick. She felt like reaching out and hugging her. "Thank you, Tsubaki. How much do you want for it?"
"Well, you could always throw in a few extra supplies." She shrugged a shoulder and hissed as Yui began to slather turmeric, marigold, and neem salve on her arms. "I have a feeling I'll need a little more for myself this time around. But, besides that…"
Yui didn't even bother to haggle, agreeing to the first price that Tsubaki gave (to the merchant's surprise). Even that felt a little low compared to how much Yui wanted it. With how rare and difficult microscopes were to procure, Yui wasn't about to insult her friend after she'd done her a massive favor.
Since the deal was settled, she leaned over the crate and touched the cold metal body of microscope, marveling. Ten years ago, having a microscope would've been unimaginable. Now, she had that and more—people who were willing to listen and help, no matter how long that took, no matter how hard it was.
On a good day, they were lucky enough to see the outlines of cells. Although high-quality microscopes in this world could probably see the individual components of cells, this was not one of them. It was alright, though, because Yui expected as much. What she hadn't expected was Sen's interest.
Her brother was a social, hardworking boy—well, an adult now, though she sometimes forgot—and though he enthusiastically studied the hands-on parts, like sewing wounds or making tinctures, the theory side of it never really grabbed his attention. That had been Eiji's passion.
But ever since she'd showed Sen how to operate the microscope, she could hardly drag him away from it.
"You mean these square things are inside us?" he asked, breathless as he stared at the grainy image of a leaf.
"Not the same kind, but we have cells too."
Sen switched out the leaf with a petal and began fiddling with the lenses to refocus the image. "Are there things smaller than cells?"
"Yeah. We can't see them, but the cells have tiny organs, too. And the germs that make people sick are even smaller," she said.
"Wow." He scribbled something down on a bound book and put his eye back against the ocular piece.
"Stop hogging it, Sen!" complained Eiji, walking into the shed with freshly collected herbs. "I want to take a look too."
"Aw, shut up! I'm still looking at this petal."
Yui smiled. It was much easier to isolate the penicillin strains from other fungi using the microscope, but Yui had to admit that one of the best parts was Sen's—and by consequence, Eiji's—renewed enthusiasm. Perhaps she could write to Dr. Makoto and see if the boys could study with him. Being a woman, a university education was still beyond her, but her students had a chance. They could bring the theories she'd taught them to a wider audience, and unlike Dr. Makoto, she didn't have to try and convince them of the theories' merit.
"Sen, move over." Eiji said, giving Sen a light shove. "Go kiss your girlfriend Kiko or whatever her name is!"
"Hey, don't talk about my girlfriend like that! And her name's Kaori!"
"Boys, relax! And not in front of the microscope! It's the only one we got. If you knock it over, we aren't getting another one."
They both mumbled an apology, and reluctantly, Sen stepped aside. Before Eiji pressed his eye to the lens, he stopped and drew away from the microscope.
"Sensei, how do you know this?" he asked, curious.
She stiffened. "Know what?"
"Know about the cells, their parts, the germs... and the microscope." Eiji tilted his head down and examined the petal through the microscope. "I used to think that Old Anzu taught you, but that's not right, huh? There's no way she could've known, and I don't know how you do either."
Sen watching too, careful and quiet. Yui hadn't expected it from them, but maybe should have. She wasn't the only one who'd been affected by the outside world. Sen and Eiji had learned from Dr. Makoto too, and with their exposure, they had a better idea of what was normal.
"I just know," she said, and she didn't say anything more.
Both of her apprentices were helping her scrape out the penicillin mold from the containers, a tedious task that no one liked. Halfway between dumping out a failed specimen, Sen paused, nose wrinkled in disgust.
"Hey, Sis, I thought you found the special fungus thing you needed for the medicine. So, where's the magic medicine you were talking about? We've been growing mold and cleaning for ages, and you haven't used none yet."
Yui picked up another pan. "Unfortunately, it's not easy to make. Now that we found the fungus and I've written about what it can do, the first part is done. But it's just the first part." She pointed to the crude mixture of semi-filtered penicillin. "I tried to make what I could, but we need technology and pure materials to get the medicine. And, with the amount of fungus we have, I doubt we could get more than a vial of medicine, even if we did have the best filter. Making all that stuff on a big scale costs more money than I have, which is why I'm trying to convince people to help me pay for it."
"Like all those letters you and Eiji keep writing to Dr. Makoto, right?"
Yui glanced at her other apprentice, who scrubbed furiously at the glass pan and was doing his best to pretend like he wasn't listening. Eiji was writing letters too? She didn't know anything about that. Maybe he was writing about the penicillin, though that seemed unlikely. Maybe it was about medical matters or something else. It wasn't her place to police what he did, and it probably wasn't important. Eiji would tell her if it was.
"Yeah," she said after a moment, and Eiji's shoulders relaxed. "That's why."
Unfortunately, Makato was a noncommittal about helping her with penicillin. He'd done (and taken credit) for the experiment she'd written about, and to their excitement, germ theory was slowly beginning to spread. But despite his rising status, Yui doubted he had the power or desire to get the funds needed to produce penicillin. Yui had put out feelers with her merchant friends, seeing if any of them were interested, but none of them were in the medicine business. They came to her for that. Most were hesitant about funding something so expensive and risky.
Yui knew that this whole idea was a crapshot. Penicillin was only found in the early 1900s, and after the lucky discovery, it took two full decades for it to become a viable medicine. The fungus was fickle, requiring oxygen and nutrients and pressure, and the complicated extraction process took industrialization. Yui didn't know if this world had the technology needed.
But damn it, she'd never forgive herself if she didn't try. If it didn't happen in her lifetime, it'd happen in the next. Her notes were detailed enough for that. Yui would lay the groundwork needed, and the next generation would continue the fight.
With winter came the flu.
First, it was the baker's daughter who fell ill. Then the blacksmith, then three more, and four more, until finally, she had an epidemic on her hands. The flu season was expected at this time of year; each time, three or four people fell sick.
Never had it been this bad.
The elderly and the very young were the most likely to succumb to the flu. It wasn't a disease for healthy adults. Not a fatal one. The flu was supposed to take a week or two to overcome. A week of aches, chills, coughing—a week of pain and sickness, but just a week. Yui would treat the symptoms, give instructions, and wait for the body's immune system to overcome it.
This flu didn't remind her of last winter or the winter before. It wasn't anything she'd seen, not in this life or the last. This flu reminded her of a pandemic she'd only read about, one caused by an aggressive, infectious strain of influenza that mainly affected young adults. The Spanish Flu, one of the deadliest disasters in all of human history.
There had been many theories about it. Theories upon theories upon theories. Perhaps those deaths were a result of a cytokine storm, in which healthy immune systems overreacted. Perhaps it was just a bad strain of flu, or bad luck, or the infections that came after… perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. None of the theories helped now.
With her apprentices' help, she quarantined the sick. She posted signs warning travelers away, despite the protests of lost business from the village council. Yui used fabric to make make crude surgical masks for the patients and their families, and she insisted on frequent hand-washing to prevent the spread of the flu.
She did her best.
It wasn't enough.
The innkeeper followed her down the street as he talked at her. He'd bothered her about it for the last two weeks, incessant in his pursuit.
"Healer, don't you think it be time to take down those signs? The sickness is right gone, ain't it?"
"It's not," she snapped. The worst was over, but she still had fifteen patients.
"Look, no one's gonna come stay in my inn if they think there's a plague goin' on!"
"There is a plague going on." Yui sighed. "Just one more week, alright? We don't want to spread it around."
Yui closed the door on him. She had no more patience. After two weeks of little sleep, constant fear and losing patients, she was damn tired. She sympathized to some degree; nowadays, the village was dependent on travelers for income, and the innkeeper more than most. But Yui wasn't going to indulge people who disregarded public health despite having it explained to them a dozen times.
"Him again?" asked Sen, rolling his eyes. He was cutting a coarse bolt of fabric into strips and rectangles for the sanitary masks. Most the local villagers had several by now, and Yui handed out the extra to the few travelers who didn't get the memo. Sen's own mask was hanging around his neck, though he pulled it up when he saw Yui frown.
"Unfortunately," said Yui. An ache throbbed behind her eyes, threatening to spread. She almost rubbed her face but stopped, privately admonishing herself for her stupidity. Tiredness was no excuse for carelessness. The three of them took shifts, but none of them could rest for long. "How are our patients? And Eiji?"
"They're all doing better." Sen's voice was muffled by the mask, but she could tell he was smiling by the crinkle of his eyes. "Rika is still touch-and-go, but she hasn't gotten worse. Hiroshi's fever broke. I think he'll be fine. Eiji's been with them for the last hour, but he'll probably come out to eat any minute. I'll watch them next."
Yui shook her head. "It's fine. I'll take over."
"What? No!" said Sen. He paused in his cutting to narrow his eyes in a scowl. "You've been working for the last eight hours. Don't push yourself!"
"It's fine, Sen." She sat next to him, picked up a needle and thread, and began to sew the masks together, all while ignoring the growing headache. She couldn't not work, not when more people needed her help.
"Uh, no, it's not fine—"
The inside door opened, and Eiji walked in, yawning. Due to overflow, they'd been using both the surgery/treatment room and the boys' room as the quarantine zone. Eiji paused in the doorway, looking between the two of them.
"What's wrong?" he asked, eyebrows furrowing.
"She won't take a break!" Sen set the shears down and pointed an accusing finger at her. "She wants us to rest while she works herself to death!"
"Sensei!" Eiji became just as indignant as her brother, and she sighed again. When the two put up a united front like this, they were impossible to dissuade. "You told us the problems with overworking. Stress makes it easier to get sick!"
He had his mask on, but he covered his mouth with the crook of his elbow anyway. He sneezed again. Eiji's shoulders tensed, and his mask didn't flutter as he held his breath. Yui looked down at her needle and thread. Her hands were shaking. The silence unfurled under the weight of what no one acknowledged.
"I might be coming down with a cold," Sen said, bright and false. "These things always have the worst timing, huh?"
"Just a cold," echoed Eiji.
Yui said nothing.
Sen began to cough.
One day of incubation. Sudden onset. High fever, headaches, cough, and fatigue. When Sen collapsed in the middle of the clinic, she knew. Together, Yui and Eiji moved him to the quarantine.
"I'll be fine," he assured between coughs. Sweat shone on his face, and he barely had enough strength to shift on the cot. "It's just a week. A week, and I'll get better."
"You'll get better." Eiji reached down to squeeze his friend's hand but stopped short of touching it. He slowly drew back. "You'll be fine."
Yui didn't need to touch her brother's skin to feel the heat radiating from it.
One week became two. Most of their patients recovered, though few did not. Sen lingered in the cot, assuring them, "I feel better! Let me help!"
Once, he tried to get up by himself. He immediately stumbled, hitting his elbow on the cot as he fell to the floor. Sen couldn't get up. He couldn't call for help. His lungs were too weak, and every time he tried to shout, he had a coughing fit.
Ten minutes later, Yui found him wheezing and gasping on the ground. She helped him back up and brought him another blanket. She wanted to scold him for risking his health, but Yui knew that she'd cry if she said anything. She turned her head and blinked, trying to keep him from seeing the gathering tears. He noticed anyway.
Sen didn't try to stand again.
Climbing fever. A heart rate above ninety beats a minute, respiration above twenty breaths. His pulse felt like a nervous butterfly, and his lungs filled with the flaps of its wings. It looked like pneumonia. It looked like sepsis. His coughs coated his tongue with pus, and through it all, he wheezed, "I'll get better, Sis. I'll get better!"
Eiji pulled her aside. "Will he get better?"
Sen's coughs resounded through the wall. He would pause, gasp for air, and each time, more coughs would interrupt his desperate attempts for air. It sounded like sobbing.
Her breath stopped each time her brother's did, and she hadn't slept, too worried that he'd slip away when she wasn't there. Yui looked at her other student. He wanted her to comfort him, but she couldn't do it anymore. She wanted to scream at him, scream at someone, to breakdown in a corner and cry until her eyes were dry, to finally admit that it wasn't okay, that she couldn't do this anymore. She wanted someone to hold her and lie, to tell her that everything would be fine.
But that was her job.
"I don't know," Yui said finally. "I don't know."
"It hurts," he moaned. "My stomach hurts. Ma, help me! It hurts!"
Yui couldn't do anything.
She couldn't stop a virus. She couldn't use her crude penicillin to fix the infections that came after. She knew what could have fixed him, but she had nothing, no antivirals or intravenous fluid or ventilators. Yui knew more medicine than any other person alive in this world, and she couldn't save her baby brother.
"It'll be alright," she lied, pushing his hair back. "It'll be alright."
Yui and Eiji switched when she needed to eat or treat someone else. Likewise, Yui's siblings and mother came in rotations, each pale-faced and ready. Now it was their mother's turn. She stood in the corner, sobbing, familiar with this pain.
"I'm sorry," cried Sen. "I'm n-not good enough. I'm not strong. I'm not, make it stop—"
"Don't be sorry, Sen," Yui said, grabbing his hand. "You're the best little brother and student in the whole world, okay?"
"I can't do it. I'm scared. I'm scared."
"No, no, don't be scared. Don't be scared, it's okay—"
"I don't wanna… I don't…"
Yui couldn't hold his hand any tighter. His skin stretched across the bones like parchment. She whispered, soft and comforting and desperate, "It will be better."
Quietly, Sen died.
Sorry, I know I've been forgetting to keep crossposting. I'll be consistent again, I promise.
We're almost done. There's just one arc to go, a few more chapters before it's over. The plot threads are coming to a close, and it's crazy to think we've gotten this far. Your comments, favorites, and follows truly give me the motivation to keep at this. Thank you all for reading. As before, there is bonus content on tumblr.
Special thanks to masqvia, GwendolynStacy, and Iaso for beta-reading this chapter. They suffered through my writing, my indecision, and my constant questions. They're the best, and I suggest checking them out. Again, thank you all for your patience and support.
Chapter 9: Dislocation
Is there nobility in suffering? Yui thinks not.
Yui continued with her work because she had to. The flu had passed, so she lifted the quarantine. Life returned to its routine. She made the rounds, bandaging wounds, delivering babies, and treating sickness. Yui even worked on the penicillin, though the cold weather was another complication. (She avoided the microscope, though, only using it when necessary. She kept it covered every other time.) Yui hadn't cried because she didn't need to. She was fine.
