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Autumn Heat, Changing Seasons

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               Everyone was dead.

               Everyone was dead except him.

               Jin raised his head and over the sea of bodies he could see his uncle.  He was captive, bound, on his knees and defenseless.

               No. 

               Jin was not alone, and he had to save Lord Shimura so they could defeat the Mongol leader together.  His uncle was struggling in his captor’s grasp, he was still fighting them.  Jin had to fight too, beside him until the bitter end. 

               Despite aches and pains from the explosion that had knocked him down, and the sharp stab of an arrow that had pierced through his armor at some point before then, Jin rose.

               Thwip

               Another arrow stabbed in to Jin’s back, radiating agony. What kind of bow were they using that it had that much force?  It had torn through his armor and penetrated deep in to muscle. Jin fell with the pain.  But still his uncle’s words drove him forward. Loyalty to his Lord drove him forward. Lord Shimura’s last command echoed in his mind, ‘We have to keep pushing Lord Sakai. Even if it costs us our lives.’ Jin dragged himself forward, just a bit further and he’d have his sword.

               He never reached it.

 

               Jin swam in the ocean, floating on his back.  It must have been summer because the water was warm.  Had he been sailing for Iki Island with Ryuzo?  No.  Something was wrong with the water. Jin stood in the surf, sand crumbling under his feet as the waves washed it away.  The water was thick.  It was red. It was blood. He was standing in in a blood-filled ocean on a moonless night at Komoda beach.

               Jin ran out of the waves and on to the beach. Where was Ryuzo? He felt like a child again. Where was Lord Shimura? Where was his father? His katana was stabbed in to the sand of the beach like a funerary offering.  Jin drew the blade.  The sword in his hands felt far too large for him, awkwardly balanced and unwieldy.  It hadn’t felt like this since his youth, heavy with the weight of his duty to the legacy of his father and clan. 

               Jin was the last of them.  That was why the ocean was red with blood, why the sand was thick with it.  

               No… it wasn’t his fault the sand was red. He heard the distant boom and memories flooded back.  It was them. The Mongol invaders.  Jin was no child, he was a grown man, a samurai, and he would face death and defend his home. 

               The invading army swept across the beach like a roaring wave. They had sword and spear drawn. The flaming bolts of the Hwachas illuminated their path, burning explosions of light and pain. The invaders charged forward toward Jin but he couldn’t move.  They ran around him, and though him, and he saw all the other samurai they were slaying.  All the soldiers and retinues of the other lords lay dead or dying. The sand was no longer wet with blood, clumping like the sand fortresses he’d build with Ryuzo as a child; it was soaked with it, Jin felt like he was standing in okayu.  The battle raged on and Jin couldn’t move, just like when his father had died. More blood spilled. The battle never ended. It was no longer sand at Jin’s feet but thick clotting blood. The level grew higher and Jin feared he would eventually drown in it.  He struggled to turn, to help fight, to do anything but it was like his feet were trapped, sinking deeper in to the muck.

               “Jin!” He could hear his uncle calling him. “I need you with me.”

               Jin struggled and fell, he managed to stand but every time he tried to run he’d slip in the blood or a Hwacha blast would land too close and he’d be thrown down again and again.

               Jin rose again.

               “Keep pushing Lord Sakai.” He could hear Lord Shimura but not see him in the chaos of the battlefield.

               Jin rose again.

               “With me!” Lord Shimura called his troops to him. Jin had to Join them.

               Jin rose again.

               “Jin... Help me.” His father’s voice called him this time.

               Jin froze. He didn’t rise. He couldn’t move.  He had failed. He was going to fail, again.

               Jin was again a child and could do nothing as the man in armor stabbed his father.  Jin was man trapped under his horse and he could do nothing as the Mongol invader raised his blade.  Lord Shimura had saved him then. But he wasn’t here. Jin had to save his uncle. Jin had to-

 

               Jin tried to scream but it came out as a choked pained gasp.  Jin opened his eyes. The roar of the battlefield was ever present but distant. He had no memory of where he was, the strange stone ceiling above him glistened wetly with rain and orange reflections of firelight.  Jin tried to breath shallowly because his ribs ached and all his muscles were stiff.  He raised a hand to feel his wounds only find them bandaged. He hadn’t done that himself.  Struggling to a crouch was agony as his ribs protested the shift.  His back spasmed when he fully stood up. It was almost enough to make him fall to the ground again.  He looked around the cave he’d been tucked away in. Someone had clearly been taking care of him judging by the used supplies.  Despite feeling awful, he didn’t feel quite as near to death as he remembered being on the beach.  Not that he wanted to remember the beach, either in reality or his nightmares.  How long had he been out?

               The roar of flames and unintelligible shouting echoed around the walls of the small cave.  How long had the battle raged? Jin felt ill with uncertainty.  He staggered toward the cave mouth, following the rising sparks that lit the clouded sky.  The battle was close. Things were burning, but he had been tucked away for safe keeping, far from them.

               “How did I get here?” he mused in a hoarse whisper, staggering through the narrow gap in the rocks and down the ridge’s path toward the village.

               Someone had saved him and hidden him away for some purpose. There had been nothing but bandages, medicine, and some food in the cave; whoever had saved him must have his sword.

               A knot of cold dread was building in Jin’s stomach as he slunk into the village and ducked inside the nearest house to be out of sight.  There were Mongols everywhere. Jin was hiding from them and hated himself for it.  They were razing the village and he could hear screams.  Even worse were the screams cut short.  Those were his people, the people of Tsushima, crying out for help and dying and there was nothing he could do about it. Not without his-

               Armor.

               Jin stared at his armor sitting on an unfamiliar armor stand in an unfamiliar house, it was just as battered and broken as its surroundings.  Jin got dressed quickly in his armor, cataloging what was still intact, each missing and damaged piece a reminder of what had happened. The gaping punctures in the back were mementos of how close he had come to death.  As he dressed he noticed a whetstone hastily discarded in a corner.  Someone had been sharpening a blade.  Had he been moved from the house to the cave? Had someone taken his armor from the cave? But why? And if they were an enemy then why not kill him? There were too many questions, too much confusion and chaos, the roaring of an invading army and crackling flames just outside the thin wood and paper door was distracting Jin from forming a coherent story.

               There was more screaming outside, closer now, and Jin was no longer a child nor was he a coward hiding indoors.  Jin would face death and defend his home once more.  Jin stood tall, and opened the door. And if he used the frame as a support no one was looking at him to tell.

               “Wait!” a terrified voice called out, silenced by the gurgling of blood in their airway as Mongol sword ripped in to their shoulder. Jin sagged, he was too late.  The Mongols were shouting and the man had been helpless, on his knees, begging, hands raised empty and pleading for mercy; those bastards had shoved him down and hacked his throat open like a pig.

               Jin was wincing as he felt himself lean harder against the door frame. He had to do something, but he felt weak, the lights of burning buildings were too bright and dazzling in the night.  They left him half blind to how many invaders were out there.  The soot blown on the wind was making his eyes water, the air was hot and choking. 

This wasn’t an honorable battle; it was a massacre.

               Suddenly someone was at his shoulder, shoving him, hard. That wasn’t an honorable tactic. Jin reached for his absent sword, then clutched at his sided in agony as barely healed wounds protested the sudden movement of being shoved back in to the building.

“Back inside. Now!”

               That had been a woman’s voice, and she was speaking Japanese. Jin’s eyes readjusted to the darkness as the mystery woman shoved the door shut and turned to him.

               “How are your wounds? Can you run?” she turned from the door to him, then back to the door, her head snapping like a bird’s as she was alert to every noise in the chaos.

               Jin was too startled by her commanding voice to question why she was giving a samurai orders.  He quickly took stock of himself. He could work through pain, a samurai’s resolve could overcome almost any weakness; and he wasn’t going to admit to feeling nauseous or feverish because what experienced samurai would confess to feeling such a thing?  Jin would not submit to his body’s weakness. “I…I think so.” Even so, her tone compelled him to give a somewhat honest answer.  He got his bearings then; she might be the one who saved him. She would know, “Where’s my sword?”

               The woman turned to him, “Not here-”

               They were interrupted by shouting in Mongolian, a shadow loomed in the door, illuminated by the blazing fires outside.  Jin and his presumed savior both stared at the door, calculating and assessing their chances in their own ways.

               Again the mystery woman was quicker, “I’ll take care of this. Please…Hide.” She gestured for him to go deeper in the house and Jin wanted to protest, wanted to demand to be allowed to fight. But there was pleading in her tone and even Jin knew he was no use without a weapon. Jin hid behind the wall and hated himself for it.

               He could hear her screaming. Shrill and sobbing as the Mongolian invader entered the house and made demands. Jin was shaking with memories of his father’s death that he’d been helpless to prevent.  But still, like he was trapped in some time loop of unending personal failure, he looked around the wall, prepared to see and dreading the slaughter of this woman. She rose behind the invader as he looted through the ransacked pantry, looking less like a flighty bird and more like a viper. She was quick, efficient, and ruthless in dispatching the man.

               “Who are you?” was all Jin could ask.  She was true yamato nadeshiko, silk hiding steel, if she could play the delicate cowering woman and then stab a man in cold blood like that. 

               “I’m Yuna,” she said, crouched over the corpse checking for a pulse and looting what she could from the man’s belt pouches. “You want your sword? Follow me.” That was an order.

               Jin followed without thinking but had to ask “How long was I out?”

               “Long enough for the Mongols to conquer half the island,” she explained solemnly, leading Jin out from the house and behind others at a low crouch. “Shit. Get down.” She signaled for Jin to duck behind her.

               He unquestioningly obeyed. They were slinking, low to the ground, like thieves, Jin thought bitterly.  Logically he knew they needed to hide. But still the knowledge gnawed at his gut. Again he felt a wave of nausea and pain sweep through him. He muscles were not ready for this much strain so soon after a near death experience, he hadn’t felt this worn out after Lord Nagao’s tournament.  As they crept forward and hid behind bushes Jin saw a woman in a small garden, she was surrounded by Mongols.  They cut her down, quickly and dispassionately, as if she was an animal. Jin felt sick, between the cold dampness of the tall grass wiping against fevered skin and the too close heat of flames Jin felt feverish and chilled all at once.  The noise he made was half inhale and half snarl as he prepared to challenge the peasant woman’s killer.

               “There’s nothing we can do for her” Yuna stated the obvious.  The body lay bleeding in the garden, already dead.  Her piece stated, Yuna continued behind the fence and under an outbuilding.

               “But I can save the others,” Jin grit out. It was a promise. To himself. To his father. To the people of Tsushima. Any or all of those.  Though now Jin was thinking of other people… “Lord Shimura was with me on the battlefield.” Jin stated, hoping he didn’t have to make it a direct question.  He followed Yuna under the outbuilding while trying not to be kicked in the face as they crawled through mud.

               Yuna crawled out into open air and breathed deeply, as if putting that messy business behind her, “The Jito?” she practically spit, “Forget him.” Her voice was harsh, it was almost an order and Jin bristled to hear it.

               A Mongolian war horn interrupted his anger.  Jin hated to admit it but in his current state he needed Yuna’s help.  The brief distraction let his manners catch up with his mouth. “Yuna, wait,” Jin implored.  He went to Yuna’s side.  He didn’t want to sound desperate, “Lord Shimura is my uncle.”  He sounded desperate.

               “You’re Jin Sakai, the Jito’s nephew?” Yuna sounded shocked as she approached Jin, trying to get a better look at his face.

               “I have to know...” Jin asked quietly.  He didn’t finish the thought.  He couldn’t say ‘did he survive?’.

               He didn’t have to. “I think so.” Yuna answered his unasked question. “The Mongols took him prisoner.”

               So, less think and more know, Jin thought.  He felt sick and nauseous. His uncle and himself, they were the last two samurai on the island. Jin was the last of his bloodline, and the second to last samurai; he had to rescue his uncle. “Where did they take him?” Jin insisted, he had to know.

               “East, along the coast.” Yuna gave the tactical information with ease and confidence.

               “Towards castle Kaneda.” Jin finished the thought, “They must be holding him inside, celebrating their victory.” Jin knew what he had to do, He would not dishonor his uncle by running like a coward, he would finish the fight, “I could take them by surprise.” Jin prepared to continue through the ruined village.

               “You’ll be killed.” Yuna’s voice made him pause and she motioned Jin back down beside her to wait.

               “Or, I’ll rescue Lord Shimura,”  Jin argued, “Then help him drive the Mongols into the sea.” He didn’t care how much he sounded like a naïve youth, he was determined to finish what the last samurai of Tsushima started; he must defend his home, he must honor his lord.  “He can contact the shogun, call for reinforcements.”  He wasn’t being childish, he had unwavering faith in his uncle- in his lord he quickly corrected the thought.

               “I didn’t nurse you back to health to watch you throw your life away.” Yuna hissed.  She was insistent, dragging him back in to reality. Reality where he was a samurai without a sword saved by a peasant woman who was like a viper in a henhouse. 

‘This woman must have had a motive.’ Jin silently fumed.

               “Why did you save me?” Jin demanded, trying and failing to hide his annoyance. A samurai should be the master his emotions, the fact Jin had failed just annoyed him further.

               “I couldn’t leave you to die.” Yuna said, it was simple, honest, kind. “I need your help.” And there was the catch.

               Jin glared. “Lord Shimura can help our whole island,” he insisted.  He needed her to help him help her, and everyone else. He was a samurai, she owed it to him by rank alone.  Those would be his uncle’s words, and that was the ideology of the samurai.  But Jin sagged under the weight of his own guilty reasons for asking her for this, “He’s the only family I have left.” Jin practically begged.

               Yuna’s face softened for a moment, or maybe that was a trick of the fire light and shadows.  Either way any softness disappeared when there was shouting in Mongolian coming closer to their hiding spot.  Jin knew discretion was the better part of valor, even if he’d hate himself for it in the morning, assuming he lived that long. “Let’s move,” he said.

               They continued between houses and the cliffside. Yuna gestured sharply and whispered “Under here.” Before diving under another shed.  Jin followed her, ducking out of sight into the shadows and the mud.  And yes, it was only mud, not nearly as thick as the blood soaked sand from his nightmare.  Jin shook himself away from that memory only to see a peasant man murdered less than two meters from their hiding spot.

               “Butchers.” Jin sighed, not daring to make any louder sound. He was frozen in place as the man’s eyes met his, the light already gone from them.  This was too familiar. Jin hadn’t moved then. He couldn’t move now. The invader drove a sword deep into the man’s chest, just to make sure he was dead.  Jin couldn’t do anything but stare. His father. His people. He’d failed them all.  Jin was sweating but felt like he’d been doused in ice.

               Yuna had half turned in the cramped space and was tugging at his armor to get him to move, “We can’t help him now.”  She had said something similar previously.  She had this calm around her when they were surrounded by violence and death. Was it practicality?  Or was it her own mantra to survive the repeated trauma?  Jin didn’t know which, nor did he know which he would be more envious of.  They slipped from under the shed, being covered in mud was all the better to mask them from sight as they made their escape.  They sprinted to the edge of a ridge and Yuna pulled Jin behind a fence next to her with a quick warning:

               “Look out!”

               Jin breathed deeply, falling back on tactical assessment so hopefully his muscles would stop shaking and he could ignore the hot and cold chills he hadn’t felt since he was young and first saw death.  “Raiders, armed for battle.” He sounded cold and dispassionate. Good.

               “They’ve been riding across the island.” Yuna explained, “Taking slaves, killing the weak.”

               ‘She would know, she’d been awake for it’, Jin thought. 

               Yuna gestured at a gap, “Through here.” She directed him.  They hid. They ducked across gaps between buildings.  Slinked though an occupied road.  Ignored screams of terror and death. They took to the roofs.

               Jin followed Yuna up, grunting with effort as his arms almost refused to cooperate, trembling with exertion. A Mongol almost spotted him and he hunched over shaking as he crouched on the rooftop. “You climb roofs, scavenge battlefields,” Jin said slowly to get his breathing under control, it finally clicked in to place for Jin, how a peasant woman found him on the beach.  ‘A samurai with a pulse may not have been what she was originally after’, “you’re a thief.”

               Yuna didn’t flinch, “When I need something, I take it.” She stated. And it was a statement, there was no shame in her voice. She must have been looting valuables in the aftermath and decided a live samurai could be of great value if she could keep him that way.  Jin didn’t know whether to be thankful or offended.

               “Like my katana?” that must have been the prize and himself the bonus.  They slipped inside a house, Jin shut the door behind them.

               “I traded it for food and medicine.” Yuna said harshly, sounding defensive for the first time since Jin met her. 

               “You what?!” Jin hissed, barely reminding himself they were in enemy territory and he couldn’t shout at her.  That was his sword, his father’s, his family’s, his clan’s; that sword had a legacy and now it was gone.

               “Don’t worry, we’ll find the buyer, get your sword back.” Yuna spoke to him as if he was a child having a tantrum.  Maybe she had tried to help Jin on the beach…or maybe she was just that good at lying.  Yuna looked back at Jin, he was standing like a statue glaring at her. She turned her back on him and began rummaging through the shelves, “We’ve got a long ride ahead, take whatever you can carry.”

               “This is someone’s house!” Jin protested, still not daring to raise his voice.

               “And. They’re. Not. Coming. Back.” Yuna said, each word hitting Jin like a physical punch.

               So Jin looted. Like a thief.  Jin had already grabbed what appeared to be some useful supplies when he heard it, the enemy was approaching. He could hear the hoofbeats and horses puffing and grunting with effort, they were that close.  War horns echoed through the wooden walls of the ransacked house and there was shouting in Mongolian far too close for comfort.

               Yuna waved at him and crouched low… ‘Like a theif’, Jin thought bitterly.

               “Through here!” Yuna pointed to the swinging grate in the wall at ground level before crawling through. Trusting Jin would follow her. Then again, what choice did he have?  “The man I traded your sword to lives just up ahead.” Yuna said, dashing forward and not noticing the pained grimace Jin made when his back spasmed from standing up again. Yuna stopped at a house with a broken window. A man was hanging half out of it. “Toru, shit, the bastards found him.” Yuna sounded inconvenienced and barely blinked at the corpse. Yuna nodded through the half-occupied window and Jin jumped in while she guarded their way out.

               The Mongols had killed this man. They must have found the sword. Unless he’d hidden it.  Jin noticed a large box of literal junk. Untouched because it was literally junk.  With faint hope he dug through the detritus.  There it was. The shining lacquered finish on the sheath was practically glowing.  Jin lifted it out, reverently.  The weight of his blade was comfortable in his hands. 

               Memories flooded back.  The weight of it.  The weight of the sword the first time he’d lifted it, the weight of his father’s death, his clan’s legacy and bloodline, the expectations of his uncle.  This sword had saved lives and ended wars. Jin needed it to do the same; Jin needed to do the same.  Jin reflected on his sword, on holding it under the tutelage of his uncle, on reciting the virtues of a samurai to his uncle.  “Loyalty to my lord, control of my emotions, honor to fight bravely and uphold the legacy of clan Sakai.” Jin whispered under his breath.  Then without thinking he continued with his uncle’s corrections to Jin’s erroneous recitation, “I serve my lord with courage, integrity, and self-control.”  Jin closed his eyes tightly, holding that memory, “We must set an example for our people by remaining true to our code and to ourselves.  That is the meaning of honor.”  Jin was breathing heavily. He was not close to sobbing. Memories were just heavy, like this sword had been at first.

               Jin was about to tie his katana and tanto in place when he heard it, a voice in Mongolian announcing itself behind him.  Jin was ready, he had his blade and his armor, his opponent only had a spear and no armor. It was an easy fight.

               Yuna jumped through the window when she heard the commotion, but by then it was already over. Jin was flicking blood off his blade to re-sheathe it when she said, “Good, you found your sword.”

               Jin felt refreshed and determined after reflecting on his uncle’s lessons and getting his sword back in his hand.  Any sluggishness in his motions was just from disuse. He would be better by the time they reached his uncle. He had to. But he had to get to his uncle first, and to do that-

               “Where can I find a horse?” Jin asked, new determination coursing through him like fire.

               “The stables aren’t far, this way.” Yuna nodded and again led him out through the floor grate, like a thief.

               “More riders.” Jin observed as they reached the outskirts of the town where the fires were farther apart only because the buildings were too.

               “The island’s crawling with them,” Yuna said flatly, cold and calculating.

               “Where are the stables?” Jin asked again.

               “Behind that burning farmhouse,” Yuna pointed, “follow me.”  To get there they’d have to get past the Mongols. Yuna pulled Jin back when he tried to stand upright, again irritating stiff muscles in his side. “We can get close, slit their throats and kill them without a sound.” Yuna said fiercely.

               “Without honor.” Jin corrected her automatically. “I will not break my code.” He added when Yuna gave him a withering look. Jin stood, strode forward, and fought the small band of Mongols. He did not flinch when his muscles jolted at a particularly strong blow he had to parry.  His form was not off because his arms and shoulder protested raising his sword in to the proper stance form.  And if he did and it was, Yuna certainly didn’t notice.  They looted the bodies. Like thieves, Jin thought again. Then they made for the farmhouse where Jin froze at the screaming.

               “That’s close,” he whispered.

               “We can’t save everyone.” Yuna insisted like she hadn’t said the equivalent repeatedly already; like she wasn’t trying to convince herself.

               She hadn’t convinced Jin, “I’m done running. And I can finally help.” Jin couldn’t save his father, hadn’t saved his uncle on Komoda beach, but he could save this one man.

               “Dammit.” Yuna cursed as Jin advanced towards the shouting. She sighed and he could hear her follow him.

               The shouts became clearer the closer they got, a man’s terrified voice was the only one in Japanese, “Where are you taking me?!”  He didn’t find out. Jin charged forward to kill the Mongols; Yuna backed him up with cover fire from her short bow.  She plucked arrows out of corpses and took what she could from Mongol quivers to replace broken shafts and tattered fletching after the battle.  Jin advised the man to keep of the road as he ran with his infant son for the Golden Temple.

               Once the man was gone Yuna spoke, “You risked your life for them.” She sounded impressed.  Part of Jin wondered what she was really getting at.

               “They couldn’t defend themselves. And I…” Jin paused to get his emotions under control, he had his armor, his katana, he was a samurai dammit, “I can’t let more people die.” Jin hid the unspoken regret at his personal failings from his words.

               Yuna stepped closer, “They’re not the only ones who need you.” She paused, meeting his eyes, this was hard for her, “My brother… The Mongols took him.” The words sounded like they were being pried out of her.

               “That’s why you saved me,” Jin said, it all came together.  This was why she needed him.

               “Taka is my only family.” Yuna dared to raise her voice at Jin.  Her eyes burned with fury that matched the flames of the ruined farmhouse.

               “And Lord Shimura is mine.” Jin matched her tone for tone.  Letting some of his own pain slip in to his words. It was shameful. Lord Shimura would have chastised him for that.  Jin would welcome the criticism if it meant he could have his uncle by his side again.

               “Please,” Yuna wasn’t above begging, “I just want my brother back.” There was a sadness and an urgency in her voice, but Jin wasn’t sure he could believe it.

               “I’ll help you find him, after I save my uncle.” Jin swore, “I promise.”  He was too soft. Ryuzo had always said so.

               “I’m coming with you.” Yuna stated.  Jin really didn’t have a choice.  There may have been a small rational part of his mind hoping she’d kick his legs out from under him and drag him away kicking and screaming to heal before his obvious suicide mission, but for some reason she now had as much faith in him as he had in his uncle.  They moved towards the stables, rushing through what few Mongols were there to guard it and reaching the horses.  The horses were in surprisingly good form and already kitted out in samurai tack.

               “They’re samurai horses, the few we didn’t take in to battle.” Jin finished his assessment of their potential steeds and ran a hand down the flank of the dappled gray.

               “Lucky for us…and them.” Yuna joked.

               “Kage.” Jin whispered his new steed’s new name, and his horse turned his head to nudge him for treats. Jin did have a slightly mealy apple from one of the houses he could offer; Kage didn’t seem to mind the texture.

               They rode, hard, from Komoda town towards castle Kaneda.

Chapter Text

               Jin and Yuna rode hard but kept off the roads.  Despite the difficult terrain and occasional dodging of Mongolian war bands and raiding parties they made good time, it had only taken a few hours, the night was still dark.  Jin sighed once they arrived, “Castle Kaneda.”  Jin felt foolish stating the obvious but he had to break the silence somehow.  It was the first thing they’d said to each other on the journey, other than ‘get down’ or ‘look out’. 

               The rough ride in his half-healed state had been enough to drive most of his logical thinking out the window.  His thighs and groin ached, his core and back muscles screamed in protest, and he felt truly and utterly bone weary after the night’s ride.  The sweat and dust from riding must have started an infection in some half healed wound because Jin was feeling feverish again as he literally slid off his horse.

               “They’re holding your uncle inside,” Yuna said, dismounting her horse much more gracefully.  She surveyed the area, Jin didn’t know if she was doing it seriously or giving him a moment’s privacy to regain his composure.  Being so close to his goal, he didn’t care. Yuna continued, “The walls are too high to climb. We could cause a distraction, sneak in.” She finally turned to him, waiting for his response.

               “No.” Jin grit out as if she’d personally offended him, which she had, “We walk in the front gate. Khotun Khan set fire to our best swordsman.  Humiliated my uncle.  Butchered the warriors of Tsushima.” Jin straightened and lifted his chin with confidence, drawing his resolve around himself like armor, “I’m going to repay his kindness.”

               “By repeating the same mistakes that got your friends killed?” Yuna said managing to combine both sarcasm and sincerity.  It was clear she was calling Jin an idiot.

               “That’s what the Mongols will think. But this time, I’ll strike first.  Wait here until I finish them.” Jin trusted his instincts. He remembered that his uncle had advised against attacking first multiple times in Jin’s youth. But what other choice did he have? Jin had to be honorable. That meant going through the front gate. And unless he wanted an arrow to the face, he’d have to be quick…attack first.

               Yuna must have trusted his instincts too because she did nothing as he walked over the first bridge of castle Kaneda. The gates were open, and why should they be closed when the Mongols had what they thought was the last samurai held prisoner.  The interior of the gateway was illuminated by fire and lit braziers.  Grass blazed in the courtyard, illuminating the Mongolian guards standing watch.

               “I’ve come for Lord Shimura!” Jin shouted as he approached, sword drawn and ready. 

               They fought, Jin’s parries and dodges bringing him uncomfortably close to the flames’ heat.  The smoke and soot choked his lungs as the water on the ground made the stones slick and treacherous.  At least the latter worked to his advantage Jin thought grimly as he swept the last Mongol’s legs out from under him and plunged his sword between the man’s ribs.

               “You did it...” Yuna said, her voice the only signal Jin had to her approach. The flames must have been crackling louder than normal to mask her steps, that or his skills were slipping, he thought resentfully.

               “Don’t sound so surprised,” Jin joked flatly while he cleaned and sheathed his blade. He was sweating, from the exertion and heat of being so close to the bonfires and nothing else.  The autumn winters weren’t cold enough yet to warrant this type of flame.

               Boom.

               Boom.

               Explosions in the distance. The sound from his memories and nightmares.  The fire spitting weapon, the hwacha, from the beach.  The heat from the flames was suddenly too hot, and suddenly too close. The ache in Jin’s legs roared back to life. He was astride his horse when the fire hit, then he was flying through the air, then there was no air in his lungs as he lay winded, leg trapped under his horse.  There was a Mongol approaching him. He’d killed the last one in this area. He couldn’t reach his sword. It was at his side where it belonged. He was going to die. He was going to save his uncle.

               “What’s all that noise?” Yuna asked. Her question breaking Jin out of the past and bringing him fully back to the present.

               “Not sure.” Jin said. He wasn’t shaking.  His hand wasn’t clutching tighter at his sword hilt.  He wasn’t testing his knee to make sure it still bent.  “The Mongols fired them off at the beach.” Jin wasn’t going to let them win. He was going to push through, and save his uncle.  The battled up the stairs.  They fought through the courtyard. It was dark, and cold, and wet, illuminated by only a few lanterns.  Jin’s hands were shaking by the end of it, another group of men were dead and down at his feet.  His muscles were screaming in protest at their abuse before fully recovering.  Jin broke in to a cold sweat, the air was too hot.

               Boom.

               Boom.

               It was the weapon again. “Keep moving. We can’t retreat.” Jin ordered as fire rained down around him. 

               Wait…  They weren’t on Komoda beach; they were in castle Kaneda.  Who was he ordering to do something?

               Jin was slipping back to that battle. That must be why he felt feverish. The flames were too close and it was reminding him of Komoda.  The noise came first again. Then a long lag. Then fire raining down, hot and deadly.  Jin rolled to dodge the onslaught.

               “We can’t keep going!” Yuna shouted, ducking behind a boulder for cover.  It was an order.  Jin wanted to listen, his body felt like it was being pulled by her command.

               “I have to.” Jin said it like a sigh. He had to keep going. Push through.  Save his uncle. Die trying like everyone else on that beach. He joined Yuna behind the rock and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Fall back,” he said.  Her shoulder was so warm, so full of life, she shouldn’t throw it away; that was a samurai’s duty, Jin’s duty.

               “Alone?” Yuna asked.  What she really meant was ‘you’re going to commit suicide?’

               Jin didn’t answer her. He couldn’t.  He had to do this alone.

               “Keep the path clear.” Was his response.  What he said next was both a promise and a lie: “When I find Lord Shimura we’ll need a quick escape.” The ‘if I survive.’ went unsaid.  Yuna must have known he didn’t intend to make it out alive.  But Jin couldn’t think about death, other than it being a distinct possibility. His life no longer mattered. What mattered was saving his uncle.

               “I’ll get the horses ready,” Yuna said, resigning herself to Jin’s stubbornness.

               “Do it.” Jin said, too fast, almost before she’d finished speaking. “If I’m not back soon ride for the forest.”  It was the least he could do in a way. Get her to safety. He almost felt bad for her brother but he couldn’t allow himself think about the future now. Nothing existed beyond rescuing his uncle. Nothing existed beyond surviving the next skirmish. And the next. Until he was again at his lord’s side.

               Jin charged up the path to the main keep, up the stairs, through the Mongol banners that didn’t belong.  It was raining harder as he reached the courtyard.  The braziers at the edge of the bridge were guttering in the wet and the wind.  They illuminated the archers because of course there were archers, and Jin’s back ached with the memory of half healed wounds, but at least there were no more of the flaming projectile launchers. Jin carved his way through the invaders, much more clumsily than he should have; his uncle would be tearing his form to pieces if he could see it.  Jin held it together long enough to dispatch the last archer, slicing through bow and flesh in one swing. Then he gave in to a moment of shuddering  There were no further explosions but he swore he could feel their echo in his bones. He was at once chilled and too warm and every muscle ached. Jin steeled his nerves and prepared to cross the bridge. He was so close now. He couldn’t let himself fail. He’d press onward through sheer force of will and stubborn resolve if he had to.

               Jin charged across the bridge, past Japanese arrows buried in the railing, past broken and shattered barricades.  “Face me!” he shouted, getting the attention of the men posted on the bridge.  The fight ended quickly with Jin victorious, but the battle for him had been waging too long.  His blows had been sloppy, his parry barely quick enough.  He felt like he was dragging his body through natto, sticky stands weighing him down.  His injuries must have been worse than they initially felt. How long had he been recovering?  Long enough for disease to fester? One of his wounds must have gotten infected and now it was in his blood, clouding his thinking.  Was he going to die of sepsis even if he somehow won? He would see a healer…after he’d freed his uncle. Jin stood tall and stepped forward.

               “Khotun Khan!!!” his voice came out less like a roar and more like a shriek.  But Jin wanted to announce that he was not dead, and he wanted the Khan and his uncle to hear.  One last samurai stood, and he would have satisfaction. His challenge must have gotten the Mongols’ attention because the door to Kaneda castle was opening. 

               Jin stood, ready to face death.

               Gold armor glittered in the darkness.  Jin recognized the armor and the man who wore it from Komoda beach. It was the Khan.  He was a wall of solid muscle and healthy fat in a tall broad frame made only larger by thick armor plates. His face was illuminated by the torches and flaming detritus in the castle courtyard, he looked amused.  Jin wanted nothing more than to cut that smirk off his face.

               “I am Jin Sakai, nephew of Lord Shimura.” Jin pronounced, cleaning his blade of the guards’ gore dramatically on his sleeve.  He fell in to a fighting stance with his now clean blade pointing at the Khan, “I have come to avenge his honor.”

               The corners of Khotun’s eyes wrinkled, the amused smirk became a smile and the invader had the audacity to laugh.  It was a warm chuckle, like he’d just told a good joke over dinner. The gates of the castle swung open further to reveal Lord Shimura being walked forward, hands tied behind his back.  Jin gasped, his uncle was right there.  He was alive.  He appeared unharmed.  He was so close.  All Jin had to do is defeat the Khan.  He wanted to cry out, he wanted to cry, but he restricted himself to a gasp, he had to remain in control of his emotions until he’d killed the Khan.

               “Your uncle has told me much about you, Jin Sakai.” The Khan had his voiced raised to be heard halfway across the bridge, but his tone remained light, jovial.

               Jin’s ears were ringing with his own hammering pulse, the air was echoing with the crackling of flames and Jin’s hot burning rage, how dare those barbarians lay a hand on the Jito.  But boiling rage alone couldn’t sustain him and Jin stepped back.  It was certainly a step, not a stagger.  He was not weak, and he couldn’t fail now.  But he’d be lying if he said the Khan’s casual tone didn’t scare him.

               The Khan continued, “I will show him his nephew,” Lord Shimura’s expression wavered at those words, as if the coming threat was something he’d heard before, he almost looked the way he had the day of Jin’s father’s funeral, like he felt bad for the future Jin must endure alone. “broken, and humiliated,” The Khan turned away from Jin as he spoke, as if he was still the inconsequential child he had been that day, to fully face Lord Shimura. “begging to join the Mongol empire.” He was standing so close, staring in to Lord Shimura’s eyes like they were having a private conversation, but by then Jin could see only the stony carefully schooled expression of a trained samurai fully in control of his emotions on Lord Shimura’s face.  Jin wished he could be that calm. But something in the Khan’s words terrified him. Then the wind changed. And Jin knew why.

               The air around him reeked with the stench of burning, smokey pine forests of the north, and ‘alpha’. Jin was wet. The Khan’s words had been twisting his stomach in knots and now Jin knew it wasn’t just revulsion.  It was heat.  His muscle aches, his shaking limbs, his nausea, the brain fog, how had he not noticed he had been going in to heat? How long had he been out? Long enough for most of his cycle to pass and now…now he wouldn’t mind the Khan breaking him.  Jin wanted to drop to his knees at the word ‘begging’, he’d beg however the Khan wanted him to if he could just get that cock. His gut clenched and he felt mucous leaking out of him to soak his fundoshi.  Shit. The Khan was an alpha and his scent had kicked Jin over the edge in to a full heat.  This was even more of a suicide mission because now, instead of ‘avenge your uncle’, Jin’s brain was screaming ‘Alpha! I submit! Fuck me!’ over his rational brain’s cries of ‘Kill the bastard and run’. 

               There was one thing his uncle had drilled in to Jin as a headstrong youth, a samurai acts with honor, not emotion. That meant coldly and dispassionately dispatching your enemies, not letting feeling get in the way, and most definitely not omegas fighting while in heat or alphas fighting while in rut.  And here was Jin, ignoring every rule. He’d disappointed his uncle…again.  But there was no time for self-loathing now.  Jin was weak. His control was slipping. He opened his mouth to shout a battle cry and charge forward.

               “Jin.” His uncle stopped him with a word. It was a reprimand. Quiet and sincere. A reminder to control his emotions.  Jin felt cold guilt knot in his stomach. He had no time for emotions when he must face the Khan.  But being in full heat meant he was nothing but a ball of hormones and emotions, or more accurately one single emotion; lust.

               The Khan again chuckled, finding humor in Jin’s discomfort and his uncle’s single word scolding.  The chuckle became a proper laugh as, without a word from the Khan, Lord Shimura was dragged away from the gates as the Khan stepped forward through them. The gates closed with a hard finality. “This is your time Lord Sakai.” He said, his voice rich and deep with mirth and confidence.  That voice alone could make Jin come if the amount of slick leaking through his fundoshi onto his thighs was any indication.

               Jin’s eyes were wide, dazed as the dazzling firelight from the courtyard was blocked out and he needed to readjust.  He couldn’t focus because his thoughts were preoccupied with all-consuming need for the alpha now stalking slowly toward him. The Khan had been laughing; he was acting like this was a friendly sparring match, like his life wasn’t in danger.

               ‘Does he know?’ Jin panicked.  Had the wind shifted to bring Jin’s scent to the massive alpha, his humiliation clear for the Khan and his uncle to smell on the air?  Jin was running a thousand scenarios through his head.  He pursed his lips briefly before he resorted to breathing through his mouth in an effort to block out the burning stench of alpha; it didn’t work, now he could taste the Khan. Jin stood still. Waiting. Like his uncle taught him.

               The Khan advanced, his guandao low and ready but his pace slow and relaxed, “Come here, little bird.”

               Those words made Jin’s stomach roll. He was not a little bird and he would not allow himself to be called a pet name. He’d be the Khan’s little bird and let the man stuff him however he likes. Jin thought both things simultaneously.  The fog of heat was making him sweat, his body completely wet all over.  He waited.  Jin kept his eyes on the Khan’s muscular legs, waiting for him to move to strike. He kept his eyes on the Khan’s spear and which direction it would come from though his heat scrambled brain kept thinking he should watch a different spear and let it penetrate him instead.  Jin had to remind himself that the delicious smell of flaming pine was not what he wanted, that he was going to eviscerate the alpha, not the other way around, and not in a sexy way thank you very much heat Jin’s brain.

               “Your uncle is watching.” The Khan taunted. But Jin wasn’t going to react. He would wait. Like his uncle wanted, and not because he couldn’t trust his own body.  The Khan continued advancing, he was close enough now. Jin struck. His blade was deflected. He dodged, got in a strike on armor, and had to dodge the Khan’s next swing with the back of his guandao.  Jin steeled himself and waited for the opportune moment.

               His strike was intercepted.

               For a man so large the Khan was fast. And under the thick plate armor he was clearly well muscled, Jin could see it up close; with their weapons locked together he could feel it, neither one of them would let their weight off their blades.

               “Submit, Lord Sakai.” The Khan said, his voice was harsh now, but not with effort. He was not panting, not struggling, not breathing through his mouth; while Jin’s muscles were trembling with effort the Khan was still as stone despite the exertion.  They were so close to each other, breathing the same air.

               ‘Did he mean? He couldn’t know’, but the Khan had to smell Jin’s heat, Jin could feel the fear and lust flash through his eyes despite himself. The pheromones of Jin’s heat were rolling off him in waves and the Khan’s words had a fresh wave of mucous rolling down Jin’s legs, it felt disgustingly cool against his feverish skin, thick and wet. ‘Like the Khan’s cock’ Jin’s heat brain unhelpfully supplied.

               Regardless of if the Khan knew, “I’ll slit your throat!” Jin snarled out as he shoved his blade harder against the Khan’s spear, feeling for any give, any indication which way the Khan would turn to give Jin his opening. The fight continued. In a way the physical discomfort of his limbs and wet skin, his lubrication slicking its way down his thighs and soaking his hakama, served to keep Jin grounded.  Despite his body screaming that he should be a good little bird and roll over and submit to the Khan, the heat was a blessing because Jin’s hyperawareness of the stench of alpha let him track the Khan even as his vision started to swim and his other senses dulled.

               The battle continued.  How was the Khan not tired? That spear was huge and heavy. ‘so’s his other spear.’ Jin’s heat brain unhelpfully supplied. Every deflection of the guandao rattled Jin’s weary muscles to his core and exhausted him more.  Maybe that’s why when he stabbed the Khan his blade missed. His muscles were fatigued, he was losing coordination and strength.  He was only one man against a mountain. But he could not give up.  He turned his self-loathing at his biology, at his lust addled heat brain, into anger at the Khan; not that he needed another reason to hate the man.  With the last of his resolve Jin unleashed a last ditch flurry of strikes.  None landed home.  Jin’s heat was dulling his reflexes, his aim was off and his muscles not cooperating the way they should.  Jin’s blade bounced off Mongolian made plate armor and the khan didn’t even flinch.  Jin didn’t realize they’d traded positions in the heat of combat, that the wind was to his back now; but he realized the moment the Khan caught his scent.

               The Khan’s spear thrust forward. The Khan was pressing his advantage. ‘he’ll be pressing something else soon.’ Jin’s fevered brain added. Jin couldn’t block the blow, it connected with his stomach, winding him. Jin’s armor was well and truly ruined now, it couldn’t take another hit and the damage it sustained on his behalf was the only reason his guts weren’t spilling out on the bridge.  The Khan knew it too. Jin could hear the Khan sharply inhaling the air around Jin’s neck as he was bent over from the blow.  Just the thought of being scented forced out another wave of slick.  Jin’s stomach knotted in revulsion.  The Khan put the picture together.

               Jin was fucked, ‘yeah, you will be!’ his heat brain shouted. 

               But for some reason the Khan stepped back and gave Jin breathing room.

               “Enough, surrender.” Khotun Khan’s voice was soft, almost kind now that he wasn’t raising it to be heard across half a courtyard and bridge.  He almost sounded… reasonable.

               Jin didn’t want to surrender, ‘yes you do!’ his body screamed.  He staggered backwards. Just because the stab didn’t gut him didn’t mean it didn’t do damage; it hurt.  Between the injury and his heat, his stomach was cramping so painfully he wanted to double over again or curl in to a ball on the ground.  Thankfully the bridge railing was behind him. Jin didn’t care that he was sagging on it with all his weight, that he couldn’t stand on his own, that he was broken and in the humiliating position of being too weak. At least he was upright even though his legs couldn’t support his weight let alone let him walk or fight.

               “You fight me in heat?” The Khan’s voice was still low, keeping this filthy secret between them, “Are you trying to lose? Or do you want to be caught and pumped full of my seed, little bird?” The Khan asked. His voice was soft. Again, Jin wondered how The Khan wasn’t winded from their fight.  Was he that good, or was Jin in heat just that weak? 

Jin’s heat knew the answer, ‘Yes!  He’s so good and he’ll be better once he’s inside you!’

               The Khan slowly began to close the distance between them now that Jin looked properly cowed from combat and heat induced lust. “Show you uncle how easily he can bring peace to your home.” The Khan’s voice rang with sincerity and the slightest hint of command. 

               It would be so easy…to just submit.  To just lie back and think of Tsushima. Jin wanted to believe him. Jin looked past the Khan, letting his eyes crawl upwards to the battlements. His uncle was there, still bound and watching this…his defeat, his humiliation. Jin’s eyes were dazed, by the rain and exhaustion with his pupils blown wide from the heat and trying to see in the dim light, he must have looked a mess.  That’s when the wind changed. Jin could see his uncle’s expression change too. Jin lowered his eyes.  There was no hiding the situation from his uncle now. No hiding his shame.  And the Khan’s expression changed as he watched Jin’s face and felt the wind change himself and put together the full situation too.

               “Come here, little bird.” The Khan whispers the order so only Jin can hear it.

               Jin reared back, his weight fully against the bridge railing, leaning as far over it away from the Khan as possible.

               He didn’t want this.  He didn’t want this.  He didn’t want the Khan. He couldn’t speak an answer for fear of his voice betraying him.

               The Khan stepped closer, “Save yourself.” He purred, his voice so low now that certainly only Jin could hear him, and he could hear the soft thread of an order weaving through the words. 

               Jin wanted to obey.  And Jin wanted to be saved. He didn’t want to die. That thought shouldn’t surprise him so much but it did. But he didn’t want the Khan.

               The Khan was close enough now, leaning forward like a confidant, like a fool getting within Jin’s striking distance.

               Jin slashed his blade in a desperate upwards arc, it glanced off the Khan’s armor and across his face.  Damn Jin’s fatigue for making it such a weak blow.  Jin only had a moment to savor the sight of blood on the Khan’s face when he turned his head back to glare at Jin. The Khan brought his spear down with the added force of unthinking fury. Jin was still clinging desperately to the railing so he didn’t go to his knees when he blocked the blow. Thankfully the Khan’s rage made him sloppy and Jin had time to deflect the first strike. The Khan twisted his weapon and the second blow came down for Jin’s head. Jin barely managed to lift his sword in time. The force of the blow was enough to shock Jin’s shoulder in to temporary disuse.  He was helpless as the Khan advanced, roaring like an injured bear. Khotun Khan didn’t use his weapon then, but his bare hand to strike.

               Jin’s neck was in the Khan’s hand, his back no longer against the railing but above it. The Khan was lifting him by his neck and the weight of Jin’s body dangling combined with the grip around his throat was enough to make Jin feel faint. He was going to strangle Jin, or throw Jin to his death. Jin was certain of it.  But the Khan must have caught his scent again because he paused, a grin slipping across his face as he slowly leaned forward to rub his own blood against Jin’s cheek and whisper in his ear.

               “Submit, little bird,” The Khan ordered.  

               Jin was lightheaded enough he couldn’t resist. He felt himself go limp. It was the lack of oxygen he hoped, and not lust for the Khan’s cock. The Khan must have felt him go pliant because he leaned the rest of his body in now, putting his full weight on Jin against the bridge railing.

               “What a victory for me, to have you pregnant and full of my children. What a sign of my utter conquest of this island.” The Khan whispered against Jin’s ear, his breath hot and wet and making Jin’s core clench around nothing, spasming down like it was milking an imaginary cock.  Jin was pinned between the Khan’s body and the railing, splintered wood digging sharply in to the backs of his thighs as yet more slick poured out to drip through Jin’s ruined undergarments and make more of a mess of his pants. The Khan’s hand gripped tighter around Jin’s throat, whether to dangle him further over the bridge or draw him closer Jin didn’t know. The Khan raised his voice to be clearly heard by those back in the courtyard and battlements, “You will be on your knees, broken and humiliated, begging to bear the next generation of my empire.  Begging for me.”

               Even without the wind exposing his state to his uncle, the threat in the Khan’s words made his meaning obvious.  Curse the man for speaking fluent Japanese.  How humiliating.  And the thought of being taken, filled, and conquered was making Jin even more aroused in his heat addled state. But he didn’t want this. Jin cried silently, tears slipping from the corners of his eyes with shame and lust.  His lower half ached with how empty it was and his legs felt like soft tofu.  If not for the Khan’s hand on his throat he’d sink to the ground.  ‘The perfect position to suck a cock’ his heat hazed mind unhelpfully added.  But he didn’t want the Khan. He wanted…something else that was getting further away as the heat took hold and his head swam.

