Against All Else - raijinto (2023)

She hadn’t flinched.

When he’d taken her hand into his own, she didn’t recoil at the touch of his prosthetic.

He couldn’t say why that in particular meant so much to him, but it did.

And her laughter- while he had been somewhat blindsided by her amusement at something he could not see it in, the sound alone assuaged his concern.

Only minutes had gone by since he told her his emotions - love was too clumsy, too direct a word for him.

Minutes, but to Wolf, it felt like both seconds and hours had passed. He had not anticipated how relieving it was to tell Emma those words and to reassure what she had said before.

“And you, me.”

Something about being able to come to the conclusion of his feelings- and hers, albeit with some aid- was almost freeing.

With the end of his sentence, Emma’s small grin beamed into a smile.

“Then there you are, Wolf. It appears you’ve made your self-diagnosis.”

For whatever reason, the shinobi felt a microscopic twitch form at his lips, the ends kicking up just a hair. A most rare smile.

His momentary levity was marred by his ingrained need to plan ahead, to scout for dangers. His brow naturally returned to its furrowed state.

“So..” Emma raised a delicate brow- one of Wolf’s favorite observations.

“Where…what will be of us now?”

The physician gave the wolf a warm smile, her tone gentle.

“We take it slow.”

“Faster.” Owl chastises, picking the scrawny wolf pup off the floor. The way his large fist is wrapped around the boy’s collar is almost similar to that of a mother wolf picking her pup by the scruff.

Thrusting his arm forward, the old bird throws Wolf forwards a few feet, the fledgling retainer landing with a grunt.

“Again. You’ll protect no lord with such poor reflexes.”

The reserved youth blinks up at his teacher, eyes blank in their depths. An empty canvas for which Owl to paint, to mold, a perfect shinobi.

Wolf quietly gets to his feet, the wind still knocked from his sails. He tries to hide his aching ribs, his turbulent pulse, the way his teeth had drawn blood from his tongue. But the owl sees all.

“Pitiful display.”

The woman before him sweetly put both her hands on his prosthetic, pulling the artificial limb closer. Her gaze tracked down to the wrist, her nimble fingers tracing the intricate workings.

Wolf opens the palm of his prosthesis, the physician taking the opportunity to lightly place one of her hands there.

In her movement of his arm, he’d scooted closer, and can now smell the medicinal yet flora scent wafting off her. Somehow, it's like the aroma has opened his lungs.

He feels like he’s suffocating.

Lady Butterfly’s ragged yet elegant voice bounces around him, the smoke from her illusions penetrating his airway. A sharp tisk resonates from somewhere behind him.

“Owl has taught you well, but not enough.”

Wolf darts to the side, taking a blind leap of faith. It’s hard to see and even harder to focus elsewhere, his chest crying out for air and her illusive shadows clawing at his legs.

It’s only when he looks up that he sees the thin line of wire above his head.


The airy but smothering presence of the smoke is nothing compared to the feeling of the kunoichi’s firm arm around his neck. He just barely manages to evade the sharp end of her kunai to his throat as he clumsily throws her off him, the woman recovering swiftly.

They’re face to face now, Wolf’s shoulders heaving.

“I will push you to your best, pup.”

She threads another kunai between her fingers, the shimmer of golden wings forming at the tips.

“Or kill you trying.”

Wolf felt his lips settle into their normal unassuming line, allowing himself a moment to drink in her image. With all his focus this time, his eyes unable to get enough of each detail.

The curve of her nose. Rose petal lips. Those soft, gentle, but capable hands.

He knew she was every bit deadly as she was good with a needle, and yet, her healing embrace is what has lured him in.

For once, he’s okay with falling into the trap.

His head is throbbing.

The sound of trickling water is the only thing he hears past the rushing of blood in his ears, reminding him that he is alone.

He has failed.

Lord Kuro has been taken, and with it, his purpose. What good is a lordless retainer? The Divine Heir did not deserve to have such an incompetent shinobi. Every fractured bone, every black eye, every large and tender bruise. Every second of the life he can remember, wasted.

Every life, he’s wasted.

His arm covers his eyes, his head slumped forwards into his knee. While he cannot truly die, not so long as Lord Kuro maintains Wolf’s servitude, the shinobi cannot help but hope if he remains still enough, the failure will rot him from the inside. He does not feel strong emotions, not regularly, but the overwhelming frustration and disappointment rule over him.

He hears a soft whisper. Something flutters down the duct.

Wolf observes as Emma almost walks her hand up his arm to his cheek, the pad of her index finding the groove of the scar right next to his eye. He can almost see her pout in disapproval at whatever made the tear, and something most strange flutters in his chest- amusement, perhaps.

The weight of the mark holds little value as of now, in the moment, not meaningful when he can watch the physician across from him stare so tenderly at him. The shadows that crawl in that scar are temporarily scared away.

A young boy wanders across a broken battlefield.

Soldiers from both sides of the conflict gasp and groan in anguish, their glossy, unseeing eyes pointed to the heavens in one last hope as their life flows from their bodies into the blood seeped earth.

And yet, the child does not bat an eye. Not too much, at least.

The choking sobs of young farm boys drafted for war fills the air, their cries for their mothers echoing into the open sky. It is those sounds the boy wishes not to hear. They are only a handful of years older than he, their faces too similar to his. Cheeks still soft with youth, and once had keen, learning eyes like he.

The boy continues forwards, stopping by an old, battle hardened veteran, his time spent. By the time the scrawny preteen has made his way over, the older man has croaked his last breath. Apprehensive, the boy takes the sanguine katana from limp, cooling hands, strapping the blade to the small collection he has packed on his back.

A scavenger.

He does not notice the watchful eyes of the owl from a distance.

So sweetly, Emma brought her fingers down Wolf’s jaw, eyes gentle and soft. He couldn’t help but lean into her touch.

How nice it was.

Almost like a forgotten muscle memory, his neck cranes forwards, his prosthetic reaching to cradle Emma’s head as he places his forehead to hers.

For years, his world had been of blacks and reds, of blood and grime. But sitting there, touching his forehead to hers, the low light coming through the window seemed warmer.

He allows himself to smile.

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