Still, people were kind to her. They gave her discounts, apologies, and pitying looks. She didn't have to cook for a month, and every other person offered to carry her supplies or help with errands. Her frequent customers all went through the same process—asking after her apprentices, dropping their smile at the answer. Emigiku left flowers, procured from somewhere in the dead of winter. Tsubaki gave her a hug.
People were kind to her.
(She didn't want them to be.)
The clinic was quiet. Snow fell, the fire burned, and Yui didn't speak. She read Madara's scroll, but none of the words made sense. She read the same sentence five times, words slipping like sand through fingers. Hashirama's book, Chakra and Medicine, also sat on the table. So did Makoto's textbooks.
(She didn't want to read them. She didn't want to learn, she didn't want to move, she didn't want to do anything. But she had to, so she did.)
Yui read the sentence for the sixth time, and some of the words begin to stick. After gathering chakra in the hands, make the seal of… She rubbed her eyes. There was just so much about chakra she didn't know. Hashirama's book was helping, filling in the basic knowledge she'd need to use Madara's technique. One of Makoto's textbooks briefly talked about chakra illnesses, but it didn't go into detail.
(There was so much she didn't know. There was so much she didn't remember, if only, if only—)
The door opened, and the blast of night air made her shiver. Eiji walked in. He joined her in silence, but his was angry. She could see it in the way he avoided looking at her, in the way he pressed his nails against his palm, his lack of polite greeting. Yui should probably have been concerned. She should probably feel offended at his rudeness or ask what was wrong, but she didn't. She didn't feel anything at all.
"Did you treat Kaori?" she said instead.
"I did." Eiji rubbed his pale fingers, blowing on them and passing them in front of the fireplace. He removed his scarf and continued to avoid her gaze.
"I did everything I needed to." He turned away from the fire and walked to the interior door, the one that led to the bedrooms, where Eiji and Sen slept. (Had slept.) Eiji slammed the rice-door behind him, hard enough to cause the frame to shudder.
The anger was troubling, a distant part of her mused. Eiji tended to stew in his anger until it came out at once, destructive and sudden. Unlike Sen, who told (who had told) his feelings without prompting, Eiji required someone to prod and needle before he said anything at all. Sen had always done that, always ready to keep his friend from getting stuck in his head. She should probably do that in her brother's stead.
Yui looked back to her scrolls and continued to read.
Eiji poured himself a cup of tea. He didn't offer, nor did she ask.
"You're still reading that scroll?"
"Yes," she replied. Yui didn't bother justifying herself. "Kyo broke his arm, and he had a gash from his elbow to his shoulder. I splinted his arm and cleaned the wound, but we should check on him in—"
"Don't you even care?"
Yui didn't answer. She stared at the words on the paper. She'd gotten halfway through it, but there was still a lot she didn't understand. Yui read the sentence again. Dulling sensation requires a delicate balance...
"You're acting like nothing happened. How can you just sit there? You didn't even cry. You're his sister! Didn't you love him?"
She should feel angry at his accusations. She should feel something. She should feel something besides this bone-deep weariness, this fog that clouded and dulled her thoughts. Yui continued reading.
… else, the chakra damages the skin.
"I knew Sen. He was my best friend. I loved him." His hands were shaking, still holding the half-full cup of tea. "I loved him like a brother, I mean, like you… like how you loved him. How you should've loved him."
A dim corner of her brain put the pieces together. Oh. Eiji had loved her brother in a different way. That was why he'd made those comments, why he'd never courted a girl. It made sense. (It was almost enough. For a brief moment, something stirred in the nothingness of her emotion, but then stilled.)
Too much chakra can lead to burns on the surface on the skin. Too little results in no relief from the pain.
"He thought you were brilliant. We both did. But all I see is a cold-hearted woman who never even cared!" He threw the teacup to the ground, and it splintered into a thousand pieces. "You're a horrible sister."
Eiji stormed out, leaving her alone with her scrolls. Once he left, she finally looked up. The teacup he'd thrown was delicate porcelain from a set of four. The flower-etched pieces were strewn across the floor, as if it had suddenly bloomed. Tea splashed onto the floor, seeping between the edges of the tatami mats.
He wasn't wrong. She was a horrible sister. It was her fault that he'd died. The travelers that the clinic brought in had made the village successful, but it'd also brought the flu. It was easy to tell herself the platitude that she wasn't responsible, that sometimes, people died and there wasn't anything she could do about it. It didn't change what she felt. It didn't change what she didn't feel.
Yui glanced back to the mess. She should probably clean that up. Yui looked back down to her scroll and started from the top.
Six samurai strode into the village square, swords hanging by their sides. They flanked a man in rich purple robes and a strange hat. His imperious sneer turned into a quizzical frown as he glanced around the bustling square. Newly purchased apple in hand, Yui paused along with everyone else, the din fading for a moment as the people took stock of strangers that looked out of place even for village used to travelers.
The man took it as his cue. "I seek the assistance of a healer by the name of Yui, one said to reside in this village," he said, voice surprisingly resonant and deep despite his thin frame and face.
She debated answering. She didn't want to talk to anyone new, any strangers who needed her to do more favors. Yui just wanted to go back to her clinic and continue reading. But what she wanted didn't matter. She'd been quiet long enough that people were glancing at her, wondering why she hadn't said anything.
"That's me. What do you need?" she said finally.
He gave her a dismissive once-over. "Lord Fukuyama's service requests your presence."
Yui didn't have enough chairs to seat everyone. The six samurai and her only apprentice stayed standing while she and the messenger—Nakahara was his family name, and he emphasized that she should address him by such—sat by the table.
"We must leave as soon as possible," Nakahara said, tapping his finger on the table with each word. "Please procure the supplies you need so we may be on our way."
The messenger filled the silence with all the information she didn't need to know, but the shock of a noble's summon was enough to pierce through her haze. Eiji was no different, standing dumbstruck in the corner. Yui had treated the wealthiest merchants and the lowliest peasants, travelling musicians, monks… but they had all been commoners. True, samurai and ninja weren't exactly common. The former could range from paupers with swords to the retainers of daimyos, but Yui had only met those who traveled within her social sphere. The latter were outside societal constraints, an aberration that did not discriminate with their blade. Noble or peasant, it never mattered to ninja.
And it didn't matter to her. Then again, nothing had really mattered to her since then.
"Am I going to treat someone?" she said finally.
There was no other possible reason why a member of nobility would want to speak to her. Yui knew that her reputation had grown, but she hadn't expected this. ("You're famous," Sen had laughed, hearing the newest rumor about her supernatural origins. "What's next, a noble begging for your hand?")
Nakahara frowned. "If the lord summons you, then you must answer. It is not your place to ask why."
Yui let out a short breath. "I'll need to know what medicine to bring if I'm going to—"
"Bring all manners of medicine you have." He nodded at the samurai. "They shall assist you."
The warriors stared at her, impassive. With polished, faintly gleaming armor and swords in lacquered sheaths, the samurai were unlikely to be simple hired men.
Nakahara hadn't treated her acquiescence as a question but as a fact. By all cultural norms, it was. Not only was Lord Fukuyama her social superior, he was also her direct liege. Refusing him was unthinkable. Refusing him went against the very fabric of the class structure, of society. She was a serf. She was his serf. And yet, Yui didn't stand up.
She didn't want to go. Here, she was… here she was fine. Here she knew what to do. She could fall into her habits and not think, not feel, and be fine. (Already, she could feel the cracks in the routine, the gentle way her numbness was being shaken.)
"Healer, we must be going." He paused for a moment. "If you are concerned about your virtue, being a single unmarried woman, then rest assured. Accompanying us is my wife who shall act as your chaperone."
That hadn't even crossed her mind, having been so used to ignoring that particular rule as the village healer. Yui could bend some societal norms, but others she couldn't touch. She closed her eyes for a moment. Refusal put her village at the lord's mercy. Refusal could mean death, not just for her but for her family. (It already happened, whispered a corner of her mind, and you were too useless to stop it.) She could stay silent for only so long.
Her entire family and most the village came to see her off, and Yui bore their farewells with distant politeness. She stared at Eiji as she adjusted her bag for the third time.
"Will you be okay without me?"
"I'll manage." His voice was cold.
She hesitated. "Remember, you gotta stock up on the chakra salves again. The surviving herbs need watering every other day, and don't forget to collect the seeds from the garden outside. I have the instructions about aspirin written by—"
"I'll be fine."
If Sen were here, she'd hug them both. If Sen were here, he'd be making a joke about the stuck-up advisor, making Eiji laugh and her smile. But Sen wasn't. She should do something.
"Alright," she said, reluctant. "Stay safe."
Slowly, Yui reached out and squeezed Eiji's shoulder. He didn't react. She knew that she should say something more, but she didn't know what. After a moment, Yui continued down the line for a second time, also hugging Ume and kissing her little niece on the forehead, rote motions with little feeling. Before Yui could say anything to her mother or other siblings, the messenger cleared his throat.
"Healer, we must be off!"
After another rushed goodbye, she hurried after Nakahara, glancing back to the village. She stopped upon seeing the three orange trees that marked the path she'd never walked past. Yui had never left this village, this little microcosm of the world that rested firmly in the familiar. Could she do this? (She had to.)
That wasn't a question worth asking. Whether she could had no relevance. She would have to regardless. She always did.
Yui drew in a slow breath and continued walking.
It took a week in total to reach Lord Fukuyama's estate, and Yui was struck dumb by the sight. The manor sprawled, decorated with intricate carvings and surrounded by cherry trees. An iron-wrought gate towered above her, the seal of the house centered between each gate. Guards were posted by either door.
The messenger and the samurai both seemed amused by her reaction, Nakahara chuckling once before he handed a scroll to the guard. After glancing at it, the guard nodded, handed it back, and began the laborious process of opening the door. The gates creaked as they swung outwards, and finally, the caravans passed through.
Lining the street were, of all things, unlit gas lamps. She craned her neck to stare as they passed each one. Even unlit, they towered above like an anachronism.
"Quickly, now," said Nakahara as they came to a stop. "We don't wish to keep Lord Fukuyama waiting."
He murmured something to his wife and disembarked. Yui carefully stepped down, and the samurai got off just after her, though the messenger's wife stayed in the caravan.
With some trepidation, she followed Nakahara into the estate. They passed through elaborate hallways covered in ink paintings and polished stone. Yui even saw a grandfather clock ticking in the corner, oddly displayed in a well-trafficked place.
Finally, they reached the gardens. More cherry trees lined the courtyard, and a stone path cut through shrubs, flowers, and vines that were placed in carefully cultivated disarray. Winter had stripped the plants of their leaves, but in spring, it would be beautiful.
Sitting in the middle on a stone bench was a middle-aged man in layers of silk. He turned to face them. The samurai and Nakahara immediately gave a deep bow. It took a second for Yui to copy them with a clumsy imitation.
"Speak," said the man. His face was lined, and his hair was more gray than black, but his posture was ramrod straight.
"Lord Fukayama," Nakahara said immediately, still bowing. "I humbly approach to inform you of the task's completion. My lord, I have traveled without rest for seven days and seven nights to bring you the woman whose presence you have requested."
"You have done well, Nakahara. You may leave us."
The lord nodded. With a faint look of disappointment that disappeared when he straightened and bowed again, the messenger departed.
Lord Fukuyama glanced at the samurai. For a second, it seemed like he was about to address the guard, but he looked back to her instead. Compared to his embroidered silk, her practical cotton looked like scraps. If she cared enough about that, Yui would be self-conscious.
"So you are the famed peasant healer. I believe your name is Yui, is it not?"
"Yes, my lord," she said, surprised that he knew it. Her back and neck were beginning to hurt from staying bowed, but she didn't want to risk offending him by straightening when she wasn't supposed to.
"No. Uh, no, Lord Fukuyama."
"I thought not." He gave another nod. "Accompany me through the gardens, Healer Yui."
She straightened, easing her pain, and followed him. Yui wasn't sure of the etiquette when it came to walking by lords, so she simply kept pace with him. If she was doing some sort of grievous misstep, then someone would probably tell her. The samurai trailed behind them several paces back. They walked in silence for a few moments. The stark snow, the structured asymmetry, the sheer wealth of the garden—none of it really fazed her. (The fog was beginning to return, cloying and heavy in its familiar exhaustion.)
Then, Lord Fukuyama stopped, and he stood with his hands clasped behind his back. He faced not her but the skeleton of a tall cherry tree. "I shall not dally any longer," said the lord. "I summoned you to my estate to help my son. My personal doctor has prescribed all manners of medicine, but none have sufficiently worked and he grows weaker by the day. Despite your humble position, I have heard much of your prowess and discretion from particular others. I request your expertise in this matter." He turned and met her eyes. "If you help him, the reward will be great."
The consequences of failing weren't enumerated. Any other time, she might've been nervous, but her weariness from the journey and her thinly-stretched composure overpowered everything else. She took comfort in the familiar despite being so far away from home: someone was sick, and the patient needed her help.
"My lord, what are his symptoms?"
Lord Fukuyama didn't hesitate. "He was born too soon. He is having difficulty nursing and trouble breathing. The doctor says his chance for survival is low. Nothing appears to be working." His voice was low. "If it were possible, I may have hired even the Senju to examine him."
Yui gave a slow nod. She'd dealt with many premature births in her village. This was something she might be able to help with. "Can I see the baby?"
He nodded back, short and sharp. "Once you procure the necessary supplies, we shall move to my wife's quarters, and you may examine him. I hope you are able to shed some light and reassure her."
A guard closed the door behind them as they stepped into the room. Silk draped the windows, casting red shadows over the smoky room, and a table by the door was covered in incense sticks, the source of the haze. In the center of the room was a Western-style bed covered in blankets, and beside that was a cradle.
Three people were clustered around the cradle: a man with a shock of white hair and the customary pale-green robes that doctors wore, a slender young woman with dark eyes and sleeves that trailed to the floor, and an older, tanned woman in cream-colored yukata. They all bowed with varying levels of deepness.
"My Lord," said the doctor. His jowls shook when he spoke. "I did not know you would return so soon."
"I had not intended to return so quickly either, but one of the healers we have sent for has arrived." After a moment, the lord added, "You may rise."
The three straightened, and the doctor looked at her with interest that faded into disappointment once he took stock of her appearance.
"I see," he said finally. "The peasant woman has arrived."