               The Kahn somehow got closer, pressing armor to armor and skin to skin, huffing the scent of Jin in heat and licking the tears from his face, ready to rub in his victory and Jin’s utter helplessness.  ‘He can rub something else too’, Jin’s heat filled brain crowed. The grip on his throat combined with Jin’s heat and proximity to an alpha was making reality fade, Jin was losing consciousness. Then Jin felt it through the armor between them. A hard cock, shoving and rutting against his thigh. It was rubbing against him.

               But. Jin. Didn’t. Want. This.

               With a final delirious surge of energy Jin lifted his legs, and kicked.  Whether his blow connected with the Khan’s groin as intended or if it was just the shock of sudden movement from his prey the Khan gave a final enraged roar and shoved, letting go.  Jin felt wood scrape along the backs of his legs, then nothing.  Despite his heat and the attempted rape he had only one thought on his mind as he fell: 

               “I failed. again.”

Chapter Text

               “I failed. Again.” Jin thought as he fell.

               He could clearly see his failures laid out like a set of ink paintings on the wall of his life. His father’s death while he hid like a coward. Every mistake during his sword training under Lord Shimura.  That horrible drunken escapade with the Nagao archers where he’d been nude and pronounced ‘a true samurai needs no cloths’.  Not dying with them at Komoda beach. Failing to save his uncle when he didn’t die on Komoda beach. Going in to heat while failing to save his uncle.  Lusting for the Khan.

               Jin felt the impact of slamming in to hard water. Then nothing.

 

               Jin was floating in the ocean again.

               Wait.

               He couldn’t breathe.

               Jin threw his head back and gasped air.  He wasn’t swimming in blood; this was normal salt water.  His limbs felt like lead but he moved them anyway.  Thank goodness Yuriko had taught him and Ryuzo how to swim as boys, he didn’t have to focus on the mechanics of how, just on keeping his head above the surf.  Instinct took hold to get his body to safety while Jin’s mind drifted with the tide.

               Jin staggered on to the beach, numbly, woodenly, like a dead man walking. Agony was written on his face but he couldn’t feel it, he couldn’t feel anything.  Jin fell to his knees.  He then lurched forward on to his hands.  He was shaking and barely held himself up.  Jin couldn’t think.  There was something important.  He couldn’t remember.  The ocean waves crashed and roared rhythmically in front of him.

               Roaring. The Khan had been roaring as he threw Jin off the bridge.  Why? Jin had wanted him. No, he hadn’t.  Jin’s guts cramped, he fell from his hands to his elbows in the sand, hard grit clinging to wet fabric and skin. Right, Jin was in heat.  He’d gone in to heat trying to save-

               Lord Shimura.

               Jin had failed. Again.  Now what?

               Jin slipped his Katana from its place and used it to haul himself back to a kneeling position.  He stared at the sword, things starting to come back in to focus.  He didn’t know what to do now. He was alone again.  Jin contemplated his father’s sword, his father’s legacy, “Father, how do I save him?”

               Jin felt like he sat there for an eternity, numb in the wane light of dawn.  Then he felt a chill.  The wind stirred and blew in off the ocean, forcefully, pulling and tugging at him.  It whipped sand against him, pushing him onward.  What was it Yuriko had said when he was a child?  That his father’s spirit would always be there, like the wind at his back.  Jin had asked for guidance.  He would take it.

               Jin dragged himself up by his father’s sword, first to kneeling, then to a standing position.  How he managed that he’d never know, by all rights his bones should have shattered from that fall.  Everything hurt, but it wasn’t the ache of broken bones; just bruised and battle weary muscles with the painful overwhelming sensation of unsatisfied heat.  No wonder it was called heat. Despite the cold morning wind chilling his skin he felt like he was sitting in the middle of a fire.

               ‘Follow the wind.’

               Jin staggered forward with the wind at his back.  His head was swimming, first in the ocean, then through sand, over grass, and finally into the trees.  The world floated in front of him as he dragged himself away from Castle Kaneda and everything he wanted; his uncle, the Khan.

               ‘You don’t want the Khan, you just want a cock’ the rational part of his mind finally spoke.

               ‘Yes! The Khan’s cock! Alpha cock!’ his heat was still burning strong.  And Jin hated that thoughts of the Khan made his stomach clench that way and slick run down his legs anew. Everything was wet with salt water and now self-lubrication.

               ‘Dammit Jin, think with your brain and not your genitals for five fucking seconds,’ Jin silently cursed, as he nearly tripped over a root and the noise startled some nearby deer. His logical brain said the Khan was evil, a powerful enemy who had to be taken out, for Tsushima, his uncle, and all the samurai who’d died. His heat brain only screamed ‘Alpha, alpha, alpha, pin me and take me now!’  Jin was not going to roll on his back for that bastard, even if he wanted to. Even if back on the bridge he would have.

               His uncomfortable thoughts were interrupted by a voice. A familiar voice. “Move. Come on!” It took too long for Jin to realize who it was as he stumbled forward.

               “Yuna?” Jin asked dully as he shoved through some underbrush to be in the clearing with her. She was standing in the tall grass near the crossroads with three horses in hand, her head turned when she heard his voice.  She had been waiting for him. She had expected him.  That thought warmed his heart, that Yuna believed in him that much, like he was some samurai of legend who actually could storm a castle single handedly and walk away alive.  Though, he guessed in a way he had. Even if he currently wished he hadn’t.  Every part of him burned and ached; his head was cloudy with fever and the longer it went on the more he wished he was dead.  Unexpected heats were torture.

               Yuna ran forward a few steps, “Jin! What happened?” She stopped short, “You reek!”

               She must have caught his scent. The wind was blowing right at her. Jin huffed out a single laugh before his legs gave out.  Despite his stench Yuna was there, catching him and supporting most of his weight, again.

               “I found Lord Shimura,” he began, “I could have saved him,” sounding like a small child with the words being ripped from his throat “but the Khan was there- and I…” venom colored his words then, bitter with hate at the Khan and himself, and full of regret.  Jin took a shaking inhale, “I failed my uncle.” Jin choked, about to break down.

               “At least you’re in one piece.” Yuna held him by the shoulders and gave him a small shake so he could get his feet back under him.  She must be able to tell from his scent that he and the Khan hadn’t…done what his body demanded he do. So yes, he was in one piece, and he had to stay strong.

               “I swore to protect this island with my life. But now the Mongols have stolen our home.  Killed our samurai.” Jin was going to be strong. But how? He was weak, and he’d not only lost to the Khan he’d almost let himself be taken by the man, mounted like a broodmare.

               Yuna stared at him. Her gaze was hard and cold. “You forgot what it’s like to fight someone stronger than you. To feel weak.” He’d seen that look before, on himself and other samurai as they stared a defeated enemy in the eye before cutting them down.  Yuna was being dispassionate and ruthless, “When you’re staring death in the face, you have to do whatever it takes to survive.” Jin appreciated her honesty and her insight.

               “The Khan expects to fight a war against the samurai. He will anticipate our every move.” Jin was slowing his breaths to match Yuna’s, meeting her gaze, absorbing her calm. “Unless we find new ways to surprise him.” Jin could think clearly now. “That’s how we’ll save Lord Shimura and retake our home.”

               Yuna held his gaze, grounding him, as she said, “We’ll need some help-” Her head snapped away as she broke eye contact, “Riders!”

               “The Khan’s attack dogs!” Jin snarled as he cursed himself for not hearing the horses.  He did hear the war horn though and it was dangerously close.

               “There’s too many of them! Hide! In the grass!” Yuna hissed, dragging Jin bodily down to crouch hidden in the pampas grass.

               The wind that had been so helpful before remained so as it changed direction and kept Jin’s omega-in-heat scent downwind of their pursuers.  This was good because it meant they were effectively hiding; the wind even carried the Mongolians’ shouting though the only intelligible word was ‘Samurai’. This was also bad because at least one of the Mongols was an alpha, and that smell drove out any bit of rational thought Jin had managed to cling to.  Jin stifled a groan as cramps ripped through his body. His heat was in full force and he couldn’t suppress his reactions any longer. His body was screaming. He needed a dick. Now.

               Yuna had her hand clamped over his mouth like a vice and was physically restraining him as the Mongols surrounded them.  They were upwind, they were just beyond the grasses to the left and right, they were searching for something.  Jin was shivering and feverish at once, not knowing if he wanted to collapse or run as the mystery alpha sat on horseback mere meters away.  He smelled delicious, Jin wanted to bury his face in the source of that scent and suck that cock before it fucked him, that alpha could keep saying whatever he wanted in Mongolian and Jin wouldn’t care.  Just hearing that voice and smelling that scent was enough to make Jin writhe and whine; Yuna’s hand stifling the sound was their only protection from being discovered.  The sexy alpha’s voice stopped and the scent moved away.  Their conference over the Mongolians parted ways, taking all the roads down towards the coast searching for-

               “They must be searching for you.” Yuna shoved Jin away and rubbed her hands like she was trying to dust off Jin’s scent. She glanced around and frowned, “Bastards scared off the horses.”

               Jin’s mouth opened and closed several times before he could force air out to make words. “They’re samurai mounts, trained to return to their masters.” Jin unsteadily stood and, relying on muscle memory, whistled the right note.  Like magic the horses returned, weaving between the trees.

               “Nice trick.” Yuna mused. She nodded at Jin and pinched her nose, then looked towards the beach, “The Mongols must be hunting you.  We need to move.”

               Jin spoke without thinking, “We should split up, I’ll draw their attention while you-”

               “You’re in heat, we don’t split up.” Yuna grabbed Jin by the back of the neck and he went pliant.  She shoved him towards the horses, “Can you ride in this state?” She was having none of his noble sacrifice nonsense.

               Jin nodded, then he collapsed against Kage’s dappled gray side.  Words felt beyond him.  Apparently so was muscle coordination because he couldn’t reach the stirrup or pull himself up.

               “You’re sure you can ride?” Yuna asked incredulously.

               “They’re samurai horses,” Jin numbly repeated. As if that explained anything. “They’re trained to carry samurai, even incapacitated riders.”

               Yuna gave him an inscrutable look but supported his feet and half lifted half shoved him up into the saddle. Jin sagged bonelessly for a moment, sliding against the leather of the saddle.  That was a sensation he most certainly wasn’t going to think of against his crotch, he needed to focus on staying on his horse, not getting off.  Jin gripped the front of the saddle with both hands and trusted Kage would follow Yuna.  Like the well-trained samurai horse he was, Kage did.

               Yuna brought both horses up to a trot, looking over her shoulder to make sure Jin was keeping up.  He was feeling nauseous, horny, and incredibly glad his balls retracted internally during heat because there was no way he could post properly in his current state. Despite that, he held on as Kage bounced him down the road at a ground eating trot.  Even the regular jolts couldn’t keep Jin coherent after a while and he slipped back in to heat induced stupor.  They went on like that for some time.  When Kage broke in to a canter Jin came out of his heat haze only enough to grip the saddle pommel harder, a fall in his current state would definitely crack his skull open.  They continued down roads and across the wooded countryside, Jin could feel his grip slackening when the horses finally slowed.

               Kage was taking them downslope, first Jin’s feet were wet, then his legs.  The next thing Jin knew was Yuna pulling him out of the saddle and into a river.  She’d already dismounted and was supporting him in the chest deep water.

               “What?” he asked unintelligently, getting his feet settled on the loose rocks of the riverbed.

               “We’ve put some distance between us and Kaneda, but with you in full heat I wouldn’t be surprised if those Mongol dogs track you by scent.” Yuna explained bluntly.

               Jin couldn’t object. She was right.

               “Come on,” Yuna sighed and grabbed his arm.  Her hands were hot as fire even as the cold water made him shiver. “We’ll mask your scent and confuse the trail by keeping to the river.  I know a place we can hide.  It’s surrounded by pine to hide your heat scent while you ride this out,” Yuna explained as she started to drag Jin bodily down the river away from their horses.

               “You sound like you’ve done this before,” Jin laughed.  The stress of an unresolved heat was making him delirious.  The tiny rational part of his mind that remained was glad to have Yuna around to guide him.  He needed someone with a clear head with him now, he didn’t know what would happen otherwise.

               ‘Yes you do!  Gangbang with Mongolian raiders!’ and even if his heat brain thought that sounded like a perfect plan the scrap of his mind that was still Jin Sakai would rather be dead.

               Yuna grunted like she didn’t want to answer him, then she did, “Taka is an Omega.”

               Jin nodded silently and kept following Yuna upstream.  His mind was still contemplating that previous scenario with the Mongolian raiding party.

               “Two orphan peasants saying no to an alpha in rut…” Yuna let the end of the sentence hang.

               Shit, Jin had missed the beginning of that story, “So you would hide.” Jin was slow on the uptake, why was he repeating obvious things.  Right.  Because with every step the urge to stop running and get filled with cock was growing ever larger.

               ‘Ha, larger like a cock!’ his brain laughed at its own wit.

               “When we needed to get away from that, or when Taka was in heat and needed to be alone.” Yuna explained.  Then she paused, her hand tightening its grip on Jin’s arm where she’d been dragging him up the river.  Without a word she pulled him to deeper water and shoved him fully underwater before joining him.

               Jin stupidly let out a gasp as he went under and the air bubbles rushing to the surface temporarily obscured his vision.  He opened his eyes in the clear stream water and saw Yuna gesturing sharply in front of them.  Upriver then.  Jin barely raised his head above water, just high enough to breath and observe there were bandits on the bridge ahead.  Better than Mongols but not by much.  Jin quickly assessed their numbers. In his current state he couldn’t take them.

               ‘Oh yes you could!’ his heat brain happily added.  Jin couldn’t ask Yuna to risk herself for his sake.  Jin opened his mouth to say something noble and self-sacrificial and not at all motivated by his heat.

               Yuna must have seen his face because she dragged him underwater again and kicked off the riverbed, dragging them both downstream with the current to retreat.

               Jin whined but underwater it came out as more gurgling.

               Yuna pulled them both out of the water once they were several meters away and less likely to be seen.  “You are in full heat you idiot!” Yuna hissed at him and continued before he could protest, “Shut up and follow me!” Yuna had him by the arm and the nape of his neck and Jin was going soft and pliant again in that grip.

               Jin felt like the heat from his body was enough to warm the river before Yuna dragged him out of it.  She hauled him across the road leading towards the bridge, and yanked Jin back on course when he began straying in that direction.  They began ascending a root strewn slope.  Yuna was doing most of the ascending, and hauling Jin’s uncooperative carcass up the hillside with her.  Jin normally would have been climbing with ease but his body was alternating between burning and freezing from his heat and the fully clothed swim in the river.  His legs weren’t cooperating and he was tripping over his own feet in addition to each root they had to step over.

               Finally, they reached a sheer cliff and Yuna only half glanced at the easy handholds on the rock face before she turned to look at Jin and started shoving him up a treacherous switchback trail instead.  Jin’s pride was wounded but even in his dazed state he agreed with her decision, it was hard enough to stay with her on the narrow and barely worn trail.  Climbing a vertical grade would have been impossible.  If he hadn’t known the switchback was there, he’d never have been able to follow it.  Yuna was doing most of the work of keeping him on the path, and supporting half his weight.  Again, Jin had no trouble imagining how she’d dragged his half dead body out of Komoda beach; this woman was a beast.

               Jin and Yuna continued their ascent and the trees turned from golden ginkgo and beech to evergreen pine and yew.  The air became fresh and crisp with the sharp scent.  Unfortunately to Jin’s biology addled brain it reminded him of the Khan.  Jin stumbled as he was wracked with another wave of lust, cramps, and that horrible empty feeling.  Jin had thought his legs were soaked from their river swim, now he realized that it was slick dampening his cloths and making his hakama stick as more poured out of him.  Jin was well and truly getting desperate.

               “Ugh,” Yuna grunted in disgust, “Whatever you’re thinking about please don’t tell me.”  She didn’t let go or shove him away though, just kept dragging him up the slope and pulling him over boulders as the trail got more steep. “And try to keep it in your pants before you stink enough to alert everyone on the island that we’re hiding up here.” She groaned.

               “Is it that strong?” Jin panted between the exertion of the climb and his heat.  He was trying to get his legs working as they neared the summit.

               “Yes.” Yuna deadpanned, “I’m a beta and I can smell you clear as day.”

               Jin was dragged over the last boulder, then down between two others and out a narrow gap; he’d been to Inari shrines that were easier to reach than this place.  As he took in the view he couldn’t appreciate how gorgeous it was, all he wanted was for someone to take him.  There was a red maple shedding its leaves over a steaming hot spring with a slight sulfurous scent that did nothing to mask the aroma of pine that surrounded them.   The conifers swept away from the base of the sheer cliff downslope, eventually giving way to the golden and multicolored radiance of the season that flowed across the horizon.  It was a beautiful view that would only be better if someone was fucking him.  They could do it against the rocks and boulders that formed the other side of this clearing.  There was no way in or out other than through that narrow boulder cave or the sheer cliff.  Jin and his imagined mate would be completely uninterrupted.  He could get dicked down to his heart’s content.  Jin could see why an omega wanting privacy would come here; Taka, Yuna, whoever had found this place was a genius.

               Jin’s legs gave out and he rolled on the ground, ignoring the dirt sticking to his still damp cloths.

               Yuna looked down at him and heaved a sigh, “Bathe and get yourself off.”  Yuna pointed to the buckets neat the spring Jin could use to bathe with before soaking in the soothing water.  “I’ll go get us enough food to last through your heat.” She was all business, unaffected by Jin’s pheromones.  

               “Uh.” Jin paused. He was beyond words. Almost beyond rational thought.  Now that he wasn’t moving his heat was in full effect and he wanted to keep laying on the ground in misery until someone came along and fucked him.  “How…am I supposed to get off?” He managed to make one cohesive sentence. That was a victory.  Jin curled in to a fetal position in celebration.

               Yuna rolled her eyes, “Use your imagination, find a dildo.”

               Jin was in pain. Jin was on his last nerve. He was not going to be toyed with about sex right now, “I left my sex toys in my other hakama.  What kind of person carries a dildo around? I didn’t know I was going in to heat!” Anger apparently made him coherent.

               “You’re an idiot,” Was all Yuna said.  She walked over to him and bent down to pull his katana and tanto from their places to hold them aloft.  Yuna suggestively ran a hand down the sheath.  “This looks appropriately phallic; don’t some men call their cocks a sword?” She cocked her head at him and tossed down the weapons, “That’s all the help you’ll get from me.  Now deal with yourself and when I get back you had better be here, alone, and well fucked so you can focus on what’s important.”

               Getting a real dicking was what Jin’s heat brain thought was most important.  But Jin’s heat brain was a horny slut.  He knew Yuna had a point, and it was a good one, but his heats were bad.  He couldn’t break them with a few orgasms like some lucky omegas.  He needed a knot and semen inside him if his heat was going to be over in anything less than five days.  But before he could say that Yuna was gone.  Damn. Now he was alone, and horny, and looking at his father’s sword in a way he never had before.

Chapter Text

               Yuna had left Jin alone by a beautiful hot spring.  Jin couldn’t appreciate it because he was curled fetal clutching his father’s sword desperately because it was the only thing he could squeeze right now that wouldn’t hurt.

               Yun had left him alone and horny and desperate in a way he hadn’t been since his very first heat took him by surprise.  Jin wished Ryuzo would come save him the way he had during that first heat.  Jin wished anyone would come give him relief.  His core clenched around nothing and Jin swore he could feel his walls rubbing together.  He needed something inside him. Someone. Anyone.

               The wind changed and blew in from the cliff, carrying the scent of pine.  All that was missing was the smell of burning and it would be like the Khan was there.  Jin could almost image the smokey scent that would accompany the pine musk signaling his alpha’s arrival.  The Khan was a big man but he’d be able to squeeze through the cave.  If Ryuzo had made it up to Jin’s room from the outside of Castle Shimura on the rooftops, the Khan could make it up a mountain.  Alphas could do amazing things when getting to an omega in heat.

               Jin writhed and rolled on to his back at the thought of being desired, hunted, and claimed.

               He’d rolled on to his back when Ryuzo had snuck in to his room back then.  He’d been curled up in agony, a sex toy borrowed from one of the kitchen girls doing nothing to slake his lust.  He’d had so many orgasms and been touching himself too long, soaking his fingers in slick to the point the skin had pruned, and still he’d gotten no relief.  When Ryuzo had appeared Jin had literally cried with relief. 

               Ryuzo had smelled like iron and warm spice.  Nothing like the Khan.

               Jin heard a branch crack.  Normally logic would say it was the wind, or an animal moving in the trees.  This far in heat it could only be one thing.  An alpha, his alpha: the Khan.  Jin had to move, had to do something to get himself some relief.  He had to be ready for his alpha.  Jin was still wearing his armor.

               Jin struggled with the ties, ripping and pulling futilely at them to no avail.  His fingers weren’t coordinated enough in his current state, his body wouldn’t do what he wanted. Jin snarled in frustration and rolled on the ground. Digging dirt in to his armor plates and his hair.  He continued to roll and struggle with the ties of his armor, only succeeding in rubbing dirt against his face and ultimately ending with his cheek to the ground and his ass in the air, panting desperately.  ‘Shit. This pose…’ his brain screamed for an alpha to see him like this.  The pine smell was strong, masking his own scent and that of anyone approaching. This actually could be a dangerous situation but Jin didn’t care, wouldn’t care as long as whoever came upon him like this would fuck him.  They could kill him, even, as long as they fucked him first.

               Wait… Jin didn’t need to get his armor off to be fucked, just his pants.  Jin shoved kusazuri and haidate out of the way and ripped at his hakama, the ties there were as uncooperative as the ones on his armor but between desperation and delirium he ripped them down his legs and struggled free.  The fabric peeled off; thick slick had adhered it to his thighs.  His kusazuri armor plates rubbed harshly against bare skin now but all Jin could feel was cool air against fevered skin and that aching empty sensation inside his guts.

               Jin shoved his hand between his legs, his cock was painfully hard, his lips were soaked and leaking.  His slick was covering everything, the soft skin of his now empty scrotum, even his asshole.  He was so wet and ready, whatever size cock his alpha had he could take it.  Jin choked out a sob. He was empty, and he knew his fingers weren’t going to be enough, he’d tried that before.  Then he caught the scent.  Smoke. Distant and faint but coming closer on the wind.

               Burning. Pine. It was his alpha! Jin moaned and rolled again so he was on his back with his hips lifted.  His armor was too heavy though and he fell back with a gasp.  He had to do something, Khotun Khan would be here soon.  His eyes fell to his clan’s swords.  Jin heaved a shaking breath and grasped the tanto.  He drew it from the sheath unsteadily.  This armor was ruined, there was no point trying to preserve it.  With unsteady hands Jin pulled and tugged franticly against the ties with his blade, digging it against skin and plate alike. He didn’t care if he cut himself, he felt like he would die if he didn’t get this suffocating armor off.  Several shaky jerking moments later Jin ripped the last piece of armor off and struggled out of his shitagi.  Thankfully the silk had taken the brunt of his sloppy bladework and he didn’t have any new injuries.  Jin forced himself to hands and knees, panting down at the ruined armor and cloths.  It didn’t matter, that was all future Jin’s problem. Present Jin needed to get fucked. 

               Jin lowered his head to the armor and inhaled, and yes, it was still there.  The Khan’s scent from when he’d been pressed against Jin during their fight.  It was faint but that was all Jin needed in his heat addled state to get high on the scent.  He could hear the drip as more slick leaked out of him on to the ruined fabric below.  Jin was completely soaked, his heat was at full intensity, and his body was ready.  Jin shoved both hands back between his legs, rubbing his face fully against the armor and breathing in the heady scent of his alpha as his entire body weight pitched him forward on to it.  One hand went to his cock, jerking franticly, he needed more sensation, anything.  His other hand didn’t even pause to tease at his entrance, diving three fingers in straight away and Jin moaned at the full feeling.  But he needed more.  He had always needed more.

               “Khan. Khan.” Jin moaned and panted as he worked himself open, chasing that pleasure and seeking the high of that first heat orgasm.  “Please take me. Need you.” Jin was moaning pleas and obscenities in to the air as he tried to thrust back on his own hand despite the angle making it difficult.

               Jin rolled over again, on to his back for a better angle and lolling his head to the side, still chasing the scent of his alpha as he abandoned his cock to shove his other hand inside himself as well.  Three fingers on each hand were piercing in to heat induced wetness, stretching and filling him and still it wasn’t enough.  Jin groaned, loudly. “Khan. Please!” he choked out.  And there. 

               He was there. The Khan was there, at his head, standing above him. Looking down at him like he was some sad lonely thing... something easily broken… small and naked… like a little bird.

               “Little bird” the Khan murmured softly, his voice going straight to Jin’s cock.  “You did so good leading me to you with your scent.”

               Jin whined and stuffed his fingers deeper; showing the Khan, his alpha, just how much he could take.

               The Khan paced slowly around Jin, his armor clinking with every step, “You’ve been waiting for me and preparing yourself.” The Khan brought his hand down under his own armor to rub his cock.

               He was proud of Jin.  Jin had done good!  His heat brain screamed in elation, ‘Good little omegas get fucked!’

               “Are you ready to submit?” The Khan asked, but it wasn’t a question. It had never been a question even back on the bridge.  Jin was going to give himself entirely to his alpha.

               Jin spread his hands apart, three fingers on each side pulling him obscenely wide, opening him for the Khan’s cock. Proving he could take his alpha’s knot.  ‘Can you see? Can you see inside me?’ Jin’s heat brain though lewdly.

               “Are you ready to take me little bird?” The Khan kept his armor on but slipped his cock out.

               He was going to fuck Jin still clothed? That was obscene, it was filthy, it was degrading.  Jin couldn’t wait.  Jin clenched down on his fingers and whimpered as more slick leaked out and dripped down his crack on to the saturated cloths that would be their love nest. Jin could only wordlessly moan. He couldn’t even find the words to beg.

               “Beg for me little bird.” The Khan ordered.

               That was all the command Jin needed to get his tongue working again, “Please. Please. Please, please, please. Take me.  Own me.  Breed me.  Knot me please!” It wasn’t original but it was honest.  Jin tried but couldn’t hold his hips up while he was on his back, he didn’t have the muscle control this far in to heat. He again rolled over to his stomach and shoved his hips up with his fingers still stuffing him full, presenting himself. Like a bitch in heat…Which he was, a tiny part of his mind whispered cruelly.

               The Khan settled behind Jin. His hands felt hot even through the gauntlets he wore as they grabbed Jin’s wrists.  His hands were burning like his scent, that unique alpha musk that belonged only to him.  The Khan pulled Jin’s hands out. He examined Jin’s fingers, coated in his own slick.  Was he going to lick them? Taste Jin?

               No.  The Khan called Jin his ‘little bird’ but conquest was on his mind not romance.  The Khan threw Jin’s hands down and shoved his cock in between Jin’s folds.  Jin was an omega in heat, a hole for his alpha to fill.  Jin was going to be a good little fuck-toy and like it; and with his heat in play Jin knew his body would enjoy every second of it.

“Don’t touch yourself.” Khotun Khan ordered.

               Jin obeyed.  Laying there and taking it.  Inhaling the Khan’s scent from his sweat above and the ruined armor below. Each breath of those pheromones was driving his heat higher and higher.  Jin was burning from the inside.  The Khan’s cock was a blazing rod of iron as it pieced him and his body opened for it. Jin was being shoved forward with every thrust. He didn’t use his hands to support himself, the Khan hadn’t told him he could.  Jin just let them lay limply between his legs, catching the slick that was dripping out of him and leaking down his dick to the ground from the relentless pounding of the Khan’s thrusting cock. His face was rubbing against the kozane scales, armor plating scraping against his cheek. And wasn’t that going to be a look when Yuna got back: Jin’s face red and raw from being fucked in to his armor, his body reeking of the Khan, and with the enemy alpha’s seed dripping from him. That thought made him tighten with embarrassment.

               The Khan must have liked it because his thrusts got harder, faster, more erratic.  That was when Jin felt it swelling within him. The Khan’s knot.  He’d buried himself so deeply in Jin the knot was swelling entirely inside him, the Khan’s armor and pants were grinding uncomfortably against naked skin.

               ‘His knot is huge,’ Jin thought halfway between satisfaction and panic. It was going to tie them together while the Khan spurted his release deep within Jin.  Shit.  He was going to get Jin pregnant.  Jin whined and moaned in protest but he needed that knot and that come in him, he needed to break this heat.  Still he wanted to get away, to get out from under this man that had conquered his home and captured his family.  Jin was pulling forward, trying to crawl away even as the Khan pinned him with his body and his knot.  Metal armor pinched Jin’s bare skin as the Khan curled tighter over him. He didn’t want this. He didn’t want this, but he was tied to the Khan, and being filled with spurt after spurt of hot come.  Jin swore he could feel it, that release filling him, hot and slick and leaking out of his-

               His empty hole.

               Jin fell forward. There was no knot.  It had all been a fantasy. A heat induced fantasy and he was disgusted by himself for wanting the Khan like that.  Jin curled in on himself again and this time the smell of khan on his armor made him retch. He shoved it away and scrambled away from it as much as his loose limbs would allow.  His stomach was wet, and it wasn’t with his slick. Shit. He’d come at the thought of being bred by that monster.

               Jin groaned and this time it wasn’t from his heat. It was shame. Cold and uncomfortable.  Then again…he knew he couldn’t trust heat-Jin to make responsible decisions.  Heat-Jin had encouraged Ryuzo, even if they could never-

               Jin sighed and shoved his face in to the dirt.  Heats had been easier when he was with other samurai.  They were all the same rank, all the same station.  They all knew their duty.  Helping another in his time of need was just duty, nothing more.  And if something more came of it…well they were all of the same station and clan alliances were a good thing.  But now, after Komoda, there was no way Jin could be with another samurai. There were no other samurai on Tsushima. At least none he wasn’t related to.

               The imagined knotting and subsequent orgasm had taken the edge off Jin’s heat. That much was a blessing even if he never wanted that particular fantasy again.  But he knew his heat would rise again. And again. Until it was satisfied.  Jin needed to think. Thinking was hard during a heat.

               Jin stared at the things around him. There had to be something he could knot, or at least something he could fuck.  He was growing more desperate by the second. An imagined knot, even a vividly imagined one, was no substitute for the real thing.  Yuna’s words came back to haunt him…

               Some men referred to their dicks as a sword.

               Jin looked again at his clan’s sword. What he’d been clutching so desperately to after she’d left.  It was smooth. And hard. And long.  Maybe Jin could…

               No, he would not defile his sword in such a way. 

               But…There wasn’t an alpha coming…  He’d have to get through this on his own.  Five days of hell. And then because he wouldn’t get knotted, he wouldn’t have much time before his heat struck once more.  He’d made that mistake once before and sworn he never would again.

               Jin felt a cramp rip through him.  Shit. His heat was coming back to full force again.  He needed a cock. Now. He’d let future Jin worry about a knot. 

               Jin looked at his katana again.  Smooth shining lacquer, a soft curve.  The handle had tsuka ito wrapping that would give texture, but it would also be a nightmare to clean.  That was beyond heat Jin’s dexterity.  OK.  Blade end it was.  Jin clutched the katana and tanto to him, gazing at each, carefully contemplating which to use.  ‘Which to use first,’ his brain whispered lasciviously.  ‘The katana’, Jin decided.  It was longer, he could get better leverage with it, there was more room to hold.  To grab and ride like he had that one time.  There had been one heat with that one samurai, from clan Kikuchi, with a long cock.  The poor man had stabbed Jin in the cervix repeatedly and only stopped when Jin kicked him in the stomach.  Their compromise had been Jin’s hand gripping the base of his cock so he could knot himself in Jin’s grip and get off in Jin’s cunt.  Then he’d flipped Jin over on to his stomach to fuck and bury his knot in Jin’s ass to resolve the heat.  It was convenient, that his knot could manage to stretch Jin in all the right ways even if it wasn’t the traditional way to knot to break a heat.  It had worked, and left Jin panting and boneless beneath him in post heat bliss.  He’d been disappointed Jin couldn’t take all of him though and declined to help with future heats.  He’d gotten married, Jin remembered.  Now his wife was a widow.

               At least he could control the depth of his own katana. Jin laughed, then the laughs turned in to choking sobs of desperation.  He was still wet, but putting something so long, hard, and unyielding inside himself was intimidating.  Jin slowly rubbed the end of the sheath against himself.  The tip was smooth and round. Now that it was wet and warming up from his body heat it would feel so good sliding home.  His body would be a sheath for the sheath. Jin’s traitorous brain again cackled hysterically at its wit.  He was going crazy. Out of his mind with lust.

               Despite his desperation Jin took the time to play with himself.  Rubbing the katana against him a little longer, enjoying the tug as it caught on his scrotum, then turning the sheath and tipping it slowly in to his cunt. Jin panted, freezing and pulling it out to toy with his entrance again before pushing it deeper. It was smooth. It was wet. He could shove it all the way until it was pushing against the end of his vaginal canal and stretching him to completion, but he wanted to enjoy this, to draw it out, so he kept alternating between shallow thrusts and rubbing against his lips and sack.  Then he felt it. He knew he could reach it again, the soft curve of the blade made it perfect to rub against his prostate.  Jin moaned and gasped. Panting as he got himself off rubbing against that soft sensitive spot.  His dick was jumping, twitching with every rub. 

               He was clamping down tightly on the blade.  He bet his lips were gripping it tightly every time he pulled it out.  Ryuzo had like that. To watch the way Jin’s cunt sucked at his dick while he was fucking him.  It had always disappointed Jin when Ryuzo didn’t hold him while they fucked, but Ryuzo liked leaning back and stretching Jin’s legs wide to watch the way Jin’s body reacted. He had loved the way it looked with his cock disappearing inside Jin, and how tightly Jin would grip on to him, not wanting to let him go.  He’d told Jin as much, whispering filthy obscenities of how Jin looked, how wrecked his hole was clenching down around the base of Ryuzo’s knot as he filled him with come.  But Ryuzo had never held him close while whispering those things.

               Jin sobbed. This would be so much better if he had someone to hold him now.

               Jin came. Cold and alone. Clenching onto his sword.  He didn’t pull it out. His heat was going to come back soon, there was no point to pulling out. He needed to be full. He needing something big and thick like a knot. He needed more.  Jin was shaking and cold despite the heat of his skin, sweat and slick were drying uncomfortably and giving him chills. He was going to need more to break his heat, what did he have that could be more? Jin contemplated the tanto. Could he take both? He could fit a knot…Ryuzo had fucked him with his knot before, thought they’d only tried that particular experiment once.  Jin was panting and rubbed the tanto experimentally against himself, it knocked the kata with every twist and shove Jin made, twitching the sheath deep inside him in unexpected ways.  Jin was clamping down on it, bouncing it back a little. The weight of it against him was making him shift his hips to fit it in better, to keep it from sliding out.

               Finally, as his heat ramped back up again Jin stuffed the second blade inside himself.  Two sheaths filled the same hole, rubbing against themselves and him.  He felt stretched, so obscenely wide. Pinned in place by lacquered bamboo and the thought of how thoroughly debauched he felt.  What would anyone say if they saw him like this, stuffed completely full?  Despite that Jin still wanted more. Maybe not in his hole, but he had a mouth, hands, ass.  If he couldn’t have an alpha to sate him he could at least have more than one cock, multiple cocks, all the cocks to stuff him full and keep his heat satisfied while he rode out the duration.  Jin had to admit he’d gotten off to those types of fantasies more than a few times, even outside of heat. 

               But with the samurai gone, where would he get that many willing dicks?  Jin groaned in frustration.  That had been part of the fantasy when he’d been in the river with Yuna.  He could have taken all the bandits.  One in his cunt to keep his heat quiet, one in his mouth to stifle his moans and begging, and he had two hands for the others.  Jin could have taken on at least four people.  Jin felt so empty and alone with only hard steel and lacquered wood to be his playmates.

               If the Khan had caught him on the bridge. Would he have kept Jin to be his alone? Would he have used Jin alone by himself or in front of his army to show his dominion over the island?  Or, better or worse, would he have passed Jin around to his army.  Jin rolled in shame at how those thoughts aroused him, the tanto slipped out with the strength of his squeezing down on it.  It rubbed against his prostate on its way out and his vagina made an absurd popping noise as it clamped down on the single blade left in him.  Jin brought the tanto to his lips and contemplated it.  It was wet with his own secretions, glistening and dripping. Jin gripped the katana hilt between his ankles so he could rock harder against it, bringing himself deeper on to it.  At the same time he licked the tanto sheath.  His own taste was heady and thick.  If he let his mind wander, he could almost imagine it was someone else.

               Jin sucked, imagining someone was shoving their cock deep into to his mouth.  Would they knot it, leaving him to choke?  Would that be how the Khan planned to kill him?  Fuck him boneless and then knot his throat so he suffocated.  No, that’s what Khotun Khan’s generals would threaten while they had their way with him, while the Khan watched to see how Jin would handle them. Jin moaned around the sheath in his mouth, his teeth clacking as he bit down on it and he rolled his head and body over to his side. The Katana sheath stabbing uncomfortably deep. Jin yelped in discomfort, pulling it out slightly.  

               ‘Khotun Khan, are you watching?’ His heat brain called out, desperate for the last alpha he’d seen despite his rational mind’s protests.  His rational mind had no place here.  Jin’s hands were empty. He wanted to be jerking off someone, or two someones to show the Khan how he could take on multiple foes at once.  He wanted to have their come on his face, soaking him.  Would the Khan want him after that?  Would he claim Jin after his men had taken him to prove his ownership?  Or would the Khan have given Jin to them only after he was bored of him?  

               Jin felt empty again, emotionally and sexually, even with his katana filling him.  His heat was making him desperate for more, more, more, the longer he went without a real cock. Two blades in one hole hadn’t been enough…what if?

               Jin gasped and gagged briefly as he removed the tanto from his mouth and brought it downwards.  He ran it, once, quickly through the slick leaking out around the other sword.  Then he brought it further back to his ass.  Normally he’d need expensive oil, but in heat, he could take anything anywhere.  Jin pushed it in, his muscles were tight and trying to keep the invading weapon out. ‘Bear down,’ he thought, carefully pushing against the intrusion and then, with a gasp, it was in. Jin was full.  He could feel the sheaths moving against each other with his internal walls between them.  And his prostate was in the front of the katana getting stimulated as well. This! This was what he’d been missing. 

               Jin rocked against the swords, slowly undulating so nothing stabbed the wrong way, keeping the Katana shallow but thrusting, rubbing continually against the right spot.  He grabbed his own dick, jerking it slowly, savoring the sensation, he wanted everything to synch up. It was such an awkward pose. And it still wasn’t enough.  Despite himself his thoughts turned back to an alpha, the alpha, his alpha, “Khan… Khan please,” Jin cried in desperation, managing to find words despite his heat “I need someone to fuck me please.”  Jin brought himself to one orgasm with his cock, the shudders of that melded with the clenching of his walls to bring him a second orgasm and echoed back to his dick again for an oversensitive third.  Jin rolled his head and moaned out loud, he wanted to scream. He passed out. 

               This wasn’t the end. His heat wasn’t sated and Jin could only want more.

Chapter Text

               Jin’s body was hot, painful, and uncomfortable. He was still soaked from his crotch to his knees, laying on dirty wrinkled destroyed silk that stuck to his skin with his secretions.  He’d been dozing in and out of sleep since sunset, wringing orgasm after orgasm out of his exhausted body every time he awoke.  He was hungry, but he didn’t care. His mouth was so dry, but he didn’t care. All he cared about was the next cock that was never coming. 

               Yuna had left him up here to die. He was going to die of horniness. His wrists were too sore to hold his sword sheaths in place, he’d managed to shove the hilt of the tanto against a rock and support the katana on top of it to get leverage.  He was balanced precariously on the rocky edge of the spring to get himself at the right angle to use the small boulder that way. Despite the pain from his pose and obsessive masturbation he still managed to rub at his cock, it was sore and chaffed after all the attention, and not getting hard again any time soon. Exhausted like the rest of him despite constant arousal.  Jin let out soft pants as he rolled his hips in small circles. Chasing that next orgasmic high.  ‘Someone. Anyone. Please help’. He thought.

               Through his feverishness Jin heard scraping against the rocks.  ‘Who? Alpha! Khan!’ His brain screamed.

               “Ahn? Hah!” was all that managed to cross his lips.  And when he saw Yuna’s disgruntled face looking down at him he was glad he lacked the ability to form words. He’d be embarrassed about calling out the Khan’s name in front of her, or he would be when he could care about more than sex. More importantly Yuna was here, and Yuna was a person, albeit a beta, with a cock, albeit a small female beta cock. Jin needed it. He needed her. 

               “Yuna… please…” Jin moaned and lifted a hand to beg.

               “You’re not done yet?” Yuna shook her head. “You haven’t even bathed. This entire clearing reeks of sesame oil and yuzu.”  She wrinkled her nose at him before she dropped the full saddle bags she’d been carrying with her in a corner of the clearing far away from Jin and his secretions.

               She was ignoring him, Jin was on his back fucking himself and being ignored by the closest thing to an alpha he’d have this heat, it was inconceivable.  Jin was lying with his head towards her, and even if she couldn’t see his swords plunging in to him, she could tell that’s what was happening.  Jin was naked, why else would his swords be there.  He tried to beg her with his eyes to understand his predicament.  An alpha would understand.  They’d know what he needed.  But Yuna, she was going to force him to use his words.  This was torture.

               “I can’t…” He moaned brokenly.  Jin reached towards her with both hands, begging her to come closer.  “I can’t break this alone.  I need…” He rolled over and curled in on himself, the swords slipped off the rocks and shifted deliciously inside him making him gasp.  He couldn’t bear to look Yuna in the eyes now.  He was supposed to be a noble samurai, above emotion and a protector of his people, and yet here he was laying on the ground nothing but emotion and common desperation, begging a commoner to service him.

               “What do you need?” Yuna asked, she put down the kindling she’d been preparing to make a small fine and turned to give Jin her full attention.  Her voice was soft, almost comforting.

               Jin didn’t know if he wanted to hear that emotion in her voice or if that was Yuna’s actual tone.  He couldn’t trust his senses any more at this point.  Either way he melted at the sound of her voice.  He dared to look up at her, and her expression was soft and she was kneeling down by his head.   Jin couldn’t help but draw comparisons to his fantasy of the Khan, what if this Yuna was an illusion as well?  Nevertheless, Jin raised an unsteady hand to clasp her forearm. “I need you.  Please.  Yuna?”

               Yuna heaved a sigh and Jin wanted to wince away at the perceived rejection.  She stopped him though, gripping his hand where it clung to her sleeve to pin him in place.  Jin stared at her like a rabbit in a trap.

               Yuna nodded once, “Okay.”

               Jin couldn’t believe he’d heard her correctly.  His mouth hung open and his eyes felt blown wide, he was dazzled by her generosity.  His mind skipped ten steps forward. How would she take him?  Would she use his mouth, would she use hers on him, would they skip straight to the penetrative sex because Jin was ready?  Would she make him beg?

               Yuna squeezed his arm and removed it from her sleeve slowly. She patted his hand tenderly as she laid it on the ruined cloths he’d made a bed of.  “We do this on my terms Jin.  Do you understand?”

               Jins stared. His expression remained frozen, mouth still slightly agape and pupils blown wide. This was happening.  This was real. He couldn’t speak, only smile and gaze at his soon to be lover with awe.  She was going to help him break his heat.  Jin’s world now revolved around Yuna and what she wanted.  Her pheromones smelled of clean soil after a spring rain, and never had Jin yearned more for the spring that he did now, he wanted the whole world to be awash with her scent because currently she was his entire world.

               “Jin, I need to hear you.  This happens on my terms or not at all. Do you understand?” Yuna said slowly and clearly.  She had a hint of command in her voice and it broke Jin’s reverie.

               Her tone wrenched an answer from Jin’s lips, “Yes alpha.”

               Yuna snorted. “Alright then.” She stood and began to strip.  Jin could only stare at the gift being revealed before him.  First her weapons were placed in a pile, leaving her naked even though she was fully clothed.  Then she untied her waraji and her obis, as the cross-body sash came off, her outer shirt was left to flap open.  She shrugged out of it and the underlying kosode gapped at the chest.  Jin looked, respectfully, at the gift before him even if it was hidden beneath chest wrappings.  Yuna looked down at him and smirked, she knew what she was doing. “These are my terms.” Yuna said as she undid the tie of her pants, “You will take what I give you.”  She pushed them down and stepped out of the pants and tabi socks in one smooth move.  He eyes glanced at Jin to make sure he was still paying attention, “You will do as I say.” 

               Her hands held the edges of the kosode, her hands were still as stone.  Jin was still on the ground, shaking like leaves in the wind with anticipation.

               Yuna slowly opened the undershirt, “You will not touch me without permission.”  Jin nodded his head but his eyes were tracking the expanse of skin being revealed to him. 

               “If I say stop, you stop and don’t move.” Yuna dropped the undergarment to the ground, everything except her wrapped breasts bared.  “Is that clear?” she finished.

               Jin panted. He couldn’t form words.  She was beautiful, and she would make him hers.  The weight of what she said was sinking in to him like oil in to dried wood.  This was what he’d been craving and Jin drank it in: orders, command, to have someone else in control and not have to think.  Jin would listen to whatever she said, do whatever she said. He would be a good omega, her omega, the best omega-

               “Is that clear, Jin?” Yuna asked, her tone firmer.

               Shit, he hadn’t answered her. He was a bad omega, the worst omega, he’d let Yuna down. Jin chocked on a sob. “I’m sorry!” he gasped out.  He wanted to curl up and die, he didn’t deserve her.

               “Jin.  Breathe.” Yuna commanded.

               Jin took a shaking inhale then blew it out slowly.  Breathe. That was an easy enough command to follow.

               “What did I say before?” Yuna pushed him with just her words.

               Jin wracked his brain, he’d been so eager to hear the words he hadn’t truly processed them, “Take. Do. Don’t touch…uh.” Jin was struggling to get out what he thought the key words were. It was so hard to think with Yuna, there, so close to him and naked. This is why most omegas would find a partner for their heat before it struck, or find a dildo and some privacy if they were lucky enough that just a knot would do it.  Thinking and processing information in his current state was almost impossible. But he would obey Yuna and, “Stop if you say stop.” He finally got out the last part.

               Yuna must have decided it was good enough. “Lets start.” She went to their packs and unrolled a goza mat, then sat on it in seiza before him, “Take your swords out.”

               Jin struggled in to position to get away from the rock. Again the tanto popped out without his hand or the boulder there to press it in.  His katana took a bit more effort and he writhed briefly getting his hands coordinated enough to push it out.  The weapons lay behind him, wet and discarded on the ground.  He didn’t care how soiled they were, the center of his universe now was Yuna and the unspoken promise she’d fuck him if he just obeyed.

               “Look at me” Yuna said once Jin was empty and panting.

               Jin rolled on to his stomach, ready to crawl to her, and met her eyes.

               “What do you need from me?” She asked. Her voice was cool, her posture was calm.  Jin was almost frustrated by the amount of restraint she was showing.

               “Please…” He choked out. He didn’t want to say what he needed, couldn’t say it; he’d just met the woman. “Need you…” Jin hoped that was enough and lowered his head to his crossed arms in front of him; not quite a proper zarei bow because his back half was sprawled and nude.

               “What do you need?” Yuna asked again, quietly demanding he tell her.  Forcing him to use his words.

               “Need your dick.” Jin whispered, his face flushing with yet more heat.  He crawled forward from his nest of armor and silk to the goza mat, ready to grab her thighs and beg, to rub his face on her soft skin, prove what a good omega he’d be if she would hurry up and get in him.

               “Stop.” Yuna’s words made Jin freeze. “You don’t get to touch me.” She looked down him, he was sprawled on his belly looking up at her like she’d hung the stars, and she began to touch herself. Her flaccid cock hardened and lengthened with each stroke.

               Jin’s mouth watered as he watched her.  Her cock was small but perfect, curving upwards slightly, at its peak length the head was just sticking out of her fist when she held it at the base. Jin’s eyes drifted lower, below that cock beyond her vulvar lips he could see something small and pendulous, her sack was full; she’d be able to give him the semen he needed to break his heat.  He wanted to thank her, to cry with joy.  Jin wanted to lean forward and lick every part of her he could reach to show his thanks…but he remembered her command.  Jin was not to touch her and presumably himself as well, so he laid there, desperate and untouched, admiring the beautiful feast laid bare before him.

               Finally, when Yuna must have been satisfied with the state of her erection, she told Jin, “Turn around, get comfortable.”

               The tableau was broken and Jin scrambled, half flailing to flip on to his back and get his holes positioned for Yuna to see... No... To fuck.  His head was near his blades and with burning shame and desire flaring across his cheeks he remembered his earlier fantasies.  He could lick his own slick off the blades while Yuna fucked him.  That thought gave him a heady rush of exhilaration that was only topped by Yunas’s next statement.

               “I’m going to push it in now,” Yuna said.

               Her hands were like fire on Jin’s thighs, pushing them apart, rolling his hips up so she could align herself with him.  Jin bit down on his hand at the base of his thumb to keep from screaming in pleasure as she rubbed her cockhead against his lower lips.  It was the same filthy fantasy material he’d had earlier, but this time it was real and that made it so much better.  When Yuna pushed her length in it stretched but didn’t hurt, Jin had already been opened and readied by his swords and many, many, rounds of fingering himself.  All he felt was the soft glide of skin on skin.  It was electric, lightning crackling through him at the point of contact when she came to rest fully seated in him.  Her hips were fully pressed against him, rolling his lower half off the ground for full contact, and a short experimental thrust bent him further in on himself.  He bucked his hips back and Yuna grunted.  

               Yuna put a hand on his abdomen to still his hips.  He jerked them again to get more friction where his soft cockhead touched her wrist.  Yuna jolted and moved her hand, pressing harder. “Do. Not. Do. That.” She ordered slowly. “Jin. Hold still.”

               Jin whined.  He was frozen in place, impaled and transfixed by both her cock and command.

               “Jin, use your words. Answer me”. Yuna ordered.

               “Yes Yuna.” Jin choked out, fighting every urge screaming for him to move and chase more stimulation. “I’m sorry, Yuna.  Please. Please move in me”

               Yuna sighed and shook her head. She shifted both hands to his thighs, holding them spread. Then she thrust.

               Jin threw his head back, his skull audibly hit the ground but he ignored the pain. He just focused all his muscles on not moving. On being good for Yuna, because at this moment, moving her hips slowly in and out, she was being so good for him. Jin wanted to ask for more. He wanted to beg for more.  Could he? Yuna hadn’t said he could. So Jin just laid back, and tried no to whine with need as he gratefully accepted everything Yuna gave.

               Yuna was picking up the pace, looking down at him.  Jin was frozen, biting his lip and clenching his hands in to the soiled fabric beneath him. Yuna slowed. Then stopped. Jin let out an agonized gasp as if she’d stabbed him.

               “Jin, talk to me. You look like you’re in pain.” Yuna murmured.

               Jin was frozen. She’d said not to move. He wanted to move. He was walking the razors edge of being a good omega and getting what he needed as omega, it was agony.

               Yuna patted his thigh to get his attention. “Jin, if you don’t talk, I’m pulling out.”

               “No!” Jin had the plea ripped form his throat.  That threat was too much. She couldn’t be that cruel, “Please! Stay! Please stay and fuck me.” Jin could feel panic rising and tears starting in the corners of his eyes as his throat closed with tension.

               Yuna’s patting of the smooth skin of his inner thigh turned to gentle rubbing as she resumed moving. “Ok Jin,” she gave one long languid thrust. “But…” she pulled her cock all the way out to teas at his entrance. “I need you to talk.” She slowly seated herself all the way in. “Can you talk to me Jin?”

               “Yes,” Jin gasped with relief. This was what he’d wanted. Full length thrusts. “Yes, yes, yes!” he panted with each thrust.  He had been right, her cock was perfect, short and curved so that the head just reached his prostate every time she was fully buried in him.

               Yuna picked up the pace and that was just what Jin’s body needed. Finally, finally he could come around a living cock.  He felt his belly tensing, his thighs began to shake under Yuna’s hands. His ‘yes’s had become gasps and pants.   “Yuna! Yuna-” he begged, he tried to warn her, “Yuna!  I’m-”

               “Go ahead Jin.” She kept the depth and the angle the same but sped up her thrusts slightly. “You can do it.” Her hands tightened on his thighs, fingertips digging in, her short blunt fingernails were guaranteed to leave marks and that sensation alone was driving Jin wild. Combined with the quicker pace it was all he needed to fall over the edge. “Come for me.” Yuna ordered.

               Jin came, hard and shuddering; clamping as tight as he could around her cock.  The pleasure was too much.  Clear-white semen leaked out the tip of his flaccid cock.  He rode through the euphoria and sank in to the aftershocks.  Yuna was still moving. Still thrusting in him, shallow and fast.  Jin enjoyed the sensation, he was pleased that she was still using him. Yes. That was what he needed in heat, to be constantly fucked and of use to his alpha. But slowly he came to a realization. Something was missing.

               “Yuna?” Jin asked. “Yuna!?” He repeated with a hint of panic creeping into his voice.  “Yuna. I need- Yuna knot me please! Yuna!” He’d come but his body was still desperate, his heat rearing its demanding head yet again.

               ‘Why?’ Why hadn’t Yuna knotted him? He’d been good. He’d done what she asked. Why- Jin’s mind was racing, what had he done wrong, why wouldn't she give him what he needed?

               “Jin. I’m a beta. I don’t have a knot.” Yuna’s voice was tight and tense. She was close.  But even if she came it would still leave Jin wanting.

               Jin sobbed. Tears actually falling now. “Yuna please. I need a knot. I can’t-” he gasped as she hit his prostate again, everything was too much and not enough, another orgasm wouldn’t help “I can’t break this heat without a knot.”

               Yuna stilled and Jin didn’t know whether to gasp with relief or frustration.

               Yuna cocked her head, “You actually need a knot to break your heat?”

               Jin was panting and gasping, feeling like he could crawl out of his own skin with force of the shivers wracking over him.

               “YES!” Jin begged, “Please. I need you to knot me.” He raised a hand but didn’t touch. He remembered Yuna’s orders. “I need…” Jin turned his face away with the heady mix of being forced to ask for what he wanted, “I need come…and a knot. Or it won’t break.” He sobbed again. “And I’ll be stuck like this for five days.” He choked on tears and frustration, “I can’t… Please.”

               Yuna must have taken pity on him because she was rubbing soothing circles in to the soft skin of his inner thigh right at the edge of his pubic hair, “Alright Jin. We can get through this.” She removed her hand from his hip and pulled out. Before Jin could whine at the loss of contact her hand was there rubbing against him in all directions.  “There is something some omega friends I know would do if they couldn’t get an alpha.” Yuna rolled her hand against him to coat every part of it, every finger, with his slick. “Lets try this”

               Jin choked on spit as he realized what she was implying.  Sure, a hand might be about as big around as the knot on a particularly well-endowed alpha, sure he could probably take it, correction definitely take it, but…the thought of someone shoving their hand up there seemed…lewd. Even compared to everything else Jin had fantasized about.

               Yuna must have sensed his hesitation. “Are you ready?” She asked.

               Jin propped himself up on his elbows, whatever was about to happen, he wanted to see it all. He nodded, trepidation stilling his tongue and paralyzing his Jaw.

               “Relax...” Yuna murmured and rubbed soothing circles on his stomach, pushing his lower abdomen flat and coaxing his hips to tilt down towards the ground with one thumb pushed inside him. She rolled her wrist, rolled that finger inside him until it hit his prostate. She gave a few tentative rubs against it with that thumb as her other fingers rolled the base of his cock between them.

               “Good?” she checked in.

               Jin could only nod silently as she removed her thumb and pushed in her index and middle fingers to replace it, tilting Jin’s hips and forcing him to relax those muscles so he could take more.

               Jin let out a shaking gasp. “I can take more,” he whispered. “I can take at least three without prep.”

               “Jin.” Yuna corrected him, “You take what I give you. Remember.”

               Jin groaned in frustration and let himself fall back in defeat and submission.

               “There, good boy. Just feel this.” Yuna kept playing with two fingers slowly thrusting, rubbing and stretching him inside.

               It did feel good, and Jin’s heart thrilled at being called a good boy, but it wasn’t enough. Despite his recent orgasm Jin’s passions were climbing yet again.  He was going to slip out of his senses, again, soon.  His breathing was ragged as he tried to focus on and enjoy the sensation.  Good was becoming merely nice, Jin wanted more, his body needed more.  That was when Yuna slipped in a third finger, she twisted them rapidly which wrung a squeak out of Jin and then she plunged a fourth in.

               Jin was almost there. It was almost enough to have four.  His breathing slowed and he felt comfortable again, comfortable and full.  Then she flexed her hand and shifted those fingers inside him and Jin saw stars. There was the stretch he had been missing, though it wasn’t enough and not in the right places for him to really get off.  Yuna chuckled as she watched the changes in his breathing. Her free hand alternated between carding through his pubic hair, clawing his belly, and shifting back to herself to stroke her cock with slick collected from where her other hand met his body.

               “We’re almost there Jin. Are you ready?” Yuna asked.

               Jin gave a wordless murmur of assent.  He was loose and pliant in her grip, too far gone in pleasure.

               Yuna shook her head and lightly flicked the crease of his thigh. “That’s not enough now, I need real words so I don’t hurt you.”

               “Yessssss,” Jin drew it out into a breathy sigh. “I can take it. I can take more alpha.”

               “You really have a thing for alpha knots.” Yuna joked as she tucked her thumb between her other fingers and slowly pushed.  Jin could feel the slow stretch as she opened him up.  It was so much like a knot, the taper, the build, the pressure at his entrance seeking to be let in.  Jin was falling in to a haze of remembered sensations.  He could never tell what was better, that feeling of a knot swelling from nothing already seated deep inside him, locking him together with his partner to receive his alpha’s seed, or the feeling of being pushed open and skewered on a knot that had popped up outside of him, being stretched forced to take his alpha in before he could get his reward for being a soft and pliant and good omega.

               “Only alphas knot.” Jin giggled, he was losing control of his emotions again.

               Yuna’s knuckles were pushing against his rim, stretching him wide at the tightest part of himself. She was almost in.

               “So, what’s this then?” Yuna teased gently. “You don’t want my beta knot?” She pulled it back slightly, the taper of her fingers was narrowing and Jin whined at the loss.

               “Nonono, more, please, put it in.”

               Yuna pushed it forward and Jin was there, relief filled him as her hand sunk in, the final stretch that was the base of her thumb had him gasping as he choked back cry at the intrusion, but then there was nothing but a gentle taper until it reached her wrist. She settled her hand, not moving.

               “How’s that then?” She asked, confidence dripping from her like slick dripped from Jin.

               “Full, so full.  I’m.  So.  Full.” Jin gasped, he didn’t know if it was relief or disbelief but Yuna’s hand buried in him was stretching all the right places as wide as the biggest knot he’d ever taken and he wanted to moan because her wrist was still wider than the biggest cock he’d taken.  He felt full everywhere, and that was just so…nice. Jin sank back and enjoyed the feeling of satisfaction. He was being bred, his heat mind thought contentedly. Except. He wasn’t.

               “Yuna?” Jin spoke up, a slight tremor of trepidation creeping in for what he was about to ask. It seemed inappropriate to request more despite, or even given, their current position.

               Yuna began moving her hand. That simple gesture drove the words form Jin’s mind.

               “Yes Jin?” Yuna asked smugly, rubbing his belly, dragging her fingers along the planes of muscles and points of his hips and creases of his thighs; the slow gentle pressure was a soothing grounding counterpoint to how stuffed he felt internally.

               Jin gasped. There were no words, he couldn’t recall what had seemed so urgent. This was so nice as it was.

               “Jin?” Yuna raised her voice slightly to break him out of the contented fog he’d fallen in to.

               Jin hummed contently, twitching his legs in a feeble attempt to spread them wider for Yuna, not that he needed to because her hips weren’t pressed against him. Oh. Right, that had been the problem.

               “Speak, Jin.” Yuna ordered him like a dog, patting his belly for emphasis.

               “I need…” Jinn trailed off. He was supposed to take what she gave. It would be wrong to ask for more.

               “Tell me what you need.”

               “I need your come,” Jin panted, the words were pulled from him by her clever hands. “I need your come in me. Please.” Jin wasn’t above begging.  Jin knew he sounded needy and desperate.  He was needy and desperate and he’d feel shame later because right now, he’d do anything for Yuna’s come painting his insides.

               Yuna looked down at him, silently. She cocked head like she was analyzing him. The way a hawk contemplated a rabbit.

               “Please Yuna. Please breed me. I’ll be your omega. I’ll be good, please.”  Jin would say or do anything Yuna asked if he could just get what his body needed in that moment.

               “You’re a good boy, Jin.” Yuna crooned affectionately and stretched her body over him to card her free hand through his hair.

               Jin let his head loll back and his eyes wander.  Her breasts were so close to his face.  Normal he’d reach up and lick, taste the soft skin and tease the dark nipples to harness. But he remembered Yuna’s rules, so he just laid back and enjoyed the private show. 

               “You’re a good boy Jin,” she whispered down to him again.  “Such a good little omega.” She jerked her fist sharply so it pulled at his opening.  Jin groaned and rolled his hips helplessly in her grasp but otherwise didn’t move to bring her closer or push her away.  He was a good omega; he wasn’t going to touch.

               “Look at you holding so still for me.”  Yuna brushed his hair once more and then ran her hand down his neck and over his shoulder, scratching down his chest and spreading the palm flat to rub along his belly before settling next to her wrist where it entered him.  She teased a finger around the edge and that little threat alone was enough to drive Jin back beyond words into incoherent ecstasy.

               Every touch had Jin gasping a wordless sound of excitement. His pleasure was driving him higher and higher until he could feel himself clamping around her as another orgasm rocked through him.  Yuna drove her fist in deeper, stabilizing him and feeling the rhythmic squeezes as he tried to milk come from something that definitely couldn’t give him any. Jin continued to breathily gasp with every tremor that shook him to his core.

               “Good boy,” Yuna shushed him, “I need you aware for this next part.”

               “No ‘ware. ‘n heat. Only know knot ‘nd come.” Jin slurred his words, he was loose limbed and loose lipped after orgasm number, he’d lost count long long ago how many.  Though through the afterglow he did feel some faint strand of lucidity return.

               “Ready, Jin?” Yuna asked as she sat up on her knees so he could see her hard cock clearly, “This is going to stretch you even wider.”

               Jin threw back his head. He wanted to cry ‘Yes!’ but he could just let out a gasp of anticipatory pleasure.

               “You need to ask Jin.”  Yuna chided with a hint of singsong to her voice.

               “I’ll take whate’er you give me, alpha Yuna,” Jin said drunkenly. He was excited but his body was too weak with the heat and recent orgasm to actively contribute.  Maybe it was better that way so he wouldn’t clench down too hard.  Yuna truly knew what she was doing.

               “Do you want it Jin?”  She asked, despite knowing the answer.

               “Yes!” Jin shouted, impatient but unable to urge Yuna forward due to his bonelessness and her earlier command.

               “Are you ready?”  She pushed him again with only the force of her words.

               “Oh for-yes, Yuna please! Break my heat, break my cunt, break me, please!” Jin begged.

               One of those must have been the right thing to say because Yuna was sliding her dick against him again, it was catching on his perineum and rubbing at his hole where she was already buried to the wrist in him. “You’re so tight Jin.” Yuna gasped. Then she slipped forward.

               Jin couldn’t breathe for a moment. Not because of the stretch, but because of the thought, the obscene image of what he must look like with a fist and a cock buried in him, both in the same hole.  Then he was heaving heavy shuddering gasps from the stretch until Yuna pressed a calming hand to his chest, pausing with just her cockhead alongside her wrist in him, letting him adjust to the idea and sensations.

               She slowly pushed forward. Jin’s lubricants slicking the way. Outside of heat this would have been impossible.  Jin had never been happier to get heats than he was in this moment. Yuna even broke the stoic mask she’d had on the entire time she’d been fucking him to heave a little sated sigh as she was fully seated in him one more.  This time her hips couldn’t grind against him because her arm was in the way.  The stretch of this false knot was almost enough to make up for the lack of cuddling.  Then again, when Jin had been with Ryuzo there hadn’t been cuddles either and he’d still gotten mind blowing orgasms.  Yuna had already given him two, or was it three? Jin couldn’t care because he was drowning in sensation.

               Yuna moved. Jin felt it within him, the ‘knot’ stretching wider and making him gasp and moan as he tried futilely to clamp down again. Then he felt a small shove as Yuna thrust.  There was a matching pull at the rim of his vagina as she pulled her hand out a little. ‘Was she?’ She was. Yuna was jerking herself off in his cunt.  Jin let out a quaking scream that rose and fell with shaking hyperventilating gasping breaths as he came yet again. He felt heat flooding him, radiating from his vagina and flowing through him like spring meltwater in a dry riverbed.

               “Yuna~” he moaned. Unable to manage anything longer and trying to pour every emotion he felt in to that one word. “Yuna I-“

               “Keep squeezing Jin. I’m going to come soon.” Yuna grit through clenched teeth, her face tense as she worked herself inside him.

               Jin yelped and clenched as tightly as he could despite the shivering aftershocks threatening to tear him apart. “Please, please, please,” it was all he could say, a sharp voiced exhalation with each breath as he tried to comply with her order. Then he felt it. More wetness inside him. Yuna was shuddering against him, giving a final shove against his hips. She’d come. Jin went limp, and lose, and it only hurt slightly when Yuna slowly pulled out, first her dick then her hand.

               Jin limply brought one hand down to feel the mess that was leaking out him.  He ran his fingers around the stretched edges of his vagina, smearing through the mix of slick and semen dripping down his perineum and sack, collecting what he could to push it slightly back in.  The thoroughly abused and stretched tissue stung with even his lightest touch. As enjoyable and earth shattering as those orgasms had been Jin was exhausted and ready for his heat to be over.  Yuna was sitting back and looking down at him.  She was saying something, he could see her lips moving, but he couldn’t hear it. His eyes were closing and he was falling asleep.

               It was over. His heat was finally over.

Chapter Text

               Jin didn’t remember the hours after his heat, he’d been so deep asleep he was dead to the world.  Now Jin was warm and comfortable.  He wasn’t asleep but he wasn’t quite awake.  It was that lazy kind of relaxation post heat, the endorphins wearing off slowly, everything suffused in a golden glow of sexual satiety.  When he was fully back to himself he’d realize he stunk of sweat and sex, and that his vagina would be sore and his cock chaffed and his legs stiff.  But for now, everything was warmth and contentment.  Jin was curled under blankets and… actually being held, he realized.  It was Yuna, asleep and facing him with her hand thrown half on his shoulder, and he still had enough post heat cloudiness to his mind that he could somehow justify what he did next.

               Jin inched closer to her, and rolled over so he was fully buried under her arm, he curled to face away from her and sank in to that sleeping embrace.  Yuna didn’t wake, but she did wrap her arm tighter around Jin, clinging to him and pressing herself against his back.  Still asleep she pushed her knee to press against the back of his thigh.  They molded perfectly together, her head pressing against the back of his shoulders, her hips aligned with his, and both of their legs intertwined.  Jin felt the touch of her flaccid dick against the curve of his ass; the weight of her arm was soothing as it draped across him and held him close; the hairs on her shin tickled his heel as he rolled it lazily against her leg.  Jin felt fully enclosed and warm.

               This was what he’d been missing, what he’d been longing for, that casual human connection from physical touch.  He was completely spooned, warm and safe, and protected within Yuna’s arms.  Jin was content. Jin closed his eyes and contemplated such intimate pleasures:

               Pressing front to back

               Covered, completely embraced

               Warm and safe and held

               It wasn’t a perfect Haiku, but half asleep Jin was proud enough of it.  He’d have to remember to write it down when he properly woke.  Jin fell back in to warm and comfortable slumber.

 

 

               Dawn’s light had broken a few hours ago.  The high boulders shielded the hot spring’s alcove from the direct rays, meaning it was much later than Jin liked when he finally awoke.  He’d shifted in his sleep; he was currently on his back with his arms thrown over his head to shield his eyes.  Yuna was mirroring his pose, still pressed flush against his side, and still mostly naked as well if the sensation of bare skin against his legs was anything to go by.

               The previous day suddenly came back to him, sharp and clear.  Jin was far enough out of his heat that he could remember Yuna’s requests and feel shame.  Jin jolted stiff and jerked away from Yuna.

               She’d ordered him not touch her.

               He’d not only violated that accidentally this morning pressed against her side, but last night intentionally as well when he’d tricked her in to cuddling him.  

               Jin was about to heave a regretful sigh when Yuna’s arm flailed and slapped down across his chest.  “Don’t thrash…” she muttered sleepily; eyes still closed.

               “I’m sorry Yuna. I didn’t mean to.” Jin started to apologize, trying to wriggle out from under her arm before he shamed himself further with disobedience.

               “Mean to what? Wake up fast?” Yuna sat up and rubbed the last of sleep out of her eyes. “Go in to heat in the middle of combat? Here I thought that was part of your rescue plan.”  She looked down at him, no longer cool and dominant or soft and snuggly but back to the hardened sarcastic viper he’d met in the heat of a massacre.

               “I apologize.” Jin flipped to his knees to properly dogeza.

               “Jin what are-” Yuna interrupted herself to try and haul Jin back to a normal sitting position.

               “I took advantage of you last night.” Jin confessed.

               “You were in heat…” Yuna stated, “you couldn’t take advantage if I’d let you.”

               “You told me not to touch you …and I…”  Jin couldn’t sink back to a dogeza bow because Yuna was still lifting him by his shoulders.  He had to finish his confession.  “After, while we were asleep I… cuddled.”

               “And?” Yuna’s grip tightened painfully and her eyes flashed like ice.

               “And you said not to touch you.” Jin cried, why was Yuna making him spell out his mistakes.

               Yuna sighed and shook her head. “That was during sex. Is that all? Or did you actually do anything I need to castrate you for.”

               “Ah… I… you don’t mind?”  Jin was confused and relieved. He hadn’t crossed any boundaries, hadn’t disappointed his alpha.

               “Sex is one thing.  Sleep is another.  You’re still heat maudlin.”  Yuna finally let him go with a snorted laugh and detangled them from the blankets.  She began to fold them neatly to repack later.

               Jin’s head was swimming again.  Yuna was right, he was still coming off the hormonal high and susceptible to her suggestions.  He was still thinking of her as ‘alpha’ but in truth Yuna was… a complicated woman.  Now that he was out of heat, Jin was once again a simple man, still suffering the aftereffects of a traumatic battle and hormones, but a simple man nonetheless.  He quickly took stock of himself and was surprised at how he felt.  Sore, yes, and what didn’t ache was loose and relaxed with post orgasmic contentment, but he didn’t smell of sex and his skin felt clean and free of dried sweat and other less mentionable fluids. 

               “Did you…” Jin began to ask as Yuna continued to fold their bedding.

               “Yes, I cleaned you up while you slept. I wasn’t about to share a mat with…” She looked down her nose at him, “you… before you were something like a human again.” 

               Jin raised a hand to rub at his neck, it was embarrassing but she was right.  Jin in heat was less human and more biology driven sex monster.

               Jin the samurai bowed again to show his thanks for her care, this time not as low.  Before he could speak and formally show his respect, Yuna pushed him back to sitting with her foot against his shoulder, then began to stand.

               “Get up, we need to eat breakfast and get out of here.  The Mongols aren’t actively hunting you anymore but they’re still patrolling the island like they own it.” Yuna bit out, back to business as she picked up their folded bedding and carried it to the saddlebags.  Jin was embarrassed to not be helping, he jumped to his feet and rolled the mat.  He Joined Yuna at their packs, looking for a tie to secure the bedroll.  He didn’t remember when she’d brought those up, he must have been deep in heat or maybe asleep after, and was that his clean clothing next to them?

               “How did you?”  Jin held up the washed if heavily worn and bloodstained fabric and began getting dressed.  He would forego the armor, Yuna hadn’t cleaned it completely and he wouldn’t be able to either unless he disassembled it, but the scent of blood mixed with his own heat and the Khan was so thick on the scales and plates he wouldn’t be able to touch it without retching, the memory was enough to make him sick.  The scent made it real.

               Yuna interpreted the unsaid part of question from the cloths he’d held aloft, “You were asleep for a long time after your heat broke…”  She paused her rummaging through the packs for breakfast, “Is that normal?” She looked up at him as he hopped awkwardly on leg wrestling with the hole in his hakama his foot had slipped through, he’d have to patch that later.

               Jin finally got his pants on the right way and tied them quickly and efficiently.  “The longer the heat goes without being broken the more exhausting it is.” Jin felt safe giving out that much information about himself, now that he was out of heat he was back to wondering how much he could trust a thief, thought he thought the effects of heat were common knowledge.  “I thought your brother was an omega?  And he dealt with heats alone?  Doesn’t he…” Jin trailed off and rolled his hand in the air signifying nothing except to continue the thought silently, he wasn’t sure how to ask woman how much she knew about her brother’s preferences.  He couldn’t imagine the discomfort of dealing with a heat alone.  It had been a once in lifetime experience of suffering and he never wanted to endure it again.

               “Taka disappears and comes back fine.  I don’t like imagining what we did in relation to my brother Jin.  Siblings have boundaries.” Yuna’s voice was getting dangerously growly as she took three small bundles and flint to the stacked unlit campfire.

               Jin shrugged, “I don’t have any siblings, it was always just Ryuzo and I, and then the other samurai.”  He poured some water from a gourd in to a small pot and carried it over.

               Yuna snorted in disgust, if someone could light a fire angrily, she was doing that now, “Shut. Up.”  The tinder caught and flame quickly sprang to life.   She muttered, almost to herself, “Then you don’t understand.” 

               Jin hung the pot from a metal hook above the fire.  Taka was a blacksmith.  Had he made all the metal Yuna was using?  Jin sat silently by her side for a moment, then helped unwrap their rations and portion out breakfast.  He really didn’t understand siblings.  It would have been nice to have some, but his father never remarried.  Jin didn’t think he’d have been able to forgive the man if he had.  As for Ryuzo and the samurai, no matter how close they’d ever been, loyalty to his lord and his duty always came first.  It seemed like for Yuna, Taka might be the center of her world.  That would be nice to have, Jin mused wistfully.

               “I don’t want to think about what those barbarians will do to him if he goes in to heat while he’s captive.”  Yuna said darkly, “We have to rescue my brother.”

               The conversation had nowhere to go from there.  Jin nodded in agreement and they prepared food silently and quickly.  Yuna gave Jin larger portions of the cold rations she’d brought, pickled radishes, spicy pickled bamboo shoots, and she had tea leaves as well.  Yuna brewed some tea directly in their cups with the boiled water before she added the ingredients for their breakfast miso soup to the main pot and handed one cup straight to Jin.

               “Drink,” was all she said.  He did, still having just enough of the afterglow of heat to not want to resist her order.  Either way, something to drink was a good idea.  Though the taste was sharp and bitter, like it had been scalded

               “Its burnt,” he said, far enough away from the influence of endorphins to criticize ‘his alpha’.  Jin almost wanted to drown himself in tea if he could take back how he’d behaved during his heat, he’d called her alpha and begged for a knot.  Jin blushed from his chest to his nose.

               “Its peony and mugwort,” Yuna replied.

               “Contraceptive tea?” Jin said in surprise, his blush spreading.  But Yuna had said she was a beta, “How do you know how to make this?”

               Yuna gave him a withering look. “I can get pregnant too you fool.”

               Jin felt stupid then. Of course she could get pregnant, she was a beta and a woman. There was nothing to say further so Jin drank the entire cup to mask his gaff.  Yuna held up well over a dozen bundles of the herbs, she must have been busy gathering them while he was asleep.  Though Jin would only need a few more cups of the herbal tea, one each day until he bled to ensure nothing took after his heat.

               “Yuna,” Jin said the name reverently.  She’d been so kind to him, he felt warmth spreading from his chest, not from the hot tea or his fading blush.  This woman was amazing.  She had helped him in his time of need. Provided for him. Even cuddled after sex and not gotten mad at him. Maybe it was the endorphins, or a trauma bond because she’d saved his life but… Jin felt… affection for her. “Thank you Yuna.  I… I owe you a great debt.  For everything.  For my life.  And.  Everything.” Jin tried to put every emotion he had in to those words without actually saying how he felt.  It was hard because he couldn’t articulate how he felt, it was too much, too intimate despite what they’d just done last night.

               Yuna looked at him contemplatively and sipped her tea.  “It was… what needed to be done.” Yuna nodded at him after she’d found her words. “But Jin… don’t ever ask me to do that again.”

               Jin’s heart sank.  The post heat contentment and the emotional connection he’d felt was severed.  It was like the samurai from clan Kikuchi all over again.  If not for his other prior partners Jin might have thought he was sexually broken, but the rejection still hurt. 

               “I understand.” Jin nodded his head, “I won’t ask you to help with a heat again.  I apologize for the boundaries I crossed.  I would be honored if you could forget this transgression and fight by my side.”

               Jin was about to bow again when Yuna snorted, “Idiot.” She didn’t elaborate, which just left Jin confused. She took pity on him however, and even clapped him on the shoulder. “I’m not leaving your side until we’ve saved my brother.”  Her words were soft but her gaze was steel, dark brown eyes glinting like hard stone.

               Jin nodded, “And my uncle.”

               He could do this.  Push down emotions, be a samurai, use his logic, loyalty, and honor. He knew what to do now.

               “First I’ll need to find more allies, trained warriors, sensi Ishikawa, Masako Adachi.” That was honor and loyalty covered, Jin could only hope he had enough logic to pull off rescuing his uncle.

               “My brother can help too,” Yuna added, “Once we save him, you’ll have the island’s best blacksmith in your debt.”  She took a large bite of food and washed it down with the last of her soup.  Jin quickly inhaled the rest of his meal and Joined Yuna in putting out the fire and removing all trace of their makeshift camp.  Soon the patch of flattened grass would be the only evidence they were ever here.

               As they cleaned and packed Yuna continued her thought “He’ll make whatever tool you need to save your uncle.”

               “Something to scale the castle walls?” Jin asked, he wasn’t going to risk the front way again. That had been a terrible plan.  A suicidal plan actually.  Now that he was back to himself and away from the overwhelming reality of defeat, he wasn’t going to do that again.

               “You dream it, Taka can make it.” Yuna sounded reverent of her brother, so proud of his achievements.  Jin was almost looking forward to meeting this mythic blacksmith.

               “Where are they holding him?” Jin asked. They still had to find said blacksmith first.

               “He was captured near Kechi.”  Yuna said.  She lifted her saddlebags to her shoulders and began walking down the switchback trail.

               “Ride there and ask around. I’ll join you soon.”  Jin followed her down, it was much easier now and he could enjoy the stunning view.  The cloying smell of pine made him sweat uncomfortably if he thought about it too long.  The trail was still narrow though and he was amazed he hadn’t tripped on the way up and dragged them both to their deaths.

               “Taka won’t last long in a Mongol cage.” Yuna faced him, blocking the narrow path down.  She wanted a promise.

               It was a promise that was easy to give, “Yuna… we will save your brother.”  Jin swore, not just for his sake but for hers, thief or no, lover or not, Jin had decided to trust Yuna.  He did care for her.

               “And your uncle.”  Yuna promised him, putting a hand on his shoulder and giving a squeeze before turning to lead the way down the last sharp turn and into the root strewn clearing.

               They both scanned the area and Yuna walked further downslope to call her horse.  The poor beasts would snap a leg trying to reach them here.  She nodded at him and whistled sharply.  He hadn’t taught her to do that, she’d only heard him once.  Jin felt his heart flutter, maybe he wasn’t as far out of heat as he thought, that or he actually felt… something more for her.

               “I’ll meet you in Kechi.”  Jin promised as Yuna mounted her horse.

               “Whatever keeps you Jin… be quick.”  She said and rode off, her horse agile and light beneath her.  She looked like a samurai, on that horse with its tack and regalia, despite her common garb.  Jin couldn’t help but think of her as Lady Yuna.

               Far be it from him to disobey a samurai lord.

Chapter Text

               Jin was alone in the autumn woods.  Yuna had left him quickly, speeding off in to the fading day.  Jin sat on Kage’s back at the base of the cliff that had been his love nest for the duration of his heat.  The sunlight dappled the ground beneath the trees, adding more pattern to Kage’s withers and rump.  Jin patted his steed on the shoulder and planned his next move.  Yuna had gone north, to Kechi.  Lady Masako Adachi would likely be at her estate.  Sensei Ishikawa had retired… somewhere in the south, it may have been near Hiyoshi Springs.  Jin wracked his brain thinking of who he should go to for help first. 

               Masako must have heard the news from Komoda by now.  She would be grieving.  He could comfort her, but she may want privacy instead.  Sensei Ishikawa hadn’t been at Komoda, had something happened?  Was he still alive?  Would he be willing to save his lord?  He would take some convincing.  Jin still felt too physically and emotionally raw from his heat to deal with that level of confrontation.  He could follow Yuna… help her gather information near Kechi.  Her earlier words about Taka rolled in the back of his mind.  Jin didn’t want to imagine what the Mongols would do to an omega in heat either, and she’d said Taka wouldn’t last long in a Mongol cage.  There was more behind those words but Jin didn’t know Yuna well enough to hazard a guess as to what.  However, having been in heat himself, Jin felt sympathy for the unknown blacksmith; it was an unspoken bond of shared fears.

               Yuna it was.

               Jin rode north, slowly, because his legs and hips were still stiff.  These muscle aches ran deeper than resolved heat, Jin hadn’t ridden as long and hard as he had been during the past two days in quite some time.  Tsushima wasn’t that a large of an island, and tours with his uncle had usually involved a lot of stopping, and walking, and talking, and sipping tea.  That or standing guard and chasing after bandits on foot through narrow paths.  All of which used different muscles than clinging to the back of a running horse for hours on end.

               Jin had hopped off Kage on his northward journey however, many times despite his unarmored state, to confront Mongols along the roads. He’d come across small war bands he’d challenged transporting prisoners he’d freed.  None of the prisoners had news about Taka though, or any other blacksmith.  From what they were saying, things on Tsushima were not going well.  Jin already had a mental list of two farms and a Mongol camp near a crossroads he’d need to clear out, later, after he’d rescued Lord Shimura and they could route the Khan to retake their island. 

               In actuality, Jin thought after dispatching the fifth band of Mongols, this journey was very much like his tours with Lord Shimura and the other samurai.  It all involved stopping frequently or being waylaid, except now the bandits were invaders and the peasants were running in terror instead of exchanging pleasantries and showing fealty.  Jin was surprised at how well his body was holding up by the time he approached Kechi.  He was comfortable, he felt rested, and he was ready to help-

               “Bastard!”

               “That’s Yuna!” Jin gasped. That was Yuna shouting, and if there was screaming then there was no point in Jin being quiet.  The sound of combat would mask any noise he made.  Though, logically, if he was quiet as he approached, he could stealthily take out one or two of whoever was attacking Yuna… ‘without honor’ he thought grimly.  Yuna was rubbing off on him.  Jin charged forward, as fast as he could and heedless of the sound, to rescue Yuna, with honor.  He was too late, and also not needed. Yuna was dispatching the last bandit before Jin even arrived.  He saw her kick him off her blade and stab it down in to his chest for good measure.  Jin rode closer, relieved she was unharmed, although given she was a thief and still alive this long, he probably didn’t have anything to worry about.

               “Jin, you found me.”  Yuna pulled he blade from the corpse and began cleaning it as if this was completely normal for a peasant to do while conversing with a samurai lord.  At least the peasants who had come out of hiding in the fishing hut had the decency to bow towards Jin. 

               “You handled that well.” Jin complemented her skill with a blade and nodded at her victory as he dismounted.

               Yuna finished cleaning and sheathed her sword, “I should have heard him coming.  Let myself get distracted…” She didn’t have to say what by, they both knew it was Taka.  He was her greatest weakness.  “These people saw Mongols marching people upriver; they had a blacksmith with them.”  Yes, that explained why Yuna would be distracted.  Though, Jin had to wonder how they could tell he was a blacksmith at a glance.

               “Your brother?” Jin asked.  It would be best to keep up appearances of hope. It was what he’d done during his half-baked plan to rescue his uncle, it was what his uncle had done during their hopeless battle at Komoda beach.

               “Sounds like it.” Yuna sounded certain.  “They were taking him to a camp, near the Kaneda inlet.”

               “I know the place,” Jin said.  Really, he knew the whole island having explored most of it as a child or during his training as a samurai.  Jin knew Kaneda inlet in particular because Ryuzo had had a particular fondness for the crustaceans that could be foraged along the inlet, and Yuriko had always liked the flowers he would bring back from the riverbanks and marsh; he was definitely more than passingly familiar with the area.

               Yuna motioned for him to follow her and left the yard of the small fishing hut.  She smoothly mounted her horse after summoning it, Jin stared after her wondering how she had learned to ride.  Thankfully Kage hadn’t wandered too far in the brief time they’d been on foot and Jin could catch up to her quickly as they rode north towards Kechi village.  The village was empty, unsurprisingly, but that gave them peace to talk freely.  Before Jin could ask about Yuna’s mastery of pack animals she spoke first: “Did you find any samurai to free your uncle?”

               Jin smiled, thankful that he was behind her so she wouldn’t see how happy he was at her asking after him.  “Not yet.”  He liked her tactical thinking, ‘like a proper samurai lady’ his smile widened, “But I’m still searching.”

               “I’m sure you’ll find someone soon,” Yuna reassured him, slowing her horse so she could meet his gaze. “Taka can help you, after we save him.  Hard to believe I might see him soon.” Yuna’s voice cracked with emotion at the prospect of being reunited with her family.  Jin understood even if he wouldn’t let his own feelings show.

               “He’s lucky to have you,” Jin replied.  That was a safe enough response, and true.  He almost wished he’d had a sibling.

               “He might disagree,” Yuna mused with a hint of amusement coming back to her voice, she was in good spirits at the prospect of a family reunion.

               “That’s what siblings are for,” Jin agreed.  He didn’t have any of his own, but he remembered lady Masako’s boys and their interactions on lazy summer days when tree branches drooped low and tempers ran high.  He’d been a little jealous back then, of what they’d had in each other, if he’d been honest with himself.

               “Like you would know, lord I-have-no-siblings.”  Yuna laughed then looked back at Jin questioningly, “You really never had any brothers or sisters?”

               “Lord Shimura is my only family.” Jin confirmed, his voice going flat and solemn.

               “What will you do when he’s free?” Yuna prompted him, trying to get him back in good spirits.  She didn’t need to bother, Jin had made peace with his family situation; it didn’t bother him, and he’d keep telling himself that until it was true.

               “Take a breath,” Jin sighed, he was wistful.  “Because then I’ll know there’s hope for our island.”  She didn’t need to bother trying to cheer him with talk of the future, but it had worked nonetheless.  Jin had hope, he had certainty Lord Shimura could do anything.

               “You feel that strongly?” Yuna asked, and Jin couldn’t tell if it was disbelief in his words or surprise at his tone that colored her voice.

               “I’ve watched him win victory against impossible odds.” Jin explained, proud and certain of his uncle’s abilities.  He remembered the tales of the Yarikawa rebellion, but those were stories for another day. “And after your brother is free? What then?” Jin asked.

               “Honestly…” Yuna echoed Jin’s earlier sigh, “I haven’t had time to think about it.” Yuna sounded contemplative and the conversation dwindled from there.  She even let Jin take the lead on Kage.

               Jin hadn’t even noticed they’d left the village until Kage was taking him over a log in their path.  Jin shifted his seat and body weight for the leap and landing.  It was like second nature now that he was out of heat and back to himself.  Yuriko and his father had made sure he’d be able to cling to any horse he rode, even though he’d learned on the most placid and stubborn pony on Tsushima and thereafter only had impeccably trained samurai steeds.  Yuna must have been watching him because she commented on his form.

               “You’re riding well.  How are your wounds?”

               “Mostly healed,” Jin said.  He could tell now that most of his issues in Komoda village and leading up to the near-death experience at Castle Kaneda had been a result of his heat and not sepsis or scarring, “Your bandages did the trick,” he complimented Yuna’s skill.

               “You don’t share much about how you feel, do you?” Yuna asked.

               “I do!” Jin protested.

               “Outside of heat?” Yuna teased.

               Jin chuckled, “I suppose you’re right… My uncle taught me that a samurai masters his emotions. Like you master a horse, or a blade.”

               Yuna was behind him and Jin wasn’t looking back to see her expression. “That’s a hard way to live.” From her tone it was clearly unimpressed.

               “It’s not supposed to be easy.” Jin replied, deliberately keeping his tone level, mastering his emotions.

               Yuna must have heard some emotion in his voice however, likely his irritation, because the conversation died.  They were still moving north along the river with cliffs rising higher around them.  They were drawing close to the inlet and camp. Jin could see a trickle of smoke rising, that must be the campsite, and since they’d just passed that particular bridge that meant… “There’s a spot up ahead that overlooks the river-”

               “Should give us a good view of the Mongol camp,” Yuna finished Jin’s thought.  He did like how well they blended.  Despite their obvious differences he was glad to have her at his back in fight.

               They rode up the gentle slope and camped out of sight on the bluff.  Yuna was already scouting their target from her vantage point, “There’s the camp. Tough to get inside.” She hummed.

               Jin looked over the encampment.  “The Mongols threw that together in days.”  They may have taken control of the island, but it wasn’t because they were brilliant engineers, “There has to be a way in.  Let’s look.”

               “We need to reach Taka.  Without putting him in danger,” Yuna reminded him unnecessarily.

               “We’ll find a safe approach,” Jin assured them both.

               After surveying the camp, it was clear there was only one path in.  The back was too fortified, the cliffs held too high a risk of loose shale alarming the guards, the only safe way in was through the front.  Off to the side there was a way through the wood post wall that was still under construction.

               “Could be a way in,” Yuna agreed with Jin’s assessment, “We can look for a gap in the front wall.  Slip inside…”  She paused.

               “And cut down the Mongols where they stand.” Jin finished the thought. 

               From Yuna’s grimace that hadn’t been the correct conclusion of her thought. “If something goes wrong, they’ll kill the prisoners.” Yuna insisted, “I’ve seen them do it,” she hissed urgently and emphasized her point with hand gestures.  “We have to go in quietly.”

               “Like thieves,” Jin said his thought aloud.

               “What’s wrong with that?” Yuna snapped back defensively.  Jin had clearly touched a nerve to offend her and get that response.  It was frustrating, working with a woman who had so little sense of honor.

               Jin shook his head slowly before explaining, “Before the samurai, this island was ruled by criminals.  We changed that by creating order… and delivering justice in the open. We live by a code of honor,” Jin looked Yuna in the eye, he was going to follow his code, “And sometimes… we die by it.  Warriors like my father who just wanted to give us a safer home.” Jin finished, still glaring at Yuna, daring her to challenge her lord.

               “I want the same thing,” she insisted, “But we have to fight back.”

               Yuna clearly didn’t understand.  This wasn’t about fighting back. This was about honor, and the right and correct way of samurai in combat. Jin had to be specific.  “I promised my uncle I’d never break our code,” he explained.

               “Then bend it,” Yuna urged.  “To save my family… and what’s left of yours.”

               Jin looked away.  He knew she was bringing up castle Kaneda, again, that was low.  It was the truth that following his code had almost gotten him killed then, but it was still low to use that to win an argument.  He hated to admit she was right, so he didn’t.  Jin sighed, “Let’s get a closer look. See what we’re up against.”

               “We should wait until it gets darker,” Yuna cautioned. 

               ‘The voice of the experienced thief.’ Jin thought uncharitably.

               There wasn’t more to say. There was no reason in arguing.  Jin was going to pretend to keep to his code.  Yuna was going to be the voice of realism reminding him all the ways that was a stupid idea that would get him, Taka, her, and his uncle killed.  So, they sat, and Jin stewed in his own thoughts.  Finally, the sun had set and it was what Jin thought was finally ‘dark enough’.  “Let’s move.” He ordered.

               Jin and Yuna stalked silently down the gentle slope to the river’s edge.  The bluff above had shed so much stone beneath it that the river was shallow and easy to cross.  It was then, ankle deep in water, that Yuna began to speak.

               “Taka… He’s been through a lot. Even before the invasion.”  Yuna said hesitantly.

               “But you took care of him.” Jin added.