"As expected. But perhaps we should not discount this healer's experience," said the lord, quiet but firm. "The lotus does not choose where it blooms." He spoke the last line with the lilt used when quoting something clever—though what it was from, Yui hadn't the faintest idea.
With visible effort, the doctor restrained his frown. "You are the healer from that town with the chakra-infused medicine, yes?"
Yui nodded. "I am—"
"Do you infuse those salves yourself?" interrupted the older man.
"Mostly, yes." She kept her expression polite, though it hadn't escaped he didn't bother to introduce himself.
He clucked his tongue. "Unwise. Using chakra makes women infertile and unbalanced. Your future husband will not thank you. It is best to stop now before the damage becomes irreparable."
Well, that was new. Even if it were true (which she doubted), it was completely irrelevant. Marriage and children were far from her priorities, especially when she had a patient to treat.
She gave a noncommittal tilt of her head and turned to Lord Fukuyama. "Could I take a look at your baby?" The lord didn't respond, and the doctor's eyebrows nearly touched as he furrowed them. After a moment, Yui added, "My lord." A glimmer of irritation surfaced; keeping up with this song-and-dance of titles was already tiring.
"You want to let her see our son?" said the lady, voice shrill. Her eyes had heavy bags under them, and she was thin, almost buried under her layers of silk. She couldn't be more than eighteen, barely Sen's age. "Some rural healer?"
"That's me," she answered, noting the way that Lord Fukuyama turned and frowned at her. The question hadn't been for her, then, but Yui continued on. "My name is Yui. I'm here to examine your baby, if that's alright."
She blinked, looking her up and down. "Really? You are here to treat him?"
"Yes," she said, her voice level. People far more intimidating than this exhausted teenager had casted suspicion on her abilities, and Yui hadn't backed down then. She would've been more surprised if the lady hadn't questioned her skills. (Of all the emotions that might break through the fog, fear was the last one.)
Lord Fukuyama's lips thinned. "This healer was highly recommended to me, Lady Hisayo. Do not think I brought her without thought or that I would endanger my son in anyway." He sounded more like a scolding father than a husband. Softening his tone, he added in a halting manner, "My dear, please."
A mix of emotions flitted over Lady Hisayo's face: surprise, fear, hope, and finally, resignation. After a moment, the lady sighed. "Very well. He can't get much worse." Her hands were trembling, and she quickly hid them in her sleeves, and her placid expression looked like it'd shatter any second.
"Are you certain that no more supplies are required?" Lord Fukuyama said. "I will send a man to fetch them if you need."
Yui unslung her bag and opened it. "Thank you, my lord, but I got the important things with me. For now, I don't need anything."
The doctor snorted, and the lady gave her small bag a dubious look. The lord simply nodded, either unconcerned or better at hiding his feelings.
Taking care not to jostle the expensive-looking vase with the incense sticks, Yui pulled out the sealing scroll and pressed it flat onto a table. After a press of her thumb and a light application of chakra, the scroll let out a puff of smoke, revealing her supplies. In this scroll were her essentials: a stethoscope, bandages, needle and thread, clean water, and a few small containers of medicine.
"A sealing scroll?"
"Where in the world…"
Everyone in the room was looking at her with changed expressions. The lady looked stunned, though her surprise was nothing compared to the doctor's. On the other hand, the gleam in Lord Fukuyama's eyes was calculating and not nearly as taken aback as the others. The messenger and the samurai guards had reacted in the same way to the scroll when she'd started packing, but Yui hadn't taken note. But if even nobility was surprised that she had one… just how rare were these? Just how significant was Tobirama's gift?
But those were concerns for later. She'd already cleaned her hands in their washroom (this estate had indoor plumbing, which was a pleasant surprise), but she dipped a cloth in water and scrubbed her hands again.
Lady Fukuyama murmured something to the other woman—she'd disappeared so thoroughly into the background that Yui had forgotten about her—and the servant reached into the crib and picked up the swaddled child.
Yui examined the baby, feeling his rapid pulse, listening to his breathing (weak and irregular), testing his responsiveness, and running through all the other standard diagnostic measures. He was so small. She had held smaller, but none had survived. As it was, this child's chances were low.
The under-5 death rate of the pre-antibiotic era single-handedly brought down the average life expectancy to the 40s. Yui had seen this in person. She'd held so many children in her arms, doing what she could with her meager supplies, only to see them slip away. Infectious diseases had killed so many children.
(Infectious diseases had killed Sen.)
Not only did this baby have that burden to face, he also had to deal with the risks of a preterm birth. Respiratory distress, decreased reflexes, malformed organs... and she had no incubator.
Yui had no incubator, but she did have the next best thing.
The doctor was not convinced.
"I trained in the capital's finest college," he said to her, "and I have spent five years in Lightning Country. What I learned is still unknown to my colleagues here in the Land of Fire. They have created powders to be mixed in water that, when fed to a child, improve his vitality immensely."
Yui crossed her arms. So infant formula had been invented. Wonderful. Of all the advancements, it was this one, a sign of 'progress' that made most worse off. She knew all the arguments against it, and she could articulate the necessary terminology better thanks to Dr. Makoto and his books, but she could think of only one that would convince this old man—and more importantly, the lady.
"Did you try those powders on the baby?"
"Did they work?"
"Well, they are not immediate—"
"Enough," said Lady Hisayo. Her voice was sharp and aristocratic, but its wavering pitch only highlighted how exhausted and young she was. "My lord husband has decreed that the healer's counsel should be listened to. My son grows weaker. This is not the time to squabble."
The doctor ducked his head. "As you say, my lady." He said it evenly, with no hint of the disdain he'd addressed Yui with.
"Now," said Hisayo, tilting her head to Yui, "what is it you wanted to do to my son?"
Yui repeated her instructions, this time without the doctor interrupting her. "Don't keep him in the cradle. Instead, keep him on your bare skin, as warm as possible, and nurse him whenever he needs it. He was born too early, and we need to imitate the womb for him to grow."
It was a technique called kangaroo care. Yui remembered reading about it long ago, back then, and it'd been used in developing countries that didn't have enough incubators for every premature child. For larger preemies, it could work as effectively as an incubator.
The method was low tech enough that Yui could implement it in her village—and she had, though it wasn't too big of a jump. No one in her village was rich enough to hire a formal wet nurse, and mothers already kept their children in blanket slings when they worked in the kitchen or fields. Her recommendation to keep premature babies even closer was just seen as common sense.
"You want to strap the child to me? To my bare skin, with no sense of decency?" said Lady Hisayo, frowning. "Nurse him like some, some—" She struggled to finish the sentence and instead adjusted her trailing sleeves.
"Exactly, my lady." The doctor jumped in with a shallow bow. "While Healer Yui certainly must have skills enough to catch Lord Fukuyama's eye, she clearly is used to a certain... stature of patients."
Unlike her village, though, there was a whole another set of norms and values here. The reason that peasants and commoners kept their child close to them was the same reason that nobility didn't: they could afford it. The rich hired childcare so they could enjoy leisure time, and Yui's suggestion ran anathema to the whole concept. Still, Yui couldn't help the sudden, intense surge of irritation. Here she was, offering them a solution, and they were hesitating because it wasn't proper enough. She shouldn't be surprised, she really shouldn't, but it rankled nonetheless.
"My lady, I could do that." The servant, who had waited quietly by the crib, spoke up. "You would not have to burden yourself."
Lady Hisayo's uncertainty turned thoughtful. "You are his wet nurse... it would only make sense."
"Would it not be more convenient to simply use my powders?" said the Doctor, his jowls twitching as he rearranged his expression into a smile. "Then there would be no inconveniencing of any—"
Lady Hisayo raised a hand. "No. We shall try Healer Yui's method. If it does not work, then we shall return to yours, Dr. Tanaka." She raised a small hand to her mouth, stifling a yawn. "See to it, Kono. In the meantime, I shall retire. Wake me if any changes arise." The dark circles under her eyes were even starker against her pale, translucent skin. Yui privately wondered when she'd last slept.
The doctor and servant bowed sharply, and Yui followed with a sloppy imitation. Lady Hisayo swept out in a trail of silk, leaving the three in the room with the baby. Yui glanced at Kono, whose shoulders slumped the second that Hisayo left. The wet nurse had probably been awake for just as long.
"Well," said Yui softly, picking up the child from the cradle. He was so quiet, his breathing barely moving his tiny chest. Yui hadn't even heard him cry yet. "Let's get started."
The doctor had left in a huff after Kono began to swaddle the child, which was for the best. In order to keep the child against her bare skin, the wet nurse had to partially disrobe her layers. Yui helped the baby get settled in silence, wrapping the sling around Kono's neck and and back. After she was sure the child was secured, Yui stepped back.
"Nurse him as much as you can," she murmured. "He has to gain weight."
Kono nodded, giving Yui a scrutinizing look. After a moment, she asked, "You're really that Healer Yui? From Chiyuku?"
Yui blinked. "Yes?"
"It's just..." she pressed a hand against the baby's head, stroking him gently, "I've heard much about you and your clinic. My sister's husband is a merchant, and she's told me stories." Kono gave a furtive glance and lowered her voice. "Is it true that your powers are from the gods?"
Normally, Yui would've given an awkward laugh or flushed with embarrassment. Now, though, all she felt was a dull ache in her heart. ("Sis, should I build you a shrine?") She took a deep, slow breath and pushed that feeling far away.
"No," said Yui. "I'm just as human as you."
After just a few hours of sleep, Lady Hisayo was back in the room, hovering over Kono and her son. This time, she brought a servant with her; another quiet woman dressed carefully in neutral colors.
"Is he better?" Hisayo asked, hands twitching inside her sleeves. "Has he shown any signs of improvement?"
"My lady, it is too soon to tell," said Kono. She was back to the placid, straight-backed servant who stayed silent unless spoken to. Even her voice had changed from one with hints of loose, rustic vernacular to the carefully enunciated, monotone speech. "However, the young lord has been more active," she added.
That was more for the lady's benefit than the truth; the baby had mostly slept.
"Good, good." Hisayo began to pace, her footsteps silent but harried.
"My lady, let me make you some tea," said Yui after a moment of watching her wear a pattern into the floorboards.
She snapped her fingers. "Yes, let there be food brought to us. Tomoko, arrange to have it done." The other servant bowed and stepped out the door without a moment of delay.
"I can make you some calming tea as well," Yui said, firm. "It's got special herbs."
Without waiting for an answer, she walked to the table she'd commandeered to hold her supplies. Just as she reached her scroll, Yui remembered that this wasn't her clinic—there was no kettle in the room. She stopped. Yui was just so used to putting on a cup for her patients that the offer was second nature.
For the first time, there was a hint of a smile on the lady's face. "I think we shall manage."
Though Yui didn't have tea, the offer still seemed to calm down the lady somewhat. She took a seat on the bed and simply waited in silence. She didn't have to wait long. In twenty minutes, three different servants entered the room, each carrying a tray. The tray piled with delicate sweets and sculpted rice was given to Lady Hisayo, a broth-and-rice dish was placed in front of Kono, and the last tray, with a bowl with rice and fish, was handed to Yui.
As Yui took the tray, she noticed an angry burn on the servant's arm. It started by her wrist and stretched under her sleeve.
The servant jerked back, startled. She glanced at Hisayo, who seemed as puzzled as she was. "Y-Yes."
Yui stood and placed the tray aside. "Come here. I have a salve for that." She had plenty of experience with burns, having treated both domestic accidents and the more severe kind that came from ninja warfare. Yui walked back to her scroll, this time pulling out a chakra-infused poultice with lavender and comfrey.
"My lady, I cannot pay—"
Yui shook her head. "Don't worry about paying. Can you give me your arm?"
Slowly, the woman rolled back her sleeve, revealing a second degree burn. Yui frowned. Carrying that tray must've been painful. After cleaning her hands, Yui applied the chakra ointment and loose dressings. She told the servant to keep it clean, avoid popping any blisters, and to come to her tomorrow for fresh ointment and bandages. Once the servant stammered her thanks, the girl practically fled the room.
Yui washed her hands again and sealed away the jar. When she turned around, both Lady Hisayo and Kono were looking at her oddly.
"No," said Lady Hisayo slowly. "I don't believe there is."
The next week continued in a similar routine. A week was a long time for any baby, let alone a preemie, and the little lordling gained weight. The constant warmth did him good; he moved more, yawning and blinking at the people who handled him. His breathing grew steadier, his heartbeat grew stronger, and Yui was satisfied by the indicators. Even the doctor admitted to the improvement, and it was much less grudging than it could've been.
The ripples were immediate. The lady began to hover less, Kono had time to actually sleep, and the dour atmosphere among the household lessened. Yui hadn't seen Lord Fukuyuma since the first day, though the servants were quick to assure her that he too was pleased.
There were other, smaller changes as the days went by. When the lady wasn't in the room, sometimes a servant would come by with an injury or ailment. At the same time, a sweet or extra dish would be slipped onto her tray. Her blankets were replaced with finer, softer down, and the fire was always stoked.
(She should have been touched. Their appreciation should have meant something. Yui wished it did, but everything just felt routine.)
On the morning of her ninth day in the estate, Yui walked through the corridors. She'd left to freshen up, and she shivered lightly as she tried to navigate her way through the endless hallways.
"So you are that miracle healer that the servants have been chittering about," called an unfamiliar voice.
Yui turned, catching glimpse of another aristocratic woman. Like Hisayo, she was dressed in layers of silk and ornaments. Unlike Hisayo, the lady was tall and stately, with a tilt of her chin that conveyed supreme confidence. She strode towards Yui with deliberate, sure steps. Once she caught up with Yui, the lady stopped, flicking her gaze and fan towards the simple cotton garb. Then, she looked directly into Yui's eyes.
"You are in the presence of Lady Fukuyama." With a twist of her mouth, she added, "The daughter, not the wife."
Considering that she looked older than Hisayo, this new lady was probably daughter from an earlier wife. It wasn't uncommon for nobility to remarry or have multiple wives, though the latter was reserved for the outrageously wealthy. Either way, that was none of Yui's concern. She waited for a second longer, wondering if this other Lady Fukuyama would get to the point.
"It has come to my attention that you have been remedying the small injuries that my—that my new mother's household has been experiencing."
Yui continued to look at her.
"It appears that you are to be held responsible for my dearest young brother's improvement. If I engaged in such vulgar activities such as betting, I certainly would not have set money on the peasant healer." Her smile curdled. "A pity. Had he not pulled through, I would have become heir again." Her eyes were challenging, and she flipped her fan open again, bringing it to cover her mouth. With a light little laugh, full of crafted, sardonic amusement, she added, "Oh my. Where are my manners? You must think I'm a monster for talking about his possible death so callously."
"Yes," said Yui simply.
Startled, the Lady Fukuyuma stared, carefully lined eyes widening.
"Is that all, my lady?"
Yui was tired. Despite the silk and down bed, despite the crafted meals and the lack of strenuous work, Yui felt like a lead weight was strapped to her arms and legs. This gilded, strange estate made her head hurt, with its odd priorities and double meanings and unfamiliar rituals. She didn't have the energy for any games.
The lady finally found her voice. "I meant…"
Yui turned away and continued down the hall. She probably should have been respectful. The woman was a noble. Lady Fukuyuma could bring ruin without blinking, and making an enemy of her was an all-around bad idea. Yet, Yui couldn't find it in herself to care. She'd deal with the consequences as they came.
She always did.
I'll try to get better and crossposting weekly until it's caught up: just three more before they're even.
So it goes. This was another chapter that required several rewrites, and I'm so glad that I finally got through it. Of course, a large part of that is thanks to your support. I appreciate all the favorites, follows, and reviews. They keep me going, especially when real life becomes hectic.
Special thanks to masqvia, GwendolynStacy, Iaso, Duesal Bladesinger, and Pyroth Tenka for looking over the chapter. As always, thank you all for reading.
Chapter 10: Occlusion
Healing is slow. But the ties that bind won't break quickly, either.
Yui lifted her ear from the stethoscope and frowned. She could hear faint crackles in the servant's left lung, and all her symptoms pointed towards potential bronchitis.
"Your chest cold is getting worse," Yui murmured. "I have a honey and lemon tea for you. Drink it often and rest when you can. I'll also give you some powdered medicine for the pain." The powder being aspirin, of course. For acute bronchitis, there wasn't much else that could be done. "Boiling water and breathing in the steam may help. Come to me if you have any more problems."
"Thank you, ma'am." The servant, a girl named Aiko, ducked her head in a bow.
Yui gently took her hand and turned it palm-up. On Aiko's forearm were fading bruise marks in the shape of fingers. The servant said nothing. Yui felt a dull pang, but there wasn't much she could do. Even if the servant were to confide in her—which was unlikely, considering her outsider status and the chance that Aiko could lose her job—Yui had little authority in this strange place.
"I can numb the pain," Yui said finally. She placed her palm on the marks, and after a deep breath, started gathering chakra in her finger tips. After a moment, she slowly channeled them onto the girl's skin. When she lifted her palm, the marks were still there, but Aiko gasped regardless.
"It doesn't hurt!" she said, wide-eyed.
Yui let out a shallow breath. It had worked. In the last few months, she'd given up leisure time to spend hours endlessly studying, pouring over every scroll and book the ninja had given her. She'd done it before, on animals and herself, and she'd made sure to learn it perfectly before she used it on a patient—but directly using chakra to heal never ceased to amaze her.
"The bruise is still there even if the pain isn't. Be careful. I'll also give you some salve to help it heal."
"Thank you," said Aiko, bowing again. "Thank you kindly, healer." Yui expected her to make her excuses and leave quickly, as her informal patients in this estate usually did, but instead, she lingered.
"Anything else?" asked Yui, pausing.
"If... if you don't mind me saying," she began slowly, "you seem to have upset the young mistress. Lord Fukuyama's daughter, I mean."
Yui nodded, unsurprised to hear that the gossip had spread. She hadn't noticed any retaliation since yesterday when she'd shrugged off the noble lady. Of course, that didn't mean there wouldn't be any.
"Please..." Aiko hesitated. "Please be patient with her. She's having some trouble. It might be hard to believe, but she is... kind. In her own way."
Startled, Yui could only stare in response. Of all the descriptions, that wasn't one she expected.
"The young mistress notices our problems when she doesn't have to. She's been sending me home early to avoid—" The servant abruptly stopped, and the blood drained from her face.
"Healer," said a low, sharp voice. "I see you have continued your acts of charity, even so far from home."
Yui turned and saw, of all people, Izuna. The Uchiha stared back, posture rigid, arms crossed over red armor. She couldn't quite read the expression on his face; it was superficially neutral, but he seemed almost uncomfortable—a far cry from the anger she'd last seen. In response, Yui couldn't bring herself to feel anything besides a vague sense of annoyance.
"Izuna-san," she said, polite, dry.
The servant girl made a high-pitched squeak and practically sprinted away, leaving the tea and aspirin behind.
"You forgot... the medicine," Yui trailed off, frowning as Aiko turned the corner. She'd have to track the girl down later.
Izuna looked almost amused as he watched her go, but all traces of that disappeared when he looked back at her. Izuna gave her a slow nod. "I had heard that you were brought to Lord Fukuyama's residence."
She raised her eyebrows, feeling tired with this conversation already. "Clearly."
He grimaced. For a moment, Yui thought that would be all he'd say. Then, he finally spoke. "Would you accompany me to the courtyard?"
His speech struck her as a bit stilted, almost overly formal. She didn't respond for a second, wondering what in the world he wanted. Was he planning on yelling at her again? Yui didn't have patience for anything, let alone that tired old argument. Still, she nodded. With a small surge of chakra, she sealed away her stuff. Izuna eyed the scroll, but he didn't say anything. He even waited until she stood up before he started walking. How strange. How polite. She walked alongside him, noting that his armor shone with polish, so unlike the dull, bloody sheen she was used to.
Just as Yui, with a muted sense of relief, had accepted that the walk would be silent, Izuna cleared his throat. "My brother already spoke to you."
"He did," she said. Madara had given the apology that Izuna hadn't.
The muscles in his cheeks jumped as he clenched and unclenched his jaw. "I said what I did out of anger. I should not have aimed it at you."
The subtext was clear. I should have aimed it at the Senju. I do not take back what I say. All at once, a surge of anger swept over her, powerful enough that Yui missed a step. She almost choked, uncertain where it came from. Yui closed her eyes and waited for it to pass, ignoring the prickling of what couldn't be tears. Her clinic had burned down before the clans had entertained neutrality for her village. What would it take for peace? What was the point when the architects of war kept the same sentiments as ? When she opened her eyes, Izuna was still standing there, looking at her with concern she didn't need.
"I know." She tried to keep the heat from her tone but didn't know if she'd succeeded. Yui started walking, setting a brisker pace that Izuna easily matched. He was still staring at her with that damned concern.
"I heard about your brother," said Izuna finally.
And just like that, everything drained away. The anger, the irritation, everything faded to a numb sense of cold. She raised her head and looked at him, saying nothing.
"I went to your village to pick up medicine and learned about it from your apprentice," he added, looking away.
"How is he?" she said slowly, trying to avoid the inevitable. "How is the village?"
"Both are doing well." Izuna's hand went to his side, though no sword was present, and he forced himself to let his arm hang loose. "While we would prefer your care, you have trained your apprentice well. He is managing."
They crossed the path of two lounging guards. Both stiffened, glancing from Izuna to Yui before sharing an uneasy look, almost cringing as Izuna's gaze passed over them. Just after that hallway, Yui and Izuna ran into a group of chatting servants—all of whom fell silent and backed away.
"I'm sorry for your loss."
There it was. Even he had said it. She closed her eyes again. That same phrase had rubbed her raw, repeated with enough frequency that the words itself made her want to break something. That kind of action, however, required too much energy. Yui glanced at him, dull. For all his faults, Izuna did seem sincere.
The silence that fell was heavy, but Izuna soon broke it. "How are you enjoying your stay here?" His words were stiff, the subject change was obvious enough to be painful, and Yui wasn't sure how to react.
She blinked at him, wondering where in the world this sudden decency came from. Was this his way of apologizing? Was he trying to be sensitive? "It's different," she said, short.
He smiled, or at least tried to. "Indeed. Nobility live in a separate world."
"Yeah." It had been an awfully long walk, noted Yui. Were they going in circles? Or was Izuna taking the most roundabout way to the courtyard? A portly man with circular glasses and a pile of scrolls almost dropped everything when he noticed them. "Are they all scared of ninja, or are they scared of you specifically?" she asked instead.
While her fellow villagers weren't quite friendly with them, none of them blinked twice at their presence. Shinobi weren't frequent customers, but on the occasions that they stopped for supplies, their coin worked just as well as any other. Most of the travelers that visited Chiyuku rarely overreacted either, as merchants hired ninja for protection anyway.
"Both. I am the current heir to the Uchiha clan, and that tends to intimidate the majority of people with sense." He raised an eyebrow at her. "Regardless, most commoners aren't as familiar with ninja as you are." Izuna smiled, but it was the same one that she'd seen on his brother—and Hashirama. "Most people think we're monsters."
Monsters. It was always monsters. As if humans weren't bad enough.
"We're the reason you're here," he said suddenly, breaking her spiraling thoughts. "Lord Fukuyama is a frequent customer of ours, and when he asked us if we knew any competent healers, my brother mentioned your name."
Yui looked away. "I see." She'd expected as much, with the lord's vagaries.
They took a turn, and now they were finally at the courtyard. Several evergreen bushes were dusted in ice, glimmering in the overcast light. Dead trees loomed in the light layer of snow, and the colorful robes of the ladies looked like flowers against the white. Lady Fukuyama's was the brightest, a rose-red etched in gold.
The light chattering of the ladies faded as the lord's daughter noticed Yui. Her expression turned studiously neutral, her painted lips tugging ever-so-slightly downwards. Yui found herself feeling faintly surprised; none of the ladies seemed intimidated by the ninja. She looked to her left to see Izuna's reaction... and found that the ninja was missing. She glanced around to make sure and found that he was nowhere to be seen.
"You," said Lady Fukuyama, raising her painted eyebrow. "What brought you to the courtyard alone? Are you not caring for the child my dearest mother whelped?" (Both were sleeping, though that was none of her concern.)
"The blame is on me," drawled a familiar voice, and then came the reaction Yui had expected—screams and fluttering sleeves as the group pulled out fans and tittered with shock. Lady Fukuyama's reaction was more restrained; she merely flushed and drew her fan in front of her lips.
The guards, who had been posted around the edge of the garden, jumped into action, straightening their pikes and swords, ill at ease at the sight of Izuna.
"Shinobi," Lady Fukuyama greeted regardless, the aristocratic lilt out in full force. "How kind of you to grace us with your presence."
"My lady," he replied. "I asked the healer here to accompany me to the gardens." Slowly, telegraphing his moves, he reached into his pouch and pulled out a wrapped scroll. Izuna stepped forward and held it out to her. Still covering her face with the fan, the once-heiress plucked it from his fingers daintily.
"If you will excuse me," said Izuna, with a bow. He looked to Yui and nodded. "Healer."
Yui nodded back, and—instead of disappearing like she expected—Izuna turned and strode out of the garden, leaving her alone with the ladies.
"You are acquainted with that ninja?" Lady Fukuyama lowered her fan slightly.
"Yes," Yui said. "I frequently treat his clan."
At this, the lady turned pensive, and her companions murmured in high, soft voices. Yui couldn't help but glance down at her own clothing, simple and drab next to their elaborate outfits. (A small, petty part of her pointed out that she had silk clothing too, even if she never wore it.) She turned away from the gaggle, prepared to leave even if she wasn't dismissed.
"Healer, would you accompany me on a turn around the garden?"
Yui turned back around and stared. "I-I must go," she stammered finally. "The baby—"
"Just a short round, then." Lady Fukuyama cut through her protests, and with practiced ease, she pulled Yui alongside her and away from the other ladies. "Is it only the Uchiha clan you consort with?"
"I don't con—conspert… consort with anyone," she snapped, flushing at verbal stumble and the double entendre. Her lowborn accent couldn't be helped, but her vocabulary had grown thanks to all those books and visitors. Still, something about this place made her feel even more like a rube. (Arrogant prisses, Sen had scoffed at one merchant or another. I bet they'd faint if they saw a chicken.)
"You do not?" The lady's painted eyebrows raised ever-so-slightly. "It means to—"
"I know." Yui knew she was pushing it with the interruptions, but part of her was tired of being careful. Tired of holding her tongue and making careful plans that anyone could knock over. She was just… tired. Yui looked away, settling her gaze on a withered vine that wrapped around an oak tree. The decaying plant was a better sight than the mocking smile on Lady Fukuyama's face.
The lady snapped her fan shut. "Yet you are a contradiction indeed. A woman of low birth, educated, respected, with connections to a ninja clan. In this estate, you spend time treating servants. Why?"
Yui stiffened, failing to hide a shiver as a gust of wind buffeted her. "As you said, I am of low birth."
Lady Fukuyama's eyes bored into Yui's, a different kind of intensity from what she was used to, subtle and poised instead of overt. "Yes, but would you not want to distance yourself from your beginnings instead of reminding others? I've met social climbers before. They would rather choke than remind others of their beginning or consort," her painted lips twitched with amusement, "with others of their class."
Yui stared, petty in silence. Lady Fukuyama met her gaze evenly, hands tucked in her sleeves as snow drifted downwards, and it only took a few moments for Yui to relent. "I treat everyone," she said shortly.
"Do you?" It was a statement more than a question. The lady let her smile grow, as if sharing something sly and secret.
Yui had no patience for sly and secret. "Yes. Do you need something from me?"
Lady Fukuyama, for the first time since beginning this conversation, was startled. She adjusted her sleeves, and her red lips punched together in a mix of disapproval and amusement. "There are not many who would dare to imply that I required their services."
She blinked. "I... see?" Yui trailed off, genuinely uncertain how to respond. Did the lady need something or not? Was she expecting an apology?
After a moment, the lady did the last thing Yui expected: she laughed. Not controlled, genteel mockery, but a sharp single bark. "Very well." Lady Fukuyama shook her head, still smiling. "You may go, healer. I have kept you long enough." With that dismissal, she pivoted away, sleeves trailing as she joined the colorful women mingling in the center.
Yui wasn't at the lady's beck and call, but it was too damn cold to stay outside, too damn cold to deal with silly politics, baffling ladies, and this mess that had nothing to do with her. With one last glance at the garden, she hurried inside, back towards the warmth.