               “Someone had to.” Yuna’s words were heavy with everything she hadn’t said, “He hated when I stole, but it was that or stave.  I didn’t have a choice.”

               Ah, ‘this wasn’t about Taka’, Jin realized, it was about Yuna justifying her thievery.  He could make a concession, to keep the peace.  “I didn’t choose to be a samurai either.” Jin strove for some common bond, but he had to remind Yuna and himself of his limits, “But going against my instincts… my code…”  They were across the river and Jin could feel adrenaline rushing through him at the prospect of combat, he had to remain calm, he had to remain samurai.

               “It’s better than being wiped out by Mongols,” Yuna countered.

               ‘Yuna,’ Jin mused, ‘the lady of perpetual practicality.’

               Yuna crept up the hill and reached the wall first.  “We have to fight back, any way we can.”

               Jin reached the wall and quickly felt their way in with his hands, it was a single post, askew and loose enough they could slip in quietly, “Through here,” he directed.

               Beyond the wall was a clearing, they were able to slip unnoticed further upslope and behind a pile of logs that would be part of the wall by sunset tomorrow.  A day later and their window of opportunity would have closed.  Thankfully there was only one man standing watch tonight within the walls but outside the gate, and he was facing away from them.  Then again, why would he be looking at a near impenetrable wall?  The lanterns from the gate illuminated him but kept Jin and Yuna’s hiding place in shadow.  It was the perfect place to strike from if that hypothetical attacker was a coward.

               “If they see us, they’ll kill the prisoners.” Jin bit out, repeating Yuna’s earlier caution.

               “Then we’d better stay quiet,” Yuna soothed.  She pulled her knife swiftly to gesture with it, “And open their throats.”

               Jin stared, how could her tone be so at odds with her words.  He looked away and slowly, resentfully, drew his tanto.  Once he was armed and ready he faced Yuna again and nodded silently.  Jin crept behind the guard, veering left and right to stay fully behind him as the man pivoted slightly with boredom, unaware of his impending death.  Jin was finally close enough, he struck, pulling the man towards him and stabbing the blade down, through the man’s throat in to his chest.

               ‘Shit!’ Jin momentarily panicked as the man gurgled and choked on a cry.  He shifted his hand from the man’s back to cover his mouth as they fell.  Jin was dragged down by the weight of the soon to be corpse against his blade and his own stubborn refusal to let his victim go and risk his death cries alerting the others.  Once they were on the ground Jin freed his blade, and stabbed it through the man’s ribs, repeatedly, until he was dead.  When he felt the body half covering him go limp, Jin could do the same.  He couldn’t believe it.  It was like the first time he had killed a man all over again.

               He’d been outwardly calm then at his uncle’s behest, and he was calm now from experience.  But internally as a child on that fateful bear hunt he’d been a churning ball of anger and fury eager for revenge, now internally he was shockingly calm with the entire concept of death.  Even though he’d just broken his code.  He hadn’t acted in anger or fear, but he had struck from the shadows, like a coward.  The strength it had taken to hold and pin a healthy Mongol warrior as his life bled out on the dirt was much different from the quick hard slash he had used to dispatch that traitorous Yarikawa assassin who’d been kneeling and gasping wounded at his feet.  What honor was there in killing a wounded foe?  What honor was there in stabbing a man in the back?  Neither action showed courage, and Jin had no respect for either of those men.  Jin was, and had always been, without honor.

               Jin sat up sharply, the corpse falling off him.  He knelt in to seiza and stared down at what he’d done.  His breath was coming too quickly.  He shouldn’t feel emotion, but he was.  He was samurai, but he hadn’t acted as one.  What would be the consequences for this dishonor?

               “Jin…” Yuna came up behind him, “What’s wrong?”  She could tell he was shaking, Jin was sure of it.

               Jin shook his head, he couldn’t afford distractions now, “Let’s find your brother.” Push down emotions, act with only forethought and strategy.  He stood and moved forward.  The gate glowed before them, their next goal, and there was a lone guard beneath it.  “We can’t let them see us.” Jin said, as much to remind himself as anything.

               “Use all your senses.” Yuna added. “Think and move like a thief.”

               Jin stifled a chuckle, ‘At least she’s honest about it.’  He stopped and listened. The guard beneath the gate was facing away from them, listening to his companions converse.  There were three voices.  Jin crept closer, he could see the light of a fire beyond some stacked supplies and logs and count the human shadows beyond it.  That was two voices accounted for.  The third was coming from his right, along with the smell of horses.  The third man was in stables.  Jin took a slow deliberate breath.  He could do this. He would do this, for Yuna and Taka, and for his uncle.  Jin assassinated the man at the gate, then the one in the stables, and by then one of the men at the fire had left to walk deeper in to the camp, leaving one lone guard by the fire who died without a sound.

               Yuna was at his back, providing cover against any he missed but Jin was in top form tonight and none were left alive.  They approached the last Mongol in the lower part of the camp.  He was sitting on a stump, in front of a pike, with severed heads on it.  Jin silently snuck forward, quashing down cold fury to feel nothing as he ran his blade across the man’s throat.  His tanto was sharp, and it bouncing off the man’s spine was the only reason he hadn’t been cleanly decapitated by Jin’s strike.  He gasped, noiselessly from his opened airway as he fell forward and bled out. There was a second fresh corpse on the ground.

               “Yuna, is that…?” Jin whispered in horror, unable to finish his thought and not knowing whether he was referring to the staked heads or the headless peasant’s corpse.

               “No.  Not Taka,” Yuna said, stoic but relieved.

               “Good.” Jin sighed and let all his relief show in that one breath.  He quickly broke the door to the bamboo prison cell, not bothering with the lock, but the body inside was just that; a starved corpse that wasn’t Taka.  Jin swallowed bile, he’d hoped the prisoner was just sleeping.  Yuna nodded at the short cliff behind them.  Jin nodded his agreement, it would be more stealthy to climb than walking up the path.

               Atop the rise Jin could see a yurt that was larger than the others in camp. And he could hear rustling inside.  Jin focused, closing his eyes as he ducked inside to more quickly adjust to the lowered light.  The man inside was fully armored, and facing away from Jin.  Again, Jin went for the throat from behind, and the Mongolian dropped like a stone.  There was a corpse on the sleeping mats on the floor.  After seeing that body Jin could very clearly imagine what fate would await an omega in heat in Mongol hands, especially if they were uncooperative.  Jin shuddered and left the tent.  The body hadn’t been a man.  There was no reason for Yuna to see it.  It certainly wasn’t Taka and it would only worry her more.  As Jin exited the yurt Yuna was already moving toward the last invader left alive in the camp.

               “There, a prisoner!” she pointed beyond the last remaining Mongol to the occupied bamboo prison near the large yurt.

               “Taka?” Jin asked.

               “Let’s find out.” Yuna growled.  Jin killed the last guard and Yuna crept up behind him to confirm, “No… It’s not Taka.”

               Jin was already opening the cage when the straw hatted prisoner spoke, “How’d you get in here?”

               Jin didn’t want to risk anyone returning to camp and sounding the alarm at his bloodbath, “We need to go.” He ordered, “We’ll talk when it’s safe.”

               Yuna was two steps ahead of him as usual and had already found a second gap in the fence, this time right next to where they stood, “Come on!” she urged the men through the breach.

               They followed the empty road away from the camp.  Jin directed them, “Let’s go to the river. We’ll be safe there.”  They ran past cut trees and worn work paths as they got further away from the camp.  “Are you with the straw hat ronin?” Jin asked, fully aware anyone could wear a straw hat, not just sell-swords.

               His guess was proved correct however when the rescued captive spoke, “Heh, I was,” he laughed, “Cut ties with ‘em after they started running low on rations.”

               “Lord Shimura’s been captured. I could use some extra swords to free him.” Jin asked, though coming from a samurai it shouldn’t need to be a request, “Are you looking for work?”

               “No, but the other straw hats may be.”

The man was stubborn, but helpful, Jin had to admit.

The ronin continued: “Last I heard, they were hunting Mongols in Tsutsu prefecture.  By the coast near the Kishi grasslands.”  The river was in sight and the former straw hat sped up.

               Yuna followed him, closely.  “This way,” she corrected him when he made to continue running, “We’re looking for my brother,” she plead her case, “A blacksmith named Taka.”

               The ronin stopped at the river bank, “Don’t know him, but a lot of prisoners move through here.” He conceded.

               Yuna caught up to him and hissed her next demand, “You said they were moving the slaves.  Where?”

               “They mentioned Azamo bay.” The ronin must be realizing the danger he was in because he continued to talk, “And there was a blacksmith in the last group.  A young man with a beard.  From Yarikawa maybe?”

               “You’d better be right.” Yuna threatened.

               “I hope you find your blacksmith.” The ronin made his farewells and took off running across the shallow river crossing before Yuna’s mood shifted.  Yuna glared at his back until he was out of hearing, then her facade broke.

               “Taka’s alive in Azamo bay.” She sounded so certain as she smiled at Jin.

               “The town is surrounded by walls. Rushing in without a plan will only put him in more danger.” Jin tried to remind them both why he’d broken his code while taking this camp.  He gripped his own arm as he remembered how he’d foolishly tried rushing in without a plan storming castle Kaneda.  He wasn’t going to forget that mistake and its consequences.  That mistake meant his uncle was still the prisoner of that warlord butcher.  He hadn’t been wearing his armor for this entire escapade because it still reeked with the consequences.

               Yuna however, seemingly had a plan.  “I have a friend who might be able to get us inside.” Yuna said excitedly.

               “Find him.” Jin ordered.  “The sooner we rescue Taka the sooner we save my uncle.”

               “Jin…” Yuna was reassuring him, “Taka will forge whatever tool you need as soon as he’s free,” but there was something hesitant in her voice, “But after that… we’re leaving the island.” She finished.

               “You’ve seen what the Mongols are doing here,” Jin insisted.  “Lord Shimura can stop them.  Stay.” He pleaded.  “Help us fight for our home.”

               “Home…” Yuna stared Jin down deliberately and defiantly, “Is wherever Taka and I go.”  Her piece said, Yuna whistled for her horse and it ran down from upriver like some mythic water spirit, rising from noting and threatening to spirit Yuna away.  “My friend lives in Azamo prefecture, on the border with Tsutsu.”

               “I’ll find you there,” Jin promised.  He would keep his end of the bargain, even if it meant he’d lose his only ally.

               “I know this wasn’t easy.” Yuna consoled him.  “Going against your code.”

               “I did what I had to,” Jin said, stoic, emotionless, he wasn’t going to let her see how deep the future cut.

               “Thank you.” Yuna said, and disappeared in to the night.  Jin could only stare after her.  Her thanks sounded heartfelt, and yet, she still left him.

Chapter Text

               It was a beautiful autumn morning in Tsushima, and Khotun Khan was furious.  His mood was truly thunderous and, with only a glance in his direction, his generals and soldiers knew well enough to stay far away and not bother him.  The only person brave enough to approach him in this state was his healer, and they only entered his private room in Kaneda Castle with medicines in one hand and fresh airag in the other.  They let Khotun do the initial cleansing of his own wound, the burn of the high alcohol content tincture seared as bad as cautery and Khotun would have killed anyone else that applied it to the gash on his cheek.  Then the healer cleaned it again with a milder antiseptic, applied medication, and declared that while the slash to his cheek would scar it was not deep enough to need any additional closing.  The Khan did not mind the scar; he was apoplectic at the manner he’d received it.  Some weakened samurai whelp in the height of heat shouldn’t have been able to scratch him. 

               The man was good, to have injured Khotun.  His omega scent had smelled delicious, and fertile; that smell of sesame oil and yuzu had made Khotun want to bite in to the samurai until he drew blood.  That samurai, Lord Sakai, would have been a good mate, consort, or concubine, depending on how Khotun could bend him to his will.  But no…  That little whelp had cut him, had kicked him, had spurned the Khan’s magnanimous gesture of good will.  Jin Sakai had been offered mercy, and bit Khotun’s hand like a rabid fox when offered succor.  Khotun Khan would have his little omega yet.  The young man had been out of his mind with heat; he’d wanted Khotun.  The only reason he’d refused had been…  Shimura. 

               Khotun Khan made his way back through the castle to the private room turned prison where he was keeping the Jito.

               “Brother, you’ve been hiding knowledge from me.  All the tales you tell of your nephew, and you neglect to mention he was an omega.” Khotun drawled, the Japanese was foreign on his tongue and forced him to use stilted phrasing.

               “My nephew’s status has nothing to do with battle.” Shimura spit from behind the wooden bars.  He’d been untied and was facing towards the rest of the room, likely awaiting a rescue that was never going to come.  Had he really thought a soldier ten years Khotun’s junior could possibly defeat him? 

               Khan took in Shimura’s words, compared them to what he’d already learned of the man.  The Jito was being defensive, he had been keeping Jin Sakai’s presentation a secret.  Khotun could use this, he enjoyed twisting the proverbial knife, “Were you afraid we’d be so cruel as to take advantage of him?” He asked, knowing full well he was correct in that assumption and his question would strike a nerve.

               “You.  Have.  No.  Honor.”  Lord Shimura’s response was short and clipped.  And his face showed everything though he tried to hide it.  Khotun could read him like a scroll.  The small twitches of his lips and eyebrows, the wrinkle of his nose, the slight quiver in his cheeks as he held back all the vitriol he no doubt wanted to shout at Khotun for being a ‘cruel and honorless barbarian’.  In truth, Khotun could find Shimura’s features almost handsome, especially when he was struggling like this, and if Shimura had been an omega Khotun Khan may have tried turning him the way he planned to do to his nephew.

               “I have omegas in my army, some as my generals.  We treat our birthing people with honor.”  Khotun didn’t add that he’d treat little Jin the same.  It was better to only imply moral superiority; that would cut the Jito deeper in this particular moment.

               Shimura glared at Khotun as if he could set the Khan on fire with his eyes.  He couldn’t argue with Khotun, he hadn’t studied Mongolian culture at all but Khotun was very well versed in the traditions and societal norms of Tsushima.  Best of all was that Khotun was right; secondary sex presentation meant nothing to the Mongols, fight for your place, do your duty, fuck when you needed to; getting heats or ruts didn’t matter as long as it didn’t interfere with the conquest.  But to Shimura his nephew’s presentation had clearly been something to hide.  Was he ashamed of what his nephew was?

               “It doesn’t matter now.” Khotun paused, drawing out the tension.  “He fell, on the bridge.”

               Lord Shimura’s face did that twitching it did when the man was trying so valiantly to pretend he had no emotions, and failed spectacularly.  The old samurai looked on the verge of actual tears.  Khotun let himself show a grin, he had no qualms about showing and using emotions to his advantage.

               “Ah, my Japanese is not so good,” Khotun apologized and let his grin crack wider, “I meant to say: he fell off the bridge.”  He let out a chuckle as Shimura’s gaze hardened back to a glare.  The Jito was so much fun to toy with, and Khotun was so enjoying playing with his prisoner.  “I’ve sent my men to fetch your nephew.  They’ll bring him back alive…  Or dead …  We’ll dredge the coast if we have to.” The Khan began pacing slowly, like a tiger stalking its prey.  In this case, that was Lord Shimura’s reactions.  “What would you prefer Lord Shimura? You blood’s head on a pike? Or my children in his belly?”

               “He fought you.  He’ll never accept you.”  Lord Shimura finally cracked, apparently his grandchildren were the tipping point.

               “So, you prefer alive…” Khotun grinned again, “Don’t you see the advantage of this brother?  Our clans would be united.  You caught the smell of his heat.  What you didn’t see was how he wanted me.”

               “He would never... You ordered him when he was susceptible.”  Shimura snarled now, his alpha instincts to protect what was his coming to the forefront.

               “And you haven’t done the same?”  Khotun taunted, ceasing his pacing to stand and stare down at the Jito.

               “He’s like a son to me you-” Shimura regained his composure before he could finish the epithet. Khotun wondered what he’s been about to say, ‘monster’, ‘son of a bitch’, ‘barbarian’?  Khan had heard worse from his friends.

               Khotun laughed, he had to, he could scarcely believe where the Jito’s mind had gone to so quickly with one little accusation.  Khotun had succeeded in getting under Shimura’s skin; now to make it hurt.  “Not like that, Lord Shimura, but anything else you needed from him.  You know his presentation; you’ve used your voice to sway him to your will.  That boy is a raging fire, and you’ve banked him to a candle flame with your words alone.”

               Lord Shimura scowled.  He couldn’t argue.  Khotun had heard his tone on the bridge, stopping Jin from charging blindly forward and getting killed.  Really Khotun needed to thank him, otherwise he’d have cut the lad down before scenting him, before realizing how delicious it would be to take that sweet omega and mold him in to his pet.  He would have Jin Sakai.  He would make Jin his, mind and body, and Jin would like it.  He would come begging to the Khan for it.  He’d been ready at the bridge, limp and pliant and painfully aroused in Khotun’s grasp.  The Khan would take great pleasure in taking everything Jin had to give.

               “I won’t let you hurt him.” Shimura growled, alpha to alpha.

               “Oh, Lord Shimura, I have no intention of hurting my little bird,” Khotun said, then privately added ‘not in any way he doesn’t beg me for’, what he actually said was “If he still lives.”  It was time to end this game of cat and mouse. 

               “You’ve defended this castle before, brother.  Tell me, how many have survived a fall from that bridge?”  Lord Shimura’s face fell. He turned away and sat in seiza, likely in mourning.  “Right… he was your last family, now your bloodline ends with you.  When you die, I will inherit this island.” Khotun chuckled, “I will take it either way; by force or with your cooperation.” 

               Shimura said nothing. He was facing away now so the Khan couldn’t even see his reaction.  The Jito had caught on to their little game, or he knew he was losing his composure.  Khotun had better things to do now; he’d stabbed the man and twisted the knife, now he had to wait for the Jito to bleed out.  Khotun walked through the shining wood rooms and halls of the castle, and out in to the neat rectangular courtyard.

               The sun was above the horizon, his men were on the hunt for the samurai omega, and if they found him alive he would be brought in whole and unharmed and ripe for conquest.  If he was dead then Khotun had already won.  Khotun would not return to the Jito’s quarters today, he needed to let the man stew before taunting him further or making another offer to end the bloodshed.  Outside the morning air was crisp, but still warmer than his homeland this time of year.  The Khan breathed it in with satisfaction, it was time for a meal, and a nap since he’d had a long night of conquest; once refreshed he would meet with his generals and plan their next moves.

 

 

               “Lord Shimura,” Khotun whispered. The Jito was facing away from him and sitting, slightly slouched, in seiza. He hadn’t moved since Khotun left him yesterday. It was hard to tell if the man was asleep like that, so Khotun called softly to wake him before he began to taunt the captured Jito, “You deserve better than this.  Convince your people to stop resisting, and you, can walk free.”

               The Jito didn’t turn. His voice was harsh and dry, “Stop wasting my time.  Kill me.”  This was new, only one day imprisoned and the man had broken.  He hadn’t even been denied food or water yet.  

               ‘Ah. Yes,’ Khotun remembered what had broken him yesterday, ‘Lord Sakai,’ Shimura’s weak point.  Shimura still thought he was dead; but Khotun knew better, he had received news from Travelers Rest Inn and the old trading post near Lake Izuhara, his prize samurai was riding north.

               “You think you’ve lost everything.  But your nephew is still alive.”  Khotun slowly enunciated every word for effect, watching for a reaction. ‘Time to play’, he thought.

               Lord Shimura’s head raised, “Jin…” he whispered, unbelievingly.

               Khotun grinned, success, “My men control the roads.  They build war camps near your towns.”

               Shimura turned his head to watch as Khotun spoke.  The knowledge the last of his kin still lived was giving the Jito some fight back.

               “They see, everything.” Khotun watched the Jito’s profile as he emphasized ‘everything’.  He could see the twitch of the man’s mustache that indicated Khan was getting to him, “And they will find him.”  The implication of, ‘and then I’ll fuck him senseless’ didn’t need to be said.  An omega in heat was going to be easy to capture and seduce. 

               Shimura stood up and turned to face the Khan, “Lord Sakai will fight until his last breath.” He raised his chin defiantly, “As will I.”

               ‘Oh good.’  Khotun would enjoy the challenge.  He’d love for Jin to struggle, beating against him futily like a bird’s wings fluttering as he crushed its chest, to feel the valiant effort of its heart beating its last in the struggle to be free, when Khotun was and had always been in complete control.  He would have what he wanted, either given freely or taken by force; his island, his people, his omega.

               “You love him.” Khotun taunted, “Just as you love your people. You are a father to them. Will you abandon your children?” 

               ‘Don’t fight me,’ was the silent intent behind Khan’s words.

               Shimura stepped forward, “I won’t make them your slaves,” he said tersely, while glaring.

               “Your nephew, will be far above any slave.  He will be my favored consort.”  Khotun said consolingly, and fully knowing his words would have the opposite effect.

               Shimura literally snarled, showing his alpha side, “You will not touch him!” 

               Khotun loved being right.

               “He will beg for my touch.”  Khotun countered slowly, “And my men have been ordered not to touch him.  Once he’s here, Lord Sakai will come to me willingly.” Khotun chuckled warmly, “I won’t do anything he doesn’t want.”

               “He.  Would. Never.”  Shimura’s face was flushed with fury.  Khotun wondered how much more enraged he could get.

               The Khan laughed. “I had planned to take my little bird’s first time alone, but if you want us to do it in front of you for proof, I’m not against it.  I bet the shame will have his hole tight and squeezing around my cock.  Would you watch, Lord Shimura?  While I stake my claim to your own blood?  He’ll keen so sweetly once I’ve knotted him.”

               Shimura was silently seething.  

               Khotun kept laughing, “No.  I’m not cruel,” he continued, “I’ll take him in private and leave it your imagination; all the ways he will beg for me.”

               Shimura was at the front of his cell, “He’ll never accept you when he’s in his right mind!” he shouted.

               “Then I’ll put him in stocks for my army to use.” Khan threatened, all hints of humor gone.

               Lord Shimura paled.  As Khotun knew he would at that threat.  Sakai really was the Jito’s weak point. 

               “Fear not, Lord Shimura.  Your nephew will cooperate, and unlike you he will bring peace to this island.  Your bloodline will not end.  Lord Sakai, will do what you cannot.”  Shimura was stubborn, traditional.  He could never be swayed, though Khotun would keep trying.  No, his best chance of success would be to take Jin Sakai as consort or bargaining chip, either would work.  And if he really did have to put his little bird in stocks to make Shimura break, well, Khotun would be there after to pick up the pieces.

               “Leave him out of this.” Shimura demanded, low and dangerous.  As dangerous as a caged bear with its claws clipped could be.

               Khotun needed to twist the knife again, he was tiring of their little game, “He came to me once.  He will come to me again.  What kind of alpha would I be if I turned down my little omega in his time of need?”  His thoughts were turning more and more to what he would do to Jin Sakai.

               Shimura snarled wordlessly, if he was a dog his hackles would be up from nose to tail tip.

               “I’ll let you know once he’s arrived.”  Khotun continued as if he wasn’t taunting a potentially dangerous man, “He can visit with you, and tell you how kind of a ruler the Mongolian empire can be.”

               The Jito turned away, fuming, to resume sitting in seiza and ignoring the Khan.  Khotun smiled, The Jito was right where he wanted him.  He would yield.  Once he saw his nephew at heel and in hand he would yield.  And if he refused...  Well, once the Khan got an heir to legitimize his claim to the island he wouldn’t need Lord Shimura, or Lord Sakai any more.  Unless Jin was a good lay.  And the way he’d writhed and ground himself under Khotun’s hand… Led Khotun to think he’d be a very good lay indeed.

               Khotun chuckled as he left the Jito without another word.  Damn.  Being so close to an omega in heat, and having him react the way he did to Khan catching his scent. It was enough to drive him wild. It was almost enough to make his rut come early.

               The Khan left to his private quarters, presumably to think.  And think he did.  About how soft his little bird’s insides would feel gripping his cock.  The man had cried so beautifully on the bridge. Hhe’d do the same from pleasure when Khan knotted him, locking them together and filling him with come.  The Khan’s troops had been given orders to not touch the omega.  He knew he could trust his men to follow his words to the letter no matter how much Jin Sakai would beg and plead.  He’d catch the scent of the alpha’s in his army on his way to Castle Kaneda and their denial of his needs would have him more and more desperate.  He’d arrive panting, on his knees and bound before Khotun.  Potentially injured if he was captured in a struggle, which was very likely given what Khotun had heard from his scouts. 

               But Khotun wasn’t cruel, he wouldn’t cause Jin pain.  He’d hold him down while his personal healers bandaged his wounds.  He’d use his own sleeve for Jin to bite down on so as not to crack his pretty teeth as his wounds were cleaned and closed.  Khotun settled on to his bed in the castle and lazily freed his erection.  Maybe he would use the remaining bandages to immobilize his new consort so he didn’t hurt himself further while Khotun took him. He’d tie Jin’s hands and legs apart, leaving him spread and completely open for Khotun to explore at his leisure.  He could use his hands, tongue, teeth, whatever he wanted to use to rub and taste and mark that body.  He wondered what scars Jin already had.  He wondered if Jin would find Khotun’s attention to them soothing, or ticklish and humiliating.  The samurai had a scar on his cheek, now Khotun matched him; He slowly ran a finger along the still fresh wound and gripped his cock tighter.  With Jin bound, he could punish him for marking Khotun however he saw fit.

               And mark Jin he would.  Khotun had every intention of biting and sucking until Jin’s neck was a giant bruise, visual proof of Khotun’s domination for anyone unable to smell the reek of his pheromones all over his little bird.   He’d mark him inside as well.  In heat Jin’s body would welcome him.  Khotun gripped the base of his cock tighter as he felt his knot swell.  He’d knot his omega, but not until he’d already popped his knot and could stretch Jin wide on it.  He wanted to see the Jito’s heir gaping open and ruined with lust.  He wanted it to be an intense heat, where he could fuck the man full and then be begged to do it again.  He’d keep going until his little bird was exhausted, pulse hammering in his throat like fluttering wings.  His bound limbs would be dead and dense and unable to struggle back no matter how Khotun stretched and flexed him to get the perfect angle and squeeze around his cock.

               And then, when Jin’s body was exhausted he’d free his ties, or maybe just redo them.  ‘Yes,’ Khotun thought, he’d tie the whelp’s hands together and to his neck so if he struggled he’d only choke himself into oblivion.  Khotun would re-bind his legs, shins tied to thighs, so he could still flip and bend the man to his wills and he couldn’t get away.  Trussed like a fresh kill Khotun would haul him upright and pierce him on his cock.  The Khan would lay back on his cushions and blankets with his war prize propped atop his hips; bound limbs meant Jin would be forced to use his core muscles to balance, every twitch would have him squeezing Khotun so tightly as his body weight dropped him down the length of Khotun’s dick.  Khotun gripped himself harder and gave himself a slow languid stroke down, starting at his head, rolling back the foreskin and sliding as slowly and tightly as possible down the thick shaft to the edge of his knot.  Jin would pause there, likely gasping with anticipation, resistance trapping him briefly until his weight dragged him down, stretching him wide and pressing Khotun in, deeper and deeper.  Khotun would drag Jin back upwards.  His pet would gasp with relief and want, his wet cunt and soft lips gripping and dragging along the Khan’s flesh the same way Khotun’s hand was doing now, until just the head was in and then he’d let Jin fall again.  His little bird would be mad with the sensation of it as Khotun repeated that drag and pull until his own arms were exhausted from lifting a grown man’s weight.  Only then would he finally let Jin slide fully down, his aching stretched hole finally giving way and letting Khotun’s knot seat perfectly inside that raw heat.

               After he’d fucked Jin to both their satisfactions he’d lay him down on his side and hold him close while they slept, Jin tied to him by his bindings and his knot.  Whenever he awoke, or another wave of heat washed over his pet, Khotun would already be inside him to fuck another load of come in to him.  Ultimate satisfaction was guaranteed, for them both.  And when Jin’s heat ended, and he was back to his senses, he would accept the Khan as his mate and master.  If he did the Khan would give him one final load as reward.  If he didn’t, he’d be tight with terror as Khotun pinned and fucked deep in to him one final time.  Either way, Khotun got what he wanted.

               And after...  When Lord Sakai was gaping open and leaking, the Khan’s victory would be final.  He wasn’t an exhibitionist, his personal marking fetish and other threats to rile up the Jito aside.  There had to be some way to show his claim to everyone that didn’t involve rutting in to Jin in public?  Some proof that Jin was his entirely.  Maybe the love bites on his neck and shoulders would be enough?  Or maybe letting him visit his uncle, naked, with Khan’s seed still dripping out of him.  Khotun would make him walk across the courtyard before allowing him up there, so the islanders would see the proof of his conquest and be cowed.

               And with the heir to the Jito bearing his children there’d be no question who owned this island.

               It was perfect.

Chapter Text

               Yuna had ridden off like a thief in to the night to find her friend.  She wasn’t waiting for Jin.  He was following her southwards, slowly, so Kage didn’t snap a leg as they trekked off road through the darkness of the waning moon.  Jin wasn’t surprised at Yuna’s blind charge, when it came to her brother, Taka was her blind spot.  Jin remembered reading Sun Tsu and sitting at his uncle’s side learning tactics and strategy; he’d learned about blind spots, and that avoiding emotional attachments to deep interpersonal connections was a way to avoid them.  Jin wasn’t ever going to charge forward blindly like that, except… he had, but he was going to excuse that with a heat he hadn’t realized he was in.  Lord Shimura most certainly wasn’t his blind spot. 

               ‘Except he most certainly was,’ Jin knew but would never admit it aloud, and since Jin knew that he could plan around it.  ‘It wasn’t a problem...’  Jin was so wrapped up in his philosophical contemplation he nearly tripped over the survivor camp on the dark hillside.  Thankfully Kage was more alert than his rider and stopped shortly before stepping on someone’s goza mat.  Jin looked around to see a few faces blinking at him in the dim light, a campfire at their backs.  They looked like they’d seen a ghost, and were trying to decide if it was safer to run or hide or cower.  Then they recognized his tack and posture. 

               Jin could hear the whispered voices, “Samurai.”

               “It’s a samurai.”

               “I thought they’d all been killed.”

               “It’s lord Sakai.”

               Jin slipped of Kage, this time elegantly and not in a soggy heat induced heap.  The people in the survivors’ camp bowed to him, as they should.  It was almost normal; but for obvious reasons his people bowing to him while bloodied and bruised and nowhere near their homes made it off-putting.  Jin wondered how they recognized him, had he met some of them before?  He was honored they would show proper respect at such a late hour, and with themselves in such a state.  He was disturbed seeing some of them struggle to get in position to bow despite obvious wounds and aches.  Despite his discomfort at the situation Jin was still a samurai, the last one alive and not captive, so he had to keep up appearances even without his armor and put up a proper front.  That meant manners.  They would bow to him.

               Jin bowed, slightly, to them all and greeted them.  He stopped at each individual or group that was awake to exchange a few words, catching news and rumors of what he’d missed while recovering in that cave.  The Golden Temple was truly a safe haven and had helped set up these refugee camps and assisted in keeping them supplied.  Jin had to do his part as well, these people had been through a lot and deserved his consideration.  Then again, he’d been though a lot recently as well.  Seeing the people of Tsushima made all the reasons he was fighting become clear.  Jin needed to save his uncle, and save his people, these huddled frightened people.  Jin’s rounds of his vassals was interrupted by a voice calling to him, like all the others in the camp had.

               “Lord Sakai…?”  The merchant said again as Jin approached, disbelief in his eyes.  “You survived the invasion?”

               Jin stood close so he wouldn’t be shouting across the camp like a common gossip.  “So far...”  He tried and failed to place the merchant’s face, “Have we met before?”

               “No, my lord.  But I watched you ride in to battle.  Please accept this gift.  If you wear it, they say a spirit will lead you to whatever you’re looking for.”  The man held up an indigo dyed bundle of clothes.

               Spirits leading him… Jin had experienced stranger things… like surviving a fall from the bridge of Castle Kaneda whole and intact.  He’d already been touched by spirits to still be alive after what he’d endured. 

               “Sounds like something you could use yourself,” Jin politely tried to refuse the gift.

               “Not with Mongols prowling the countryside, but if it leads you to any flowers: bring them to me- or other traders. We can use them to fashion dyes.”  The merchant offered the bundle again.

               “I’ll remember that.  But I cannot take what is yours.”  Jin refused again, politely.  In these times accepting this gift would be too akin to theft.

               “My lord, I apologize for my rudeness but, a samurai lord should not wear such damaged clothes.  Please let me honor you with this gift.  It is still beneath your station, but more befitting your status my lord.  And perhaps the spirits will ease your travels.”  The merchant bowed deeply after saying this and again presented the bundle.

               “Thank you,” Jin said, earnestly, bowing back only slightly less than the merchant.  He couldn’t possibly refuse after that display, not without shaming the man.

               Jin accepted the bundle and dressed behind a folding byōbu screen someone had been savvy enough to bring with them when they fled.  He folded and saved the ruined under-armor wear in case of future need, then admired the cut of his new outfit, it was a good fit though the material was slightly rough. 

               “Thank you again,” he said, bowing to the merchant now that he was dressed in clean, holeless, unfrayed clothes.  “It’s very nice, if a little stiff,” he tried to joke.

               “It’s ramie my lord.  It will soften with wear.  Not as nice as proper silk, as befitting your station.”  The merchant said even as he presented Jin with more clothing options and other varied sundries that were not free.

               “It’s more than I need.”  Jin waved off the add on purchases.  “Thank you, sir.  I hope there is still enough to go around,” Jin hinted and glanced pointedly at the refugees dotting the camp.  He was trying to sound humble even as he guiltily enjoyed the feel of new and intact, if rough, cloth fully covering him.

               “We’ll make do with what we have my lord.  Safe travels on your journey.”  The merchant wished him well.

               “Stay safe everyone, and please, keep off the roads.  If you can make the journey to the Golden Temple in Ariake, there is refuge there.”  Jin did his best to give the people hope with his parting words, then he remounted Kage and continued his southward journey under cover or night.  It was bad enough he felt like he’d taken the clothes off someone’s back, he wasn’t about to take food from their mouths.  Jin knew if he stayed they’d insist he not eat from his own rations out of deference to his status as samurai and their roles as vassals.  He eventually found a dry shaded area that was mostly hidden from nearby game paths and stopped for the night to camp.  It wouldn’t be much sleep, or an easy one, but it was better than dozing in the saddle.  Jin’s back was getting too old for the stupid stunts and strange sleeping positions he’d pulled in his youth.

               With the dawn’s light Jin remounted.  Sleep and a good meal with his morning contraceptive had done him good.  With renewed vigor he set off toward the Kishi grasslands to find the Straw Hat Ronin.  He reached the coastal fields unchallenged, and rode freely across them.  The grasslands were clear and bright and stretching towards the horizon in every direction.  It wouldn’t be hard to find Mongol patrols here, or find evidence of them being taken down.  The grasses rolled like waves with the wind.  Jin leaned to the side in the saddle, almost falling out, and let the fluffy grass blooms and seed heads run through his fingers.  The constant brushing against his hand was soothing.  For a moment, he almost felt joy just existing in the moment, not focusing on what he’d faced and had yet to face in this invasion.  Then Jin was distracted from his distraction, dragged up and back to his purpose by dark smoking rising in the distance.  He saw a break in the green sea, a patch of grass was missing that was wider than the road that meandered along the coast. 

               “Too much smoke for a campfire.” Jin hummed aloud.

               As Jin got closer he could hear the crackling of flames, it was a collapsed wagon, completely destroyed.  “Mongol convoy.  Ambushed,” Jin announced like he’d had his fellow samurai with him to listen.  “Could be the Straw Hat’s doing.”  Jin mused, the wagon was thoroughly deconstructed and the flames had been roaring for a while based on the scorch marks and the pile of ash below.  There was a single dead body on the ground near the flames, half cooked, “The attack started here… but there had to be more than one Mongol.”  Jin looked around and saw his objective just before the mists rolled in off the sea. 

               “Looks like more bodies up ahead.”  Jin followed the trail of corpses like a child following breadcrumbs in a fairy tale.  He slowed Kage to a walk so he could have time to see what the mists revealed before stumbling on top of another body.  By the third corpse the gruesome trail had left the grasslands and entered the forest.  The mist darkened the air under the trees, creeping between the trunks like a living thing; a superstitious person would fear they might encounter a spirit tempting them with warmth and creature comforts which, if accepted, meant they could never return to the world they knew.

               It was a liminal space filled with liminal beings.  The Mongol Jin stumbled upon next wasn’t dead… yet… “Trying to get away from his attackers.”  Jin said aloud, if anyone was around, he wanted them to jump out and fight him already, enough of this morbid game.  Jin dismounted and ended the man’s suffering, aiding him on his journey to the next life.  There was no use questioning him, he’d been too far gone to give Jin any useful information anyway.  The mystery attackers had at least finished off the next corpse, and that was where Jin confirmed the killer’s identity.  There was a lone straw hat on the ground, a smooth round pyramid with a rough brim and an open weave section for the wearer to see clearly while still shading their eyes.  Jin picked it up to admire the craftmanship and see if he could identify the owner.  Not everyone who wore a straw hat was a ronin, but every Straw Hat Ronin wore their namesake.  Jin examined the hat until a shout broke his reverie.  A Mongol soldier ran towards him, roaring loudly, with his blade raised far above his head… ‘poor form,’ Jin quickly assessed.  Jin freed the habaki of his katana, ready to fully draw it.  It would be easy to-

               A ronin appeared from nowhere, delivering two swift blows to the invader’s unprotected belly and shoulder.  The second blow was so deep the blade stuck, probably against bone, and remained with the dead Mongol as he fell backwards.  Jin paused.  He kept his hand on his own blade as the ronin turned to face him.  Jin saw the man’s face and was sheathing his blade before the ronin even spoke.  It was him.

               “Jin?”  His old friend stood in front of him like a phantom from his past, “Jin Sakai.”  Ryuzo had never sincerely used honorifics.  It was one of the reasons Jin had liked him growing up.  Jin couldn’t help but smile at the familiarity.

               “Ryuzo,” Jin greeted his old friend.  He walked forward, eyes taking in his old friend’s new appearance.  He still had the impressive short cropped full beard Jin had been jealous of since they turned seventeen, his hair was still an untamable mess with loose stands falling in his face, and his lips were still full and expressive; able to quirk in to a knowing half smile when he saw Jin staring at him.  The differences were his eyes which now looked tired and worn, and his cloths which were standard lightweight ronin garb with faded dye.  The most striking change was the straw shoulder cover and cape, and the matching golden tan shoulder guard, Ryuzo now wore a han kote on his right hand and forearm, and there was undyed rough hemp braid everywhere Jin would have used silk cord.  “You look like a scarecrow,” Jin teased lightly.

               “You’ve looked better too.”  Ryuzo matched him insult for insult.  His face stern before breaking in to a smile as he clapped Jin on the shoulder to give him a friendly shake while they both laughed.  “Can I have my hat?”  It was so easy and comfortable to be back together again.  Jin couldn’t stop smiling.

               “You’re a mercenary now?”  Jin asked.  He wanted to make up for lost time, to know everything that was new in Ryuzo’s life.

               “Professional warrior.”  Ryuzo corrected and took his hat.  He brushed his fingers briefly against Jin’s and it was like a shock connected them.  Jin remembered secret touches when they’d been training, small distractions while he was trying to meditate; every time Ryuzo had been near him the air practically crackled with electricity like a storm about to break.

               Jin pushed down the fond remembrances, “Maybe you can help me. I’m looking for your leader.”  Now that they were together again, they had time, Jin could deal with business first.

               Ryuzo turned back to face Jin.  He had propped his hat atop his katana hilt, it was still sticking straight out of the Mongolian’s chest like incense at a grave.  “He died on Komoda beach,” Ryuzo said solemnly.

               “You were there too…”  Jin was shocked, and ashamed he hadn’t noticed, and relieved his friend hadn’t died.  He wished they’d met each other back then, but was relieved they hadn’t; every soldier with him and Lord Shimura’s retinue had died.

               “I lost a lot of friends.”  Ryuzo stated flatly as he crouched down to loot the corpse.

               “We all did,” Jin said sadly, “and we can avenge them if we work together.”  Jin stepped forward.  “Help me save Lord Shimura.”  He stated his case once again.

               Ryuzo continued riffling without saying anything.  His face was half a sneer when he finally sat back to ask, “He’s alive?”  He half smirked and turned away, growing solemn once more.  “The straw hats are hurt.  Starving.  I can’t ask them to risk their lives for one man.”  He emphasized one and man separately.  Jin couldn’t tell if Ryuzo’s ‘one man’ was referencing Lord Shimura or Jin himself.  Before Jin could let himself feel too hurt by the jab he reminded himself, this wasn’t about him, he couldn’t expect Ryuzo to jump to his aid for the sake of old and faded friendship alone. 

               “Even if you could name your price?”  Jin tempted, sweetening the pot and pushing his feelings down for the time being.  He needed more swords, he needed the Straw Hat’s help, and he would do whatever it took to get their help.  Ryuzo’s eyes widened slightly.  He blinked and looked away.  Was he considering Jin’s offer?

               Jin pushed his luck.  “Once we free our home Lord Shimura will pay you, anything you want,” he promised.  It might be a grandiose gesture, but his uncle had never denied him, Jin had never asked him for much. As a samurai in training he didn’t need things, and he’d always been slightly afraid if he’d asked for too much as the Jito’s ward he’d be deemed a nuisance and discarded.  After freeing his uncle surely Lord Shimura would grant whatever boon Jin requested, even if that boon was on behalf of Ryuzo.  Or maybe what Ryuzo asked would be something from Jin personally, something only he could give; and after repelling the invasion it might be something Jin could give freely.

               Ryuzo stood, then slouched, shifting his weight leg to leg as he thought the offer over.  He retrieved his hat from its impromptu stand and settled on, “My men might be interested,” as his definitive answer.

               “Your men?”  Jin asked.  Focusing on one of the words Ryuzo hadn’t emphasized but that loomed larger and more possessive than the others.

               “I look out for them,” Ryuzo explained, dismissing Jin’s interest casually, “someone has to.”  It was chillingly like what Yuna had said before.  Jin half had to wonder, if Yuna had stolen for Taka, what had Ryuzo done for his men… did Jin even want to know. 

               ‘Don’t ask questions.  Don’t start a fight.’ Jin told himself; it was too easy to fall back in to the habits they’d had before.  Jin hated the arguments but Jin liked those painful patterns more than their roles of samurai and common born friend with ‘notions above his station,’ as Lord Shimura had put it, frequently, to Ryuzo’s face.  Jin was about to promise more than he could probably give, like making them all his retainers on the spot, just to get Ryuzo to agree to help him, but he was interrupted.

               War horns sounded, breaking up their negotiations, the alarm was too close for comfort; the war party was practically on top of them, they’d let themselves get distracted.  Jin and Ryuzo both had their swords out before they even had time to think, Jin’s drawn from his sheath and Ryuzo’s from his kill.  Back to back they took their stances as if they hadn’t been apart more than a day, like all the old times when they’d been training, fighting with the village boys, or playing pretend in the forest.

               “Do we have a deal?”  Jin asked, as if the heat of combat was the best time for decision making, as if Ryuzo’s answer would change how Jin fought by his side.

               “I’ll think about it.”  Ryuzo gave him that much of a response as the Mongols encircled them.

               “Hold your ground,” Jin reminded Ryuzo, needlessly.  Ryuzo always had been bold, and stubborn.  In every fight, no matter which of them had started it, Ryuzo always had Jin’s back to finish it.

               “I always do,” Ryuzo swore.  Jin could have dwelled on that statement, on what Ryuzo was implying and all the times Ryuzo could possibly be referencing, but now was not the time for reminiscing.  Now was time to fight.

               The Mongols came, swinging their weapons predictably, one at a time to avoid slicing each other open.  That always made it easy at the beginning of a fight.  Jin took his opportunities as they presented themselves.  Then Jin had to step over dying bodies to reach the next Mongol, who looked ready to run away despite Jin’s lack of armor... maybe it was the blood spatter covering Jin’s face and front.  Jin took chase and almost ran in to the path of an arrow. 

               ‘That was too close,’  Jin felt his heart racing with more than adrenaline.  He ducked back behind a large tree to rejoin Ryuzo in the protective cover.

               “This is for Komoda beach! Kill them all!”  Ryuzo shouted, breaking away from Jin almost as soon as they’d reconvened to push back two enemies that had approached together.  Jin was still barely holding back panic as he fought a spearman, his back against the tree now that Ryzo was chasing the remaining swordsman to deliver a finishing blow.  Jin dodged a thrust and the spear stuck in soft tree bark; dispatching the man as he tried to free his weapon was child’s play.

               They fought, and won, against the first wave; but there were more Mongols coming from over the ridge across the forested road, and there were still the archers keeping them pinned behind the trees to be dealt with.  “These bastards won’t give up!”  Ryuzo snarled as another group of foes charged towards them.

               “Don’t let them surround us!”  Jin yelled, breaking from cover again to meet his foes in the open.

               This time he heard the Mongol archers shouting to duck.  Despite not knowing the language, Jin knew that cry, context alone was more than enough.  Jin’s back ached where the scars were forming from his near fatal wounds at Komoda beach. He charged across the road and uphill to clear out the archers before Ryzo and he were made into pincushions.  When Jin turned back Ryuzo was still doing well for himself. Holding his own against multiple foes, Ryuzo’s sword technique was more refined now.  Jin left him to it since Ruzohad just gutted two men with a single strike.  Jin quickly scanned the battlefield, that just left the one Mongol with the fanciest armor.  Jin charged forward to reach him first and was the one to dispatch the leader.  As the man let out his dying groan Jin turned back to his friend to find Ryuzo calmly cleaning his sword of gore.  He looked so confident and collected, even covered in blood and mud from the fight.  He was still so handsome.  Jin had to say something, “Your form has improved.” 

               ‘Something painfully obvious.’  Jin cursed at himself.

               “And you,” Ryuzo smiled fondly, “managed to grow a beard.”  Ryuzo joked at Jin’s stubble, rubbing a hand along the short hairs so it tickled Jin’s jaw.  Ryuzo always had been able to give as good as he got.  Jin refused to acknowledge the jab at his masculinity and admit his hint of facial hair was only because the last time he’d shaved was well before Komoda.  Ryuzo always knew how to poke at Jin and get a reaction; Jin had always been easy to tease.  He had been jealous when Ryuzo was the first to grow facial hair, and have sex with a girl, and present with his secondary sex.  Ryuzo had teased him about all those things for years.  Jin had missed it, had missed him.

               “Have you considered my offer?”  Jin asked, changing the topic and hoping Ryuzo’s earlier deferment had been in jest, or because he didn’t want Jin distracted during their fight.   Ryuzo removed his hand from Jin’s cheek and turned to the bodies surrounding them.

               “The Straw Hats can’t save your uncle.  We’ll be lucky if we survive the week.”  Ryuzo was looting again. Like Yuna had. 

               Jin let his expression show a bit of his disappointment at Ryuzo’s answer.  Ryuzo had his mind made up the entire time, just not with the conclusion Jin had hoped for.  “It’s that bad?”  Jin asked, looting the invaders himself to see if there was anything salvageable that could help his friend.  He’d stand by Ryuzo, even if he disapproved of his friend’s decision not to help save Lord Shimura.

               “We’re starving.”  Ryuzo finished searching the corpse.  “I was out here hunting for food.”  He stood and turned, staring in to the woods.  “And I’m returning to my men empty-handed,” he added bitterly.

               “But not alone,” Jin provided, hopeful he could help.  He and Ryuzo had been inseparable once. Now, together again, they could do anything.  Jin was certain of it.  “Take me to your camp. We’ll figure something out on the road.”

               “Hmph,” Ryuzo huffed, “Just like old times.” 

               Jin smiled.  Just like old times.  One of them would start a fight, and they’d both finish it.  Or one of them would get in to some type of mischief and they’d carry it out together, though it was usually Ryuzo who got them in to trouble and Jin’s plan that got them out of the worst of it afterwards.

               Ryuzo mounted his horse quickly, soothing it as it pranced in place, eager to run.

               “Planning to walk?”  He teased as Jin whistled for Kage and waited for the dappled gray to approach.  “Come on…” he rushed Jin along. 

               ‘Ryuzo and his horse are well matched,’ Jin thought amusedly to himself.  Once Jin was mounted and they were on the road, at each other’s sides with grasses racing by, Jin reminisced.  “When was the last time we saw each other?”  Jin asked, though he thought he knew.

               “Two summers ago,” Ryuzo said bluntly.  “Lord Nagao’s tournament.”

               “I looked for you after the tournament ended,” Jin remembered, and didn’t add the obvious ‘and didn’t find you anywhere.’

               “The straw hats saw our duel.  They needed a new sword.  Seemed like fun.”  Ryuzo said lightly, conveniently skipping the part where he hadn’t said two words to Jin after their duel.  He had acted like Jin was a stranger and avoided him completely.

               “You never visited my uncle’s castle,” Jin said, mentally adding ‘except when you snuck in to fuck me.’  Jin let a bit of that hurt and longing tinge his voice. 

               Jin was so close to his old friend once more, he couldn’t stand to let the emotional distance remain, “Why didn’t you tell me you were at Komoda?”  Jin asked, trying not to let the resentment creep in to his voice.

               The conversation died.  There was nothing Jin could say in response to that.  He was the one who had pulled away from Ryuzo, for his own selfish reasons.  He wasn’t allowed to feel bad that Ryuzo responded in kind.

               They were out on the grasslands again when Ryuzo spotted it, “Another Wagon…” he said as he dismounted and approached the ransacked but intact structure.

               “Might have something we can salvage…” Jin said, already back to thinking of them as a team.  It only took a cursory glance to tell there was nothing of value there for them.  “Empty,” Jin bit out, disappointed.

               “Samurai! Samurai!”  A peasant man was calling to Jin, his faint voice growing louder as he came running through the pampas grass.  How people kept recognizing Jin as samurai out of his proper armor he would never know.  Ryuzo would probably make some quip about ‘regal bearing’ or ‘good breeding’, and Jin would call him on his bullshit.

               A lone peasant, an empty wagon, Jin easily put the picture together, “Was this your wagon?”

               “Yes, my lord.”  The man bowed fully and deferentially, holding the pose for the appropriate time before rising and continuing to speak, “Mongols stole my horse… took my rice.”  He bowed again.

               “You’re lucky that’s all you lost.”  Jin said, consolingly.

               “Which way did the Mongols go?”  Ryuzo demanded.

               “Toward fort Ohira,” the man said, assuming Ryuzo must be Jin’s retainer, or a hired sword of his Lord.

               “Dammit,” Ryuzo cursed, kicking at the dirt.

               “Take refuge at the Golden Temple,” Jin advised.  “Warn others to stay off these roads.”  He didn’t want his people captured, or to come to harm.

               “Yes, my lord.”  The man disappeared in to the grass, taking what little he had left with him.  Ryuzo and Jin were again alone together.

               Ryuzo grunted with frustration, “Let’s keep moving.  My camp’s not far.”  They remounted and rode on.  Jin couldn’t stand seeing Ryuzo upset.  He had to do something about it.

               “I meant what I said before,” Jin swore, using what he thought of as his ‘samurai public speaking voice’ to show how much he meant the words.  “Help free Lord Shimura, and he’ll grant you anything in his power.”

               “What’s he got the power to give?”  Ryuzo scoffed bitterly, keeping his eyes forward.

               “Name your price,” Jin said.

               Ryuzo was right.  ‘But,’ Jin mused silently, ‘Some things stay the same, you’re still the same Ryuzo.’ Time had done little to change Ryuzo’s appearance or attitude.  He was still the same man Jin had feeling for, and Jin’s feelings hadn’t changed.

               Jin looked forlornly at his friend’s back as they left the Kishi grasslands and re-entered the wooded hills of Tsutsu.  Time to offer Ryuzo what he wanted, “He can declare the straw hats a samurai clan, and make you their lord,” Jin said, smugly, he knew Ryuzo. 

               Jin had to give up.  Ryuzo wasn’t going to help him, but despite it all Jin would still help Ryuzo, for memories’ sake if nothing else.  “It can’t have been easy keeping the straw hats together after Komoda beach.” Jin appealed to flattery, “How did you do it?”

               “I convinced them nobody can save us but ourselves.”  Ryuzo said, finally serious.

               “That’s true.”  Jin agreed.  Yuna had shown him that much.  They had to fight back, any way they could.

               “I used to think so,” Ryuzo said, sounding almost pained, “But it’s starting to feel like a lie.”

               Jin privately swore he would help his friend, however he could, ‘Ourselves’ was plural after all. Jin had to help Ryuzo, he owed it to his oldest friend.  “How many men do you have?” Jin started as he had been trained to, with a tactical resource assessment.

               “We’re down by half, but still enough to call ourselves a small army,” Ryuzo said.  Jin was impressed, to keep a small army going on starvation rations was no small feat. “Why?”  Ryuzo was suspicious, he knew Jin was trying to get at something.

               “That peasant said the Mongols stole his rice and went to fort Ohira.”  Jin explained, leaving the trail of crumbs for Ryuzo to follow.

               “You think they’re hoarding food there.”  Ryuzo concluded.

               “Possibly...” Jin cautioned.  He’d been burned once by Mongols moving people from one camp to another, it only made sense they’d do the same with things like stolen food.

               Ryuzo seemed brighter even as he slowed his horse’s pace going uphill through the dappled green forest, “Do you have an idea?”  He demanded of Jin, beginning to sound hopeful.

               “The beginning of one.”  Jin was coy, cunning, thinking of their next move.  They could steal their food back from right under those invading dogs’ noses.

               Ryuzo slowed his horse further to a walk and sat taller in his saddle.  Jin followed his lead.  They were approaching some boulders and rocky outcroppings.  Was it the entrance to a camp?  It wasn’t long before they were challenged by a man in straw hat.

               “Halt. Who goes there?”

               Ryuzo waved lazily, “Easy, Shinzo.  It’s me.”

               As they dismounted and entered the Straw Hat Ronin’s camp they were suddenly the center of attention from the few dozen men within.

               “He’s here!”

               “Ryuzo’s back!”

               There was a chorus of greetings and cheers with their arrival.  Jin smiled, Ryuzo was popular, but then again, he always had been charismatic.

               “About time…”

               “I don’t see any food!”

               And then there was the snark and grumbling.  Maybe this small army wasn’t as held up as Ryuzo had thought and Jin had hoped.   Ryuzo’s Straw Hat Ronin were gathering around in a semicircle, leaving their campfires and goza mats to see what and who Ryuzo had dragged back to camp with him.

               “Who’s the samurai?”  One man asked, his tone clearly stating he would have much preferred Jin to be a side of boar, or keg of sake, or even a brace of radishes.

               As Jin scanned the camp again he noticed it was bare bones now that the men were gathered before them and not milling around in it. They had a fire going, for heat if not cooking, with cloths hung drying nearby.  A few lean-to shelters faced toward the open flames for warmth.  The whole encampment looked strikingly similar to the survivor camp Jin had stumbled across.  Ryuzo was standing tall at the entrance, ready to address his men.  Jin was at his side and unconsciously had taken the high ground on the rock next to him.

               “Men, this is my old friend, Lord Sakai.”  Ryuzo made the first introduction, raising his voice to carry.

               “Ryuzo told me you’re starving. I’m here to help.”  Jin spoke clearly and calmly, using his ‘samurai public speaking’ voice again, it was too easy to fall in to old habits.

               “You didn’t find food.”  A deep voice critiqued.  Jin would not see Ryuzo undermined.

               “We have a plan.”  Jin countered, “Raid fort Ohira and take back the food Mongols have stolen from our people.”  Jin addressed them as he would his own swordsmen, his own army.  He needed their faith both in him and in themselves that they could carry out the raid, because if they believed it, then they could do it.

               “Raid a fort?  They’ll kill us!”  Another straw hat scoffed.

               “Give us a moment.”  Ryuzo stopped his men with four words before angry mutterings could turn to outright mutiny.

               “Come with me Jin.”  Ryuzo insisted. His tone was light but with a hint of steel.  Ryuzo was all hard iron, like his pheromones, Jin was glad to be back in this familiar position at his friend’s side and planning their victory.  Ryuzo led him through the camp and up a small hill towards a secondary campfire.  

               “We should have talked about your idea before telling my men.”  Ryuzo criticized.  Jin nodded slowly as reflexive guilt clawed at his gut, Ryuzo was scolding him, the tone was familiar but the topic was new.

               “I wanted to give them hope…” Jin defended his idea.  As they walked on it was dawning on Jin that he had perhaps overstepped.  They were alone as the path curved back around approaching higher ground.

               “That’s my job,” Ryuzo said possessively, but he kept his voice low to preserve Jin’s dignity; something Jin had lacked the good graces to do himself.

               “I meant no disrespect.”  Jin apologized.

               “It’s fine.”  Ryuzo assured with his words, though his tone said it was certainly not fine, as they approached another fire atop the hill with a straw hat resting there. Jin thought that was their destination but Ryuzo ran past him, further uphill and turning back towards the main camp.  “Through here Jin,” Ryuzo slipped through a narrow gap between boulders that gave Ryuzo’s private tent, well, privacy.  Jin took a deep breath to steel himself for the inevitable scolding and followed his friend.

Chapter Text

               Jin had found his old friend.  He had helped Ryuzo fight.  He had returned with Ryuzo to the Straw Hat Ronin’s camp to find that his closest childhood friend was now the de facto leader of a small army of ronin.  Then Jin had put his foot in his mouth by spouting his half-baked plan, undermining everything Ryuzo had worked for.  Now he was squeezing through a crack in some rocks above the rest of the ronin camp to Ryuzo’s private quarters and about to get scolded for his insolence; how times changed, that had usually been Ryuzo’s fate when they were children.  Jin blinked as his eyes adjusted to the firelight and dusted his hands off on the legs of his traveler’s attire.

               Ryuzo approached his own well-kept fire and lean-to without looking back to see if Jin had followed.  Jin looked around the clearing; it truly was the best place in the camp, high, protected, and overlooking those below.  There was a double wide goza mat laid out in the open to take advantage of the last of the good autumn nights before it became too cold to enjoy the weather, and on the other side of the fire was that single lean-to in case the weather turned bad.  Beyond that, in the shade of the rocky ledge that backed the campsite was a clothes drying pole and a water catch barrel.

               “Ryuzo,” Jin began, now that he’d gotten his bearings and they were in private.

               “You spoke out of turn Jin.” Ryuzo used one of Lord Shimura’s favorite criticisms against him and now turned it on Jin.  “These are my men,” his tone was low and dangerous.  

               Jin was thankful he was keeping the scolding private, but Ryuzo’s words still set Jin’s stomach in a knot.

               “I had a plan…” Jin tried to justify instead of apologizing.  Ryuzo really shouldn’t even be challenging him, but the whole situation was unusual with Ryuzo leading this small army.  They were truly equals for once.  It was thrilling and strange, Jin liked it.

               “You’ve always got a plan, don’t you, Jin.”  Ryuzo shook his head, a hint of affection coloring his voice.  His body was tense as he stalked towards Jin, like he was going to criticize Jin for all the trouble he’d gotten them in to in the past.  Then Ryuzo scoffed and pulled Jin in to a tight hug, all transgressions apparently forgiven, then he squeezed Jin closer for emphasis.  “I’ve missed you, Lord Sakai,” he whispered into Jin’s ear, arms holding Jin tighter and voice warm though it dripped with sarcasm at ‘Lord’ and ‘Sakai’.

               “I missed you too, Ryuzo.”  Jin lifted his arms to hug his friend back.  The quick forgiveness was unusual, but not unwelcome.  Jin was glad to avoid a fight.  It was nice remembering the better parts of their relationship before Jin had focused on what his uncle wanted of him and left Ryuzo behind in Omi village.

               “Jin.  I’m… glad to have you with me.”  Ryuzo moved his hands to hold Jin by the shoulders, giving him a thorough once over with hungry eyes before rubbing up and down his arms, “Just don’t cross me in front of my men.”  Ryuzo was stern.  He’d truly grown in to a proper leader.  If only Lord Shimura could see the man Ryuzo was now he might have had a different opinion of Jin’s best friend; maybe everything could have been different.  They could have fought side by side at Komoda, with Ryuzo in Jin’s clan colors…

               ‘And we would have died together at Komoda,’ Jin shuddered in Ryuzo’s hands, suddenly cold.  Ryuzo could have died at Komoda and Jin would never have known.  The tide had been low that night… Jin might never have had a body to burn or ashes to bury.  An empty grave would have been his only remembrance of-

               “Ryuzo, I’ll help you however I can.” Jin swore, matching Ryuzo’s grip.  He needed to touch Ryuzo, he had to remind himself Ryuzo was real and alive and with him.  They held each other, standing apart but together, mirroring each other’s pose.

               “You could help with a little thing,” Ryuzo grinned and gripped Jin’s wrist, peeling it off Ryuzo’s sleeve.

               “Ryuzo?”  Jin was surprised.  Ryuzo couldn’t possibly mean what Jin thought, what Jin hoped, he meant.  The evening was taking an unexpected, though again not unwelcome, turn.

               “I’ve missed you.”  Ryuzo explained.  He leaned his head in and began rubbing his thumb over the pulse point on Jin’s wrist.  Ryuzo’s next words had so much weight Jin feared he would be crushed beneath them.  “Jin, I’ve missed us.” 

               The sun was setting.  The sky was on fire with it.  Jin felt on fire with Ryuzo’s touch on his wrist and his breath on his ear.  Jin failed to suppress a shiver and hunched his shoulder up defensively to keep Ryuzo’s mouth back from his neck.

               “Ryuzo we’ve got bigger things- I have to-” Jin began to protest.  He couldn’t leave Yuna waiting.  They knew, hopefully, where her brother was.  She was waiting for him on the border of Tsutsu and Azamo.

               “Jin, one night isn’t going to be much of a delay.  You need to rest,” Ryuzo soothed, taking Jin’s other wrist and rubbing slow circles against both, “and eat.”  Ryuzo ducked his head and looked up at Jin as he said the last part.  Ryuzo did not mean food.  Jin could feel himself quivering like agar jelly.  It had been so long.  Three years apart was an eternity when they’d spent most of their lives until then together.

               “I thought you were starving.”  Jin tried to defer.  He couldn’t ask for more than his share, and after his social gaff he deserved nothing.  Despite it all he still wanted everything.  Even out of heat he wanted Ryuzo, maybe he always had.

               “Low on food, not out.”  Ryuzo grinned mischievously, like when they’d snuck snacks from the kitchens at midnight and had illicit sake in Jin’s room at the Sakai estate.

               “I brought my own.”  Jin proposed, conceding slightly to Ryuzo’s wiles.  They could eat together.  But he wouldn’t take food from Ryuzo, or his men.

               “Then we’ll eat together.”  Ryuzo said with a magnanimous flourish and brought out what he had.  There was a literal handful of rice, some dried fruits, and unidentified meat jerky so dry and salted Jin couldn’t be certain it wasn’t leather.  It truly was not much of a meal.  Ryuzo turned away from the fire to get something from his lean-to.  Jin brought out more of his own rations to share between them, sneakily providing for his old friend.  He’d left and brought up his saddle bags, both to have his possessions nearby and because he didn’t trust some of the ronin not to rob him blind, especially for food.  Ryuzo had successfully convinced Jin to spend the night.  It was only a small delay after all, and if it got him an ally to save Lord Shimura it would be worth it.  Spending the night with Ryuzo was just an unintended bonus.

               Ryuzo brought out some woven straw zabuton from his lean-to and joined Jin at the campfire.  Jin took the offered cushion and bowed before kneeling on it.  Ryuzo lounged on his much more casually.  It was just like their dinners at the Sakai estate, or the more communal affairs at Ryuzo’s house that Jin had only reluctantly attended; he’d known from a young age that Ryuzo’s family struggled to feed all the mouths at home.  Ryuzo’s jokes about invisible fish for dinner had been a hint too obvious for little Jin to miss and, after overhearing that particular joke only once, Yuriko had practically insisted on stuffing Ryuzo every time he came by.  Ryuzo’s friendship with the young Lord Sakai had helped decrease the burden on his family’s pantry immensely.  Feeding Ryuzo was a habit Jin still held to, even now, after they’d been apart for three years. 

               Jin had supplemented their meal with his own dried fish, fresh fruits, rice cakes, and nori, all scavenged from Mongol camps and destroyed buildings.  They’d have more than enough.  They ate in silence.  Jin watched Ryuzo relish each bite and longed to brush away the crumbs from his lips and beard, and to distract him from the food with something more appetizing.  But Jin suppressed that urge, he was truly hungry, riding hard and fighting all day worked up an appetite.  So, he simply ate and watched Ryuzo do the same.  After their meal Jin cleaned up around the campfire and settled on the goza mat to watch he stars while Ryuzo disappeared back to the lean-to to put things away.

               “Jin, here,” Ryuzo returned to the fire, “I’ve been saving some sake.” He had produced a bottle from somewhere and proceeded to waggle it enticingly.

               “Ryuzo…” Jin wanted to say they should keep clear heads.  Ryuzo preempted his protestation.

               “One bottle isn’t enough to dull your sword arm, Jin.  Let me give you tribute; to Lord Sakai!”  Ryuzo toasted.   He used the honorific for Jin without sarcasm, fully knowing it would get him his way.  Jin could never say no when he was given a gift so rarely offered.  Ryuzo had his own cup in hand.  He set everything down on the goza mat to go rummage in Jin’s saddle bags like he owned them to get Jin’s cup as well.

               “Tribute?” Jin asked Ryuzo’s back as he dug around in Jin’s packs, probably seeing for himself how much Jin had.  It certainly wasn’t up to par with what Jin would have packed for a journey before Komoda and the invasion.  But Jin was more curious at Ryuzo’s particular phrasing.

               “To the samurai who lived!”  Ryuzo toasted again and poured out the sake with both hands in to Jin’s cup.  Ryuzo pressed the bottle in to Jin’s hands and leaned forward.  Before Jin could pour out a glass for his friend Ryuzo’s hands went to Jin’s crotch.  Jin gasped, he was helpless in Ryuzo’s grasp.  Both his hands were frozen on the sake bottle, he couldn’t drop it and waste precious sake, and he didn’t particularly want to stop whatever Ryuzo had planned. 

               Ryuzo looked up at Jin with mischief in his eyes, his grin wide and knowing.  He cocked an eyebrow, amused at Jin’s expense.  He squeezed down twice against Jin’s dick, rubbing the fabric along it before looking up with surprise, “Is this… asa?”

               “Yes, ramie.” Jin admitted.  Frustrated Ryuzo wasn’t going further and was instead testing him about fabric with his hand still gripping Jin’s soft dick.

               “Oh-ho-ho,” Ryuzo laughed at Jin, “How the mighty have fallen.  You really have looked better.  I know… Let’s get you out of these and in to something more befitting your station hmmm.”  Ryuzo hummed contentedly and began undo Jin’s pants and push the fabric open.

               What was with everyone and their obsession with Jin’s ‘station’ and what was ‘befitting’ of it.  Jin wanted to grouse but he was too intrigued by what he thought Ryuzo was proposing.  “And what is befitting my station, Ryuzo?”  Jin sat back and let whatever Ryuzo was plotting happen.  He was still uncertain about the meaning of Ryuzo’s words, but appreciated the anticipation and promise of something nice and likely sexual.

               “Sitting there, Lord Sakai, with my mouth on your cock.”  Ryuzo shoved Jin’s fundoshi aside and dove for what was his now that he’d freed it, and when his lips made contact Jin threw his head back with a shaking gasp.  Jin barely managed to plug the sake gourd before it fell to the ground.

               It had been too long.  Jin had missed this feeling; a mouth on his cock, any mouth, Ryuzo’s mouth specifically.  He’d missed Ryuzo, specifically.  And when it came to Ryuzo…  it was never enough.

               “Ahhhhhhh,” Jin sighed.  He gasped like he was a drowning man and Ryuzo was air.  “Ryuzo I missed you!”  He could feel himself hardening.  The worst, or best, part was Ryuzo hadn’t even sucked yet, just held Jin in his mouth and ran his tongue everywhere he could reach.  Ryuzo’s beard scratched against Jin’s still empty sack, his chin was digging and grinding in to Jin’s lower lips.  Jin was still too close to his heat for his balls to have dropped again, his body was still thinking he’d be pregnant.

               Ryuzo hummed his agreement in to Jin’s dick, he must have missed Jin too. Then he ran his tongue in a teasing circle under Jin’s foreskin and Jin nearly lost his mind.  Jin fell to his back as everything spasmed with shock and pleasure.

               Ryuzo popped off Jin’s cock with a wet slurp, a string of spit and pre-come sticking to his beard.  “What else have you missed?” 

               “Everything about you.”  Jin sighed again and reached out to hold Ryuzo, lifting him up to kneel between Jin’s legs.  Jin ran his hands up Ryuzo’s still clothed shoulders to cup his face and pulled himself up to kiss Ryuzo.  The feeling of Ryuzo’s damp beard against his stubble provided delicious friction and Jin lazily twisted his head as they kissed to keep rubbing.

               “Ugh, you sap,” Ryuzo pulled away with an amused grimace.  “My mouth was just on your dick.”

               “You know how I like it.”  Jin whispered, “How I like you.”  Jin liked Ryuzo defiling him, making him ‘filthy’ with his mouth on places Jin couldn’t name in polite company and taking what he wanted from Jin however he wanted.  They’d play acted so many scenarios, and they’d only gotten more carnal and salacious when Ryuzo had presented as alpha and then later when Jin became an omega.

               Ryuzo drained Jin’s forgotten cup of sake to cleanse his mouth.  “You want me in you Jin?” Ryuzo asked, but he already knew the answer.  The alpha breeding his omega was one of their pet fantasies.  It had been a bone of contention three years ago, but before then that particular scenario had featured heavily in nearly a decade of the best sex of Jin’s life.

               Jin nodded.  He wanted whatever Ryuzo wanted.  He trusted Ryuzo fully, to have his back in a fight and to fuck him in all the ways they both liked.  Ryuzo knew his body like he knew his own sword, like he knew his own cock, Ryuzo knew every spot that would make Jin writhe and cry out and come so hard he couldn’t walk after.

               Ryuzo reached down between Jin’s legs, shoving and prodding like he owned it… which… since Jin decided to let him, he did.  Ryuzo grinned wickedly and murmured against Jin’s ear, “Your balls are up.  If I fuck you here, now, you might get pregnant.”  He thrust two fingers, sharply, in to Jin’s vagina, staking his claim.  “Your heat’s close isn’t it?”

               Normally Jin would let Ryuzo do this to him, except-

               “Ryuzo- Ah!  Ouch, I just came out of heat. Be gentle.” Jin begged and tried to writhe away, crossing his thighs to block Ryuzo from stabbing any deeper.

               Ryuzo drew back from pinning Jin while he fingered him, “You what?  But, Jin…  The- You were at Komoda…  When?”  Ryuzo’s face fell.  He was putting together the timeline and clearly not liking the answer.  Ryuzo’s eyes darkened like thunder clouds and Jin could feel his stomach knotting with worry at which way the storm would blow.

               “It was…  After Komoda…  Ryuzo…”  Jin could feel himself falling back to their old patterns, beg forgiveness, say and do whatever Ryuzo wanted to get back on good terms.  Despite the ache and burning of Ryuzo’s calloused fingers in his raw stinging cunt, Jin didn’t want Ryuzo to leave.  He wanted Ryuzo to stay by his side and be his comfort, his stability.  “When I tried to save my uncle, the Khan was an alpha, and…” Jin was clenching down with anxiety telling the story, the resulting burn of rough dry fingers inside him was on the wrong side of uncomfortable.

               “He bred you?!”  Ryuzo pulled his fingers out sharpy and Jin winced.

               “No!  He… tried to, but I… fell off the bridge.”  Jin was embarrassed to admit that last part.

               Ryuzo snorted.  “You would fail at heat,” he teased, comfortable ribbing Jin now that he knew the worst hadn’t occurred.  “So you were alone and desperate…”  Ryuzo was still sitting between Jin’s legs and brought his hands to Jin’s still hard cock to play roughly with the slit, making Jin wince again as callouses rubbed down over the sensitive opening, peeing was going to hurt now.  “Did you think of me Jin, during those five days of hell?”

               “Yes, a little…” Jin acknowledged.  “Someone… helped.” Jin admitted, though he didn’t want to.

               He remembered what Ryuzo had been like after he’d gone in to his first heat away from Omi village or Castle Shimura, and had told Ryuzo he’d spent it with a lady alpha cousin of Lord Adachi.  It had been his duty in service to his lord.  Lord Shimura had been eager to marry Jin off to her but she’d only had eyes for a young widower from clan Nagao.  That had ultimately been the better family alliance, so Jin’s heat with her had won him nothing but Ryuzo’s scorn and the beginning of the end of their relationship.  Still, Jin hadn’t lied to Ryuzo then, and he wasn’t going to now.  Jin braced for the insults.

               Ryuzos eyes widened.  “Really, Jin?  Tell me.”  He stroked down Jin’s wilting shaft now, shifting his touch away from painful and in to pleasurable.  Ryuzo always knew what felt good and was guaranteed to get Jin off smoothly.

               “Uh?”  Jin panted. This was new, but not unwelcome.  Jin was liking this change, before Ryuzo had hated when Jin was forced by duty to spend a heat apart from him, now he seemed... interested.

               “I want to know how they pleased you, and then I can imagine it was me.”  Ryuzo pressed forward, pushing Jin down on to his back.

               ‘Ah,’ Jin thought, ‘There was that possessive dominant streak.’  Jin had enjoyed being desired like this while they were together, even with all its consequences.

               Ryuzo tugged the front Jin’s kosode open to reveal more of Jin’s sparsely haired chest.  Jin whined in humiliation, he had always been jealous of Ryuzos hair, everywhere on him.  There was more hair in the small gap of Ryuzo’s top than on the entirety of Jin’s chest.  He wanted to press them both together and feel it rub against everything.  Jin was panting with desire.  He reached up and hugged himself as close to Ryuzo as possible. 

               Ryuzo fell against him with a laugh.  “Needy thing,” he teased, reaching down in to Jin’s pants to pinch his sack and rub teasingly at his lips.

               Jin’s balls were still internal, he was in what he and Ryuzo had called ‘receptive mode’, but he wasn’t going to get wet out of season; he’d tried, it just wasn’t something many male omegas could achieve.  They’d need oil if Ryuzo still wanted to fuck him after he finished detailing what Yuna did to him to break his heat.  Jin could deny Ryuzo nothing, so Jin continued to tell him, in explicit detail, everything he’d done and had done to him.  He said it all while pressing himself as completely as possible against Ryuzo, rubbing their chests together and lazily grinding their hips while he whispered it all in to Ryuzo’s ear, pausing the story only to nip or suck at Ryuzo’s neck and shoulder.  Jin kept the filthy fantasies he’d imagined to himself however, he didn’t want to give Ryuzo ideas. 

               Ryuzo’s eyes flashed and he smiled when Jin got to the part with his swords.   Ryuzo pushed Jin away and flat on his back to bite down on Jin’s nipple when Jin described using both his swords at once.

               ‘More ideas,’ Jin mentally amended as Ryuzo started stripping him naked while still grinding his hips on whatever part of Jin he could reach.  Ryuzo paused in his ministrations and froze with his hands down Jin’s hakama pants when Jin got to, haltingly, describing the fisting.  Ryuzo’s eyes were half closed with lust and he licked his lips while staring down at Jin’s half naked form. 

               Ryuzo began to strip slowly out of his own cloths.  “Keep talking Jin, how did it feel once she got her thumb in there?”  Ruzo sat back and kicked his own hakama off.

               “It was… so intense.  The biggest knot I’ve had.”  Jin was touching himself now that Ryuzo had abandoned him for five seconds.

               “Bigger than mine?”  Ryuzo crooned and draped his now naked form back over Jin.  “Why don’t I fuck you so we can directly compare?”

               “Yesssssss,” Jin hissed out an assenting sigh.

               Ryuzo grinned wickedly and thrust his erection between Jin’s legs, grinding his cockhead against fabric and skin since Jin’s pants were ruched down but still trapped beneath him.  “You really want me to fuck you now?  Even though you might get pregnant?”  Ryuzo mocked him, poking Jin at his belly button and making him squirm.

               “You won’t, I trust you.”  Jin shoved Ryuzo’s teasing hands away and thrust his hips in rhythm with Ryuzo’s, giving more friction and enjoying the warmth and rubbing sensation.

               “I could fuck your ass so you really won’t get pregnant,” Ryuzo hummed.  Jin frowned slightly, why was he bringing up the subject of one of their last fights?  Did he want Jin to go flaccid, because Jin could feel himself softening remembering that argument.  Ryuzo lowered himself to hug Jin tightly and shove his dick as far back between Jin’s legs as it would go, just brushing his ass cheeks through clenched thighs.  Ryuzo seemingly hadn’t realized the effect his words had, Jin rubbed his head back and forth against Ryuzo’s shoulder to clear it.  Ryuzo wasn’t trapped in the past, he was here enjoying their present… like Jin should be.

               “No, no.”  Jin muttered in to Ryuzo’s shoulder and shivered at the prospect of doing anal, he realized oil might be a precious commodity if the straw hats were hard enough up on rations, and it had always taken far far more lubricant for anal that it did for vaginal sex.  Jin was not about to let Ryuzo fuck him underprepared, and he knew Ryuzo would.  “Ryuzo, please,” He whispered. “Fuck my pussy?” He wanted Ryuzo to stay, and that meant fucking, but he also wanted it to be good for them both.  He lowered his eyelids and looked upwards, trying to be coy and failing miserably when he laughed at the ridiculousness of how he must look.

               It still worked.  Ryuzo grinned possessively and laughed too, “My little slut.”  Ryuzo kissed him to take the sting away from his words.  “You want me to breed you, don’t you?”

               Jin whined his assent against Ryuzo’s lips, not wanting to break that contact and wanting his friend and ex-lover to just shut up.  He just wished Ryuzo would choose different words. 

               “You want me to fuck you full of our children right Jin?”  Ryzo whispered harshly and ground himself as hard as possible against Jin. 

               ‘First the Khan and now Ryuzo,’ Jin thought sourly, why was everyone obsessed with getting him pregnant.

               But getting pregnant wasn’t going to be possible, Jin couldn’t allow it now.  Jin squinted his eyes shut, wishing Ryuzo wouldn’t bring out old slights like this when they were fucking. He must have been doing it unintentionally, Ryuzo was in too good of a mood to deliberately bring up how their relationship ended.  Jin rubbed his hips up in to Ryuzo’s and grounded himself in the present with a groan.  Ryuzo knew they could never- that it wasn’t proper- for him to get Jin pregnant; and despite that knowledge it had still been one of their dirty little fantasies.  Jin encouraging it was why Ryuzo had been so possessive of his heats, so possessive of him.  If only Jin had the willpower to tell Ryuzo no.  But Jin couldn’t, he was weak, he was too much of a slut… Ryuzo’s little slut.

               Jin felt Ryzo shift against him, moving away and rising up, “Suck it.”

               Jin opened his eyes. Ryuzo was straddling his shoulders, dangling his cock in his face.  Being Ryuzo’s little slut there was nothing Jin could do but take it.  The foreskin was slightly pulled back by the bulbous head, stretched tight around the sensitive swollen glans.  Jin opened his mouth, reaching out to lick the tip, letting it bounce against his tongue and lips; he was feeling it, tasting it, smelling it, taking everything in, trying desperately to balance savoring the moment with making up for lost time.

               “C’mon Jin, we both know you’re not a virgin, stop acting like one and suck it proper.”  Ryuzo gripped Jin’s jaw in his hand and squeezed to open Jin’s mouth and hollow his cheeks.  Jin curled his tongue invitingly and when Ryuzo thrust in he sucked.  Jin was enjoying the rub, both inside his mouth from the hard cock and the grip on his cheeks from the hard hand.  Jin was wanton with need, choking out encouraging moans through stuffed lips.  He sucked harder, making a vacuum that was broken every time Ryuzo thrust deeper.

               This was what Jin liked best; being used like this by the man he loved.  And Ryuzo was truly using him, the head of his cock scrapped and rubbed against the back of Jin’s mouth like Ryuzo was trying to shove down his throat. 

               Jin’s voice would be wrecked if they kept this up.  Swept up in the moment he couldn’t care.  All he could do was try to suck when he was able, breath when he could, and when he forgot both of those things lick at the edge of Ryuzo’s knot where it would swell.  They’d always tried this and Jin could never quite deep throat Ryuzo long enough to really worship the edge of his knot like he deserved while Ryuzo fucked his mouth, but they would always try.  The excitement of that combined with the anticipation of what they always did next would get Ryuzo’s knot to pop up every time.  Jin kneaded his hands against Ryuzo’s thighs and ass, encouraging him, drawing him deeper.

               Finally, Ryuzo pulled back and wiped away some of the spit and pre-come from Jin’s lips with his thumb, “Ready for the next part my lord?”

               Jin coughed as his airway was finally clear and mutely nodded, Ryuzo’s thumb tugging his lower lip down when Jin moved his head.

               “Strip,” Ryuzo ordered.  Jin could almost imagine it was the tone he used when ordering around his men and that thought made him harder, he loved these sorts of games with Ryuzo.  Ryuzo watched as Jin finished disrobing, all he’d had left on him was his hakama, fundoshi and tabi.  Those were easy enough to shove off while wiggling his newly bared hips at Ryuzo, teasing him further when he flipped over to wiggle his butt and push his cloths in to a disheveled pile next to them.  He’d hang them up after they’d fucked, he promised himself.  Jin had quickly gotten naked, but now he turned and slowly ran his hands along his body while kneeling before Ryuzo.  At first he was in control, then he let his hands follow the tracks made by Ryuzo’s eyes on him.

               “You’ve gotten a few new scars.”  Ryuzo commented, reaching out to press Jin back down on his back, Just the way Ryuzo had always liked him.

               “So have you,” Jin smiled up at him.  “Do you have lube?”

               “So impatient Lord Slut,” Ryuzo teased, but he still got off Jin and their comfortable bedroll to grab something from under the lean-to.

               “Is this the way you want to be fucked?”  Ryuzo criticized, poking Jin in the side with his foot when he returned and Jin was still flat on his back, lazily palming his cock while he watched Ryuzo’s naked body with appreciation.

               “Maybe,” Jin teased.  Ryuzo always pushed his buttons, Jin could push a few in return.

               Ryuzo stood over Jin and dropped down so his cock was over Jin’s mouth once more, but this time they were reversed so Ryuzo’s head was between Jin’s legs, so close to his own cock and leaving Ryuzo’s hands free to lube up whichever of Jin’s holes he felt like using tonight.

               Ryuzo thrust his cock down against Jin’s face.  “Suck it.  My knot went down and you’re the one who wanted to get stretched tonight.”

               “I-” Jin was confused.  They’d been talking about so many things; he was getting disoriented between past and present fantasies.  Was Ryuzo going to knot fuck him again?

               “I’m bigger than some woman’s hand, don’t you agree?”  Ryuzo dragged his hips back and forth, rubbing his cock and rapidly swelling knot over Jin’s lips.

               “Yes.”  Jin sighed, remembering his heat and Ryuzos threat to ‘compare’, he craned his neck up to lick at the cock and knot that would soon be in him, he needed Ryuzo just as soaked as he was going to make Jin.  Ryzo lifted his hips out of reach and laughed at Jin’s grunt of desperation. 

               Ryuzo tutted at him, “No.  What does my omega say?”  He was ignoring Jin’s desperate whines and attempts to drag him closer by kneading at his ass.

               “Yes, alpha.”  Jin corrected himself, he remembered their sex play, he’d fall back in to the roll if it meant Ryuzo stayed with him just a little longer.

               His reward for the correct answer was Ryuzo plunging his cock down to choke him and pouring oil over his entire groin.  Jin would have smiled around Ryuzo’s cock but his lips were stretched too wide to do anything but suck.  Jin gagged and tried to roll his head back for air.  He needed air before letting Ryuzo deeper.  Jin moaned around the dick in his mouth and tried to stretch his jaws open to reach the knot tissue that was just tantalizingly out of reach.

               “You’re so greedy Jin.  Will just my cock be enough for you?”  Ryuzo chuckled against Jin’s erection and kept dragging his own in and out of Jin’s mouth.

               Soon the effort of swallowing down as much of Ryuzo as possible on every downstroke was forgotten and Jin’s attention went south.  The oil was warming against his skin as Ryuzo massaged it in, slipping his fingers along Jin’s folds and then diving them slowly inside him.  First his front hole, getting Jin’s insides just as slick with oil as his outer skin, and then Ryuzo reached down for his anus.

               “You want all your holes stuffed, don’t you?”  Ryuzo nipped and pulled at Jin’s scrotum while rubbing in the oil.  His fingers pressed against Jin’s puckered hole, “You want me to get your swords involved again?” Ryuzo taunted.

               Jin choked, well and truly gagging this time, and Ryuzo pulled his dick out to let him breath before he vomited.  “I’d like to shit without pain when we’re done,” Jin growled in response to the implied threat, his voice gravelly and hoarse from the throat fucking.

               “That was one time and I remember you screaming for more while we did it.”  Ryuzo rubbed his thumb tauntingly against Jin’s anus. 

               Jin clenched down tighter and rolled his hips away.  “I said no, Ryuzo.”

               Ryuzo leaned down to suck at Jin’s cock again, pinning his lower half still between mouth and hands; still rubbing at Jin’s clenched entrance, but going no further.  His knot was rising, it bumped insistently at Jin’s nose as he tried to stuff himself deep in Jin’s throat.

               Jin wriggled and managed to free his mouth from Ryuzo’s member with a choked gasp “Ryuzo… I.  Said.  Stop.”  Jin insisted with Ryuzo’s dick still pressing against his lips and along the side of his face wetting his cheek and stubble with his own spit and Ryuzo’s pre-come.  Ryuzo was still rubbing at his asshole, and that was more than enough of that, Jin tried to kick and Ryuzo came off him, slurping a wet stripe up Jin’s dick as he went.

               “I wasn’t penetrating you Jin.  Relax, no need to get rough.  We’ll do this in your cunt.”  Ryuzo’s knot was fully swollen before Jin’s eyes.  Ryuzo hummed against the head of Jin’s cock before he lifted his head again to say, “Lick it more, unless you want my knot fucking you dry.”  The lilt in Ryuzo’s voice promised he’d enjoy himself either way.

               Jin sighed, he could deny his lover nothing, and he’d take Ryuzo’s stretching him on his knot in either hole over threatening to knock him up any day.  He began licking a way around Ryuzo’s knot, mouthing and kissing at the engorged skin while his free hand gently stroked the remaining length and teased at Ryuzo’s tip.  Jin ran his finger around the foreskin, rolling it back and forth over the head as he left as much spit as he could around Ryuzo’s knot.  With saliva and oil slicking the way it would be a squeeze, a tight squeeze, but it should- no- it would fit.  They’d done this before and-

               Ryuzo slapped Jin’s thighs twice, bored with the preparation. “Get in position.”

               Jin let his head fall back lazily.  He sighed, he was soaked in oil, Ryuzo was soaked in spit, they would make it work.  He rolled over.  He was face down ass up, like a bitch, like Ryuzo’s-

               “My little bitch in heat.”  Ryuzo said reverently, finishing Jin’s thought as he rubbed his hands over Jin’s ass and shoved Jin’s thighs apart to see what lied between.  “With all the cocks you’ve taken you’re more like a whore than a bitch.  I bet you’ve had a new alpha each heat we’ve been apart.  You’ve never been able to replace me, have you?” Ryuzo taunted Jin, rubbing his cockhead up and down against Jin’s core and drizzling more oil along its length, making more of a mess of Jin’s groin.  “I bet you don’t just seek them out in heat, I bet you service their ruts like a whore.”

               Jin moaned in to the woven straw of the goza mat.

               “But my little whore knows who he belongs to, doesn’t he?”  Ryuzo pushed in, just the head, as he said ‘doesn’t he’.  He pushed in more when he repeated, “Doesn’t he?”

               “Yeeeeesssss,” Jin drawled from his position pressed against the stiff mat.  He could feel himself slowly stretching to accommodate Ryuzo’s girth, the spongy head easing the way for the firmer shaft.

               “Say it.”  Ryuzo gave a short thrust, plunging deeper until he hit resistance.

               “Yes!”  Jin cried and Ryuzo slipped just a bit further in.  Jin struggled to push back and take more of Ryuzo in to himself, but Ryuzo had Jin’s hips firmly in hand and only tightened his grip.

               “Not that Jin.  Say what you are.”  Ryuzo chided and pulled his dick out, teasing and tauntingly rubbing until he got his way.

               “I’m yours Ryuzo.”  Jin panted.

               “I know that silly slut.” Ryuzo patted Jin’s ass, his hand sticking each time from the oil.

               ‘Right,’ Jin remembered their old games, fights, and Ryuzo’s old insult turned new favorite pet name for him, “I’m… your whore Ryuzo.”  Jin said and nearly screamed with relief as Ryuzo pushed himself deeper.

               “And what does my little whore need?”  Ryuzo taunted, slowly dragging his cock back out.

               “Ryuzo, please fuck me.”  Jin begged.

               “Well, after that mix up about your tight little ass I want to make sure there’s no mistakes.” Ryuzo leaned down so his chest was pressed flush against Jin’s back.  Jin could hear the grin in his voice.  Ryuzo whispered against his ear, “Say it all together now.”

               “Ryuuuuuzo,” Jin moaned brokenly.  It tickled to have warm breath blowing against him.

               Ryuzo licked his ear, “That’s not what I told you to say.  Who do you belong to?  Listen to your alpha.”  Then he bit Jin for good measure, hard, at the crease of his neck and shoulder.

               “Ah! I’m-” Jin gasped as Ryuzo bit him again, and again, each nip making Jin’s cries louder.  It felt like lightning running down from his ear and neck straight to his groin and bouncing across every point of contact between Ryuzo’s body and his own; it felt like he was in heat again.  “I’m yours Ryuzo!  I’m you’re your whore.  Please fuck me.  Fuck my pussy.  Fuck my whore pussy!” Jin screamed out a stream of dirty talk and Ryuzo clamped his teeth down against Jin’s shoulder at the crease of his neck so hard Jin swore he’d broken skin.  Ryuzo was biting hard enough he’d definitely leave a mark.  Jin waited, expecting to feel blood, but there was just the soft glide of Ryuzo’s wet tongue soothing the abused skin.

               After giving Jin that small gentle gesture Ryuzo shoved in, hard, in one thrust.  Jin could feel his knot catch at his rim, pushing against him; demanding entrance, demanding submission. 

               “Shit Jin, how far out of heat are you?  You’re so fucking tight.” Ryuzo panted out as he ground in.

               Jin sighed and gasped, choking on sensation. “Keep going Ryuzo, I can take it.”

               “I know you can,” Ryuzo said, he rubbed Jin’s back and pushed him down so everything was arched and he could shove in further, his knot bouncing and shoving against the taunt rim of Jin’s vagina with every thrust.  “That beta’s fist couldn’t have been too big if you’re having trouble taking my knot.”

               “You didn’t use enough lube idiot.”  Jin grit out, the stretch was still just the right side of too much as Ryuzo worked his way deeper, but what oil there had been was running out, once they reached Ryuzo’s full girth Jin knew it was just going to hurt.  That anticipation of pain made him clamp down, which meant he could take even less.

               Ryuzo growled in frustration as his thrusts were forced to become shallower, “Or you didn’t get me wet enough.”  Ryuzo stuffed his fingers in Jin’s mouth to get them licked, arching Jin’s back further when he tilted Jin’s head up and yanked back.  Then he pulled himself part way out and shoved the barely wet digits in alongside his dick.

               “Kyah!”  Jin squawked and whined at the stretch.

               Ryuzo pulled, down, hard, making Jin’s dick bounce and stretching him open.  Jin whined, he was gaping open and the mix of hot cock and cold air hitting his inner walls was too much, too sharp of a contrast.  Ryuzo shoved his cock forward, as much of his knot as could fit going in.  Jin fell forward once more to the mat.  He whined, frozen and torn between shoving back to take more and pulling away from the tug of fingers and the pressure of a hard knot filling him and stretching his lips.  Then Jin screamed in pain as Ryuzo pulled further down, stretching Jin far enough his muscles couldn’t clamp or put any pressure against him to resist, and popped the rest of his knot it.