The baby gurgled as Kono rocked him back and forth. "Aren't you a darling?" She smiled, and the baby scrunched his face in response.
"He's growing well," murmured Yui. "Let me hold him?"
When she took the child from the wet nurse's arms, Yui was surprised by how heavy he'd become. He'd already gained two pounds in two weeks, which was on track for a full-term child. The baby was making up for his early birth, and though he had ways to go, Yui was optimistic that the worst had passed. She checked his breathing (stronger and now within regular range), his heartbeat (a little fast, but almost passable) and the soft bone plates in his head (all shaped correctly).
She handed him back to Kono, who quickly wrapped him back in the sling. By necessity, the two women had spent almost every day together; Yui had seen her more than Lady Hisayo, the baby's mother.
Kono absentmindedly stroked the downy hair on the baby's head as Yui resealed her stethoscope. The silence was comfortable, born of need but nurtured by quiet conversation. (It was the kind that made her heart ache, and she didn't know why—no, she knew, she knew why, and she suddenly couldn't breathe.)
"I miss him," said Kono, and Yui was so startled by hearing her not-thoughts repeated that she almost dropped the scroll.
"Who?" Yui asked, heart in her throat.
"My son," Kono said casually, so lightly that she could have been discussing the color of kimonos. "He died three months ago, just before he turned a week old. The fever was too much for him to bear." Her fingers stopped moving, resting just on the base of the baby's skull. "I haven't talked to my husband since then. I left to be Lady Hisayo's wet nurse, and I haven't had the chance." Her voice shook, and she wiped her eyes with her free hand. "Sometimes, I hold this little noble and think that he could have been my son. He could have been my Ryouji."
"It's hard." The words were thick, choked, half-cracked, splintering like a vase under pressure. Yui's eyes burned. Her vision blurred. Emotions rose like a monsoon river, and she barely kept her head above the water. She didn't know where this had come from, why this was happening now, and she took shaking breaths, nails digging into her palms, to center herself. Slowly, slowly, she pushed back the flood. When Yui blinked, no tears fell.
Kono looked up, and her eyes widened. She hesitated, biting at her lip. "Have..." she stopped. "Have you..."
"It's hard," she said again.
They sat together, mourning, two women bound by the universal experience of grief.
In the last week, Yui had mostly been left alone. She'd tracked down Aiko to give the medicine she'd left behind, treated the people who came to her room, and saw Hisayo twice. Yui saw glimpses of Lady Fukuyama, but the retaliation she'd expected never came. Was it the long game, some attempt to pull on her nerves? If so, it wasn't working. An early life of near-subsistence had conditioned her to focus on the immediate, and it took effort that Yui didn't have to break out of that thought pattern, here in the unfamiliar.
Lord Fukuyama was conspicuously absent, as was Izuna. She couldn't help but wonder why the lord didn't come to see his son. Was it a coping mechanism, to distance himself as long as the child's survival was uncertain? Did he find it pointless to visit when he was incapable of doing anything to help? Or did he simply not care? On the other hand, Izuna's absence was far less of a mystery. Yet, she couldn't help but feel something tangential to disappointment: he'd shown her sympathy, something he'd never bestowed upon her before.
Regardless, Yui settled into a new routine. Two and a half weeks had passed, and the baby was almost stable enough for her to indulge in thoughts of returning home. Her own garden, instead of the courtyard's perfect crypt. Brewing tea as she liked instead of waiting in awkward limbo for the servants. Even as she fantasized, a cloying fear undercut every daydream. Every time she replayed opening the door to her cottage, she saw only emptiness. She heard only silence. Yui wanted to return to her village, but she was afraid of going home and finding that it was no longer so.
It was noon, just after the baby's feeding, when the door to the room opened and in came the last two people that Yui expected: the lord's old doctor and a familiar face—Dr. Makoto.
"I must say, I found your theorizing on animalcules in the Primer to be quite informative. Did you know that some of my colleagues in Lightning share your same view? I even recommended your book to them," gushed the older man.
Dr. Makoto was nodding absently as the man continued. "I'm glad to hear that, Dr. Tanaka," he said in the tone of someone who wasn't hearing anything.
The lord's doctor cleared his throat and eyed Yui. "Though it is an undeniable pleasure to host you, I am so sorry you had to come all this way, especially through the winter snow. Unfortunately, it seems that the lord and lady have been particular to take the services of people not so distinguished as yourself."
"Well, I wouldn't discount anyone's wisdom just yet." Dr. Makoto checked his pocket watch—bright and new, just like his robes and pale-green doctor's coat—and gave a shallow smile, "'The lotus doesn't choose where it—'" He finally noticed her. "Yui-sensei?"
"Dr. Makoto," she greeted. Something like amusement, flickering softly, rose up at the stunned expression of both doctors. This rush of emotion was just as sudden but not as strong (and she hated it, hated how she had no control over what and how she felt), and she pushed it aside.
"You know her?" Dr. Tanaka looked wide-eyed between both of them, jowls quivering and he swung his head.
"I do!" Makoto's eyebrows rose as high as they could go. "I actually learned several techniques from her. She's one of the best healers I know." He smiled at her. "If she's here, then it's no wonder that my services aren't needed."
Dr. Tanaka began to splutter as Dr. Makoto brushed past him.
"I was wondering why my last letter didn't get a response," he remarked, standing in front of her. "Now it all makes sense. I've so much to share. I'd planned on visiting you in person for this, but meeting here is far more convenient."
"Yes," she murmured. "I suppose."
Before he could say anymore, the baby let out a mewling cry. "Excuse me." Kono ducked her head. "I must tend to the young master." She hurried out of the room, which Yui found unfair, considering that this was supposed to be the baby's room. That was the life of a servant, sadly, always making way for other people's convenience.
Dr. Makoto settled onto a floor pillow and gestured for her to sit. "Now," he said, "how have things been for you?"
She shook her head. "Please, you start."
With a bright grin, Dr. Makoto began to speak. "I thought of what you said. What you always say, about the need for medicine to be shared freely. I hoped to implement something similar to your methods on a smaller scale among our colleagues in the capital."
Dr. Tanaka made a sound at that. Yui's eyes flickered to him, noting the look of disapproval in his pinched eyebrows — accompanied by baffled curiosity — that came from hearing radical ideas. She'd seen it too often in her clinic.
"How did it work?" she asked her once-student. How did his established colleagues take it, especially considering that it came from a respected, male doctor? An ember of curiosity burned in her chest.
This was what she'd worked for. This was still her life goal, what made this existence worth living even through all the loss.
"Better than I could have hoped." He adjusted his glasses, feigning humbleness, but his eyes were bright and practically bursting with pride. "I approached doctors who were more disillusioned with the current system, and I offered one or two techniques with no strings attached. They, in most cases, insisted on a trade. After a few more trades like this, I pitched the idea of freely-shared information. It began with a friend, but it soon spread to include more than a dozen doctors. We're now a small society."
"That's incredible." The attentiveness that appeared on her face was real, painful, and deep felt. The Royal Society had began this way in England, as had the American Medical Association. This was progress, real progress towards changing the culture to one where science could flourish.
"It is," he agreed. Any bashfulness had long been buried by excitement. "I've learned a few techniques regarding chakra healing and several more regarding healing in general. Perhaps we could discuss them. I could even do a demonstration."
"I'd like that." And she meant it.
Dr. Tanaka broke his uncharacteristic silence, glancing between the two of them before settling his gaze on Makoto. "You give this village healer an inordinately high level of respect."
"I do, and none of it is undeserved."
The silence stretched as both men reevaluated the other. Dr. Tanaka's mouth twisted into a sagging frown, while Dr. Makoto returned his stare with self-confidence that Yui hadn't seen before. Finally, both men seemed to reach a consensus.
Makoto cleared his throat. "Dr. Tanaka, would you mind if we—"
"I certainly have other tasks I must get to," he interrupted. For once, the older man spoke dryly, and a spark of self-awareness glinted in his eyes. He gave them both a pointed look. "I will send for a maid to bring tea."
This time, it was Yui and Makoto's turn to exchange looks. Thoughts of impropriety hadn't crossed her mind, and judging by Makoto's sheepish smile, it hadn't crossed his either.
After the door closed behind the doctor, Makoto shook his head and continued. "Oh! You'll be glad to know that I've managed to secure spots in the University of Keishi for your two apprentices as you requested." His smile turned proud again. "If all goes well, they should be able to enroll in the spring."
She didn't close her eyes. Instead, she quietly steeled herself for delivering the revelation. "Just Eiji," said Yui, calm.
He frowned at her. "Just one? But I thought—"
"Sen died." She interrupted him because she couldn't keep it back, not anymore. The longer she kept silent, the more painful the truth.
The effect was like a physical blow. His face went white, and he opened his mouth for the condolences.
"Please. Don't," she said. "I've heard it enough."
Makoto still respected her. He kept silent, instead ducking his head in a half-apology, half-acknowledgement. He respected her, but his eyes flickered with worry as he took in her appearance under the light of her grief. She ignored it.
Yui was spared the burden of saying anything by the entrance of the maid—Aiko, who Yui had treated for the chest cold and bruises. She bowed as she entered, tray in hand. The silence continued as Aiko set the tray on the low table, folding her legs in seiza as she delicately poured the tea into the beautiful jade-colored cups. Neither Yui nor Makoto were high class enough to rate a tea ceremony by any of the ladies of the house, but Aiko served the tea with practiced grace.
"Thank you," said Yui.
Makoto blinked and echoed his appreciation.
With just the faintest surprise at the doctor's words—they'd gotten used to Yui's insistence on acknowledging they existed, but that didn't extend to others—the servant nodded. Once she finished, Aiko bowed and stepped backwards until her back was pressed against the walls, as silent as furniture.
Makoto lifted his cup, turned it around, and sipped it. Steam fogged his glasses, thwarting his obvious efforts to watch her over the rim of his cup. Yui copied his movements, but she used the tea as an excuse to not meet his gaze. The green tea was the perfect temperature, and its smooth flavor had rich, mellow undertones that she couldn't recognize. Yui had brewed tea of all kinds everyday for the last six years, and her personal collection had grown in the last several years, encompassing not just herbal teas but green and black and other colors. Yet, she could never brew tea like this.
(Sen didn't—hadn't minded tea. He treated it like water; a necessity to drink, but nothing to quibble about. Eiji, though, was particular. He'd like this tea. Maybe she could bring some back for him. Whether he'd accept it was another matter.)
Yui finished her tea and set her cup down. "Will you show me the techniques you mentioned?"
He hesitated. "Yui—" She knew that tone. Pity was the last thing she needed, the last thing that would help. Yui didn't need to be treated like anything had changed (even if she knew, buried under every shred of guilt and exhaustion, how close she was to breaking).
"Please. Show me the techniques."
Another moment of hesitation. His eyes drifted to the left, then the right, anywhere but her face. "Alright," said Makoto. "Alright. I owe you much more than this."
Yui expected the victory to be hollow, like all since then. Yet, it wasn't. She felt not the sheer weight of responsibility or routine, but instead... warmth. Purpose. A rekindling of something she had believed but hadn't felt. Not since then.
"Thank you." Her voice was soft and raw, and Yui picked up the empty cup back up to hide her shaking hands. "Thank you," she said again, filling those two words with as much sentiment as she could muster, dull as it may be from disuse.
Dr. Makoto smiled, brow was pinched with sadness. "You will never have to thank me," he said, just as soft. "You gave me something to strive for, all those years ago." He paused, removing his glasses and wiping them with a silk cloth, clearly wanting to say more. "You will never have to thank me," he repeated instead.
Yui lowered her head. "I want to anyway."
"I know." He tucked away the cloth and put on his glasses, straightening as he did, ducking his head lower with respect. "I never expected anything less."
The most valuable techniques that Makoto had learned was a method for diagnostics. He began with making a strange, twisting gesture with his hands that she'd seen ninja use before. He explained to her that it was to help focus chakra, and that there were several different 'seals' that could be used. The technique was like echolocation; a pulse of chakra was sent through the body, and the feedback could be used to diagnose maladies that couldn't be seen.
"That's incredible," Yui murmured. It could be like an MRI or even an X-ray, a technique she could use far before that technology would be available. (Or perhaps not: X-rays were a relatively early invention, and the scientific advancement of this world was haphazard.) "Can you show me how to do it again?" She offered her arm to him and concentrated, prepared to feel the minutiae of the technique.
Makoto did it again, this time slower, placing his left hand on top of his right fist. He took in a deep breath, and Yui could feel him gathering his rain-like chakra. Then, he sent it outwards in a light pulse that barely disturbed her senses—and then the pulse returned back to his arm.
"It takes some time to make sense of the feedback," he admitted. "At first, it felt like an incoherent jumble, but I soon learned how to translate it into proper information. The trick is to not focus on any particular echo of chakra but to let it all wash over you. Understanding it simply comes through practice. Though I confess that the chickens I purchased for my training were not too happy." Makoto coughed in that half-abashed way of his. "This technique is not exactly lethal, but it can be rather uncomfortable to the patient if performed incorrectly."
The thought of unhappy fowl made her smile despite herself, and she couldn't help but think that Sen would've found it funny. "I'll keep that in mind."
Yui glanced at her own hands, letting chakra build in the junctions between her fingers, taking comfort in the cold, crackling sensation. She let the energy dissipate instead of releasing it, and slowly, she folded her hands in an imitation of the seal he'd made. "Can you show me again?"
He sighed, soft, and there was resignation and sorrow in his smile. "As you wish."
She walked along the outside of the courtyard, shawl wrapped around her shoulders. Her breath came out in short clouds as she made her fourth lap around the square. Yui needed some fresh air, she needed some exercise, and she couldn't exactly walk through the woods like she did in her village.
It would be so easy to neglect it all. To lie down and stay there, waiting for time to pass, waiting for her guilt to choke out all her thoughts until a haze of nothing remained. And, with the modicum of distance she'd gained, Yui could admit that she'd done just that—though without lying down. The routine had kept her together, and to neglect that was to neglect her patients. Sometimes, now, she was able to think of the future without the helpless rage-anguish-guilt that Sen wouldn't be here to see it with her. Sometimes. But… she wasn't ready to move beyond routine. Not yet.
To an outsider, her rounds looked strange—too purposeful to be an aimless stroll. One of the guards posted by the main hallway watched her, head tilted with what she assumed was confusion. Yui made her fifth lap and stopped, the cold air searing her lungs as she waited for her breath to settle. She should've brought a scarf, but hindsight wasn't useful for anything but regret.