               Jin was crying and crying out sharply now, salty tears streaking his cheek and wetting the mat as he voiced every pant and gasp in time with Ryuzo’s thrusts, “R-ah-ah-ah.  Ry-ah.  Ryu-ah.  Zo.” He sounded frantic, and he was.  Getting the knot in was always the hardest part, but Ryuzo knew Jin could take it, and Jin knew Ryuzo liked the feeling of pushing his limits.  Ryuzo liked to feel like the big strong alpha.  Jin just liked to feel wanted.

               “What Jin?  What do you want Jin?” Ryuzo slammed as deep as he could each time he said Jin’s name, his knot rubbing perfectly against Jin’s prostate.  One hand gripped Jin’s shoulder where it had been bitten before, the other was bruising Jin’s hips as Ryuzo used it to move Jin like a toy and fuck himself deeper in.

               “More, Ryuzo.  Take me.  Claim me.  Mark me.  Own me.”  Jin panted out with every thrust, ‘and never let me go’ Jin whispered silently. It was too intimate, too at odds with the frantic fucking that was relieving Jin of all common sense.

               “You want my come?”  Ryuzo teased like he wasn’t about to burst his release deep inside Jin.

               “In me.  Come in me, Ryuzo, please.”  Jin practically screamed, hoarse with effort. He always got vocal when Ryzo gave him a good fucking, his knot stretching Jin widest right over his most sensitive spot.  This was why they’d started taking things away from his estate to Ryuzo’s home, and hot springs, and isolated fishing spots.

               Ryuzo leaned over Jin, pressing against him to bite down again, this time right over the pulse point of Jin’s neck, which he knew was sensitive.  It made Jin feel tingling shivers over his entire body, and made him writhe and squeeze in ways that were guaranteed to make Ryuzo come.  Today it worked just as Ryuzo must have intended, because Jin could feel his orgasm sweeping over him in time with the stuttering kick of Ryuzo’s cock jumping inside him, jerking and twitching as he filled Jin’s cunt with semen, his knot ensuring everything would be stuffed deep to keep Jin from leaking.

               Jin fell forward, boneless and weak after such an earth-shaking orgasm.  The pull of Ryuzo’s knot as his cunt refused to release it was almost enough to make Jin come again only a few seconds after he already had.  Ryuzo laughed and fell on top of him, relieving that tortuous stretch as his knot once again seated itself deeper, his body covering and smothering Jin in the best possible way.  Breathing took effort with another man’s full body weight on top of him, but Jin liked it that way and let himself float in the sensation, warm, sticky, and held. 

               Once Ryuzo’s knot had softened enough he pulled out and sat back on his heels.  Jin could practically feel Ryuzo’s satisfied grin when he stretched Jin’s ass cheeks up and apart to watch every detail as Jin gaped and twitched, his cunt trying to clamp down on nothing.  Ryuzo continued to spread him apart and watched Jin clench and squeeze his muscles.  Eventually, without his conscious effort, Jin pushed out some of Ryuzo’s come and felt it drip, warm and wet down his lips, sack, and dick; Jin let out a final whimper at the sensation.

               Ryuzo fell back on to and then rolled off of Jin, laying at his side with his head propped on his hand, looking down at Jin with a smug smirk.

               “You look content.”  Jin observed, his voice ragged.  He rolled his head to look at Ryuzo watching him but didn’t make any other attempt to move, he was too sated.

               “Well,” Ryuzo chuckled, eyes warm with affection, “My men know your place now, so I can forgive you for your little transgression earlier.”

               “What?!”  That statement had Jin scrambling half up to look around the empty clearing.  “I thought you said we were alone?”

               “We’re alone Jin.  Relax.  They can’t see us.”  Ryuzo waved him back down and pressed against his side to keep him there, holding sweaty skin to sweaty skin, “But with how loud and desperate you were, begging for my dick, I’m sure they heard.  You really can’t be quiet, can you?”

               Jin detached himself from Ryuzo’s side, he cautiously crawled to the ledge and poked his head over it.  He could see the ronin below, silhouettes against the firelight.  Some of the men were looking up, a few gave hooting cheers.  One was palming himself; between the evening darkness and the flickering fire Jin couldn’t tell if the man was jerking off or merely adjusting his dick.  Regardless he ducked his head back quickly, shamed at being overheard and at being caught looking to catch their reactions.  Lord Shimura would be furious.  Now half an army of ronin knew the Jito’s heir was an omega.  Not just an omega but an omega who screamed for common born ronin cock. 

               ‘No,’ Jin shook his head.  They didn’t know he was omega, just that he was a samurai who begged for Ryuzo’s ronin cock.  Jin didn’t know which was worse.  He was embarrassed, his skin heating despite the growing autumn cold.  “Ryuzo… you shouldn’t have let me-”

               “You wanted it Jin; you asked me to fuck you.  I’m not going to be controlling and tell you what to do.” Ryuzo said from his position lounging on the goza mat, one knee propped up to show off his spent cock laying softly against his inner thigh.

               Jin sighed, defeated.

               Ryuzo gestured for Jin to approach, beckoning him, and since he was already on hands and knees from his brief look over the ledge Jin complied by crawling back to his lover.  Ryuzo pulled Jin to rest against his chest and carded his fingers slowly through Jin’s hair, undoing the knot at the back and letting everything fall free.

               Jin sighed, contented despite his embarrassment from slighting Ryuzo and revealing his wanton nature to Ryuzo’s men.  He leaned deeper in to Ryuzo’s touch, taking whatever his alpha saw fit to give, and relishing that it was intimate casual touch.  

               “I’m going to help you anyway; you don’t have to be nice to me Ryuzo.”  Jin purred as Ryuzo’s fingers kept up that firm pressure, massaging his scalp.

               “I know Jin, but I want to be nice to you.  It’s how I know you’re always mine.”  Ryuzo began using both hands and the soothing head rub held Jin’s head close enough to hear his heartbeat.

               They were actually cuddling, Jin was elated in the quiet contented way he usually was with Ryuzo after sex.  He eventually fell asleep in Ryuzo’s arms and they laid there, naked and bare under the stars.  At some point the night air became too much and Jin woke as Ryuzo moved away from him, Jin tried to grab a fleeing ankle but Ryuzo dodged him and returned with blankets they threw over themselves.  They resituated in to their usual sleeping positions where Ryuzo had the blankets shoved between them to avoid Jin getting ‘too sweaty’ clinging to him.  It was a return to their usual form, near, but not touching.  Jin sighed, wistful at the loss.  He was grateful for the warmth, Ryuzo had somehow acquired good quality blankets, any maybe come morning Ryuzo’s men would have forgotten what a slut Jin was for their leader’s cock.

               Ryuzo woke with the sun, something he’d only done with much protestation in their youth, and that novelty was enough to have Jin fully awake at his side.  Ryuzo led him to a water barrel in a corner of his personal camp and they bathed, still naked from the night before, washing away each other’s scents.  Ryuzo cleaned his own spend from his skin while Jin washed away a mix of both of their semen and the oil that only became a slimy mess as he tried to wipe it away. 

               “Good oil, right?” Ryuzo offered him a clean cloth and more soap like a peace offering.  Once their morning ablutions were done they had a quick breakfast consisting of entirely Jin’s rations.

               Ryuzo didn’t comment on the tea Jin prepared from Yuna’s gathered herbs, for which Jin was thankful; the last time he’d used contraceptive tea in front of Ryuzo it had been yet another one of their last fights before they drifted apart.  He wondered if the years had mellowed Ryuzo, or if he agreed an invasion was not the right time to try for a child, or, most likely, Jin thought he just didn’t remember the

               After breakfast Ryuzo spoke his first words that weren’t a compliment of the rations or shock at Jin’s cooking ability, “If you ride with the straw hats, you have to look the part.”  Ryuzo was dressed in his own gear once again and was waving Jin away from his own traveler’s attire which had laid rumpled on the ground all night.  “I’ve got a spare set of armor that should fit,” Ryuzo offered.  They’d always been the same size; able to share sparring cloths, kimonos borrowed from the kitchen girls in exchange for archery lessons, and Ryuzo’s hand-me-down daily wear when they thought they were being clever and ‘disguising’ Jin as a peasant… Which reminded Jin-

               “It better not have lice.”  He threatened.

               “Never letting me forget that, are you…?”  Ryuzo mock sulked then casually shrugged, “Spare armor’s in the chest.”  Whatever tensions had been between them last night had evaporated with good sex and a full night’s sleep like morning mist rising from the fields.

               Ryuzo’s eye raked over Jin, before, during, and after getting dressed in the ronin attire.  Ryuzo let out a satisfied breathy chuckle.  “You’re not as handsome as me but… it’s not bad.” He gestured at Jin’s figure and smiled.

               Jin did a small bow to show appreciation and to show off more skin as the kimono front gaped open with his movement.  Jin also remembered Ryuzo’s warning about who his men answered to, “Ryuzo, while we’re alone… about fort Ohira… we should check the fort’s defenses- look for weak spots.”

               “My men will handle that part,” Ryuzo assured him.  All hints of animosity from the previous day gone.

               “Then we have a deal?”  Jin asked once more. Praying Ryuzo wouldn’t play ignorant of their conversation yesterday.

               “Get us that food at fort Ohira, and we’ll get your uncle away from the Mongols.”  Ryuzo promised, raising a hand to brush Jin’s shoulder, and rub soft well-worn fabric against skin.

               Jin moaned appreciatively.  “It’s so soft, but this isn’t silk,” He mused, leaning in to Ryuzo’s affection.

               “It’s ramie, it softens with wear.” Ryuzo looked at Jin fondly one last time then patted his shoulder.

               “Thank you, Ryuzo.”  Jin again bowed gratefully to his oldest companion.

               “Just, remember who’s in charge of the straw hats.”  Ryuzo cautioned.

               “I would never dream of replacing you my old friend.” Jin comforted him.  He would never replace Ryuzo.  Now that fate brought them together once more Jin never wanted to leave Ryuzo’s side, his place, again.

               “Give us a head start.  We’ll meet you at the old cemetery.”  Ryuzo planned, ordering Jin around like he was one of his men.

               Jin let it slide, this time.  “See you there,” he promised.  Ryuzo slipped through the rocks and left Jin alone in his private camp.

               Jin had to help Ryuzo, it was a matter of pride and practicality.  He wasn’t sure how long the Straw Hat ronin would stay loyal with no rations, especially considering the ex-Straw Hat he’d met had left when rations were still low and not nonexistent, but he had also promised Yuna he’d save Taka.  Jin was almost in Azamo prefecture. Her friend lived on the border with Tsutsu which had to be somewhere near here.  Jin nodded resolutely to himself.  He’d make this quick, rescue the blacksmith, then help his old friend.

               Jin followed Ryuzo through the gap back to the main camp.  Ryuzo had immediately gone to address his Straw Hats, “Men, we’re moving out.”

               After a full night’s sleep and breakfast Jin was unsurprised but still relieved his legs didn’t shake after their previous exertion, he didn’t limp or stagger, and in the wide hakama pants no one would notice if he did.  What Jin did notice as he joined Ryuzo’s side however, were the ronin glancing at him repeatedly.  Some were leering.  Some were snickering.  A few even openly stared.  Jin raised a hand to rub the sore muscles of his shoulder, and then he realized why. 

               ‘Shit!’ He shifted his top further closed to cover more of the base of his neck, ‘That shit Ryuzo left marks!’  Jin flushed, and he was sure the color only highlighted the bruises that no doubt littered his neck and shoulder.  What would Yuna say when he got to her?  Rice powder wouldn’t cover this… not unless he also wanted to shave his face and pretend to be a woman again.  ‘Dammit it Ryuzo,’ he thought, but even so there wasn’t much bite behind it.  Ryuzo wouldn’t have meant to leave marks.  He knew Jin’s need for discretion.  An absence of marks had been one of their guidelines when they were fucking regularly and keeping it secret from Lord Shimura.

               After Ryuzo’s brief address and before Jin could make a graceful exit Ryuzo stopped him.  He was at the upper campfire nearest his private camp with a few men around him, oblivious to the stares and leers his friend was getting.  “I meant to ask you something earlier...” He called.  And like the good friend he was Jin stopped and turned back to talk to him by the fire.

               “I might have an answer.”  Jin grinned and crossed his arms. Coy and defiant at the same time, he wouldn’t let the Straw Hats see they bothered him.

               “How’d you survive the invasion?”  Ryuzo’s tone was light, but he must suspect there was more to the tale based on the snippets he’d gotten of the lascivious aftermath last night.

               “I almost didn’t.”  Jin answered, “A peasant pulled me from the battlefield.  She nursed me back to health.”  He didn’t need to say more, Ryuzo could more than likely match up the ‘she’s.

               Ryuzo huffed out a laugh, “You always were lucky…”

               “How did you and your men escape?”  Jin countered, he’d been afraid to ask before on the ride to camp or after their reunion sex for fear of ruining the mood.

               “We ran.”  Ryuzo stated the obvious, daring Jin to challenge him.  Jin wouldn’t, he’d learned his lesson yesterday.  Seeing that Jin wasn’t going to argue Ryuzo added, “Do what you need to prepare.  I’ll see you at the old cemetery.”  That was most certainly a dismissal, and Jin wasn’t going to ‘pull rank’ on Ryuzo in front of his men, again, so he went to where the Straw Hat’s horses were grazing and got Kage ready to ride.

               Once he was away from camp and knowing eyes Jin unwound his headband and wrapped the fabric around his neck to cover everything Ryuzo had left there.  If he pretended hard enough it was almost cold enough to need a scarf in the autumn heat.

Chapter Text

               Far away from the Straw Hat Ronin camp and with his neck properly shielded from prying eyes Jin paused atop a rise to get his bearings.  In the distance he could hear the ocean, that would be to the south and west, and based on where he could see the grasslands meeting the woods he knew exactly where he was now.  Jin nodded to himself and pressed his heels to Kage’s sides.  Southeast it was, to the border of Tsutsu and Azamo.  With haste.  Or as much haste as he could muster between stopping to help an old lying widow ‘recover’ some rice from thieving bandits, fighting off the angry bandits he’d stollen said rice from, finding out Tadayori’s armor was real, retrieving it and seeing the musician Yamato safely on his way to the Golden Temple, clearing out a Mongol camp, and liberating Kii’s brewery.  By then it was getting late. 

               The brave and beautiful Kii had joined Jin for a drink of her famous sake.  She was taking her people north to the Golden Temple at Jin’s behest.  They were going to be underway soon, traveling under cover of night.  Jin needed to be on his way soon too, he couldn’t leave Yuna waiting with her brother languishing in captivity another day.  He had already delayed too long.  Jin’s guts knotted, but not from drinking on an empty stomach.  He begged Kii’s pardon for not accompanying her and her workers north, and set off once more for the border of Tsutsu and Azamo.

               Surprisingly the sun was only just below the horizon when Jin reached the small and unassuming brewery in western Azamo near the wetlands.  Below the trees everything was deep murky shadows as the last light of the evening clung valiantly to the horizon.  Between the small sheds and carts full of rice waiting to be turned in to alcohol and the long shadows cast between the trees Jin was able to approach unseen and silent as a ghost even on horseback.  This could be the place he was looking for.  Or it could be just another abandoned building.  Or Mongols could have claimed it.

               Jin could hear arguing coming from inside the house.  It was Yuna and a man’s voice.  This must be the right place, and this must be her friend. Though from her tone Jin wondered what sort of friend the man could be; especially judging by the volume of the raised voices.  Jin dismounted and approached on foot to hear more and know what he was walking in to, but Yuna, ever perceptive, must have heard Kage’s hoofbeats approaching earlier despite the soft loam underfoot.

               “Keep quiet,” Yuna whispered, harshly. 

               “You want quiet? Don’t ask me to rile up people who drink horse blood,” the man kept talking but his voice was lowered.  Jin had to strain to hear it as he approached the shoji doors.  They hadn’t lit any fires, clever in these uncertain times, but unhelpful to tell Jin what numbers he’d be facing inside.

               Yuna wasn’t having any of her friend’s nonsense apparently.  “I wasn’t asking.  Not after Komatsu.” 

               ‘There must be a story behind that,’ Jin thought, pausing in the dirt beyond the porch to hear more.  It was getting a tactical advantage, gathering intelligence, and most certainly not eavesdropping.

               “That was a misunderstanding…” The mousey male voice wheedled.  Jin could practically feel Yuna’s frustration from here, the man’s tone was setting Jin’s teeth on edge too.

               “That was a scared sake merchant trying to wriggle out of trouble,” Yuna snapped, voice harsh but whispered.  Jin decided it would be best to approach the door.  Being a thief Yuna must know some unsavory types, and it would be better if Jin was closer at hand to help should things become dangerous.

               The man’s voice was breathy as he insisted “And it worked! I offloaded that sour rice water and you-”

               “-Had to look over my shoulder.”  Yuna’s tone was flat and Jin could clearly imagine the expression on her face, like she’d licked a sour orange and dripping with disdain, “For a month.” She placed particular emphasis on ‘for a month’, though Jin did wonder how she wasn’t always looking over her shoulder with the life path she’d chosen.

               “You’re paranoid.” The man scoffed. 

               Jin would agree with him, except it wasn’t paranoia when people were actually trying to kill you.

               “You owe me Kenji.”  Yuna asserted, and with that Jin finally had her friend’s name.

               Kenji growled out a sigh.  Jin took that to mean their conversation was over.  He’d better go in soon before they realized how long he’d been listening and thought him rude.  Though Lord Shimura would tell him not to care about the opinions of thieves and slimy merchants while chastising him for his poor manners in the same breath. Jin entered the cozy house through the sliding shoji door, not trying to be quiet or stealthy but also not announcing himself.  Indoors it was a typical brewery: a large fermenting barrel in the corner, shelves full of covered jars of koji, and bales and barrels of rice all had their places throughout the house, matching all the bales outside on carts and in the outbuildings. 

               From a sake brewing perspective, it was a pale and dingy shadow of Kii’s clean professional operation.  The sweet scent of fermenting koji and steaming rice was welcoming and warm, perhaps even more so because of the cluttered yet homey close quarters.  Kenji and Yuna were right in front of Jin but hadn’t noticed him yet. They wouldn’t have realized he was eavesdropping because apparently their argument was still ongoing.

               “Taka’s counting on us,” Yuna said.  It was phrased as a statement of fact but sounded like a threat.  Kenji must owe Yuna quite a lot.

               Kenji was simpering and pleading, “I love the kid, but this is too dangerous. It will never work,” he ended breathily. 

               As a samurai it made Jin tense, that tone of voice was grating and usually meant someone was trying to weasel out of something.  But he could push that down for now.  They had lost daylight, they needed to move, now, if they were going to get to Azamo before dawn.

               “We’ll make it work,” Jin interrupted.  Kenji and Yuna realized he was there then.  Yuna cracked a small grin as she smugly crossed her arms and gave Jin’s new clothing a once over.  Kenji was looking to her for how he should react to the strange man in ronin attire; he settled on suspicious apparently.

               Kenji pointed at Jin with his far hand, as if he was being surreptitious, and leaned forward to ask Yuna, “This the samurai?” 

               Kenji was far too casual in both tone and phrasing for addressing a samurai, even obliquely.

               “You can call me Lord Sakai,” Jin said, turning to fully face Kenji, silently demanding the respect he was owed.  It was something he hadn’t had to do since he finished puberty, once he was properly a man people always somehow knew he was a samurai.  Lord Shimura had said it was the posture and bearing instilled in all samurai through combat training and meditation.  Whatever it was, it worked on Kenji… mostly.

               “Forgive me… my lord.”  Kenji bowed, not as low as he should and with poor posture.  His back was hunched and his arms spread wide.  His straw hat meant Jin couldn’t tell if he was pulling a face underneath it and that weaselly voice meant Jin couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or sincere… but if Jin was charitable it must be hard for Kenji to bow properly with a full sake selling kit on his back.  Jin could hear the wet sloshing of rice wine every time Kenji moved.  He couldn’t imagine how heavy it was to wear. 

               Kenji lifted his head to speak next, but still held the awkward bow, “I am Kenji, upstanding merchant…” he rose pompously, “renowned sake brewer…” he continued with a broad and honest grin, and mid dramatic pause –

               “And the best swindler on the island,” Yuna interrupted.  She pointed at Kenji, taking a few steps forward so she could better talk to Jin while gesturing at the slimy merchant.

               Kenji’s smile drooped, becoming tense.  He had the look of a man ready to run.

               “That’s why he’s going to help us rescue my brother from Azamo Bay.”  Yuna opened her hand and gestured at Kenji, finishing her official introduction of her friend.

               Kenji’s smile was tight, toothless, and nervous.  “That town’s a fortress” Kenji protested, voice quavering, he was cocking his head sideways and stepping closer to them both.  His posture was silently pleading them to reconsider. 

               Jin mulled over the statement and thought.

               “If the Mongols took it, we’ll need an army to penetrate the walls.”  Jin hated it, but he had to agree with the weasel.  He looked to Yuna, she was the woman with the plan.  Jin raised his eyebrows, waiting patiently.

               “Or… a single delivery of sake,” Yuna said, slowly, calmly.  This was why Jin lov- had feelings for her.  Her cool head and tactical prowess.  Though it shouldn’t keep surprising him, knowing her occupation.

               Kenji laughed tensely, it didn’t reach his eyes, then he turned to Jin for additional support.  “It’ll never work,” Kenji was shaking his head.  Trying to weasel out of things.  From what Jin had overheard this cowardice seemed to be a pattern.  He’d need to be ready for this merchant to sell them out.

               “Get your sake ready,” Jin ordered.  He would agree with Yuna’s plan, even if he didn’t trust Kenji.  He’d trusted Yuna this far, they were too close to finding Taka to turn back now.  “We’ll discuss the plan on the move.”

               “Let’s have a drink first.”  Kenji proclaimed and gestured for them all to sit, and delay, and weasel himself out of their plan, and maybe also from his implied debt to Yuna. 

               It was uncomfortable for Jin, to find out there was more of a seedy underbelly to the island than he had previously been aware of; especially given his father and the other samurai’s sacrifices to see their home safe, ruled by honor and order. 

               Kenji opened his hands welcomingly and glanced once more at Jin, “Talk this through…” Kenji pleaded, glancing to Yuna for mercy.

               Yuna was all hard edges in both posture and voice, “Now, Kenji.”  Yuna gestured at the door and from her tone it was clear that if Kenji didn’t go, she had no qualms dragging him out by his ear.  Jin had never had that happen to him, but he’d seen commoners and Ryuzo get that treatment as children often enough; Ryuzo almost more than most, Jin remembered.

               Outside Jin joined Yuna on the road, she was perched on a rock drinking sake, there was more than enough to go around here after all.  Jin refused the bottle when she offered it and was met with a shrug as she took another swig.  Jin looked for Kenji and found him back in the yard hitching a small paint horse to one of his sake carts.  Jin pet the small mare on the nose, the fur was soft and velvety on her questing lips as she tried to find some treat in his hand.  It was obvious Kenji spoiled her… maybe the man wasn’t all bad. 

               “She’s Miko,” Kenji said.  Then he rustled in a belt pouch next to several sloshing gourds and pulled out a small fruit.  He pushed it in to Jin’s hand and then went back to tightening harness’ girth strap and loading the cart while Jin fed and got to know the horse.  Her favorite spots to be pet were her forehead under the forelock and the crease of her neck.

               Kenji was grinning at him.  Jin paused.  Keji kept grinning and glanced between Jin and a spot in the distance, where Kage was grazing in the trees’ shadows.  Miko was a mare… Kage was a stallion… Jin was not going to get involved in horse breeding, even if the stud fees would probably get him free sake for life.  If Kenji’s sake was ‘sour rice water’ as he claimed, then Jin truly wanted nothing to do with it.  Jin shook his head firmly in the negative and left Kenji to his work. 

               Jin wandered back to the road and went to rejoin Yuna.  He’d rather be at her side sober than getting high off all the sake fumes that constantly wafted around Kenji.  The shadows were getting longer, everything was uniformly dark by the time Kenji brought the cart to the main road and continued to fiddle with it, this time using a mallet to make some adjustments.  Jin would have been growing impatient but he remembered the lessons of his youth and took the time to meditate, as was proper for a samurai… a samurai who was about to do something very underhanded and of questionable honorability.  Jin sighed and tried to clear his mind.  Yuna took the free time to drink.

               The stars and wane light of the old moon were the only illumination tonight, and mist was rolling in with the cold night air from the coast when Kenji finally broke the silence, “When we get close to the town, you can hide in the cart with the sake.”  He was still working on his cart, making adjustments in the dark.

               Jin was surprised that was the plan, he walked over so they weren’t shouting down the road and he could see Kenji more clearly in the weak light from the single lamp on his cart, “The Mongols won’t search it?” Jin questioned. It was hard to believe those looting barbarians wouldn’t ransack every cart like they’d done to that peasant in Tsutsu.

               “Not anymore.”  Kenji was casual and dismissed Jin’s concerns, “It’s the same sake delivery I always sell them.”  He stopped his work to wave an empty sake gourd in the air, “They love my ‘dars’. Dars, mulgu!  Give dars now!”  He gestured and postured like the Mongol guards would to emphasize his point.

               Jin was not amused, his tone was stern and accusing, “You’ve been doing business with the enemy.”  Jin had half a mind to strike the sake merchant, with palm or blade he didn’t know.  People were dying, did Kenji have no respect for himself, for their people?

               “I keep the Mongols drunk, and they let me keep my head.” Kenji reminded Jin, sounding bitter and resentful despite his nasal rasp.  His voice was becoming less grating now that Jin realized the hoarseness wasn’t intentional wheedling, but rather just the way the man spoke.  Kenji also was becoming more sympathetic now that Jin knew this ‘business with the Mongols was less by choice and more like slavery with a long leash. 

               “All set,” Kenji said as he finished hammering down a loose corner of the cloth tarp that would hide Jin and Yuna’s presence.  “You sure you want to go through with this?” 

               ‘Ah yes, there it was,’ and there went Jin’s respect once more, Kenji was back to weaseling his way out of the situation.  But Jin had come too far, too much was counting on this ridiculous plan, for any of them to back down now.

               Yuna clearly agreed with Jin.  “Anything for Taka,” She said, arms crossed, stern, serious.  She was prepared to die for this.  For her sake, Jin hoped Taka was still alive.

               Kenji joined her at Miko’s head and they all walked down the road together. 

               ‘Just a sloppy sake merchant and two well-armed peasants, nothing to see here,’ Jin thought wryly to himself.

               Jin had to know what type of situation they were walking in to, “How bad is the occupation in Azamo Bay?”

               “A few people fought back.”  Kenji explained, then he quashed Jin’s hope, “The ones left alive are prisoners… or slaves.” 

               Jin frowned, it was like Komoda beach and Komoda town all over again, people had fought, and people had died.  The people of Tsushima needed a beacon of hope, something to rally around and give them hope they could win.  Lord Shimura would be that beacon.  Jin had to succeed, save Taka, rescue his uncle, and then inspire their people to fight.  But first came freeing Taka.  Would he be a prisoner or a slave?  It was concerning that Kenji hadn’t specified despite his regular forays in to the town of Azamo Bay.  Yuna was apparently ahead of Jin on that thought.

               “But you never saw Taka?”  Yuna checked with Kenji.  Her voice and face were tense with worry.  This plan relied on Taka being in Azamo, alive, otherwise they were all risking their lives for naught.

               “No,” Kenji confirmed, sounding a little forlorn.  He might have been telling the truth when he said he ‘loved the kid’.  “But someone’s been working the forge the past few days.  Maybe it’s your brother.”  He added in a rasping rush.  Yuna still looked tense, but her eyes were alight and glittering in the night.  It was hope. 

               Hope was all they had.

               “How long have you two known each other?”  Jin had to ask.  There was a familiarity between Yun and Kenji despite the sniping.  And he needed to know just how far Yuna trusted her slimy companion.

               “Since I was too young to know better.”  Yuna sounded fond and reminiscent.  That answered that though; she trusted him.  Jin had to extend him the benefit of the same.

               “I was just starting to brew sake.”  Kenji elaborated, “Sold Yuna my first batch.”  His voice was warm and his smile was genuine as he spoke, for the first time it actually reached his eyes.

               “Hmph,” Yuna huffed, remembering and reciting her part of the tale for what must be the thousandth time, “Tasted like piss.  But it was cheap.”

               “For a while, I tried to get Taka’s help selling it.”  Kenji smiled with his eyes again, the wrinkles at the corners deepening with fond remembrances.  “Turned out he was too soft…” Kenji shrugged.  Before Jin could ask to hear more Yuna explained.

               “People told him sob stories, and he’d give them sake,” Yuna shook with quiet mirth before finishing dramatically, “Free of charge.”  She laughed and Kenji shook his head in mock despair. 

               Jin smiled slightly to mirror everyone else.  A skilled blacksmith with a warm heart, Jin could see why Yuna wanted to protect her little brother, even beyond familial affection.  Before Yuna or Kenji could add any other childhood stories Yuna stopped short.  That got everyone’s attention. 

               “Mongols.”  Yuna had seen them first and whispered her warning to them all.  All three companions hit the ground.  The butchers were up ahead at the fork in the road.

               Kenji was already backing away, but not to run, “Damn.  You two better get in the cart.”  He lifted the tarp and gestured for them to climb up.

               Jin was assessing the situation, counting shadows and silhouettes in the distant torchlight.  “There aren’t many.  I can handle them,” he said confidently.  The Mongols weren’t near any others that he could see and they were still a ways from Azamo Bay from what he remembered of the lay of the land.  The risks were low if he-

               “No, Jin.”  Yuna stopped him, tense in body and tone, “Taka is so close.  Please.”  The risks were high, too high for Jin to act off plan.

               “All right,” Jin deferred to her plan.  It had worked the last time, aside from the whole ‘Taka is in another prison’ part.  Jin and Yuna slipped in to the cart.  Kenji had emptied one of the barrels.  It reeked of sake.  Jin swore the smell in that one barrel was stronger than the whole of Kii’s brewery, but still not as strong as the alcoholic aura that perpetually surrounded Kenji.  A small blessing of the fumes was that they would mask both Jin and Yuna’s scent, though Jin’s pheromones were toned down now out of heat so he only reeked of regular body odor.  Yuna reeked too to be honest.  They were both crammed together in one barrel, knees, hips, everything touching.  Jin was relieved they’d fucked before because otherwise this situation would be too terribly intimate.

               “Get ready.”  Kenji muttered, quiet and low, but his voice reached the inside of the cart.  “They might search the cart.”

               Jin stiffened, he was going to throttle that little fink.  “You said they don’t do that,” Jin broke their silence with his accusation.

               “At the town gates,” Kenji protested.

               ‘Oh, of course… at the gates…’, Jin was fuming.  Kenji hadn’t mentioned that before.  He really was going to strangle the little creep once they were out of this barrel.  Yuna grabbed his arms in their shared confined space and squeezed to ground him, or maybe herself, or them both.

               “I’ve never seen them this far out here.”  Kenji’s voice kept getting quieter and harsher as they passed slaves presumably chopping wood from what Jin could make out.  Kenji sounded scared.  Jin couldn’t see, but he could hear the sound of axes… and sobbing, and pleading, and-

               “You!  Stop!”  Mongols… Jin couldn’t shiver with horror at the sounds around them when he was this tensed and ready for a fight.  At his side Yuna felt the same, rigid like a nocked bowstring, ready to spring.

               Kenji slowed the cart.  “Dars!” he cried, “Dars for Azamo Bay!”  He came to a full stop. 

               Yuna fell against Jin’s chest in their cramped quarters.  Her palm was flat against him, rubbing his top open as she shifted against him and he could feel her thumb brush against his nipple.  Under other circumstances this would have been almost nice.  At this moment it was unpleasantly distracting.

               “Ah, Dars.”  The Mongol voice laughed, “Hurry up!” he shouted. 

               Jin wanted to snarl that that was one of the phrases the bastards knew in Japanese.  Jin could feel Yuna’s matching glower even in the darkness.

               Kenji sighed audibly with relief.  He said to himself, but loud enough anyone hiding in the cart could hear, “Just a little farther.”  Was he trying to reassure them?  Such kindness was unnecessary, but it helped them prepare and anticipate when they’d need to be ready to strike.

               Yuna was the one to risk breaking the silence now, “What was all that screaming?” 

               Jin hadn’t dared to ask.  He didn’t want to know what horrors they were traveling past the closer they got to the gates of Azamo Bay.

               Kenji’s voice was tense and harsh, “Doesn’t matter, keep it down.”  He was clearly rattled by whatever he’d seen that had caused the screams.  Jin honestly didn’t know how anyone on Tsushima would be able to sleep without nightmares for years after this.  If the Mongols had their way there’d be none left alive to dream.  Jin shivered.

               “Is that what Taka’s going through?” Yuna’s voice was low, but rising, she was starting to sound panicked.  In an enclosed space, that was very bad.

               Jin gripped her arms to ground her like she had done for him so recently.  “Your brother’s a skilled blacksmith. They won’t treat him like that,” he said with unfounded confidence, silently he added, ‘I hope’.  

               In the pitch darkness of their shared barrel Jin could only see and remember that first night in Komoda town.  Those dead eyes that had stared in to his own as he crawled beneath the shed, the screams of the dying being butchered.  The sounds beyond their sake reeking prison were too familiar and with nothing in here to see he couldn’t stop the visions of that horrible night from flashing before him.

               “You don’t know that.”  Yuna saw through him, because of course she had.  For the first time, Jin hated how perceptive she was.  Thankfully timing and Kenji were on his side.

               “We’re getting close.  Quiet.”  Kenji warned.

               Whether that was true or he wanted them to not respond to the sound of pleading women and harsh Mongolian shouting on the roadside Jin didn’t know.  He knew his hand was tight around his blade and he was ready to spring like an arrow from a bow.  Yuna didn’t ask what the shouting was this time.  Neither of them wanted to know.  They both could guess without seeing.  There were a few moments of merciful silence after that, just the subtle creak of wood and rough jolts and cracks and the cart moved through well-worn ruts in the road.

               Then they stopped.  There was shouting and laughing in Mongolian, followed by the creak of heavy wooden gates being opened.  The cart wasn’t checked.  Jin would have given anything to see what they were being led in to, but that would have exposed them.  So they went forth, carried blind, in to the center of the enemy keep.

Chapter Text

               Jin and Yuna were trapped against each other in the small enclosed space of an empty, reeking, sake barrel being carted towards a Mongol occupied stronghold.  Jin didn’t trust the weaselly merchant hauling them like so much cargo, but he was an old friend of Yuna’s so Jin didn’t have much choice. Their cart had been stopped.  Jin cringed at the laughter and casual shouting of the Mongol guards granting them entrance to Azamo Bay.  He wished he could see what they were facing, what had been done to his island.

               Once they were moving again, going through the gates, Yuna gave a small sigh of relief.  They were in, they hadn’t been searched and discovered, they were one step closer to Taka, one step closer to Lord Shimura, one step closer to freeing all of Tsushima.  Neither Jin nor Yuna breathed a sigh of relief.

               “I can’t believe this worked,” Kenji dared to say, which was their cue there were no Mongols around.  Then he added something that made Jin’s heart sink, “Oh no… Somebody must’ve pissed off the Mongols.  They burned half the town.” 

               Jin could only hope there hadn’t been people trapped in the buildings when they’d been razed.

               Kenji stopped his wagon far enough away from the fish market square and its firelight, under the guise of the dark open space between it and the gate being easier to turn the cart around in, that Jin and Yuna could slip away unseen.  He let them out while unloading his sake.  Jin and Yuna crouched in the darkness and took stock of the ruins.  Between them and the gate were the burnt-out shells of multiple houses, reduced to still smoldering ash.  Jin could hear screaming coming from deep within the town, multiple voices crying out, and there were more screams and sobs coming from nearby, near the square full of drying nets and fish traps and a blazing campfire at its center.  They’d be able to see the town from those roofs. 

               Once Yuna and Jin were on their feet and oriented Kenji said simply, “This is where we part ways…”

               “Keep the Mongol’s drunk- and distracted.”  Jin ordered.  Kenji wasn’t done helping them yet.  Jin hoped he’d comply.

               “I’ll do my best,” Kenji said, tensely.

               “Stay safe, Kenji.”  Jin was well aware of what he was asking Kenji to risk, he felt he needed to acknowledge that, in some small way.

               “And you, Lord Sakai.”  Kenji said, not bowing low, but with sincerity in his squeaky voice.  He knew, and that was enough.

               “Taka’s waiting for us.  Let’s go!”  Yuna whispered to rush them along.  They were so close.  There was no point to further delay.

               “Once we’re done, I’ll meet you at the crossroads behind town,” Kenji promised as Yuna and Jin slipped in to the mist and shadows behind him.  They melted in to the night like honey in to tea, well-practiced by now in stealth.  Kenji continued unloading his cart like nothing was different and his life wasn’t in constant danger.

               “We need a vantage point to scout ahead,” Jin said once he and Yuna were behind a sacred boulder and out of sight.  The rooftops of the fish market-

               “This way…” Yuna already had the first leg of their trek scouted and was guiding Jin there.  It was like being back with his own retainers, all of one mind and focused on the mission.  Slinking low to the ground between spurs of charred debris the duo remained unseen as they approached the back wall of one of the fish processing buildings.

               Jin naturally slipped back in to the role of leadership, “Remember.  No alarms.  We do this quietly-”

               “Or the prisoners suffer.  Got it,” Yuna said as if she hadn’t been the one reminding Jin of that fact their entire journey together.  She didn’t sound sarcastic though, Jin thought she might have been too stressed to manage that.  He felt the same.

               Kenji was a brilliant and loud distraction as Jin and Yuna reached the wooden wall of the fishmongers shed.  Kenji called out, “Invaders!”

               ‘How was that man not dead yet?!’ Jin choked down shock at Kenji’s boldness.

               Kenji sounded downright jovial, “You look thirsty!”  He proclaimed bombastically and subserviently at the same time.  The man could have been an actor in another life.

               “Up here.”  Yuna brought Jin back to the task at hand with two words and hoisted herself on top of the roof, trusting in Jin to follow.  And follow he did, with only a twinge in his shoulder as he lifted himself up.  Jin couldn’t tell if the twinge was memories of Komoda town or the scars from Komoda beach stretching.

               “Come get your delicious dars!” Kenji sing-songed and called over as many of the men as were thirsty or drunkards.  Which just so happened to be most of the Mongols around the square. 

               That left the inner gate to town free and open.

               “Look, by the gate,” Yuna whispered.  Jin crouched at her side and followed her gaze.

               “And choke on it.”  Kenji finished his sake spiel from somewhere behind them. 

               Again, Jin wondered, ‘How is that man not dead yet?!’

               Jin focused on the fishmonger’s courtyard before them and looked near the gate.  He saw what, or rather who, Yuna was referring to.  Jin’s assessment was quick, the situation was obvious, “He’s in charge.  A slaver.”

               “Bastard,” Yuna spit out her own judgement of the man’s character.

               The slaver was kneeling in front of the last of three people, bound peasants judging by their garb and cowed demeanors.  The slaver was grabbing their heads and turning them about one by one.

               “He’s inspecting the prisoners.  Like they’re horses,” Jin growled.  He was going to murder that bastard and every other Mongol slaver on this island.  That wasn’t emotion, that was fact. 

               “He might lead us to Taka.”  Yuna whispered fiercely.  She was right.  If the man thought of people like livestock, he’d likely make the rounds of everywhere prisoners were kept. 

               If Taka was here, they would find him.

               “Follow him.”  Jin echoed Yuna’s conclusion.

               The slaver finished his inspection of the new captives and stood, wiping his hand on his pants.  Jin bristled, if looks could kill the man would dead twice over.  The slaver walked from the square in to the town proper.  Leaving the prisoners to their fate, Jin and Yuna had to scramble to follow him unseen on the rooftops.  They lost sight of him briefly as he walked down the main street, the town layout forcing them to the ground as they ducked between drying nets and leapt down a retaining wall to scrambled up the rear of the next building over. 

               They were blind with a slanted roof blocking most of their view, Yuna was frantic the slaver might get away.  They both made it over the peak of the roof just in time to witness a man being freshly slain in the middle of the town’s main street.  He had been a peasant, he’d run out of a building across from them, and gotten an arrow to the back for his efforts.  A Mongol followed after him and slashed across his chest while laughing.  The slaver approached the pair and joined in with his own hearty laugh.  Their good humor was followed by some calm conversation in Mongolian as the man on the street finished bleeding out.  Jin shuddered, Taka might very well be dead, it seemed like any resistance was cause for death here. 

               Yuna had a better grasp of the situation.  “Taka’s probably fine.  He wouldn’t try to run.”  Those two sentences meant more than the words she’d said, but Jin lacked enough to context to understand her true meaning.  But if she was wrong…

               “Lets go.”  Jin didn’t want to think what Yuna would do if this was all for naught.

               The slaver was already walking towards the west wall behind the houses of the town.  It was the direction the dead peasant had fled from.  Jin and Yuna scampered over some scaffolding that bridged the street below; Jin was thankful the town had been repairing roofs before the winter came.  Once they reached those rooftops Jin saw why the peasant had run from this place.  Between the backs of homes and shops and the town’s impenetrable wall was a clearing.  Lined up along the edge were bamboo cages on wheels, crates with locks and chains on the lid with a single hole in one side, and a row of three bound and kneeling prisoners, each being shot in the back with an arrow.  The man now laying dead in the central street must have still had some energy after being let out of whatever hellish prison they’d kept him in. The last survivor when the archer had finished his work was a bound man on his knees, facing the fresh corpses and being threatened with a spear.  He may have been the captives’ leader.

               “I… I won’t be your slave.”  The last survivor said defiantly. 

               Jin and Yuna followed their target as the slaver walked away from the scene. 

               They had to save Taka; they couldn’t save the rebellious peasant.  And Jin couldn’t bear to see what the Mongols would do to him for such resistance. 

               Jin had to look forward as they jumped to a new roof, it was a large leap but doable with focus.  The ground rushing below and the tiles rapidly rising up  blended with the sight of Lord Shimura on the beach, proud and defiant to the last, like that peasant had been.  What hell was he enduring now at Mongol hands? 

               Jin lost focus.  He landed hard and had the breath knocked out of him. 

               Yuna put and hand on Jin’s shoulder to steady him as he struggled upwards.  Her other hand pressed soothingly against his back as he got air in his lungs again.

               They followed the slaver from the rooftops. The background drone of crackling torches and the sound of waves was punctuated by screams.  The slaver strolled calmly by as if he was out for a normal evening stroll and not orchestrating the torture of innocents.  It was a nightmare, the whole hellish scenario and the state of the town.  Jin and Yuna jolted when they heard cries from just below them, both of them slipped and skidded down the roof while struggling to remain silent, the sound had shocked them out of their single minded hunt for their target.  Something unpleasant was happening in that house… but they couldn’t focus on that.  It was Komoda town all over again and Jin was certain neither of them would rest easy after tonight.

               The Mongol slaver reached an open area, it was part of the town center though Jin remembered how it looked from ground level in better lighting and happier times.  Another Mongol stood waiting with yet another prisoner at his side. This peasant had his hands clasped in front of him and his head bowed deferentially, he was a defeated man in posture.  Jin couldn’t see his bonds from this distance, as captor and captive both walked out from under the eaves of another building across the town center and in to the streets.  Jin didn’t want to watch as another man died, tied and defenseless, but the slaver was walking right towards them, and they had to follow him to find Taka. 

               All Jin could do was watch.

               The waiting Mongol said something Jin couldn’t understand, Mongolian was different enough from the Chinese he’d had to study that he couldn’t make heads or tails of it when spoken. 

               Then the slaver spoke in clear Japanese, “What is problem?”

               The peasant prisoner spoke, haltingly, snivelingly, “Your blacksmith, Taka.” 

               Jin felt like ice water had been dumped down his spine.  ‘Taka!  Taka is alive!’ 

               Jin glanced at Yuna and her expression was both strained and joyous.  They both leaned forward, low to the roof, straining to hear better.

               “His work is shoddy; I think he’s sabotaging you.”  The prisoner- no- collaborator said conspiratorially. 

               Yuna glared. 

               Jin glared. 

               The man was a rat, to sell out another so easily.  A brave man would help Taka sabotage the Mongols, if that’s what Yuna’s brother had even been doing; it might just be that Yuna had drastically overstated her brother’s skills to Jin.

               “I knew it.  Taka’s here.”  Yuna was looking around the rooftops as if her brought would appear next to them… or she was checking to make sure they weren’t detected this close to their goal. 

               Jin breathed in deeply through his nose and out through his mouth to calm and steady himself.  Victory was so close they could taste it, victory tasted like low tide at Azamo Bay… then again that may have just been the night air.  Jin watched the slaver like a hawk, would he go to Taka next, or would he send a man to deal with the alleged disobedience.  Jin hoped he and Yuna wouldn’t be forced to split up.

               All Jin knew was Taka was a blacksmith with a beard, that described far too many people.

               “He is only blacksmith.”  The slaver growled, displeased with his lot.  Anything that displeased him would cause Jin joy. 

               Jin scowled down smugly at the Mongolian bastard.

               “I’m a blacksmith, too.  And I’ll do much better work.”

               Jin’s glare shifted to the peasant prisoner who’d just sold Taka out.  ‘Yes,’ Jin decided, ‘The man was a complete rat.’  Jin could feel Yuna at his side, tense and coiled like a viper ready to strike.  She had a bow at her back and Jin was relieved she had enough self-control not to loose an arrow into the man’s head.

               “I can not feed two.”  The Mongol slaver stated, slowly, like he was weighing the costs and rewards.  Which, since he was a slaver, was probably what all human lives were to him; mon, millet, pears, chickens, humans, what was the difference when human life could be bought or sold or bartered. 

               Jin could hear his own pulse hammering in his ears as his blood pressure rose. 

               The slaver must have reached a conclusion because he proclaimed, “I get rid of him.  But be ready, to prove yourself.”  He didn’t loom, or point, or raise his voice; he didn’t have to, the threat was obvious.  If the slaver was willing to kill a blacksmith on nothing more than another man’s words, he wouldn’t hesitate to kill a man for actual failure. 

               Jin couldn’t wait to bury a knife in that bastard’s throat.

               “That bastard. He’ll kill Taka!”  Yuna cried quietly, urgently.  There wasn’t panic there, only the overwhelming need to not be too late.  Their window of opportunity was rapidly closing. 

               Jin felt ill to his stomach.  If he’d stayed another day with Ryuzo, or delayed on any of his other tasks, or had that drink and talked things over with Kenji, Taka would be dead.  Taka would be dead and it would be… All.  His.  Fault.

               The slaver walked, leisurely, towards the market; like he was going to buy rice and fish instead of about to murder a man. 

               Jin had to pause when he and Yuna reached the market square by the south gate.  They couldn’t follow the slaver because the roofs ran out… and worse.

               “Market’s full of Mongols.”  Jin observed bitterly.  They had to think fast.

               “We can’t lose the slaver.  If he reaches Taka first…” Yuna didn’t have to finish the thought.  They both knew.

               They’d come so far.  Jin was not about to stop now.  “Stay close, Yuna.”  He had to come up with a plan, “I’ll find a way through.”  He had to, somehow. There was no other option.

               Jin looked at the overgrown grasses near the south gate, the fishing nets hanging to dry, the bamboo prisons by the gate; those were all good cover.  There was a dark alley between the inn and the town’s southern wall beyond the square.  In the center of the square were gallows, thankfully empty, blazing bonfires surrounded by Mongols keeping warm, and a few carts of stollen food and supplies.  The slaver was chatting with his comrades there.  Jin had to think fast before conversations ran short.  Jin tried to remember the layout of the town of Azamo Bay.  Where had the forge been?

               ‘Stop… Breathe… Think…’ Jin breathed slowly and closed his eyes to remember.  Was it north and uphill towards the shrine?  By the east gate?  Or was it further along the south wall?  The roofs across the way were closer together, even if they had to jump across the street they could make it and then get uphill quickly.  They’d lose more time trying to get back towards the south wall if they went uphill first.  Jin looked down at the town square for some shred of inspiration.  The slaver was still making the rounds and giving Jin no clue as to the direction of his final objective. 

               ‘Take a guess Jin, you’re the smart one,’ Jin scolded himself.  He could feel time running out.  He had to be decisive.  Across the south gate, that way had the best cover, they’d deal with finding the forge after. 

               Jin dropped off the roof silently, Yuna followed him like his own shadow.  The guards at the closed gate switched positions and there was gap in their observation, Jin dodged, quickly and low to the ground, between carts and occupied cages and firewood stacks, and finally made a mad dash across the inn’s open doorway.  Jin’s heart was in his throat as they ran down and around the alley along the side and back of the inn to reach the street once more.  Yuna was breathing hard at his shoulder the entire way.  They’d gotten through the square, maybe one Mongol thought he saw something, but it had only been a trick of the light because there was nothing there two seconds later.  Jin hugged the wall and looked back towards the market square. 

               He’d guessed correctly.

               “The slaver.”  Jin announced when he regained sight of the man leaving the market.  The situation was perfect, the bastard was walking right towards them.  Jin pressed Yuna back against the wall and plastered himself flat against it as well.  The slaver hadn’t noticed anything, not even two people glaring daggers at his back from the alley.

               “Can’t let him get away…” Yuna breathed into Jin’s ear. 

               It was a needless reminder.  Nonetheless, Jin slunk in to the street with Yuna on his heels.  They followed the slaver as close as they dared; twin shadows lurking in the shadow of the murderer.

               As they left the cheerful Mongolian shouting from the market square behind them Jin could hear distant screams.  This was bloodcurdling.  It was worse than battle.  Worse than the ransacking of Komoda town.  These people were already prisoners, the Mongols had already won, their deaths and torment were pointless. 

               The white-hot rage roaring through Jin’s veins was chilled only by the cold steel of experience.  He would bide his time, master his emotions, and strike cleanly, looking that fucking butcher in the eye all the while. 

               The slaver calmly and slowly walked through a building a short way down the street.  He didn’t notice he was followed inside.  Jin was in full tactical mode and assed their surroundings.  At one point this place might have been an armorer’s shop, or a house, it was hard to tell with everything in disarray and only the moving torchlight of their target for illumination.  Jin crept as close as he dared, he could strike, but they had to wait. They had to find Taka, only then-

               A soft wavering voice pleaded from the courtyard before the slaver even entered it, “No…”  Jin could hear the swallowed sob in the silence that followed.

               The slaver said something and Jin again cursed his lack of language skills.  “Bidniig orhi.”  It must have been some demand because there was a response.

               The voice was broken and defeated, “Please.  I need to rest…” 

               Jin crept as close as he dared from the building’s eaves.  There was a lump on the ground in front of a forge, it looked like a pile of rags until Jin saw it move and could make out the arm and head of a man laying curled and prostrate on his knees.  He was struggling to lift himself up and staring at the approaching Mongol.

               “It’s Taka!” Yuna whispered, she was loud enough Jin feared she’d broken their cover.  But the slaver was only focused on Taka, his sword held aloft and resting with the blunt side on his shoulder as he slowly, confidently, strode forward.  It was like he hadn’t heard Taka’s pleas, or more likely he didn’t care.  Taka leaned away from the slaver.  The slaver sped up his pace.  Jin saw the way he was positioning his feet, how he lifted his sword, he was going to-

               “PLEASE !” Taka begged; it was a scream as bone chilling as any other Jin had heard that night.  Taka was still curled over on his knees, he didn’t run, maybe he couldn’t, he just tried to drag himself backwards with one hand half raised to futily block the blow and let out that one shouted cry. 

               Jin moved to strike.  Yuna was faster.

               Yuna darted forward and her dagger was in the Mongol’s upheld sword arm in the time it took to blink; pinning him in place.  Yuna used her new grip to wrench the man around and slash his throat with her katana.

               The corpse fell on its back.  Taka stared, eyes wide and mouth open, panting with panic, at the body as it fell.  Then he glanced up, and back down to the body of his would-be killer, then up again to Yuna.  Jin was half afraid he’d scream again, but he didn’t really think that yelling would get them found out given the other noises in the camp.  Taka did speak, eventually.

               “Yuna.”  Taka’s voice was hesitant, hoarse and disbelieving.  He was frozen, still crumpled on the ground with his face drawn in terror.

               “Taka!”  Yuna almost sobbed with relief, all her hard edges had gone soft. 

               Jin gave her a moment alone with her brother.  He glanced at all the entrances to the forge courtyard, there were two doors to the house, and a single alley near the east wall, they were somewhat cornered but had options for egress if anyone came.

               Yuna was gasping out voiced sobs of joy that might have been her brother’s name as she ran towards Taka and bent down, heedless of the blood on her face and hands. 

               Jin wanted to give them privacy… but he needed to give them cover.  He followed behind her but kept some distance, facing their escape routes in case anyone wandered by.  He had to be on alert, all senses prepared to detect danger. 

               The heat from the banked coals of the forge created their own air currents, wafting the scent of iron and sparks and burning towards Jin.  The scent of burning was familiar and unpleasant, especially combined with their current surroundings and Jin’s readiness for battle.  All that was missing was the addition of pine to bring back unpleasant memories that made Jin shudder.  There were other scents that made him shudder too…

               Yuna fell to her knees and reached for Taka but paused, hands hovering a few centimeters away, “What did they do to you?” she asked with dawning horror. 

               Jin refused to let emotion show on his face.  Yuna could smell it on Taka, even with her beta senses.  She could smell exactly what had happened.  Jin could smell it too from where he stood away from the siblings. 

               Taka was covered in the scent of so many alphas he reeked of them, there were so many peoples’ pheromones on him Jin couldn’t even smell a hint of Taka’s own omega scent.  Yuna drew closer and touched Taka’s arm, tentatively at first, as if she was afraid he’d disappear. Then she held him more firmly, to make sure he was still whole. 

               “You’re safe now,” she said.  Relief suffusing her voice as she held her bother.  Both of them were frozen and staring at each other, as if they were afraid that the moment could shatter any second and vanish like a dream.

               The kill had been silent but it wouldn’t be long before someone came to find the slaver, or their blacksmith… or whatever else they’d deemed Taka to be. 

               “We need to move.”  Jin said, sharp and commanding as he walked over to where the siblings sat huddled on the ground.  The reunion had to wait.  Once they were free, then they could fall to pieces.  Once the island was free, Jin could fall to pieces too.

               Taka shook his head, trembling in body and voice, “We can’t.  They’ll catch us, just like the others.”  His brow wrinkled with worry and panic, he begged Yuna to stay by silently clinging to her sleeve.  His eyes were wide and frightened, darting between her and Jin.

               “This is Lord Sakai,” Yuna explained, “He’ll protect us.” There was absolute certainty in her voice.  She had faith in him. 

               Jin didn’t understand what he did to deserve it.  He’d only fought his way to the bridge of Castle Kaneda, single handedly assassinated an entire Mongol prison camp, brought them to this point, and… ‘Oh.’  He had done all that.  Hadn’t he.  Jin stood a bit taller, hand resting casually on his clan’s katana, subtly showing off the two swords at his side that marked him as samurai.  But there was no time for preening or basking in accomplishments.  They needed to move, now.

               Jin stepped forward to help Taka up, and faster than birds taking flight Taka half crawled away like Jin was going to hit him, like he’d crawled away from the slaver about to kill him.   Taka was dragging himself with his hands and tears sprang to his eyes like moving caused him pain. 

               Ok.  That only confirmed what Jin had smelled.  Jin couldn’t suppress a glare at what Taka had endured, he immediately regretted letting that expression cross his face.  He hated that Taka might think Jin’s rage was directed at him.

               Jin crouched low, not advancing on the frightened blacksmith, but so he was able to look Taka levelly in the eye.  Jin forced his expression to be neutral, trying to gain mastery of his face like Lord Shimura always had.  Jin held his hand out, as if coaxing a skittish cat or fox near. 

               “I need you to trust me, Taka. I need your help.”  Jink kept his voice steady and calm through sheer force of will.

               They were, all three of them, frozen for a moment in time, each tense and drawn and ready to run.  Jin took that time to actually look at the blacksmith he’d initially mistaken for a pile of rags.  Taka was a similar height to Jin, and had a similar build, with a little more muscle in the arms which was unsurprising given his occupation.  Taka had a full beard that matched Ryuzo’s except Taka kept his a little neater and more angular, the rest of his hair was loose disaster kept tame only by a white headband.  His brows were thick, his eyes so dark brown they almost seemed black, and his nose had clearly been broken at least once.  Jin took little solace in seeing that the breaks were old, there was no swelling or bruising where the bridge of Taka’s nose jutted sharply to the right.

               Taka’s eyes were still flickering between Yuna and Jin, wide but less frightened than before.  From years of fighting opponents Jin could tell by looking in those eyes, Taka was a man ready to run.  Though time was running short Jin had to be patient, if he pushed, Taka would shatter like a dropped dish and they’d all be dead.  After what felt like an eternity Jin could watch the panic fade as Taka got himself under control.  Jin didn’t particularly like the look of defeat Taka now wore, but his priority was getting them all out of here alive.

               Taka bowed his head and said brokenly “I’ll try, my lord.”

               Lord Shimura would say trying wasn’t enough, and that Taka needed to do his duty to his Jito and homeland.  Jin wanted to say ‘Come with me and I’ll kill the bastards that  hurt you.’ 

               Taka wasn’t meeting Jin’s eyes, he was looking respectfully downward; except Jin was paying attention and noticed Taka wasn’t seeing anything at all.  For a few painfully long moments Taka was somewhere else while his body was frozen before Jin in Azamo Bay.  The thing that broke Taka out of it was Yuna. 

               Yuna moved toward Taka where he’d shifted to, away from Jin, and he blindly reached for her.  Taka’s hands clutched at air until Yuna lifted him up and they wrapped tightly in her top.  He could barely stand. 

               Jin worried for half a moment the Mongol bastards had broken Taka’s legs.  Jin stood watch as Yuna got Taka up and supported against her shoulder.  His first few steps were small and limping, and Jin winced in sympathy and annoyance at how this would slow their escape.  It wouldn’t be easy to fight their way out with Yuna preoccupied carrying her brother.  Jin was again impressed by her, she had managed to haul him from the beach to the village through similar circumstances to this; he should stop underestimating her. 

               After a few steps Taka was managing to walk on his own though he still clung to Yuna as tightly as a leech.

               Taka spoke softly as Jin guided them down the alley along the east wall of the forge house.  “There’s a gate nearby.” 

               And with that simple utterance it dawned on Jin that Taka most definitely saw people get murdered trying to reach it.  No wonder he’d been too afraid to run.  From the corner of the forge house Jin could look back to where they’d come from the market, ahead of them was an empty green courtyard, and to the right was the curved and sloping path up towards the east gate.

               “Then that’s where we break out,” Jin said bluntly.  They really didn’t have a choice.  There was no other way, they couldn’t drag a debilitated noncombatant through a sea of Mongols, and Taka certainly couldn’t climb the rooftops in his condition.  They’d have to make a break for it and Jin thanked the stars that the moon was waning and faint tonight to hide their escape.

               They made it up the stairs, Jin in the lead looking out for enemy guards, Taka following him and Yuna at the rear making sure Taka didn’t stumble or bolt back to cover.  She had to shove Taka in the right directions a few times when he startled at rustling leaves or got that blank expression on his face and tried falling to his knees and hiding. 

               At the sound of a horn all three of them burst in to a run.  Hearing their footsteps behind him and remembering the fear in Taka’s eyes, Jin was thankful they’d all started running in the same direction.

               “They found the slaver,” Yuna said, drolly, without effort despite sprinting with Jin and Taka towards the gate. 

               Jin hoped the Mongols cared more about the murder and less about their missing pet blacksmith.  Jin could see the gate ahead, they were close.  He’d have to unlock it and push it open, that would take time, they just might have enough if they kept running.  The horn sounded again and there was shouting from somewhere behind them.

               “They’ll kill us.  We need to hide!”  Taka’s voice was too loud, that cut down on the time it’d take the Mongols to find them. 

               Jin spared and glance backwards and had to stop running.  Taka was again trying to bolt for some overgrown grass as cover, he was in a blind panic and Yuna was hauling him by collar and sleeve back in to the open on the main path.  Taka looked up and stared at Jin.

               ‘Stay calm, be the leader of your retainers.’  Jin had only half an instant to school his expression in to something neutral and lordly, “No, keep moving.”  Jin tried to quiet Taka by modeling what they all needed to do.  Jin took to Taka’s other side and walked lockstep with him and Yuna.  It worked for a moment.  But they’d lost too much time.  Glancing back, Jin could see the Mongols in front of the forge house pointing and arguing about which direction the murderer had run.  It was too dark to be followed by footprints alone, but they’d be spotted soon.  Jin needed Yuna to-

               Yuna grabbed Taka by the arm instead of just his sleeve and pushed him along with her as she quickened her pace.

               “We can climb those crates,” Yuna said, rushing ahead to reach them and dragging her brother along with her.

               Jin followed Yuna’s gaze as she took the lead, there were crates and barrels to the left of the gate in a small alcove, they almost reached to the top of the wall.  Jin could see their path clearly as Yuna and Taka reached them first and began climbing.  Jin deliberately stayed back, behind them was now most definitely the direction danger would come from, he needed to be ready. 

               Yuna and Taka were illuminated at the top of the stack by fireworks above them.  Taka nearly bolted off their perch of crates as the sky brightened, he was only stopped by Yuna’s grip shoving him further upwards so he could reach the top of the wall.

               The booming echo of signal fireworks announced to half of Azamo prefecture there was a problem.  Jin was up the stacked crates faster than he could climb his favorite tree back home and made it to the top in time to see Taka’s jump… or rather fall.  It was a hard landing.  Jin was afraid Taka wouldn’t get back up. 

               None of this would matter if their blacksmith was dead. 

               None of that would matter if Jin was still on the Mongol side of the wall. 

               Yuna bumped Jin’s shoulder as she made her own graceful leap and landed smoothly, rolling and standing in an instant before running to her brother.  Jin jumped, and landed hard as well, but recovered easily.  He made sure to land far from his companions and not crush anyone.  That had been too long of a drop, no wonder Taka was still down, but there had been no other way out of town. 

               At least Taka was still alive.

               “Where are we going?”  Taka asked from the ground as he slowly tried to get to his feet.  He failed, and tried again.  Yuna helped him up.  Jin was afraid to help or touch him, given his earlier reaction. 

               All Jin could do was stare nervously at the still closed gate with his hand on his katana blade as his companions got their feet under them.

               He could also explain the rest of their plan, “Kenji’s waiting for us at a crossroads.”  Jin rotely said the last part of their plan, he’d almost forgotten it in the chaos but years of training with Lord Shimura, Lord Adachi, and the other samurai had paid off.  Even in the throes of battle Jin knew where he belonged and where he had to go next.

               “Kenji’s with you?”  Taka said, wonderingly, his voice was soft with surprise as he stood to his full height before wincing and hunching over to hold sore muscles.  Jin tried to place what Taka’s tone could mean, did he doubt Kenji had helped them, or-

               “If he made it out alive.”  Yuna clarified, bringing down the hopeful mood and getting them all moving once more.

               The trio of fugitives ran along the cliffside road as it tried to curve back inland against the steep rockface that backed the town of Azamo Bay.  None of them worried about leaving tracks, instead taking whatever path would get them as far away from that hell hole as easily and quickly as possible.  Jin was thankful to every Kami in existence the town of Azamo Bay didn’t have a proper stable and the Mongols hadn’t sent riders out the east gate after them yet.

               They were finally free of the cliffs and into the forested hills when Jin saw torchlight approaching.  ‘Rapidly… Mongols, in great numbers judging by the sound of armor.’ 

               The trio ducked down in the tall pampas grass that grew in patches near every roadside in Tsushima.  Or more accurately, Jin and Yuna ducked, Taka stumbled and tripped over the stems and fell to his hands and knees. 

               The Mongol soldiers were almost upon them then, charging forward down the road and calling to each other. 

               Taka was retching and trying to stay quiet as he shook, bringing up nothing with each dry heave.  Jin could maybe take half the patrol, Yuna could finish the other half.  But it wasn’t worth it with her brother in this state.  They would hide, and run, and protect Taka. 

               The war band was shouting in Mongolian, and some men barked out harsh laughs as they ran past.  Taka buried his head in the ground between his hands, his knees were tucked under him and was prostrated in a panicked bow as he breathed so hard he was almost hyperventilating.  Yuna kept a silent hand on his back, grounding him as best she could.  Jin sat apart from the pair and looked onward, waiting for the road to clear.

               Once the war party had passed around the cliffside trail the fugitive trio ran again.  Or more accurately Jin and Yuna ran while Taka franticly limped and tripped over every root in their path.  Taka was running blind and stumbling, and Yuna kept having to tug his sleeves and shove him back on course.  Yuna managed to keep pace with Jin, and somehow she kept Taka on track as well.  Despite Taka’s injuries, which were less of a burden than Jin feared, they ran… towards a crossroads without Kenji. 

               They waited in the open, anxious and fearful, jumping at the rustling of leaves as they awaited their sake merchant.  Jin silently cursed to himself, maybe Yuna was right, Kenji might not have made it out. 

               They’d have to get away on foot.  Another Mongol patrol approached and Jin could hear Taka’s breathing grow more ragged the moment he heard the rattling of armor and shouting.  Jin was afraid the blacksmith was going to scream in terror and break their cover.  Without Kenji they’d have to get away on foot while continually dealing with this. 

               Jin hurried them out of the road with a silent jerk of his head and everyone dove in to yet another patch of underbrush; Yuna held Taka down by the shoulders and covered his mouth, facing them both away from the road until the second Mongol patrol had passed.  She peeled her hand off Taka’s mouth and he heaved a few deep gasps before struggling to his feet with her assistance.  Jin didn’t know how they would get away on foot like this.  Taka’s injuries weren’t slowing them, but his panic certainly was. 

               Jin nodded along the westward road and they ran in that direction once more, towards Kenji’s place, where they’d stabled their horses.  Hopefully Kenji had made it there before the Mongols.  Otherwise, they’d need to decide if getting their horses was worth the risks of the road, or if they should just forget it and run cross country. 

               Jin was about to put voice to that quandary when they reached the crossroads, the ones actually behind Azamo at the base of valley north of the village.

               Taka’s fear finally won out and he screamed, fearfully, “Horses!  They’re coming for us!”

               Jin hadn’t even heard the sound of hoofbeats.  “Get in the tall grass.  And stay down!” Jin ordered. 

               Yuna dove in to the grass.  Taka stood frozen in the open.  There was no time.  Jin grabbed him and threw him in to the grass, following behind as soon as Taka fell in to the cover.  The screech Taka had let out when Jin grabbed him had been so shrill, like a rabbit in the jaws of a fox, Jin was certain the Mongols had heard it.  They’d be found out.  Then again, maybe the Mongols would assume that was all the noise had been, the death cry of a rabbit.  But Jin didn’t want to be the fox to Taka’s rabbit, he wanted to protect his people… and yet he was feared.

               They were all hiding in the pampas grass, tense and shivering, Taka in particular.  Then Taka bent double and quietly retched again, this time bringing up spit and bile.  Yuna winced in sympathy and Jin looked away. 

               Either the Mongols had been starving Taka or he’d brought up everything in his stomach long before they’d found him.  He looked miserable and frail, shaking on hands and knees, wiping sticky strands of sourness off his beard with the back of his hand. 

               Jin knew then, they had to get horses, Taka couldn’t go on like this, Jin couldn’t deal with Taka going on like this.  Then again, he couldn’t expect a commoner to behave like a trained samurai.  Jin motioned to Yuna and nodded at the road, he was going to break cover and take out the riding Mongols, they’d steal the horses for now, and go back for their personal mounts and Kenji’s body later.  Yuna nodded with Jin and stood.  Jin watched her hard glare change as she looked down the westward road.

               “It’s Kenji!”  Yuna cried out with relief as Kenji charged up on Miko, with Kage fully laden and following behind, along with Yuna’s Nobu in matching tack and pack.  Jin stood to see the approaching entourage, there was also a small bay gelding saddled up for Taka to ride.  Jin remembered riding in a debilitated state during his heat, he hoped Taka could manage to sit in the saddle after what he’d endured.

               “Taka! You made it!” Kenji’s nasal voice sounded ecstatic as he caught sight of them leaving the grass.  Kenji slowed the horses so his friends didn’t get trampled by their getaway mounts.

               “Were you followed?”  Jin asked, instantly suspicious despite their good fortune, or rather because of it.  Kenji had made it all the way from his brewery home to north of Azamo Bay on the roads packed with alerted Mongols without being challenged.  This was too good to be true.

               Kenji shook his head, his voice breathy with exertion, “No, but we can’t go back to my place.  Its crawling with Mongols.”  Assuming the weasel was telling the truth Jin could get a rough idea of how he’d made it this far unchallenged.

               “We should go,” Yuna said, pointing out the obvious and urging them not to delay.  Kenji’s machinations could only buy them so much time.  Her priority was still getting Taka out of here, they couldn’t consider him truly freed until they’d all stopped being hunted.

               “We have to put some distance between us and Azamo Bay,” Jin agreed.  They had to get far enough away to end the hunt, like he and Yuna had done for his heat.  Get far enough away the bastards couldn’t smell them, track them, or find them. 

               Jin walked forward to grab Kage by the reins, Kenji had loaded Jin’s saddle with every pack he could lay hands on.  Jin wouldn’t be half surprised to find a few jugs of sake and koji Kenji had squirreled away to get himself started again tucked in amongst Jin’s personal supplies, or the other communal essentials included on Nobu and Miko’s packs.  Even Taka’s unnamed bay had a bit of portage on him.  At least Kenji had distributed the bulk of the load to the stronger horses so they could still make good time.

               Yuna went to her own roan, Nobu, but watched Taka closely before mounting. 

               Taka ran a hand along his horse, from cheek to withers, before settling his hands on the pommel and rear of the saddle.  He struggled to pick up his foot and get it seated properly in the stirrup.  But once he managed that he was able to lift himself easily enough in to the saddle.  Taka may have dragged himself across the seat and been hunched over like Jin had been with the worst of his cramps, but he got himself seated without major issues. 

               Jin was impressed. 

               So, it seemed, was Taka.  As Taka settled in to the saddle he patted his new horse along its withers, then he repeated the mortion as he picked up the reins.  

               Taka’s voice was quiet and sounded like he was in dream, “What a good horse.”  Taka held the reins low, giving his horse its head and letting himself grip the saddle pommel tightly with both hands to stay on.

               ‘He probably didn’t have much experience riding a horse that wasn’t being led,’ Jin thought.  Hopefully the nameless bay was as well trained as Kage and Nobu were and wouldn’t dump their blacksmith on the road or try to scrape him off against a tree somewhere along their journey.

Chapter Text

               Jin, Yuna, Kenji, and Taka rode north and east.  Just another four anonymous fugitives fleeing through the hills of northern Azamo, weaving on and off the roads.  Occasionally thy had to dismount and sneak through a heavy copse of trees or bamboo to stay hidden as torches rushed past on the road.  Their weary group had ridden throughout the night, across the mountainous countryside, they’d even forded a river.  Jin’s tabi had gotten soaked, it was more annoying than uncomfortable.

               The journey was relatively easy for Jin, he’d done something similar far too recently, the ride was almost too familiar.  Jin’s mind went back to his heat addled ride after Kaneda castle.  He’d been stuporous and dull then.  This time he was alert, his senses heightened and attuned to their surroundings; seeking evidence of their pursuers, who they’d left far behind them. and to the state of his weary companions. 

               Since mounting his horse Taka hadn’t tried to ride off or bolt like he had on foot, the bay gelding knew where it was going and Taka was apparently content to be just another piece of cargo.  He hadn’t said two words since the crossroads and remained slumped in his saddle.  Taka was reminding Jin far too much of himself on that fateful ride away from castle Kaneda, though at least Taka wasn’t trying to fuck every raiding party they came across. 

               Jin flushed with embarrassment at his behavior back then.  He tried to forget and rode onwards, though something still worried at the back of his mind.  Jin continued to have vague worries until the sun was well above the horizon.

 

 

 

               “Haven’t seen a Mongol since dawn,” Yuna said, finally sounding like something other than a tightly strung bowstring.  “I think we’re clear.”

               “We need to figure out where to go next,” Jin replied.  He needed to plan, preferably while not on the move and constantly scanning for foreign armor and potential archers ready to kill them all.

               Kenji spoke up then.  He actually had a plan for once instead of trying to wheedle his way out of one.  

               “There’s a place up ahead where you can see most of Izuhara,” Kenji was in the lead of their little group, he already had been for a while.  Miko was trotting jauntily ahead of the other horses, taking them uphill past the tori gates that led to an old Shinto shrine nearby. 

               Jin tried to remember, ‘a place you could see most of Tsushima’s southern island from,’ eventually he placed it, ‘Arhers’ Rise? Kenji’s a genius.’  That was one worry off Jin’s mind.  Though Jin still had others.

               “Everyone all right?”  Jin verbally checked in with the rest of his group now that they were in the clear.

               Yuna was holding up well, or at least holding up well enough to hide behind a veil of sarcasm and dry wit, “I could use a drink.  And some sleep.”  Her voice was raspy with exhaustion.

               Kenji was well enough to plot and plan, and to push his luck, “I can help with one of those.”  He slowed Miko to a walk and led them all away from the path and arches leading up to the shrine, instead heading up a somewhat hidden trail towards a separate peak. 

               Yuna didn’t snap at Kenji.  Jin was honestly amazed Kenji still had his tongue, but then again, that was only proof of how tired Yuna must be.  Jin was also impressed at Kenji’s planning, they were definitely going towards Archers’ Rise.

               That only left-

               “Taka?  You’ve been quiet,” Jin probed.  The worry at the back of his mind sharpened.  Taka was too quiet, he had been for the entire ride.  Why?

               At first Jin thought he wouldn’t get an answer. 

               When Taka finally spoke his voice was soft, like he was afraid to speak his mind, like he was afraid he’d wake himself from this moment and find it had all been a dream.

               “First time in days I haven’t felt like I was about to die,” Taka said, hesitant and haltingly.  He paused and looked around, realizing he may have misspoken.  Jin saw the moment Taka remembered his place, as a peasant addressing a samurai.  Taka bowed low from his hunched position over the pommel, he somehow managed to bend even further over his saddle before rising, but he was looking down after he resumed his usual cowed posture and refused to meet Jin’s eyes.  “My lord, I am grateful.  But how do you know Kenji and my sister?” 

               Jin wanted to push Taka, and tell him to look Jin in the eyes.  But Jin wasn’t surprised by Taka’s behavior, the newly freed blacksmith had a lot to absorb.  They hadn’t really discussed any of this since rescuing him.  Taka had no clue of the efforts that had gone in to getting him out of Azamo Bay. 

               Jin realized how strange it must be, to have a rough life, to then be imprisoned and abused and about to die, and then have an avenging spirit and her pet samurai rescue you.  All told, Taka was taking everything surprising well, panicked running and stress vomiting during their escape aside.

               Yuna… she truly was an avenging spirit sent to rescue them all. 

               “I owe Yuna my life,” Jin said simply.  He couldn’t put his other feelings for her in to words.  He wouldn’t say what other cruder things they’d done, or rather, the things she’d done to him.

               Taka gave a nervous laugh, he almost met Jin’s eyes before lowering them again and spoke shyly, “We have something in common.” 

               Jin leaned forward in his own saddle, he tried to meet Taka’s eyes, he hoped then he could see what Taka might possibly mean but Taka’s gaze was fixed firmly on his horse’s mane.  Taka even lifted and hand then to bury his fingers in it, letting the tangled black strands of horse hair tug against the digits. 

               “Good horse,” Taka whispered the praise so softly Jin didn’t think he’d said anything at first.

               Jin was distracted from his mission to get Taka’s attention by the poorly worn path becoming rougher, the slope was getting rocky and steep.  While the trail still ascended it began to curve around another of the many tall boulders that littered the mountainous southern isle of Izuhara.  The weary horseback group rounded a final particularly large boulder and discovered themselves in a flat, hidden, and protected clearing.  It was one of the highest and most isolated points in the region, sheltered both by its height and the maze of boulders leading up to it.  

               Kenji let out an exaggerated sigh of relief at their privacy. 

               They all dismounted with varying levels of grace and coordination.  None of them needed to pretend at strength here, not after riding all night.  There were tall boulders and a steep intimidating trail protecting their backs, a large sturdy tree shaded the area around the sheer drop before them, and the gorgeous vista beyond was laid out stretching from horizon to horizon. 

               It was beautiful. 

               Izuhara was beautiful. 

               Jin almost wished he had ink and paper to craft a haiku, to reflect on freedom.

               Kenji was clearly unappreciative of the natural beauty on display before them.  He groaned as he stretched his legs.  As he walked away from the horses he placed both hands on the small of his back and leaned backwards, arching it; Jin swore he could hear popping sounds. 

               Kenji whined pitiably, “I’m not built for riding all night.”

               Jin had to agree, he was younger than Kenji and also not built for riding all night.  As Jin dismounted he could feel his own spine protesting along with his thighs and hips and every other body part.

               Yuna, it seemed, was feeling in good spirits, or at least feeling well enough to mask her aches.  She walked to the cliff’s edge under the isolated tree, and pointed at the mountainous line of the horizon, “Komatsu is just over that ridge.”

               Jin stepped up beside her, he looked at their surrounding and the lay of the land.  The sun was high but still in the east, the golden beech woods that surrounded the golden temple of Ariake were northwards so yes, that should be Komatsu Yuna was pointing westward toward.  

               Jin agreed, now that he’d gotten his bearings. 

               “They have a forge,” Jin said simply.

               Taka jointed them on unsteady but working legs, his posture was stiff as he stood on the opposite side of the tree and let the mid-day breeze brush against him.  He took a deep breath before he spoke, “One of the best on the island.” 

               Jin watched as Taka’s entire posture changed, he was relaxed for the first time since Jin had seen him.  Taka faced into the wind and breathed in the crisp autumn air as his hair fluttered behind him.  His eyes had a sparkle Jin hadn’t seen before. 

               Was their blacksmith happy to be free?  Or happy to be able to forge forward under his own volition instead of under duress and threat of death?

               Yuna nodded, “Good place to make tools.”  She looked pointedly at Taka, “Maybe something to get Jin over the walls of Castle Kaneda.” 

               Jin was grateful Yuna had brought it up.  After Taka’s initial reaction to Jin he didn’t want to push the blacksmith or make the man feel pressured.  Jin was relieved he didn’t have to.

               “What do you say, Taka?”  Yuna finished, making her meaning very clear by her posture.  She looked at her brother expectantly, brows raised, waiting for an answer. 

               Jin couldn’t help but look as well.

               Taka bowed, formal and subservient, “My lord.  I’ll do anything to repay you for freeing me.”  He stood but didn’t meet Jin’s eyes.  He was watching Yuna like she was the samurai lord here.  Taka’s spine was little more tense now, but his shoulders were still at ease. 

               ‘He looks tired’, Jin thought.

               “Thank you,” Jin said, earnestly.  “Taka, Kenji… get some rest.  We can’t stay here long.”

               Kenji didn’t need to be told twice, he’d already been unburdening their horses and was now taking down a bedroll and a few gourds of sake to set up camp in the more sheltered part of the rise. 

               Taka took Jin’s order as just that and walked stiffly over to where Kenji stood.  Jin watched them, Kenji was hesitant around Taka at first, Jin could tell when he smelled the fog of alpha that wafted around Taka.  Then Kenji was all hands, clapping Taka on the shoulder and marching him to the bedroll, sitting him down on it and unlacing his waraji sandals. 

               Jin couldn’t hear them from where he stood but he had a feeling Taka was being ordered to bed in no uncertain terms.  Jin looked away, to give them privacy.  He didn’t know what their relationship was but he felt like a voyeur staring too long at them.  Jin turned away and realized it was just him and Yuna on the cliff’s edge, standing side by side, watching the horizon.  There was poetry in that moment.

 

Standing side by side

Reunited together

Whole, but not yet safe

 

               The autumn leaves were beautiful. 

               Yuna was beautiful in the daylight.  Some of the worry lines on her face seemed to have eased now that her brother was free; now that they were away from the Mongols and Azamo Bay. 

               Jin looked more closely at their surroundings; assessing where enemies could be, how much time they could reasonably have to rest.  There were billowing towers of dark smoke in the far distance, Mongol camps, but nothing nearby.  Letting his eyes focus on the forest below Jin couldn’t see any movement between the trees beneath them.  But something caught Jin’s eye. 

               There, on the next rise down but still high on the cliffside and protected by its sheer stone walls Jin saw the telltale leaves of a red maple and softly rising steam. 

               ‘Was that-’

               It was.

               ‘A hot spring.’  Jin hummed to himself.  The hot spring’s sulphureous waters would be warm and soothing.  The water had medicinal properties, or so Yuriko and his father had always said.  Jin recalled his father telling him as a small child how he and Lord Shimura had rested at a hot spring after the Yarikawa rebellion to recover.

               Jin glanced away from the wonders of nature before him and looked towards Taka and Kenji resting on a bedroll amidst the satchels and packs Kenji had unloaded from their horses.  It was like a nest, and Kenji was the mother hen with Taka trying to bury himself under his wing.  Except…  Taka really was trying to bury himself under Kenji.  Taka must be only half asleep because his face was wrinkled with worry, he was curling and writhing, trying to bury himself face first as deep against Kenji’s side as he could. 

               Jin didn’t mean to stare.  He couldn’t help but overhear.

               “Taka, enough, you’ll suffocate.”  Kenji lifted his arm and tried to scoot Taka backwards to get some fresh air.  Even from this distance Jin could hear that vocal intonation that said alpha. 

               ‘Wait… Kenji’s an alpha?’  The wind against Jin’s back suddenly felt cold.  How had he not noticed Kenji was an alpha?  Jin watched to see how Taka would react to being ordered by an, ‘No, not an alpha, his alpha.’  Jin thought as the scene unfolded before him.

               Taka whined and shoved Kenji’s hand off himself but didn’t otherwise move.  “Can’t get away from the smell,” Taka sounded pained.  “Please Kenji, make it stop.”

               “Alright, come here, just, make sure you can still breath.  OK?”  Kenji adjusted himself and lifted his arm.  

               Taka immediately buried his head underneath it, pressing his nose as deep in to the fabric and Kenji’s underarm as possible, where Kenji’s scent would be strongest.  Jin didn’t chuckle at Taka acting exactly like a chick under a brooding hen.  The reason for Taka’s behavior was too distressing.  He was trying to shove himself as far into Kenji as possible while pulling himself out of his own cloths as much as he could.  Instead of pushing him away, Kenji now had to fight to keep Taka covered so he didn’t freeze in the chill air. 

               Jin just frowned at them, and thought…

               “Yuna,” Jin got her attention.  

               Yuna jumped.  She must have actually been distracted by something; she had been staring at the horizon when Jin startled her.  Jin counted that as a small victory, Yuna was normally so alert and hard to surprise, it was good that she was able to relax a little and let down her guard.  

               “What do you think of that hot spring down there?”  Jin pointed downslope with his chin and shrugged with his hands.

               Yuna rolled her eyes.  “Now’s not really the time Jin,” she deadpanned at him.

               That was a mistake, ‘Retreat, regroup!’  Jin’s mind screamed.  She thought he was coming on to her!  

               Jin waved his hands apologetically, “I meant for Taka… and Kenji.”  Jin added after a pause.  “They’re both tired, not used to riding all night.  I think a rest at the springs would do them good.  It seems like the Mongol’s don’t like the smell of sulphur, I haven’t seen any evidence of them near the hot springs of Izuhara.”

               Yuna hummed to herself, “You might be right.  And someone could stay up here to keep guard, watch the horses.”  Yuna nodded slowly as she contemplated letting her brother out of her sight.

               Jin waited patiently for Yuna’s decision.  He really hadn’t been implying she and he spend time together, alone, in the hot spring; but now that she’d suggested it, he couldn’t help but imagine the two of them together and naked in the warm waters or even alone up here while her brother and Kenji rested below.  Jin could feel himself blushing again, out of heat Yuna might even let him top, he was a man after all.

               “Go wake them,” Yuna nodded at her brother and friend.  She snorted, “Though I don’t think they’re really sleeping.”

               Jin walked over to Kenji and Taka.  Yuna had been right. 

               Kenji had his eyes open and alert, he lazily rolled his head toward Jin, who stood blocking the sun.  Taka winced as soon as he felt a shadow fall across him and tried to bury himself deeper in Kenji’s side while whimpering softly, his hands gripping and pulling at Kenji’s kimono this entire time had dragged it nearly completely open.  Kenji didn’t seem to be embarrassed about being half dressed, and Taka was too out of it to notice his own state of dishevelment. 

               ‘Poor Taka,’ Jin thought.  Jin knew what it was like to want to crawl out of your own skin to get away from unwanted alpha pheromones.  Jin inhaled, it still smelled as bad as it had at Azamo Bay.

               Over the stench of all the alphas on Taka and the perpetual reek of spilled sake Jin caught another scent, it was a crisper cleaner scent, a different brew of sake and clean sun-dried cloth.  It was pheromones, and it was all Kenji.  He really was an alpha.  Jin would never have realized if he hadn’t heard Kenji use the alpha tone and then deliberately tried to smell something over the overwhelming odor of what Taka had endured. 

               Jin put the picture together and his heart broke for Taka and Kenji both.  It was a portrait of two lovers ripped apart by the invasion… it was him and Ryuzo all over again.  Finally Jin realized his silence and standing awkwardly over the couple had gone on too long and he spoke.

               “Kenji, Taka, there’s a hot spring just down the rise.  It’s safe.  You two should go bathe.”  Jin nodded towards the cliff.  He’d walk them there. 

               At first, before he’d realized Kenji was an alpha, Jin had been worrying about how he was going to get Taka down there and cleaned of the Mongols’ scent.  He’d wanted to take Taka himself so they could talk omega to omega, but he had been afraid Taka wouldn’t trust him yet.  Given the way Taka had reacted when Jin had grabbed and literally thrown him in to the grass at the crossroads, Jin didn’t blame him. 

               With Kenji being an alpha, Jin knew he wouldn’t be wanted or needed.  If it was Jin in this situation, he’d take his mate over a stranger without a second thought.  He couldn’t give Taka anything to make what he’d endured better, Kenji could.  Jin only wished there was more he could do.

               Kenji nodded at the prospect of getting clean and began to sit up.  Taka rose with him, dragged upwards by Kenji’s movement and clinging the whole while before remembering where he was, and who he was ignoring. 

               Taka’s voice was rough and dry with lack of sleep, “Thank you, my lord.”

               Kenji nodded silently again and stood. 

               He really was far too informal around a samurai lord, Jin held back a frown; after everything they’d been through, he was too tired to enforce rigid social strata.  Kenji had earned himself a little disrespect, as a treat.  

               Kenji left his own cloths disheveled and gaping open to reveal his scrawny chest, but he fussed over and adjusted Taka’s top, which had slipped down to the level of the blacksmith’s elbows, up to actually cover his shoulders.  Taka was shivering but Jin couldn’t tell if it was from the cold air or the scent that wafted around and off of him still.  The reunited pair began walking downhill, not taking anything with them. 

               Jin was surprised.  Once his own heat had passed he wanted nothing to do with the reek of a strange alpha.  It was why he still couldn’t wear the broken armor.  If Yuna hadn’t bathed him and washed his clothes Jin would have tried to cut off his own skin to get away from the stench.  Why wouldn’t Taka want to get changed as well, especially given how he’d been trying to wriggle out of his cloths earlier. 

               “You’re not bringing clothes?”  Jin didn’t mean for his tone to be so accusatory.

               “I only packed what was important.  My sake brewing kit.” Kenji said with a smile and cock of his head that was only further exaggerated by his large hat.

               Taka winced, “I’m sorry, I don’t have anything clean.”  He bowed his head and shrugged like a scolded student, “I don’t even have my tools… Lord Sakai.” Taka finished and scuffed the toe of his sandal against the ground to complete the image of a rebuked child. 

               Now Jin felt like a jerk, insulting the poor for their own sorry lot.  A samurai was supposed to protect those who couldn’t fight, to help their people.  Jin had failed the former, he could still accomplish the latter.  

               Jin had to help.  Somehow.  Jin thought for a moment, he could at least do one thing for Kenji and Taka. 

               “I’ll come along to take and wash your cloths.”  Jin said.  It was the least he could do to assuage his conscience. 

               Kenji’s eyes narrowed suspiciously and Taka looked surprised. 

               Jin stood taller and tried to look honorable despite the mud and blood still clinging to him. He was a samurai and would not be questioned.  He was an omega and not about to try and steal Taka from Kenji, though Jin was sure Kenji’s alpha instincts were screaming to keep his omega safe from any strangers right now, especially so soon after being reunited.  Jin only hoped being a samurai outweighed his potential-rival-ness.

               Kenji eventually finished judging Jin.  He nodded, his hat bobbing exaggeratedly, and continued leading Taka down the hill without looking to see if Jin followed.  They had to follow the rockface towards the main path, then double back along a narrow spur of the cliff’s edge to reach the wide flat area beneath archer’s rise. 

               The spring was shaded by trees desperately clinging to the last of their greenery and hiding the gorgeous red leafed maple from casual view.  Despite being lower down the cliff the hot spring was still high and protected along the steep slope.  As Jin guided them through the underbrush towards where he remembered the spring should be, he was proved correct by the growing sulfurous scent.  It wasn’t a pleasant scent per se, but it guided them to the hot spring, kept away the Mongols, and drowned out any lingering pheromones. 

               Jin breathed deeply once they were at the edge of the stone lined basin; he couldn’t smell himself, Kenji, Taka, or anyone else. 

               The bamboo platform by the entrance to the spring was well appointed with a small wooden stool and bucket.  It was only once all three men were standing around the spring that Jin realized they’d forgotten soap.  Kenji stooped and rummaged in the dry bucket and held some up triumphantly, there was plenty, and it was all portioned out for many baths. 

               Kenji waved Taka over to the bathing stool, “Here Taka, undo your hair and we’ll get you washed.”

               Taka blushed slightly, “Kenji…”

               “You haven’t bathed in a week.  This will be nice.”  Kenji wheedled.

               “I…” Taka was hesitant, his blush extended downwards as he hugged his arms to his chest and Kenji slipped Taka’s kimono off his shoulders once again.  Yellow and black fabric slid down revealing more and more tan skin and dark chest hair.

               Jin looked away, trying not to blush himself.  The last thing Taka needed after what he’d endured was someone staring at him like a piece of meat, or worse, with arousal… especially if that someone was a samurai he might feel he owed something to.

               “You can pay me back by selling sake once we get to Komatsu,” Kenji teased lightly.  He was standing close to Taka.  He was rubbing taka’s shoulders hard enough the blacksmith was swaying with the force of it, given Taka’s muscles and Kenji’s lack thereof that shouldn’t be possible; Taka must be exhausted.

               Jin was still looking.  He turned his body physically away and willed himself not to move his head.  It was a training exercise, in self-control and restraint.  Jin steadied his breathing and tried to ease the tension out of his shoulders with small rolling motions. 

               Jin was relieved to hear Taka laugh when he slipped out of Kenji’s grip and slipped off his headband.  He could also hear the sloshing sound of water filling the bathing bucket and the stool being moved on the bamboo platform.  Jin wasn’t sure who kept the hot springs stocked with everything people needed to use them properly, but he was so thankful to those mysterious caretakers.  Perhaps they were like the shrine maidens he’d occasionally seen around the remote and isolated peaks leading ever upwards to the Shinto shrines.  Jin mused, he should check on them, make sure the island’s sacred spaces remained untouched amidst all the violence; maybe even pray for the kami’s protection.

               Jin had been looking away since Taka’s sweat stained white headband had come off to give the couple some privacy.  He could guess they were disrobed once fabric stopped rustling and he heard water splashing in the bucket, but he wasn’t going to turn around or intrude. 

               Taka was still concerningly quiet.  Jin didn’t want to bother him further.

               Kenji however was clearly in fine and irreverent spirits because he got Jin’s attention… rudely.

               “Here Lord Sakai!”  Kenji tossed his clothing at Jin, and thankfully Jin’s sparring reflexes kicked in and he caught everything as he turned.  It was a large bundle of reeking soiled fabric, too much for one outfit.  It was clearly Kenji’s and Taka’s and not a single piece of it was folded. 

               Jin cast a judgmental glare at Kenji. 

               The sake merchant was standing proudly, and as nude as the day he was born; bare of even his signature hat.  Taka was already seated on the small bathing stool with wet hair and soap bubbles clinging to him, his hands gripped the rim of the seat between his legs as he flushed abashedly at Kenji’s impertinence.  Jin couldn’t help his eyes following how far down the blush went before he realized it was improper, and most likely unwanted. 