Wincing at the dry cough that threatened to spill over, Yui drew her gaze back to the static garden. The branches of the wisteria hung low and bare, scraping over an evergreen bush, but nestled at its roots was a dash of color. For a moment, Yui thought someone had left a scrap of cloth, but a second glance revealed that it was a flower. Camellia, if she had to guess, but it was none that she'd seen before, with blush-pink petals and a thick, golden center. Her forest had wild camellia, but they all bloomed in the fall.
Heavy footsteps sounded, and another, nondescript guard came to a stop beside her. "Healer."
With reluctance, she tore her gaze from the flower and looked at him. Yui didn't remember treating him before, and the scar that underlined his eyes was distinctive. She would have remembered it. "Need something?" she asked. She glanced at the flower, wondering if it was a rare, snow-tolerant breed.
"Not quite." His voice was different—sharp, familiar, and she looked back up. A different man, with dark eyes, a scarless face, and the absence of a smile.
Yui flinched back, a yelp strangled in her throat. But it didn't die quickly enough to go unnoticed. The guard from before straightened and began walking towards her with his hand grasped tightly around the spear.
"I'm fine," she called out, clearing her scratchy throat. "Sorry. I was just startled."
This guard she knew; Yui had treated him a few days ago for contusions from training. He glanced at her and then at Izuna with narrowing eyes. Izuna exhaled, an almost sigh, and then met the guard's gaze with a glare.
"Is this ninja bothering you, healer?" He wet his lips, ill at ease, but seemed determined to defend her.
"No, but thanks." Yui held back her own exasperation as Izuna shifted his posture forward, deliberately aggressive. "I'm fine. Truly. He just wanted to talk to me," she said. She didn't feel very convincing, but it seemed to have worked. After another hesitant pause, the guard finally nodded, relieved, and went back to his post.
Now alone, Yui turned back to the ninja. "Izuna-san," she said slowly. "What do you want?"
"Healer." His greeting was pointed. Instead of answering, he formed a hand seal, one that she could now recognize thanks to Makoto's lessons. Bird, and something else, but it was too fast for her to comprehend.
Izuna's chakra washed over her like concentrated heat, and she jerked back again. "What was that?"
He gave her a look, eyebrows raised in a surprised yet condescending expression that reminded her of Madara. "I weaved an illusion to make observers hear a conversation about the weather." The aggression from his posture faded as he straightened and held his shoulders back. "I tend to forget that you can use chakra. Usually, it's only ninja and samurai—and the occasional priest, and you are certainly not a priest," he said, a hint of amusement.
Was that a joke? Was Izuna displaying a personality to her that was something other than angry? "There's more than just those three that use chakra," said Yui finally. It wasn't common to know how to do so, but her old teacher had learned, as had her teacher's teacher, and so on.
Izuna looked away. "Yes, there are sculptors who use chakra to shape stone, and healers like you. But it's… a complex situation. The more people know about it, the more likely someone will misuse it."
In other words, he meant that knowledge of chakra was deliberately suppressed. As if she hadn't figured it out herself—as if Hashirama's words hadn't clued her in. It was a little strange hearing his words parroted back by Izuna, hater of all Senju.
Izuna abruptly changed the subject. "Has Lord Fukuyama's household been treating you well?"
"Yes," she said, bemused.
"Let us know if they haven't," he added.
Yui nodded, uncertain of what to say to his declaration.
Izuna tilted his head, and then he examined her. He really examined her. Compared to the scrutiny she faced from the nobles, this was far more peturbing. Yui knew he'd see the scars of grief: her dull, circled eyes, wan skin and hunched shoulders. Her hair, once so carefully tended to, was thrown back in a careless braid. She wasn't ashamed of her grief. Yet, after bearing the brunt of his misplaced anger, his civility disconcerted her.
He was silent again, for so long that snow began to cover the petals of the camellia. "You remind me of Madara after our brothers died. He refused to grieve then. I don't think he ever has."
"I do grieve," she snapped, feeling her tenuous goodwill fade. "How can you say—" Yui stopped. How could he say that when she'd hardly done anything but grieve, when she'd only just begun climbing from a pit of ennui? "How could you say that?"
Izuna was already shaking his head. "I did not mean it like that," he said, just as sharp, before gritting his teeth and letting his irritation fade. "I meant that you are trying to bury yourself under responsibilities to avoid feeling it. You haven't let yourself rest."
"I can't." She looked at the flower to hide her surprise at his insistence—that he even bothered to tell her. "Not when so much is on my shoulders."
He paused. The smile he gave was familiar bitterness. "I hope you can bear it."
Yui set her shoulders and turned back to him, this time meeting his gaze. "I know I can," she said, repeating what she told herself everyday. This time, she almost meant it. "I have to."
A big shout out and thank you to my wonderful beta-readers: GwendolynStacy, masqvia, PyrothTenka, Iaso, fishebake, and orpheus_under_starlight. As always, I couldn't have done it without them.
I haven't plugged the Sanitize Discord server on AO3, but here's the link: discord.gg/wNncyM4
Side-stories have been collected and posted as "Contaminate," which is now in the Sanitize series.
There wasn't much more that Yui could do. The baby was gaining weight, and he latched steadily. His breathing was strong, as evidenced by his crying, which grew louder everyday. She'd been most concerned about him developing chronic lung disease, which was common with premature babies, but he seemed to be in the clear.
"So he is healthy?" said Lady Hisayo, the lord's young wife. She wavered back and forth between obsessive hovering and easy confidence depending on the day, and today seemed the latter.
"Yeah, he isn't in danger anymore. You—the baby's nurse should keep him close in the same way until he's four months old. But I don't think I've got to stay for that. Not anymore."
Both Lady Hisayo and the nursemaid let out a slow shuddering breath. "I'm glad," said the lady, and Kono clutched the baby to her tighter.
"I would recommend that you..." Yui trailed off at the sharp sounds of footsteps and the light thumping she now recognized as a spear hitting against the floor.
"Lady Fukuyama," announced the guard, pulling open the rice paper door. The lady strolled in with easy familiarity as she stepped into a room that she had never entered before.
Lady Hisayo was the mirror image of her supposed stepdaughter. Her face was wan, and her eyes darted from her child to his half-sister. Kono seemed to curl in on herself, falling back into the time-honored tradition of becoming invisible in the presence of nobility.
"Mother." Lady Fukuyama smile cut with false sincerity, second only in sharpness to the faux-affection that saturated the single world. "How is my dear little brother doing?"
Yui moved in front of the two women. "If you're going to bother my patients, you can't stay." She'd never expected to deal with noble politics, but there was no way in hell that she'd let them interfere with her treatment.
Lady Fukuyama's expression contorted with such deep amusement that Yui expected her to burst into back-breaking laughter. "Bother? Why, I would never do such a thing."
"I got to ask you to—"
"She can stay," said Hisayo quietly. The younger woman was shaking, but her lips were pressed tightly and set.
"Are you sure?" Yui hadn't seen Hisayo put her foot down since the first initial day she'd foisted her child on Kono. Since then, she'd wavered back and forth, agreeing to whatever Yui suggested. Of all things, this was what Hisayo decided to grow a spine about?
"Yes. She can stay."
"Of course I can," Lady Fukuyama drawled, stepping closer to the baby with an arm pressed to her chest and the other spread, letting her sleeves flutter with practiced theatricality. "Dearest mother has all she ever wanted. A healthy son to secure her place."
"You believe I wanted this?" The volume of Hisayo's voice startled everyone. Her fingers were interlocked, and her knuckles were white. "I was fine with marriage. Children. I knew my duty." She took in a deep, controlled breath, exhaling anger with every word. "I had a betrothal before the arrangement with your father. I did not want this, but I will do what I must."
Fukuyama's lined eyes widened ever-so-slightly, and her hands shifted the ever-present fan from one hand to the other. "My father does have the greater share of blame," she admitted. Yet, the lady didn't sound the slightest apologetic. She settled onto the bed, a casual gesture that clashed with the formality of her tone and posture. "Being an incompetent lord, he is the one to blame for getting himself trapped in this situation to begin with."
Kono and Hisayo reacted to that—Kono by edging further away and Hisayo by gasping, sharp and affronted. "How dare you speak about your father—"
"Oh, you know it's true," she said, smiling at her stepmother. Lady Fukuyama pressed a finger to her lips. "If it weren't for his dismal failure in jockeying over Lord Motonari for that stupid feud, he wouldn't have been strong armed into marrying you, dearest mother. You'd be off with a vapid young lord to match you in personality."
People in power always assumed that their personal problems were of interest to those under them, and Fukuyama had worked herself into a fury of self-indignation. Yui glanced at Kono, who looked more uncomfortable by the minute. Witnessing the spat between the two ladies of the house was not a good position for any servant, even less when they were badmouthing the lord.
"But because he did," continued Fukuyama, "I am stuck in this rut. He's a wonderful father, true, but that's all he's good at. For all my life, I had been groomed to rule this estate. For the last five years, I'd been managing all the intelligence reports and the politicking until he made a phenomenal mess of it all."
Was that why Izuna had given her a scroll in the courtyard? Yui turned over the thought in her head for a moment before shrugging to herself and settling down on a cushion. This seemed like it would take a while.
"None of this excuses how you treated me," Lady Hisayo said.
"I lost all my power, you know. What was I supposed to do?" Just as Yui seemed sure of being ignored, Fukuyama turned to her. "Healer, you treated Aiko. Her bruises are from my father's retainer. The first time, I'd told him that if he'd laid another hand on her, I'd make sure to ruin him. My threat had value then, back when I was heiress and my decisions had weight. Now look at me." She drew herself up tall, gesturing to her gorgeous robes as if to demonstrate obvious decline. "I'd had plans to return this estate to its glory days. So, tell me. What do I do when everything I've worked for is taken away from me? What do I do when it was all for nothing?" She leaned forward and tickled the baby's chin, the gentle action at odds with the vitriol of her words.
Yui empathized, but she didn't find it in herself to pity the lady. Not after how she'd acted, not after what she'd seen. "For someone so bent on defending lessers, you've got no problem taking your anger out on others."
The lady drew back as if she'd been slapped. Kono covered her mouth, eyes wide, and Hisayo made her face go carefully blank.
"That's—" She paled, struggling with a response. "How dare..." Fukuyama paused, "I mean to say, that is..."
"To answer your question, you move on." Yui let her tone grow gentler, though it took some effort. "You have options. You're rich. Educated. Titled. Your father loves you. There's a lot you can do with that."
"You have more freedom than me, healer." For the first time, the lady seemed unbalanced. Her lips trembled as she tried to regain her poise, closing and opening her fan. "As nobility, I am constrained by the roles placed on me."
"Freedom is possible. You just have to decide what you want to give up."
She looked startled and annoyed. "Healer, I—That's beside the point. It's not fair."
"It's not," Yui agreed. "So what are you going to do about it?"
Lady Fukuyama didn't respond.
"You said that you wanted to help your servants. That you're upset at losing your power since you can't make things better anymore." She raised her eyebrows, and her unimpressed stare seemed to affect the lady more than anger would have. "Well, right now you're making things worse. People like Aiko are stuck between you and the Lady Hisayo, and this tension isn't helping anyone. It's not her fault, and you know it. If you want to make things better, then do something besides mope."
The irony of the situation hit her all at once. Of all people, Yui telling others to get over it? To stop dwelling on past tragedies? She knew how much of a hypocrite she was, but she didn't let any of that show on her face. Instead, Yui kept her gaze steady, challenging the lady to say anything.
Lady Fukuyama did not. She simply stared back, stunned.
The baby gurgled, and Yui dropped the subject in her mind. It wasn't her job to work the lady through a crisis of purpose. Deliberately, she turned her back, closing the conversation, and hurried to the child—the reason she was here at all. His dark, wide eyes darted between her and Kono. Then, for a moment he focused on Yui and gurgled again.
"He's smiling," breathed Kono.
Yui knew it wasn't true. At this age, it was nothing but a reflex, an instinctive reaction to feeling safe. Still, she reached out with a finger and smiled back when he grasped it, and for a moment, she let herself believe.
"Yeah," she said softly. "He is."
It was strange not expecting the ghost of Sen everywhere she went. In the village, she couldn't help but see him smiling or laughing at every corner; each tree and building was tied to a memory she had of him. It didn't hurt less here—but it hurt differently. It felt wrong, somehow, to be happy when he wasn't here. She knew that was stupid, that it was the last thing Sen would have wanted, but… as she said to her patients, grief was irrational.
"I miss you." She stared at the flower that stood upright despite the snow, and somehow, saying it out loud helped. Maybe it did hurt less here, at least when she gave herself the time to feel. Yui wondered if it would stay that way when she went back home.
When Dr. Tanaka didn't occupy his attention, Makoto helped her practice what she privately called the MRI-technique. She also made a chicken despise her, but it was a fair trade-off for learning how to distinguish between bone and flesh. The technique could be fine-tuned to ridiculous levels, demonstrating exactly where a fracture was or if internal injuries were present in organs.
"I can't do that just yet," admitted Makoto, "but the man who taught me could. It's definitely possible."
"This is…" Yui hesitated, chakra gathering in her palms, steady and pulsing, so unlike the prickling sparks she was used to. "This is great," she said, already thinking about what information — once pushed aside as irrelevant due to the current lack of technology — she could bring forward because of the technique.
Makoto smiled back, and he almost looked relieved. "I'm glad you think so."
The chicken attempted to peck her fingers, but she yanked her hand away before it could. "Behave," she scolded.
"How do you think it works?"
Yui glanced at him, puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"Well…" Makoto coughed and rubbed his chin. "It's just that the technique's creator didn't have many thoughts on why it works. I'm afraid I've been a bit spoiled by your teaching, Yui-sensei. I keep asking 'why,' but I don't get any answers."
She made a thoughtful noise. "It could be a number of reasons. I won't be sure until I practice more, and even then I might not figure it out." Chakra, after all, operated by a completely different set of rules. "Maybe it has to do with density. Like sound, which passes through bone differently than it does through muscle. Or maybe it has to do with interactions of the chakra inside the body." Like an MRI, changing the internal patterns of chakra.
For that matter, was chakra a wave or particle? Energy or matter? Both at the same time? It took on characteristics like candy, following a strange pattern that Yui hadn't yet figured out and perhaps never would.
Yui examined the (still alive, still exceptionally unhappy) chicken's heart with the chakra-MRI when a cough interrupted her focus. She canceled the technique and looked up. It was the guard—the guard that Izuna had disguised himself as. Was this Izuna? Or was this the original?
"Lord Fukuyama has summoned you." The guard spoke in a calm, rather high-pitched voice, much different from how Izuna spoke. Then again, if Izuna had changed his face, then he could probably change his voice.
She looked back at Makoto, who waved her off.
"Go get your accolades," he said. Some of the tension in his shoulders loosened as he smiled, taking the chicken from her arms. "You certainly deserve them."
Yui gave a slow nod, still uncertain, and handed Makoto the exhausted chicken. The guard gave both healers a puzzled look but didn't comment on the bird.
"This way," he murmured, stepping back and gesturing. Yui brushed the feathers off her sleeves and followed the guard.
The trip to the lord was done in silence, and Yui didn't have the inclination to broach the topic of the maybe-Izuna's identity. Instead, she stood in front of the Lightning-style carved door as the guard stood behind her, spear in hand. Finally, the large door opened, pushed from the inside by another guard, one who gave her a sharp look.
After a glance at her escort, who didn't follow, Yui stepped inside.
The room was more luxurious than any Yui had seen yet. Shelves with books and scrolls covered the far wall, and cabinets full of casually displayed wealth—from fragile vases to bronze figurines—covered the two on either side. Only the wall with the door was left mostly bare, and even then mostly. Two large paintings of people Yui didn't know hung on either side of the door. Yui knew she was gawking, but she doubted she'd see a sight like this again.
"Healer Yui," said the lord. He sat at a carved desk with delicate birds and leaves frozen in a river-side scene. With an ink brush, he signed a scroll with a flourish. "I have heard that my son is well."
"He is." Yui couldn't help but stare at the jade inkwell, inlaid with some sort of blue stone. "As long as you—" she fumbled, knowing that the lord had little to do with his son's care, but she went with it anyway. "As long as you follow my instructions, he should be fine. There's nothing more I can do."
Lord Fukuyama put his brush down. "I see. Then it seems that you are owed my gratitude." He looked into the distance, gaze focused on the painting of the woman opposite from him. His eyes, lined with crow feet, softened. "My late wife bore me six children, and only one survived past a year. I had expected this son to be the same."
Yui let the lord gather his thoughts. No one was immune to tragedy, regardless of their status. That held true in both this world and her last. Yet, tragedy was baked deeper into this society, where reminders of life's fragility lurked everywhere. Tragedy could lead to purpose, though that had never been the case for her. (If anything, it hindered her.) In the light of what his daughter had said, Yui wondered how tragedy had affected him.
He looked back to her, new resolve in his eyes. "I promised that you would be rewarded upon your success." He gave a smile, oddly twisted as if at some private joke. "I would do you the honor of making you part of my household, but I suspect my offer would be met by staunch refusal. And there are… others who would be opposed to it." Lord Fukuyama glanced at the closed door, raising his eyebrows with a knowing look.
Yui nodded. She'd never had the intention of staying, not when her village needed her.
"Then, I must ask: what is it you desire in return?"
It would be a lie to say she hadn't thought about it. "There is… a project I'm working on. If it goes well, I could make a medicine that cures infections."
"Oh?" A note of interest entered his voice; even someone uninterested in medicine could see the potential for a supposed panacea. That same scope of claim, however, made people unlikely to believe her.
"The project is in its beginning stages," she said. "It has a long way to go, and it's expensive, and it needs a lot of stuff that a peasant healer can't get. Not without someone's backing." She took a deep breath. "I'd like your support."
"You will have it," said Lord Fukuyama. "You may have my sponsorship and use my name to open doors that may be closed to one of your standing." He waited, expectant. "What else?"
Yui hadn't expected him to agree so easily—or to offer more. She opened and closed her mouth, caught off guard, but started speaking despite having just a half-formed thought.
"Your estate, it… it has things I haven't seen before," she began. "Electricity. Indoor water."
"I don't expect it to be all like your manor, but… do you think you could help make my village better? Nicer roads, better wells?"
"Ah, your village. It is now called Chiyuku, I believe." he mused. "The tax I have collected from it has steadily increased in the last years. It seems only right to ensure that my subjects are taken care of in my responsibility as a lord. That will be done. Yet, I had not asked what I can do for your village, healer. I had asked what you desire."
Now, she had no idea what to say. "I—" Yui stopped. (I want my brother back, she thought, but that was something no one could give her.) "I don't know." She had the material goods she needed, and the lord had already agreed to fund her penicillin project.
"Truly? There is nothing you wish for?"
She mused it over a moment longer, and something came to mind. "There is one thing, perhaps."
The lord waited, an odd, almost expectant expression on his face.
"There was this nice tea I had. Jasmine, I think." It was the one she'd thought that Eiji would like. "Could I have some to take back?"
Lord Fukuyama gave her a long, slow look. The warm light from the window cast shadows, deepening his wrinkles. "You are remarkable," he said finally. He stood up and faced the window behind him. After a moment, he spoke again. "Very well. I shall give what you ask. My endorsement, better roads, and tea." He chuckled again. "How little an heir is worth." A tinge of awe colored his words, turning it into not quite a question.
She wasn't sure what to say to that.
He held up a hand. "No, do not thank me. You have saved my son's life. There is not enough in this world I can do to repay you." The lord gave her a shallow bow. "Healer, you have my eternal gratitude."
News of her impending departure spread. The people of the estate came to pay their respects and settle any remaining debts. A few guards murmured their thanks again—and bargained for her last jar of muscle relaxant. Aiko clasped her hands and whispered her gratitude, not just for the treatment but for also having patience with Lady Fukuyama. Dr. Tanaka gave a stiff farewell with little feeling, while Makoto promised to send more letters about his medical society.
With a fair amount of pomp and circumstance, Yui was given several pouches of tea—the jasmine one she'd asked for and a single bag of a blend called Kanezon. Judging by the reverent way it was handed her, she assumed it was rather expensive. Would it taste significantly better than regular tea? She wondered if she'd ever get around to drinking it; Yui always felt vaguely guilty about consuming expensive things. All the same, the blends would fit nicely in her tea box.
Kono, the woman who had spent three weeks in her constant presence, who shared a quiet bond of grief, had the hardest goodbye.
The baby was asleep against her chest, a silent reminder of everything they accomplished, the reason that Yui still did this. "Thank you, healer."
"You can call me Yui. There's no need to be formal." As titles went, Yui didn't mind that, but after all the time they'd spent together, it didn't feel right.
"Yui, then. Thank you." Her eyes were wet as she used Yui's unadorned given name for the first time. "Thank you for saving him. Thank you for treating me as… as someone."
"It's the least I can do." Yui knew that this would truly be goodbye. This wasn't a world where distance could be surmounted, not for ordinary people like them. There were letters, yes, and Yui had promised to send her one, but this would likely be the last time they would ever speak in person.
"I will miss you."
"I will miss you too." In Kono, she'd made a friend. Yui had dozens of acquaintances, but friends... those she treasured.
They pressed their hands together, and they didn't exchange any gifts but smiles.
Yui packed up her supplies—and the robes that Lord Fukuyama insisted that she keep—and went to the caravan. This time, the lord's aide and his wife weren't present, but Izuna was. The ninja smiled at her shock and stepped aside so she could access the cart.
"I was hired by the esteemed lord to escort you." His normally wayward hair was pulled into a tight, high ponytail, bringing attention to his cheekbones and somehow making him more intimidating. Madara had always given off a stronger aura of power compared to his brother, but Izuna had an inherent sense of unpredictability that was far more frightening.
"Thank you," she said automatically, before fumbling and adding, "but it's not necessary—"
"I'm being paid, healer." He watched with arms crossed as she started loading her supplies on the cart. "Besides, I'm not going out of my way. My original task has been completed, and I need to travel in the direction of Chiyuku regardless." He raised an eyebrow. "Is that satisfactory?"
"I... yes." Yui taken aback.
"Good. Let's not wait along any longer." Izuna turned around without waiting for an answer.
She looked back at the estate, looming and anachronistic in its elegance. Unlit streetlights dotted the path behind her, and the faint bustle of all its workers continued despite her approaching departure. She'd miss its people, perhaps even some of its luxuries, but it really was another world, with rules, divisions, and politics—bound by stifling fear.
Izuna cleared his throat, but even his impatience couldn't dampen her growing relief.
She was going home.
Besides Izuna, the lord had sent two other servants on her journey with her. The caravan driver was a chatty man who drew silent whenever Izuna returned from his patrolling or wherever else he disappeared to when they were on the road. On the other hand, the cook was a taciturn woman named Jun with a surprisingly sharp tongue who treated the ninja—and Yui—with the same amount of dubiousness she treated everything else. (Her stews, however, were delicious.)
Yui vacillated between relief that she was returning home and a strange, coiled tension in her gut that grew stronger the closer they were to Chiyuku. Unlike before, they weren't in any particular rush, and the driver was able to drive at a sedate pace, treating the iced dirt road with the caution it deserved.
On the second night, when the sharp wind cut with winter, dread was all Yui felt. Jun sat beside her, finishing a second bowl, while the driver Michi tended to the horses and filled the air with chatter. Even he couldn't drown the crackle of the bonfire that Izuna had lit with a breath of flame. The ninja wasn't here to enjoy the warmth, however; he'd disappeared into the night without another word. Yui edged closer to the fire and watched the smoke rise. It twisted and shook with each gust, billowing and thinning out in an endless pattern.
Michi was telling a story about his trip to Lightning Country for the second time when Izuna appeared from the shadows with a streak of red on his chin. He held a sword in his left hand, dark as rust.
It took a moment for Michi's mouth to catch up with his eyes. "The man had—" He froze, and for once, Izuna acknowledged his presence.
"Oh, do go on, Michi-san." He smiled, and the smear of dried blood cracked on his chin. Izuna settled down by the fire next to Yui. He lounged with a hand propped on his knee, the other hand on the ground next to the bloody sword. "Please, tell us your story."
Michi, of course, did not continue. Instead, after a moment of horrified silence, he stood up and stammered, "I-I should see to the horses." He made himself scarce, while Jun set her bowl down and visibly debated whether she should join him. Izuna watched the driver flee with a growing smile.
Yui did what she always did. "Are you hurt?"
Izuna shook his head, and his grin became even more pleased. "Not a scratch. I can't say the same for the rogues, of course."
Indecision resolved, Jun didn't bother to come up with an excuse before she marched to the inside of the caravan.
Yui sighed and pulled out her scroll. "Even if you aren't hurt, you should clean up." With a light surge of chakra, she unsealed a washcloth from the scroll and handed it to him.
Izuna's gaze was focused on the scroll, and then it snapped up to her. Somehow, the air between them had shifted from professional, icy dislike to constrained cordiality. The scroll, however, was a reminder of the Senju and everything he stood against, a reminder of the day both their feelings had come to the surface. She didn't think that they would ever be friends, not with the gulf between their beliefs. But they could be civil.
"You have a way of wheedling concessions from the strangest set of people," he mused, taking the cloth from her, mouth dipping into a frown.
"Thanks?" she said, uncertain.
"Never mind that." He wiped the blood from his face and began polishing his sword with the reverse of the washcloth. After Izuna was satisfied, he sheathed his sword and stared at her again.
"What is it?" Maybe that was rude, but then again, this was Izuna. He had no expectation of politeness. In that way, at least, their conversations could be refreshing; they both knew exactly where the other stood. It felt even more freeing after her time in the estate.
"I heard what you asked the lord for."
He made to hand back her washcloth, but Yui shook her head. "Keep it."
Izuna folded the cloth and set it aside, pinning her with a thoughtful look. "What you asked for was… proper. It was right of you to look after your village. Your entire approach was masterfully done. Regardless of whatever tea he gave, he will still feel indebted. You could wheedle more concessions from him later, or use his name in situations that he'd be loathe to involve himself in." He tilted head. "I can't tell if it's your misguided sense of morals or a successful attempt at manipulation. Either way, I approve."
"Thanks," she said again. Was he so arrogant to think she wanted his approval?
Yui hid a grimace. No, perhaps that was uncalled for. It seemed like Izuna was offering an olive branch, in his own combative way. It was just so easy to fall back into the same patterns of interaction. The fire continued, louder in the silence as its shadows danced across the ground.
"My brother was concerned about you." Izuna watched the fire, not her. "Everyone could see that you were falling apart."
The nerve of him. What in the world was he going for? What right did he have? He was rapidly losing any goodwill he might've gained. "I don't think—"
"I don't think I was clear enough when I brought up my brother's example. You shouldn't blame yourself for your brother's death. It wasn't your fault. It was the sickness, not you." Izuna sounded completely earnest, and that just made her angrier.
"But I can't go around killing sickness, can I? I'm sorry that I can't cope like you," she snapped, glaring at him. Izuna stared back, eyes widening even as his smile grew sharper. "Sorry," she muttered. "That was…"
He waved his hand in dismissal. "Well, that is what you're trying to do, isn't it? I heard what you told the lord. You want to create a medicine that would do just that."
Yui dropped her gaze and stared into the fire again. "The medicine… it wouldn't have cured my brother's illness."
Izuna shifted in place, attentive and the slightest bit surprised.
"The medicine will be revolutionary. But it wouldn't have saved him. What he'd needed was—" she cut herself off. Vaccines, IV hydration, a million other inventions that she wouldn't be able to invent by herself.
"What would he have needed?" The earnestness had turned into something curious—never gentle, but sincere—and now more than ever she saw the resemblance to Madara.
"He would have needed an entirely different system."
Izuna gave a laugh, just as sharp as the rest of him. "Now you sound like my brother." For once, the comparison didn't sound bitter.
She echoed his laugh, startled that he'd thought the same thing about her. Yui tucked her knees under her chin and wrapped her arms around them. How strange that their thoughts had mirrored, despite worldviews that contrasted in almost every way. As she basked in the fire's warmth and mused on it further, her eyes began to close.
"Rest, healer. I'll keep watch."
She blinked herself alert and glanced at him, eyes already bleary. Izuna continued gazing at the fire, acting as if he hadn't spoken. With a yawn, she decided to listen to his advice. It took her only a few minutes to set her bedroll and only a few seconds to fall asleep.