               “Be sure to get them sparkling!”  Kenji singsonged and interrupted Jin’s inner turmoil by clapping Jin hard enough on the shoulder to jerk him sideways.

               Jin coughed and looked away.  He hugged the reeking clothes to himself and glanced down at the bundled fabric for lack of anywhere else to look.  He had both their fundoshis.  Kenji clearly wasn’t wearing a stitch and despite his modest pose hiding everything neither was Taka.  Jin could feel heat rising in his own cheeks and he didn’t know why… right, Kenji was an alpha, but-

               ‘Calm yourself Jin, you’ve been around naked men before.  You’re not in heat, be better.’  Jin kicked himself for staring… again.

               Jin raised his gaze and nodded at Kenji, refusing to look anywhere below eye level.  He looked up toward the rise, he looked anywhere except at the attractive alpha and omega in front of him, “Yuna is upslope keeping watch.  I’ll be by the river, but if there’s trouble yell, loudly, I’ll hear you and come running.”

               Jin left them, and as he walked away with soap and dirty laundry, he could hear the sounds of water splashing as it was poured over someone and the contented sigh of a person feeling the joys of hot water for the first time in far too long.  Jin sighed, he’d be making that noise himself if he could join them… but it wasn’t his place, nor would it be proper.  Jin heard another sound then, ahead of him and downslope towards the river.

Chapter Text

               Kenji and Taka were bathing and resting at the hot spring uphill, Yuna was supposed to be keeping lookout for them all from atop Archers’ Rise, and yet here in front of Jin on the road by the river there were three bandits laughing as they strolled down the dirt path.  Jin could smell blood, and lots of it, more than could be accounted for with what he saw on the leader’s soiled sword.

               Jin hid the clothes he was going to wash for Kenji and Taka between some roots in the forest to sneak forward and silently dispatch the murderous bandit trio.  Jin looked up towards Yuna’s perch anxiously, the branches obscured this area, no wonder Yuna hadn’t called out.   Jin traced the bandits’ path and found he was too late to help the person the bandits had robbed; there was no cure for decapitation.  That explained the potent smell of blood though.  Jin paid his respects and moved the body off the road.  

               ‘Bandits… how could they take advantage of the weak at a time like this, when all of Tsushima was in danger.’  Jin growled with frustration at his inability to do anything but kill, he should be able to do more than avenge the dead with yet more death. 

               There wasn’t anyone else nearby, but with an abundance of caution due to the bandits’ proximity to Archers’ Rise Jin travelled up and downriver to check for anyone else, either more bandits or more victims.  There was no one.  The bandits must have cleared everyone else out, which was good for Jin’s little group. 

               Jin sighed, he’d wasted too much time running around. 

               Jin recovered the clothes and began washing them in the rocky shallows near the river’s edge.  He was thankful then for his omega nose, because even after he’d washed out the dried fluids that made the fabric of Taka’s hakama crack when he bent it, he could still smell the pheromones.  A beta would have called the cloth clean enough, but it wasn’t.  Jin washed all the clothes again, and again, until everything smelled like nothing but clean fabric.  Unfortunately, with Kenji’s scent that meant his pheromones were still there.  As Jin had quickly learned, crisp sake and sun-dried cloth were Kenji’s pheromone signature.  Jin had to keep washing until all he could smell was clean damp cloth and no sake. 

               It wasn’t right that Kenji smelled so good.  And Jin was most certainly not enjoying sniffing Kenji’s cloths and catching the intermittent whiffs of alpha scent that told him to wash things yet again. Or at least he would keep telling himself that he didn’t enjoy it.  His head and his hormones were not in agreement though and Jin’s mind kept wandering back to how Kenji would be as a mated alpha.  Even knowing Kenji had Taka and they seemed happy together, Jin couldn’t stop himself from wondering; from putting himself in Taka’s place, or at Taka’s side beneath Kenji.

               Jin had read enough tawdry romance tales borrowed from the Sakai estate’s kitchen girls to know all about how some alphas would allegedly keep several omegas around, especially for their ruts.  He doubted any of those stories were true, but he’d read those tales enough times that Ryuzo had teased him about it and asked who Jin would want to be kept with. 

               But Jin wasn’t in heat, so he certainly wasn’t thinking about what it might be like to be part of Kenji’s harem with Taka.  Jin didn’t even like that weasel of a merchant.  No matter how nice and enticing sake and clean sun-dried cloth smelled. 

               Jin dunked more fabric in to the cold running water and scrubbed once more to get the last of Kenji out of it.  Jin could see why Taka had wanted to bury himself in that scent to get away from the memories of what happed at Azamo Bay.  Jin shuddered at the thought of Taka being forced to wash the pheromones out his clothes himself.  Yes, doing the laundry was the least Jin could do for the man who was going to help save his uncle. 

               Jin finished with a sigh and sat on the damp rocks surrounded by wet heavy cloth.  He felt slightly nauseous and off keel.  It took him a moment or two to realize why until he took some deep breaths that weren’t with his face buried in pheromone laced fabric.  Jin could have laughed then, he’d gotten pheromone drunk, practically drowning in a pungent fog thicker than incense smoke, and of course all of them had been alphas.  Jin was out of heat and had negative associations to all but one of their scents, no wonder his body had reacted badly. 

               ‘No,’ Jin thought, he wouldn’t want to put Taka through washing that.  Jin checked all the cloths one last time and sighed in relief.  Finally, he could smell nothing.  Jin had successfully washed all of their cloths. 

               Jin looked down at his own then.  He was still in ronin attire and covered in the bandits’ blood.  He was already going numb from his ankles and wrists down from his time doing laundry in the river.  But there was no time like the present, Jin shrugged and stripped.  A cold bath for himself would rid his cloths of bloodstains and would help clear his head.  There was only one alpha for him.  Now that Ryuzo was back in his life Jin wasn’t going to think of any others.

               Jin washed his own cloths and laid them flat on the rocks at the river’s edge, weighing the fabric down with smaller stones so he wouldn’t have to chase anything down the dirt road and re-wash it after an unfortunate breeze.  Satisfied everything would remain in place Jin waded deeper in to the river and hissed back a yelp.  If his balls hadn’t still been internal, they would most certainly have crawled back up inside him at the touch of frigid river water.  Jin could feel all the hairs on his body standing on end, and he was shivering as he splashed water on himself.  He had used all the soap on the cloths but icy rushing water would do well enough for now.  Once he deemed himself clean Jin emerged from the river and shivered, teeth chattering, and wiped off as much water as possible.  Standing naked and cold in ankle deep water Jin regretted not bringing anything to use as a towel.

               Jin looked up at the sky.  It was after noon now.  Everyone’s cloths would dry eventually, but not necessarily before Yuna wanted them to leave.  And despite Jin’s good wash work he couldn’t guarantee Taka would want to wear the same cloths he’d had on before; Jin certainly wouldn’t.  The memories etched in to the fabric might be too much.  Even beyond practicality and the smell Jin didn’t think he’d ever be able to bring himself to wear the broken armor again, even if he had it repaired. 

               If Jin offered Taka and Kenji some of his own cloths to borrow… would they accept it?  Would Kenji see the gesture as a challenge to his alpha-ness?  Well, if Kenji didn’t like it he could wait for his cloths to dry in the sun. 

               Jin saw a thin trail of smoke rising above Archers’ Rise.  Yuna must have started a campfire.  Maybe their cloths would be dried sooner rather than later after all.

               Despite the cloth still being wet Jin wrapped his fundoshi around himself and began climbing.  The damp fabric stuck to him like a second skin, sucking and wrapping around every curve.  Jin winced slightly at the sensation, it was uncomfortably similar to being soaked with slick.  Jin shook his legs out with his first few steps, trying to get the fabric to settle and be comfortable.  He hadn’t done something like this since he and Ryuzo had been children sneaking home after a mid-day swim.

               Jin slunk back uphill, naked except for a fundoshi.  It would be embarrassing to be seen like this, but he was certain no one could catch sight of him.  He was stealthy, and with no true clothes on him to speak of he could move with absolute silence.

               To get back to Archers’ Rise Jin had to go past the hot spring.  He was going to give Kenji and Taka their privacy and sneak by without a word.  They wouldn’t notice him.  They wouldn’t hear him.  But as Jin got closer, he could hear them.

               “Ah!”  That was Taka, and that had been a yelp of pain.  “It hurts.” 

               Jin froze.  He couldn’t reach his weapons with clothes in his arms and his swords tucked awkwardly through the folded bundle.  Jin was deciding how to draw his blade and defend his companions without undoing all his wash work.  He’d almost settled on damn keeping the clothes clean and just stab things when he heard Kenji.

               Kenji was making soothing hushing noises.  Jin couldn’t see the pair because he was staying beyond the underbrush to maintain the illusion he wasn’t intruding on them as he walked past, but he could hear Kenji’s raspy breath and concerned assessment.

               “You’re pretty torn up down there kid.”

               Jin was close enough as he kept walking to hear Taka inhale a hiss of pain.  “Ow.  Please be gentle,” Taka whined.

               “It doesn’t look like anything tore too deep, but there’s a lot of splits and cracking.”  Kenji’s voice was too mousy to make that sound comforting.  He had the same worried tone as when he’d said Yuna’s rescue plan would never work.

               Jin could hear Taka panting and gasping as he tried to bite back cries of pain.

               “Easy Taka, this will make everything better.  Just let me…” Kenji trailed off.

               Jin gripped the freshly washed cloths tighter, clenching his fingers until they hurt, he could only imagine what Kenji was doing.  He didn’t particularly want to.  He understood the need for an alpha to check over and re-claim their omega, especially after a harrowing experience like this.  Ryuzo had done the same when they were still fucking, when Lord Shimura and Jin’s duty as a samurai forced him to spend a heat apart from Ryuzo. 

               But after seeing the damage done Kenji could at least wait until his lover had healed… right?  That’s what a good alpha would do… right?

               Jin left before he could strangle Kenji.  He really shouldn’t want to though… right?  Yuna trusted him. He wouldn’t do anything Taka didn’t want … right?  Jin forced himself to keep walking before his protective urges and emotion overcame logic.  What two consenting adults did was none of his business.  Jin continued to silently sneak away from the springs and further uphill.

               He ran in to Yuna at the top of the rise.  Her bow wasn’t drawn and she didn’t put an arrow in him.  She just raised an eyebrow at his lack of cloths.  Jin winced.  Yuna’s judgement struck as deep as any arrow.

               “I washed everything…” Jin justified and tried not to sound like he was being scolded. 

               Yuna raised a hand to her neck and rubbed at it while looking pointedly at him.  Jin raised his hand to mimic her when he realized.

               ‘Ryuzo!  Shit!’ 

               Jin covered his neck with his hand and rubbed it with embarrassment.  “I caught up with an old friend.  One of the Straw Hat Ronin.  They might be willing to rescue my uncle.”

               Yuna stared at Jin, her expression was blank and yet Jin still felt judged.  Jin coughed and lowered his hand.  He was a grown man, he and Yuna hadn’t agreed to exclusivity after his heat, she’d even told him not to ask her to help with a heat again, Jin had nothing to be ashamed of.  Jin held his head high and walked forward with all the confidence of a samurai in full armor, after all, a true samurai needed no cloths.

               Yuna shook her head fondly and foraged for some straight sticks to use as drying poles.  Jin helped her make the frame and once everything was spread before the fire he went to his own packs and pulled out dry cloths.  All he had was his traveler’s attire, his broken armor’s under clothes, and Tadayori’s armor; that would allow all the men in their group have fresh cloths after their baths.  Jin didn’t know what he could do for Yuna. 

               Only after laying out the outfits on Kenji and Taka’s bedroll did Jin allowed himself to sit and finally rest.  Having actually accomplished something, he could rest without being crushed by the guilt of not having saved Lord Shimura yet, and for outliving the other samurai that would have had the Jito freed by now.  Jin breathed deeply and closed his eyes, trying to just exist in the moment.  He could smell the autumn leaves, feel the straw of the goza mat on his legs, and hear the sound of Yuna puttering around the camp.  

               Jin could hear her stoking the fire, pouring out water, clinking metal and clay dishes about, and rustling in packs.

               Jin scrunched his brows and sighed.  That was enough resting, he wasn’t going to let Yuna work alone.  Jin wandered over to the ledge to check on Kenji and Taka down below.  From up here he couldn’t hear whatever whisperings were going on between them, but Jin did get a glance of bare skin once they were both in the spring.  Jin looked away.  He wasn’t going to be a voyeur; he was going to help Yuna.

               Jin turned to see Yuna riffling through his pack.  First Ryuzo, now Yuna, was nothing sacred?  Jin was about to speak up when Yuna emerged from elbow deep in his saddle bag with a packet of the contraceptive herbs in her hand. 

               ‘Oh… even out of heat, Taka could…’ Jin was surprised.  Was Taka one of those rare male omegas who could get pregnant outside of heat, or was Yuna just overprotective?

               Yuna’s eyes met Jin’s briefly and her face settled in to hard lines.  She was daring him to challenge her or to pity Taka. 

               Jin would do neither.  These things happened, there was no shame dealing with the consequences however was needed to keep on living.  Jin nodded once, he hoped Yuna understood. 

               Yuna’s expression softened and she took out a second bundle.

               “You haven’t had a cup yet today either,” she said.  It wasn’t a question.

               Jin mutely nodded again and Yuna went to the pot of water that was currently boiling over the flames.  There were four cups and some rations on the ground near the campfire.  Yuna put the bundled contraceptive herbs in to two cups and placed some regular tea leaves in to the other two.  Yuna banked the flames to a smolder and stacked the cups precariously on top of each other, then she turned to Jin.

               “Why don’t we go join them?”  Yuna suggested and gestured down-cliff.  Her stack of cups and tea clinked and swayed precariously. 

               Jin’s heart fluttered for a moment before he came back to earth.  A double date at a romantic hot spring would go nowhere when two of the people involved were siblings. 

               ‘Then again that could be a blessing,’ Jin thought.  Their presence might stop Kenji from further damaging Taka when what the blacksmith needed was rest and time to heal from his ordeal.

               Jin again nodded.  He was doing that a lot now.  Maybe he wasn’t as in control of himself regarding this whole situation as he tried to pretend... he was barely four days out of heat. 

               He couldn’t keep using that as an excuse.

               Yuna nodded as well and began walking down the slope.  “Jin, get the pot of water, try not to spill it,” she said casually and easily.

               Jin followed her orders before he even thought about the impropriety of a peasant ordering a samurai around.  Then again, after all they’d been through together, he found he really couldn’t care.  Yuna had more than earned this level of familiarity.  Lord Shimura would bristle and scoff about peasants knowing their place and the proper order of things.  In this moment, Jin didn’t think it really mattered how they got the water for their tea to the hot springs, so long as it actually happened.  And since Jin was a strong capable samurai he grabbed a few gourds of sake and some clean-ish fabric scraps from his looting with his free hand before he followed Yuna towards the warm and inviting onsen.

               By the time Jin caught up Yuna was already at the spring with the cups lined up on the edge of the rocks and stripping nude.  Jin watched her this time.  The last time they’d been naked together Jin hadn’t been in any state to appreciate the view and Yuna had kept her breasts bound.  He’d also been rather preoccupied with a different part of her anatomy back then, but now surely she’d take everything off in an onsen.  Kenji and Taka certainly had, and Jin planned to as well.

               Jin was proven right.  Yuna did unwrap her chest and Jin could have smacked himself for his foolishness.  She had breasts.  They were ordinary breasts, typical normal breasts neither large or small, with normal brown nipples slightly larger than the average man’s.  Jin began disrobing himself and bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing, he should know by now there was no mystique around the human form.  He’d certainly seen enough bodies; all body type variations were intriguing in their own way, but there was nothing earth shattering about the presence or lack of any particular feature.  All that to say, or rather think, that he would have lov- had the same feelings for- Yuna no matter what her appearance.  To Jin, she was beauty incarnate.  

               Fully disrobed, Yuna turned her back to him and bathed briskly.  Yuna’s bath was both quick and efficient, she had finished while Jin was still folding his cloths and already slipped into the soothing mineral water. 

               Jin followed her lead and washed himself on the still damp bathing stool, this time with soap.  As Jin stepped in to the water he hissed a breath of contentment at the heat seeping in to his bones.  

               Jin took note of where Taka and Kenji were.  They were across from him, across from Yuna as well, nestled against each other and pressed fully side to side, at least from what little of them Jin could see above the milky water.  Taka was actually asleep in the hot spring, and using Kenji’s shoulder as a pillow.  Jin was certain Yuna would have chastised her little brother if it hadn’t been for Kenji holding him up.

               Jin turned to speak, to ask how Yuna was faring after everything.  She met his gaze and stopped him with a look.  Yuna shook her head in the negative and gestured towards Taka. 

               “Just rest Jin,” she spoke in a dry whisper.  Then she sat up taller and rolled her shoulders against the rocks.  As she eased the tension out of her muscles with deep massage she leaned further up and back, her perked nipples rising out of the water forced Jin to avert his gaze upwards.  He heard her sigh of contentment and the splash of water against skin as she settled back in to the warm comfort of the spring.

               ‘Dammit Jin, you’ve seen naked women before.  Why are you like this you fool.’  Jin cursed himself and tried to find something interesting about the leaves and branches swaying hypnotically above them.

 

 

               “Jin,” Yuna’s voice was flat and serious as it broke him out of his meditative stare at the blue and gold canopy above.

               Jin sat straighter and made the conscious effort to look nowhere but her eyes.  Before he could answer, Yuna continued-

               “Make the tea.”  Yuna gestured at the cups she’d left nearby and Jin had to half climb out of the spring to reach the pot.

               Kenji snorted and Yuna bit back a laugh.  Jin could hear her shushing Kenji, and he wondered what silent conversation that only old friends could have they were holding behind his back.  Jin turned his head to face them and realized they were both staring at his backside.

               Jin focused on reaching the pot to brew their drinks and groused while blushing, “I was polite and didn’t look.”

               “And you’re still polite enough to give us a good look!”  Kenji chuckled. 

               Jin could hear Yuna shushing him loudly as Taka hummed and stirred.  The bouncing of his lover’s shoulder with laughter must have woken him.  Jin tried to drown them out by focusing on pouring the tea, but he couldn’t help hearing giggles and the whispered word ‘freckles’.  Jin decided he’d blame the blush spreading down to his shoulders on the onsen’s steam.

               Jin had finished filling the cups and turned to pass them around to everyone.  He caught Taka staring at him, or maybe at his ass.  Jin felt his blush creep further downwards, past his still present bruise from Ryuzo.  Taka must be wondering what this strange samurai was doing here with them.  Jin shouldn’t have joined them.  He was intruding on their family reunion.  And yet, he had nowhere else to go, not while resting and waiting for his clothes to dry. 

               Jin set his own cup aside first, then handed Yuna and Kenji their regular tea.  He finally reached across the spring and gave Taka his cup of contraceptive.  With four people in the spring there wasn’t much room.  It wasn’t too far to reach, and Taka’s fingers brushed Jin’s as he took the cup with both hands.

               Taka raised it to his nose to smell the herbal brew and Jin saw tears well up in his eyes, “Thank you… Lord Sakai.”  Taka seemed to always be on the verge of either drowning Jin with honorifics or to almost forget Jin was a lord and tacking on the honorifics at the end. 

               “Think nothing of it, Taka.”  Jin bowed informally and settled back on the smooth stone outcropping below the water.  He allowed himself to sink until even his chin was covered and raised his cup in both hands.  The tea's herbal smell was light and fresh.

               “Don’t drink yet,” Yuna cautioned. “Let it brew for a while.”

               Jin and Taka both sighed together at her admonition.  For some reason this just set Kenji off into another fit of laughter.  Apparently, it was infectious because Jin couldn’t help but hold back a chuckle as well.  He struggled not to spill his tea and his efforts set off Taka and Yuna.

               It was as if all the tension they’d been carrying had let go.  It was either laugh or sob uncontrollably.  So Jin laughed, Taka laughed, and Kenji and Yuna jointed them.  Jin put his mug aside and dunked his head under the water to clear it.  As he shook the water out of his face Jin sighed with relief that they’d all chosen to laugh.  Even if Taka had tears leaking out the corners of his eyes, it was better than some alternatives. 

               Taka’s smile was cooked, like the bridge of his nose it skewed to one side.  Unlike the nose, which looked painful, the smile just looked playful.  Jin noticed the creases and wrinkles under and at the corners of Taka’s eyes that grew deeper the more he laughed.  Jin thought Taka had bathed thoroughly, yet his skin was still littered with dark smudges.  Jin truly honestly didn’t mean to stare, and he’d keep telling himself that, but the more he stared, the more it dawned on him the smudges weren’t dirt from the road or ash from the forge. 

               Taka had bruises. 

               They darkened his jaw and were half hidden by his beard, they stretched across his neck like grasping fingers, and marred his shoulders where cruel hands had gripped and hit.  Jin couldn’t see where else the bruises were under the water.  Jin could feel his laughter dying, replaced with an urge to make the alphas who’d done this suffer.  Before Jin’s frown could sour the mood too far, Yuna and Kenji brought him out of his dark reverie.

               Kenji was making faces and trying to drink his tea as awkwardly as possible.  Yuna was waving her cup around miming something that made no sense to Jin but had both Kenji and Taka laughing uncontrollably again. 

               This was nice. 

               Despite everything that he’d have to face once he got out of the water, Jin was able to relax for a moment.

               Jin rested his head on the edge of the spring and let his companions’ conversations and laughter wash over him like bird song had in the summer when he’d been a child napping on his mother’s lap. 

               This was very nice.

Chapter Text

               Jin must have fallen asleep in the onsen because the next thing he knew Yuna was calling his name and had a hand on his shoulder.  Somehow her hand felt hotter than the water they were both in.  Returning to the waking world through the heat of the soothing mineral water and heady steam was a struggle.  Jin was comfortable, he didn’t really want to move.  But, it was Yuna asking, so Jin would do it for her sake.

               Once Jin was properly roused Yuna urged him to have a drink and passed Jin his cup.  His tea was cold and bitter, overbrewed. 

               Taka and Kenji were nowhere in sight.

               Jin and Yuna were alone together, in a secluded hot spring.  Jin felt a warmth spreading through him, but it wasn’t the sulphureous water or arousal.  It was something more sentimental, more intangible and fleeting.  Yuna had stayed with him.  Jin finished his tea in one indelicate gulp and tried to think about something other than his own feelings.

               Jin tried to sit up straighter but ducked down as his skin met cold air.  He looked at Yuna, she was her usual self, collected and confident, with faint lines of worry creasing her brow.

               Jin had to ask, “How are you doing?”

               Yuna sighed, it was in relief and she sank deeper in to the water.  “I have my brother back.” 

               Yuna’s hand sought Jin’s underwater and wrapped around it.  She gave a small squeeze of thanks and her lips quirked in a smile. 

               Jin shivered, at both her touch and mention of Taka.

               “He’s shaken up,” Jin said.  He was still worried about Taka from what he’d overheard between Taka and Kenji; despite the blacksmith’s earlier laughter he’d endured hell.  No one came out of that unscathed.  Jin was still haunted by the scream Taka had given out at the crossroads, the fear in his eyes, and way he’d faltered and nearly bolted during their escape.  

               “Can you get him to Komatsu in one piece?” Jin asked.

               “With food and rest, he’ll be fine,” Yuna said dismissively.  She sounded certain.  Like Jin had back inside that sake barrel.

               Jin bit his tongue, he examined Yuna’s face for any trace of doubt and found none.  ‘Maybe not like back in that sake barrel,’ he thought.  Jin shook his head slowly.  He disagreed with Yuna’s assessment, Taka was more than shaken up, but it wasn’t his place to say that.  

               Jin turned to face Yuna fully and said instead, “Your brother wasn’t the only prisoner in Azamo Bay.”  There wasn’t anything more Jin could do for Taka now, that was on Yuna and Kenji.  But the image of those bruises on Taka’s skin was seared in to the back of Jin’s eyes… this was something he could do, keep that from happening to anyone else. 

               Yuna was watching Jin warily, she let go of his hand and lifted her arm from the water to rest it on the stones behind Jin’s back, “You’re going to save them?”

               “And make their captors suffer.”  Jin couldn’t do anything in Komoda town. He could barely do anything at castle Kaneda, or for the man on the Kishi grasslands, but here a and now... he could do something.  He had to do something for his people.

               “Good,” Yuna said, eyes hardened and deadly serious.

               Jin nodded in unison with Yuna at her words.  He was glad she wasn’t telling him to be logical, to just give up the few for the good of the many like Lord Shimura would suggest. 

               After a significant pause to allow her to say jut that Jin finished, “Ride for Komatsu Forge. I’ll join you when I can.”  Jin didn’t like delaying his uncle’s rescue like this, but he couldn’t leave Azamo Bay as he’d found it. 

               The Khan wouldn’t kill Lord Shimura, his bargaining chip, just yet.  

               That gave Jin time to do something.  

               To free his people.

               And to find more allies. 

               But how long would the Khan wait?  Jin began to stand to get out of the spring.

               “Jin,” Yuna interrupted him before he could rise properly, she held his hand again and jerked it down to keep him in place, “Thank you.”  Yuna squeezed Jin’s hand again before letting go.

               Jin nodded his acknowledgement and dried himself before ascending the rise.  Yuna sighed and settled back in to the spring with a contented moan at having everything to herself.

               Jin ascended the cliff to Archers’ Rise, still clad in nothing but a damp fundoshi.  He must have dozed off for a while in the onsen, because while there still several hours of daylight left the sun was well past its zenith.  Jin let his gaze linger on the sky.  Jin had to admit he liked being high up and able to see a clear sky and all of Tsushima’s mountains and hills rolling away in the distance.  It was why he’d loved that cypress tree when he was a child, and why he’d climbed to the top balcony of Shimura Castle once he was too old to crawl into his uncle’s bed after a bad nightmare.  He’d loved being able to watch the clouds and stars and feel the wind rushing against him.  He’d even composed several haikus about it; all of them terrible, but he’d enjoyed writing them nonetheless.

               Jin was chuckling quietly to himself and trying to remember the worst of his early compositions when he rounded a stack of packs and saddlebags to see Kenji and Taka together on their goza mat.  Jin immediately choked down whatever noises he’d been making and tried to be silent, though he didn’t need to be.   

               Kenji and Taka were deeply asleep despite the cloudless sky and bright sun.  Kenji had made the thin goza mat in to a proper nest with layers of blankets under and over them and even more rolled into makeshift pillows.  The pair were snuggled together, but Taka’s face wasn’t buried under Kenji’s armpit this time.  Taka actually looked at peace; he was snoring softly while Kenji open mouth drooled and sounded like he’d swallowed a cicada.  Kenji was a good alpha, to have made this little nest for them, and Taka must truly love Kenji to put up with such snoring.

               Jin felt something soft and warm blossom inside his chest, he’d slept like that with Ryuzo when they were younger.  Then Jin realized Taka was in the traveler’s garb Jin had left out for him.  Jin recognized the cape being used as an extra blanket over Taka, and the fabric print on the outfit’s sleeve where Taka’s arm was flung over Kenji.  The warmth in Jin’s chest started to flutter like butterflies at that sight.

               The outfits Jin had left out for himself and Kenji were still folded and untouched.  Kenji was wearing a clean copy of his cloths from earlier, Jin even looked to the cloths drying rack to confirm the outfits were identical, Kenji must have pulled those from one of the many packs he managed to scrounge up and onto the horses before fleeing his brewery. 

               Had Kenji lied earlier to make Taka feel less alone about having nothing else to wear?  But if he had brought spare kimonos then why didn’t he give Taka a set of his own cloths?  Wasn’t that a typical alpha gesture?  Dress your mate in your own clothes and scent.  Maybe Jin’s cloths were just that much nicer.  Taka deserved nice things after everything he’d endured.

               Jin stood there awkwardly for a moment, he didn’t have the heart to wake them and say his farewells.  He also didn’t have the heart to leave the camp defenseless and get on the road just yet.  Jin got dressed in Tadayori’s armor and perched on the cliff’s edge.  He casually sipped sake from one of Kenji’s gourds, it wasn’t as nice as Kii’s, but it was better than the sour rice water he’d been led to believe Kenji brewed.  Jin looked down and watched over the hot spring, and Yuna, protectively; he still somehow felt half like a voyeur despite having seen her naked body much closer than this.  Eventually Yuna rose from the spring and returned to the ledge. 

               Since Kenji hadn’t taken the clothes Jin had laid out, Jin carefully took the folded bundle of under armor he’d worn at Komoda beach and loaned it to Yuna.  She took it, silently, and the two of them maintained their silence as she got dressed so as to not wake the sleeping couple.  Taka had been through a lot; he and Kenji needed their rest.  Yuna tucked up the long ends of the shitagi and folded up the waist of the hakama to fit.  Jin felt a small grin creep across his lips as he watched her.  His uncle’s colors look lovely on Yuna.  And, being a beta, she didn’t mind the lingering hints of the Khan that griped possessively at the threads. 

               “You can keep it,” Jin whispered.

               Yuna leveled a look at him that clearly implied Jin was an idiot.  She didn’t want his charity.

               “You can give it back to me at Komatsu,” Jin corrected with a smile.  He looked her over, up and down the lines and folds of the tomboyish elegance that was Yuna. 

               This suited her. 

               Looking at her now, like this, Jin could imagine how Ryuzo felt giving him a once over when Jin changed in to the ronin attire back in the Straw Hats camp.

               Jin gathered only what he needed back on Kage.  He left the rest of the shared goods and Kenji’s things to be redistributed among the remaining three horses.  Jin grinned when his earlier theory was proven right and he found not one but three containers of koji tucked in with his personal pack.  Jin made sure to leave them for Kenji.  He then went to his packs again and took out some of the contraceptive herbs, he tried to give them to Yuna but she shook her head.

               “I’ll harvest more Jin.  Keep taking them-” Yuna whispered to not wake their companions.

               “Until I bleed. I know.” Jin finished.

               Yuna gave him a look.

               Jin met it calmly and shrugged, “Not my first heat.”

               Yuna watched him repack his bag and waved him off.  Jin looked towards Kenji and Taka, he felt a twinge of guilt at leaving without a proper farewell, it seemed… rude.

               Yuna followed his gaze, “Best not to wake them.”  Yuna shoed Jin away with a pat to his shoulder and turned him towards Kage.

               “I’m going back to Azamo,” Jin said.

               Yuna nodded, “I know.”

               “I’ll meet you at Komatsu forge,” Jin said again, delaying though he didn’t know why.

               “We’ll meet you there,” Yuna swore. 

               Jin was half afraid she’d shove him on to Kage’s saddle like she had during his heat if he didn’t get on his way now, so he mounted Kage and set off down the rise with only one look over back over his shoulder.  Yuna smiled fondly and waved him onwards before she disappeared from view.

 

               Jin returned to Azamo Bay.  On the way he cleared the roads of the few Mongol patrols he came across.  It was grimly satisfying work, ensuring the invaders wouldn’t hurt others.  The smaller groups he challenged openly, like a samurai should, but the larger bands he picked off with stealth, even having to resort to Kunai, and cursing his lack of a bow. 

               Jin sucked on a cracked fingernail from an unlucky hit as he continued down the road, leaving five Mongol corpses and a scared but unharmed peasant behind him.  The poor woman had lost her family at the crossroads, she’d been the only one deemed strong enough to serve the Mongols and they’d been taking her to Azamo bay. 

               Jin bit down on his finger and licked away the last of the blood seeping up from his nail, it all came back to Azamo bay, he had to stop them.

               On his way south Jin was distracted by smoke. It was hard to stay on task when the whole of Tsushima was burning.  In this case it was a logging camp he’d overheard rumors about.  Jin razed it to the ground; taking morbid enjoyment from watching the yurts go up in flames.  He’d rescued a few sashimono banners before lighting the place ablaze.  When asked, he would tell Lord Shimura he didn’t know why he bothered, but they both knew.

               Sentiment.

               It was a weakness he could scarcely afford but was too weak to not indulge.  As Jin returned to Azamo he noticed the Mongols had cleared out of Kenji’s brewery, leaving the place remarkably intact aside from having stollen everything that wasn’t nailed down.

               Jin reached the gates of Azamo bay just in time to hear a small group of peasants lurking behind some boulders plotting.  Jin could tell it would be a suicide mission from the few words he overheard.  Holding back a sigh Jin allowed himself to be seen and beckoned over.  

               The peasants were villagers who’d escaped Azamo before the town’s capture.  They were relieved to have a samurai at their backs to help rescue their village elders until Jin shut down that particular plan.  Untrained and, even worse, half trained farmers would be no match for the Mongols; the villagers had just enough bravado get themselves killed.  They were relieved when Jin yet again claimed the apparent suicide mission for his own.  

               Except… could Jin really keep considering them as such when he’d thus far been so successful?  Even if he’d initially wanted to die with every confrontation since Komoda beach.  Even if he didn’t care about the bruises and death constantly being a hair’s breadth away.  Despite the goal of saving his uncle to inspire him, the promise of an end to everything was a sweet one. 

               And yet he wasn’t dead yet.

               Maybe his successes were the byproduct of that death wish.  It would explain the eerie calm that suffused him in these moments.  In combat Jin was numb, cold, and calculating, his own personal twist on Yuna’s viper nature mixed with Inari cunning as he cut down Mongol after Mongol.  It was how he’d been trained, only now he’d perfected it: emotional detachment.

               After using the peasants’ secret gap in the wall to sneak in past the west gate Jin took the same path as before.  He slipped like a ghost through the charred shells of buildings and the now empty fish market, leaving none alive in his wake.

               Jin paused once he’d jumped through the open window of one of the houses and slain the Mongol captor where he stood.  One moment the Mongol had been threatening a bound captive about the ‘secret of Japanese steel’, the next he’d been drowning in his own blood. 

               The man kneeling before Jin begged him not to be hasty while Mongols were still nearby, his eyes darted around like soldiers would jump in through the windows and not use the ladder like normal people.  Jin cleared the rest of the shop on the lower floor of Mongols and dragged the corpses out of sight.  Then he returned to the top floor to free the prisoner.

               Jin recognized him.  Jin wouldn’t forget that face. It was the man who’d condemned Taka to death, the self-proclaimed better blacksmith.

               Jin was proven right when the man whimpered about the Mongols having already killed one blacksmith.

               “No, he escaped.  You will too, but stay here until it’s safe.”  Jin growled darkly before jumping out the window and carrying on with his work. 

               Jin glared, the man who’d ratted out Taka was one of the well-respected village elders.  Jin had to leave that house and focus on what was still to be done before he said something unkind, or let his rage blind him to his duty.  He would have words with the collaborating rat later.  But in the face of the village elder’s fear and the heat of the moment Jin had returned to role of samurai and given brief words of comfort, even though his tone had been stone cold and hard and he’d wanted to wring the man’s neck.

               ‘Breathe Jin, a samurai strikes with purpose, not emotion.’  Jin needed to focus.  Jin carried on with his deadly work.

               Jin freed the other village elders, the head man being held at the inn and the healer at the shrine.  He left each with a kind word before he slunk away and killed every Mongol in the town.  Jin even challenged a general, and staggered away from the encounter still alive though he didn’t quite know how, the general’s armor had been thick and Jin’s own armor was better suited for archery than swordplay. 

               Jin limped his way to where the village elders had gathered with the other freed prisoners and hostages.

               The town gates had been thrown wide and the clouds even parted as if congratulating Jin on his endeavors when he approached the growing throng of people.  With the skies clear Jin could see a beautiful sunset highlighting the towns strong walls and giving everything inside a warm glow.  The village elders stood together as a group and thanked him.  The men he’d encountered outside the village gathered just behind them and cheered Jin on.

               The undertakers and lowest ranking peasants were clearing the streets and houses of the invaders’ corpses.  Everyone else was busy setting things to rights in the town.  They were all doing their best to erase the invasion and regain some semblance of normalcy.  Between what had been in the town before its ransacking and the assorted meats and leaving the Mongols brought with them the survivors were able to prepare a modest feast. 

               Survivors poured in to help, and rest, and thank the kami the village elders were still alive, and by the time Jin had finished grooming Kage and cleaning both himself and his gear the sun had set, the food was fresh and warm, and the town looked somewhat livable.

               Everyone slept in the inn that night for defensibility.  Jin had assisted the elders in making guard rotations. 

               Jin slept, comfortably on a proper and thick tatami for what felt like the first time in ages.  He would feel guilt that everyone else was sleeping on thin goza mats or loose straw, but he was too exhausted.  Jin was shamefully selfish, he’d claim what creature comforts he could.  He only wished Ryuzo could join him.

               Ryuzo, who probably hadn’t had anything this nice to sleep on since their last night together at the Sakai estate.

               Jin slept.

               And dreamed.

               And remembered.

 

 

               “Jin...”

               Jin hummed and rolled over so his arm covered his eyes and blocked out the morning light.  He was warm, comfortable, and tingling with the last vestiges of a well sated heat.  He didn’t want to wake up.

               “Jin, wake up.”

               Jin gave a mix between a groan and a growl as Ryuzo poked him in the ribs.  He rolled over again to be fully facing away from his lover.  Ryuzo took that as an invitation to curl perfectly against Jin’s back.  That was fine by Jin, Ryuzo’s front was warm and soft and this was a perfect way to drift back to sleep.  With a deep contented breath Jin let himself go limp in Ryuzo’s arms.

               “Come on Jin,” Ryuzo wheedled and Jin felt something that definitely wasn’t Ryuzo’s hand poking in to his hip. 

               Ryuzo rubbed his cock against Jin, rolling his hips to slip the head between Jin’s legs, brushing it against Jin’s used and sore lips and prodding the head against his scrotum.  Ryuzo shifted and his cockhead found its target, shoving at and spreading Jin’s entrance.

               “Enough Ryuzo!  We broke my heat last night.”  Jin rolled over away from Ryuzo and then kept rolling so he was on his stomach and his ass wasn’t at a convenient angle to be molested.  He was half off the tatami and very displeased with being awake.  He was exhausted… he wanted more sleep.

               Jin obviously failed at deterring Ryuzo because not too long after that he was on his back with Ryuzo knotted inside him once more.  The soreness of the initial penetration quickly gave way to pleasure and Jin was just aroused enough to enjoy it.  At least Ryuzo was on top so Jin could relax; it wasn’t sleep, but he was enjoying it.  He was stuffed full, the stretch against his abused entrance was too much when Ryuzo pulled back so Jin wrapped his legs around and tried to tug Ryuzo further inside himself with wordless gestures. 

               Jin was panting and mewling as Ryuzo ground shallow thrusts into him and he shuddered with each spurt of come.  Ryuzo was growling softly as he chewed at Jin’s neck, marking him as Ryuzo’s omega.  Jin liked that possessive streak, he liked feeling wanted.  That and being knotted and bred, again, was enough to tip him over the edge to another dry orgasm.  He’d spent whatever had been left from his dick the night before, now everything was waves of overstimulation from his cock and vaginal pleasure that didn’t stop crashing over him.  His body could produce nothing but more slick to ease Ryuzo’s way.  As long as Ryuzo kept doing what he was doing, Jin would keep coming, and keep encouraging Ryuzo to do the same.  

               They were both sweaty messes as they breathed hard and came down from their individual post orgasmic highs.

               Ryuzo was a heavy weight on Jin’s chest, forcing him to work harder to achieve shallow breaths.  The sensation was slowly moving from comforting to smothering.

               Ryuzo’s whispered sweet nothings made Jin feel very smothered indeed.

               “I hope it takes this time.”  Ryuzo sighed into Jin’s ear as he ground his bearded chin against the bruise on Jin’s shoulder and rubbed the side of Jin’s stomach possessively.

               Jin tensed and began struggling to pull himself off of Ryuzo’s half inflated knot, “Ryuzo, don’t say that.  You know we can’t…”

               “Of course we can Jin, that’s the whole point of heats you silly slut.”  Ryuzo moved his hand up to further muss Jin’s hair and pull the last of it out of the knot at the back of Jin’s head.  Ryuzo’s voice dropped to a low possessive purr, “Why do you think I want you around for your heats?  Your baby’ll be mine, just like you are.”  Ryuzo kissed Jin’s neck and made Jin’s next argument turn in to a moan.  Ryuzo deepened the kiss, sucking another kiss mark to darken Jin’s skin.

               “Ryuzo…”  Jin moaned, forming words was hard, “I can’t get pregnant Ryuzo!”  Jin had to snap because he couldn’t speak coherently otherwise, not with Ryuzo chewing on his neck.

               Ryuzo sat up then, shifting his hips forward and making Jin gasp with overstimulation as Ryuzo’s knot shifted inside his abused cunt.  Jin couldn’t remember the number of times they’d fucked during his heat, but his body certainly did.  

               “You can.  You were just in heat.”  Ryuzo explained like it was the most obvious concept in the world.

               “I can’t get pregnant with you.  Lord Shimura won’t allow it,” Jin managed to grit out.  He really didn’t want to mention contraceptives and start that particular fight up again.  He loved Ryuzo.  He didn’t want to hurt him by bringing up old insults.

               Too late.

               Ryuzo was already hurt.

               As soon as Jin had finished speaking Ryuzo had Jin pinned by the shoulders and was shouting in his face, “Why? Because then I’d be a lord?  Because then we’d be a family?”

               Ryuzo was yelling at him.  An old pattern.  Jin fell back into the same and tried to placate him.

               Jin reached up to brush at the loose hairs that framed Ryuzo’s face, trying to calm his best friend and lover down.

               “You know that’s not it.  You are family Ryuzo.  It’s just- ‘the Jito’s nephew can’t get pregnant with some common born bastard’.”  Jin said the last part rotely.  It was Lord Shimura’s favorite warning to throw at Jin after he’d spent a heat with Ryuzo, and when Jin was going back to the Sakai estate any time leading up to a heat, and whenever else Shimura thought Jin was being derelict in or forgetting his filial duty.

               It was the wrong thing to say.

               Ryuzo shoved Jin’s shoulders down, hard, and ripped himself out of Jin. 

               Jin gasped sharply and bit the back of his hand to keep from yelling in pain.  Jin tried to sit up and apologize, he realized he’d said something very wrong, but Ryuzo shoved Jin back down and shouted again.

               “It’s not a bastard if you know who the father is!”  Ryuzo shook Jin’s shoulders with each word, shoving him harder and harder against the tatami.

               Well, the servants would definitely know what the fight was about this time.  Jin winced at the sting of his vagina from Ryuzo pulling out like that and the soreness from the back of his head being ground against woven straw. 

               With a voiceless shout Ryuzo shoved Jin once more against the tatami matt and managed to step on Jin as he stormed up and away to grab his things from the cloths rack against the wall.

               Jin struggled to stand up and follow, “Ryuzo? Where- why are you leaving?  Ryuzo!”  Jin reached Ryuzo where he was getting dressed.

               Ryuzo was the only person Jin knew who could project anger just by doing a routine activity like getting dressed.

               Ryuzo shoved Jin backwards.  Then Ryuzo kicked at him to make Jin keep his distance.

               “No.  Lord Sakai…”  Ryuzo’s tone dripped with contempt, he never used Jin’s title casually.  “You need to make an heir with another samurai.  Stop spending time with some commoner!  You might give him ‘notions above his station’,” Ryuzo sneered the last part and stormed out, still tying his hakama on.

               Jin bolted into the hall before realizing he was still naked and dripping come down the inside of his thighs.

               “Ryuzo… Ryuzo!”  Jin called after Ryuzo while he quickly got dressed in nothing but his kosode.  By the time he made it to the estate’s courtyard Ryuzo was gone.

               Jin ran after Ryuzo.

               He hadn’t run after Ryuzo.

               He followed Ryuzo’s path to the beach, it was easy to follow Ryuzo’s bloody footprints and the trail of Mongol corpses.

               The Mongols hadn’t been there then.

               Ryuzo was standing on the beach, surrounded by gravestones, with a bloody bandage on his right arm, glaring murder at Jin.

               That… hadn’t happened until much later… and Ryuzo had vanished before Jin could talk to him, or see him bandaged.

               “Ryuzo…” Jin was scared.  He’d seen that expression on Ryuzo before, but never aimed at himself.

               Ryuzo charged at Jin and shoved him against the rocky cliff that backed nearly every beach on Tsushima.  Jin winced as hard stone dug into the scars where he’d been struck by arrows at Komoda.

               The fight had been years ago.  Why did Jin have scars?  Something wasn’t right… Jin had to-

               Ryuzo’s arm was pressed across Jin’s throat, limiting his breathing, while Ryuzo looked like he was about to shout at Jin again. 

               “Ryuzo,” Jin choked out, “I’m sor-”

               Arms wrapped around Jin from behind.  The hard stone at his back wasn’t stone.

               It was armor.

               ‘No,’ Jin smelled pine pitch and burning woodsmoke.

               “Little bird,” The Khan growled in Jin’s ear while Ryuzo glared through Jin’s eyes and into his very soul. “Don’t apologize to that stray dog.  Your children need to be sired by someone of status.”  The Khan’s voice dropped from a growl to a purr.

               “NO!”  Jin shouted.

               “You didn’t want me Jin, so this is what you get.”  Ryuzo sneered and released the pressure on Jin’s neck and shoved him backwards into the Khan’s waiting arms.

               “RYUZO!”  Jin’s voice was hoarse as he struggled in the Khan’s grip.

               Strong hands grabbed at Jin’s arms, at his chest, and waist, they were everywhere.  There were too many hands.  Ryuzo was helping the Khan.

               “It’s your own fault Jin.”  Ryuzo snarled.

               Jin was being bent over.

               “Stop,” Jin was shaking with fear.

               “Beg for me little bird.  Beg to bear my empire.  You can end all this suffering, just give yourself to me.”  The Khan was rubbing Jin’s back soothingly as he shoved Jin’s kosode up and out of the way. 

               Ryuzo was holding Jin’s shoulders down, keeping Jin’s head level with his crotch, Jin could see his erection.

               No.

               Nononononono-

               Jin struggled and screamed. 

               He didn’t know what he wanted, but he knew it wasn’t this.

 

 

               Jin woke up punching at air.  And thankfully his tatami was far enough away from everyone that he hadn’t woken up half the inn with his thrashing.  Jin panted and rubbed a hand over his face.  He was having nightmares again… like a child.  How foolish.

               Jin fell back to the tatami with a hard thud and frustrated sigh.  He didn’t sleep well the rest of the night.  His mind kept wandering back to Ryuzo, and how it had all gone so wrong.  Like the death of his father, his failure at castle Kaneda… 

               It had been all Jin’s fault.