Chiyuku hadn't stood still without her, and it didn't stop for her return—but it did pause. Everyone greeted her, all smiles and pleased exclamations, and it took no time at all for the village gossip network to alert her family. Her sister and mother pulled her into tight hugs, and Yui marveled over how large her niece had grown.
(It hurt to think that Sen wouldn't be there to greet her, but… here, in the village square with everyone around her, it didn't hurt as much as she expected. It was more a dull pang than anything sharp, the ache of a pulled muscle, easy to endure.)
She'd missed her home. She'd missed the comfort of people who treated her like a person, someone valued, but not something other, stuck in between categories: too lowborn to be equal, too mythologized to be overlooked.
Yui hurried to her clinic, eager to sleep in her own bed, drink her own tea, and finally let her guard down. Then, she opened the door to her home and came face-to-face with a disgruntled preteen girl.
"Can't you see the sign says—" The girl stopped and flushed a deep red. "Oh, Yui-san! You're back!"
"Yes," Yui said slowly. She looked familiar. Her hair and eyes were brown, but they were shades light enough to cause notice. After a second, Yui placed her as a relative newcomer, the daughter of a woman who didn't have the best reputation. How odd to think that she no longer knew everyone in her village; it had grown past that point of person-to-person intimacy.
"Who's back?" called a low, authoritative voice from inside.
Yui stepped inside and closed the door behind her, trying not to show her hesitance. Eiji was cleaning supplies over boiling water, a routine task they'd done together thousands of times. His shoulders set with the kind of pleasant weariness that came from a long day of work—tired, but not exhausted. Perhaps the responsibility had done him good, and he'd risen up to the task instead of crumbling underneath it.
Eiji glanced up, and his expression became a mess of contradictions at the sight of her. Subdued confidence turned into apprehension even as he slumped with relief. He pursed his lips, something he did when he was nervous and trying very hard not to show it.
"You're looking well," Yui said, trying to smile. She managed something that felt strained and uncomfortable, but she held it and kept it from becoming more of grimace.
Eiji paused. "You too." He sounded surprised, almost embarrassed. Eiji looked back to his work and scrubbed the knife—Madara's gift—with renewed, unnecessary enthusiasm.
The girl still stood at the doorway, glancing between them. Yui raised her eyebrows at Eiji. Before realizing that the visitor was Yui, she had spoken with enough pomp that Yui doubted she was just a patient.
Eiji paused in his cleaning, shoulders tense again. "This is Tama. I... took her as an assistant."
So it wasn't just their strained relationship that caused his hesitation. Yui didn't operate a guild; her apprentices weren't bound to any formal agreements besides tradition. However, it was frowned upon for an apprentice to take on a student without their teacher's permission, both to keep trade secrets close and to prevent someone half-trained from making things worse. Most tradespeople required an apprenticeship to be over first, and the majority would consider Eiji's actions to be arrogant and improper.
"That's nice. We could always use more help." She said that with a steady voice, looking at neither Eiji or Tama. They had managed with two, but three would be easier, even if she had to be trained from scratch. Especially since Eiji wouldn't stay for much longer. "It's good to meet you, Tama."
Tama bowed, a tad clumsy, and gave a bright, if still nervous smile. "You too! I mean, we met before, but I don't think you much remember me, since I… wasn't, uh, here," she finished, cringing back. "I mean, I was here in Chiyuku, just not in the clinic. I've been here before. Like most people! Yeah!"
"Tama, why don't you go… do something else," said Eiji, wincing with her.
"Yeah!" she repeated. Tama nodded frantically. "Y'all can talk and… stuff." She faced Yui and bowed again, her face turning even redder with mortification. "Nice to meet you! Again!" Tama backed out of the clinic and shut the door.
The two were left alone, and Yui wasn't sure what to say. She shifted her bag from one shoulder to the next and resisted the urge to fidget. She knew she had to say something—and Eiji seemed to feel the same too. He cleared his throat and then paused, staring at her like a deer in headlights. (How strange: she hadn't thought about cars or headlights in a while. Seeing the almost-modern technology of the estate had dredged memories that lurked as almost-dreams, flashes that had faded from irrelevance.)
"She's… enthusiastic," Yui said.
Eiji laughed and set aside the clean knife. "She is. Tama's a bright and eager kid. Sometimes too eager." Ruefully, he added, "I didn't realize how much those small tasks you gave were excuses to get us out of the way until I started teaching her. You were much better at coming up with things to do."
"They weren't all excuses." She smiled at the memory, and then the pang in her chest returned, killing it. Yui would never be able to tell Sen to clean the shed or tend the garden again—and of all the stupid things to get emotional about, why those?
"No." His smile disappeared with hers. Eiji plowed forward, adding in a quiet rush, "Tama really is a good student. She'll do well, I promise. I know that I didn't ask or send a letter, and I'm not done with—"
"I've never been one to hoard information," she interrupted. "Besides, I'd long thought about taking on more students, but it always fell to the wayside." Yui thought about smiling but knew she couldn't manage it yet. "I trust your judgement."
"Thank you." Eiji's voice was thick, but he blinked twice and straightened. "You sound different." He tried for a teasing tone. It fell flat. Yui pretended not to notice.
She cleared her throat, a little embarrassed anyway. "Well, being around the nobles made me fluff up my words a bit," she said, coarsening her accent.
"That sounds like a treat."
They fell into silence again. This would be the point that Sen would've interjected with a funny comment, she knew, or teased the both of them. But Sen couldn't. It was her responsibility now, and she had to stop running away from it and make an effort.
Yui set her shoulders and said, with a voice more unsteady than she'd like, "I brought you tea. I thought you'd like it."
"It's from the nobles?" He brushed the hair out of his eyes—grown just long enough to be a nuisance.
"Yes. Jasmine something, I think." Yui activated the scroll and took out the pouch. "I'll put it on the stove."
"Let me. You must be tired from your trip."
The silence returned between them, though the fire crackled underneath the kettle, reminding her of the campfire that she and Izuna had sat around. It's not your fault, he'd said. Eiji stared at his hands, lost in thought. Yui felt a surge of affection for her student, this studious dreamer who had grown enough to manage the clinic. Sen wasn't here to bridge the quiet, so she had to make an effort. Yui didn't want to lose Eiji too.
The kettle boiled and hissed with steam, and Eiji stood to prepare the tea. It was Yui's turn to stare at her hands as she tried to summon words to say. Only after he served the tea and settled in front of her did she speak.
"I don't think Sen would've liked this."
He took a sip and gave a fragile smile. "Sen never liked bitter blends." Eiji paused, enjoying the waft of steam. "I like it, though. It's subtle."
"It is." She rubbed her finger over the chip in the cup. Despite the flaw, this was her favorite set: made in Iron-country style and painted with blue flowers.
Eiji took another sip before setting his own cup down. "I... learned a lot from managing the clinic by myself. It's really hard." The words came out stiled, and he grimaced. "I have some stories to tell you."
Yui smiled, soft and real. "I do too."
As the tea cooled, they shared tales of their time apart—sometimes halting, often short. But it was a start.
The village elders were nothing short of ecstatic at the noble's promise. The scribe—who was still kicking, though his granddaughter took over most of his responsibilities—beamed over the written statement agreeing to infrastructure improvements.
"Nobles never write things down if they can help it," cackled Elder Saburo. "It's too much proof. This," he tapped the paper, "means he's positively forced to, even if he does change his mind."
Next to him, the woman was more cautious with her optimism. "If he, ah, 'forgets' about it, is there anything we can do?"
"Ten years ago I'd say no, but the village has enough clout to kick up a fuss about it. And I don't think he'll go back on his word, though no one can really guess a lord's thoughts."
The woman crossed her arms and nodded. She was a shrewd business owner who'd taken advantage of all the travelers by selling simple, nonperishable food for the road. Just entering middle-aged, she would normally seem out of place among the elders. Yet the owner was just one of several who were on the wrong side of fifty. This gathering was more a village council than a group of elders—Chiyuku was large enough to require a semi-formal body.
"When are they coming?" asked the grizzled lead of the militia, which resembled a town guard by the day.
Yui glanced down at the scroll. "Two weeks after the snowy season ends."
He nodded sharply. "That should give us enough time to prepare."
"And prepare we will!" Another man, a merchant who'd settled in the town after marrying a local girl, grinned.
Everyone echoed his enthusiasm, and Yui smiled, finding it lingered on the topic for just a little longer, caught up in speculation, before switching to the next item that the village had to discuss. The entire meeting continued with a steady pace with only minor hitches. As they squabbled over the current one—a minor issue about livestock—she smiled again.
Chiyuku was doing well. Yui would do her part to make sure it continued to do so.
Three days after her return, Yui was still getting settled. She'd finished her round before Eiji's, taking the moment's rest to think. Her routine wasn't the same anymore. Eiji and Tama had developed a new one, and they were still figuring out how Yui slotted in. Tama, for her part, was a bit awestruck. She had an easy banter with Eiji that she seemed reluctant to extend to Yui. But Yui had to admit, it was much easier to have two teachers for one student—almost too easy. Perhaps she could take another one. (The thought immediately made her cold. It was one thing to accept a student who was already there—it was another to seek one herself. There was no reason to feel guilty, she told herself. No one could ever be a replacement. But that didn't change how she felt.)
To her relief, there was a knock at the door. She opened it and smiled despite the rush of chilly air, even gladder to see her guest. "Hashirama, it's been a while." Yui hadn't seen him since before… then.
He looked well. Dressed warmly for the late winter flurries, he had a scarf around his face and thick gloves. She stepped aside and closed the door behind him to keep out the cold, though a few snowflakes twisted in the air before dissolving away.
"I wanted to come sooner." Hashirama tugged down his scarf, and his eyes began to tear up. "Oh, Yui, I'm so sorry."
She found her throat catching. "I—" She cleared it. "Yes, ah..."
Her hands shook. Yui hadn't expected Hashirama's fresh grief, and she hadn't expected her own response. Sen's death, it was supposed to be an old wound. Scabbed, if not healed. She hadn't expected to be confronted like this, by him. Yui thought she'd kept it together so well, plastered all the cracks, pulled everything together—but everything began to crumble.
"You don't have to say anything." Like those years ago, he stepped forward and held her hands.
"Hashirama—" She stood still, trying to blink back the tears from her burning eyes, as she'd done over and over before. Yui had convinced herself that being back home didn't hurt. It had torn away her defences regardless. "You heard he's gone—"
Hashirama hugged her, and she tried to keep it together and tried to stay calm and placid like she was supposed to, like everyone expected, like she'd done for so long, but the tears came anyway. Yui clutched him tighter as she heaved ugly, broken breaths, staining his armor even as she shuddered and tried to steady her breathing.
Her words were muffled and hitched, and she could barely manage a whisper through her tears, but she had to say something. She had to justify herself even as he asked no questions. "I miss him so much."
"I know." His voice was thick too.
"It feels like my fault."
"I know. You don't have to say anything."
She took his advice and just cried. Yui didn't know how long she'd stood there when the door opened and the wind cut against her tears. She opened her eyes and stepped away, wiping her face as she prepared to greet the visitor like nothing was wrong. Even through blurry vision, she knew it was Eiji. He stepped back outside and closed the door before Yui could say anything or even see his reaction.
"Why don't you sit down?" Hashirama guided her to fire, and she followed, numb, accepting the blanket he pulled from the corner. "I'll make some tea."
To her embarrassment, that set her off again, and she sat huddled by the fire as she sobbed quietly to herself. Yui took another deep breath and coughed, wincing at her rough throat. "Thank you."
Hashirama's chakra flared like a forest fire as he held his hand, now glowing red, against the kettle. The water immediately boiled, and he wasted no time in pouring them both a cup. Yui murmured her thanks again, took a sip, and started coughing.
He crouched beside her. "Are you okay?" Hashirama winced. "I mean—you're coughing. Are you okay about—do you need water?"
Yui shook her head, still coughing, and managed to clear her throat enough to breathe uninterrupted. She rubbed the corners of her eyes, removing a different kind of tears.
"Can I get you anything?" he asked, helpless.
"Hashirama, you…" She almost wanted to laugh, but she settled for a sniffle. "You burnt it."
"You burnt the tea. It just… surprised me."
Hashirama stared at her for a second and then sipped his own cup. He started coughing too, though he wiped his mouth and recovered much faster. "Oh, gods, that tasted disgusting! I knew I shouldn't have used that jutsu! It—It was a terrible idea. I can brew you another—"
"It's fine," she said, still sniffling. "I think I needed that. I do feel better now," she admitted. "But still awful." What came out was both a laugh and a sob. "That made no sense, I'm sorry—"
"What did you tell me?" he scolded. "Friends don't apologize."
She sniffed and wiped her face, and she gave a watery mess of an expression that partially resembled a smile."Thank you for staying with me. I… I know you probably had things to do."
"Don't worry about that." He smiled back at her, bright, despite the dried tear tracks on his own cheeks.
Yui simply exhaled and sipped her bitter, burnt tea. Her face was puffy, her sinuses congested, and her eyes itched. She'd sat too close to the fire, and her skin was hot to the touch. She felt raw, empty, like a sore throat on the mend.
It would mend, she thought.
It would mend.
As always, thank you all for reading. Your support truly means a lot to me. I read every comment and appreciate every alert. We're getting there, y'all! We're only one chapter away from being caught up with fanfiction.net.
Special thanks to GwendolynStacy, iaso, PyrothTenka, and fishbake for looking over the chapter. They're the absolute best!
Another thank you to iaso for posting the first Sanitize recursive fic on ffnet! Check out Little Wonders, an adorable fic set in the Sanitize-verse featuring Tsubaki and Hatake.
Bonus content is on my tumblr and in the newly added "Contaminate", and you can vote for the next one on the Discord. Thanks again!
Chapter 12: Perfusion
Yui returns not to normalcy, but something worthwhile all the same.
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."
We're almost done, folks. One planned chapter and an epilogue left. As always, sincerely, thank you for y'all's support. Every alert gives me the motivation to go back and keep writing.
Special thanks to iaso, GwendolynStacy, masqvia, PyrothTenka, and FisheBake for beta-reading the chapter.
To all my lovely readers on AO3, I'm sad/happy to say that we're officially, finally caught up with ffnet. Which means there won't be any weekly updates... but you will get the new chapter at the same time. Thanks again!