Chapter 21- Konoha is Home Now
Chikako walked along beside Tobirama quietly, both lost deep in thought. Chikako thought about the return trip they were making with her mother in tow. The palanquin slowed them down considerably, she was glad she'd ditched hers when she had. She wondered how people would react to her mother coming to live with her. She knew it would raise questions about her mother and fathers marriage but she also knew Konoha to be a village of kind, compassionate people who would do their best to make her mother feel welcome.
She looked up to Tobirama and smiled remembering her own trip to Konoha just a few months ago. She felt as if Konoha was her home now, not Iwa and she hoped in time her mother would also.
She sighed, they had been traveling for three days and the surrounding countryside had finally turned green again, in the distance she could see the promise of trees, they might reach them tomorrow.
"Are you tired of walking, Chika-chun?"
"What would you do if I was? Carry me?"
She giggled, "I'm sure that wouldn't make my fathers men gossip like old women."
"I don't really care what they say."
"I know. But I'm fine." She gave him a reassuring look. "Will we make a stop at the hot springs this time, or go straight home?"
"You called Konoha home, did you hear that?"
"It is home for me. With the addition of my mother I'm only missing one of my important people there."
Tobirama smiled down at her. "Did you want to stop at the hot spring?"
"It would be nice but I don't want to delay our arrival either."
"We'll see then. If it works out then we will."
"Chikako?" They both turned to see what her mother might need.
"Mother? Do you need something?" Tobirama signaled to the men carrying the palanquin to stop and put it down.
"I think I'd like to walk for a little."
"Of course." She fell back to walk beside her mother and chat with her. She was enjoying the time she was spending with her mother on this trip.
"What will it be like in Konoha?" Her mother asked as they resumed walking.
"Konoha is different from Iwa. Father is very old fashioned in many ways. Our home was about to be built just as we were leaving, so I imagine it's ready for us. No one in Konoha has servants, the women all keep their own homes and do the cooking. Tobirama's aunt has been kind enough to move in and show me how to do that. Her name is Akira, and I think you'll like her a lot."
Maki smiled, "I used to cook. It's been so long. When I was a child I was raised to keep my own house but when the marriage was arranged with your father..." Her voice trailed off.
"How old were you?"
"I was sixteen." She whispered this.
Chikako's eyes grew wide. "But that means that you're just thirty-three now!" It had never occurred to her that her mother was so young.
"Yes, it does. I don't seem it do I?"
"Was there a boy you liked before your marriage to father?"
"There was a boy I thought was handsome but we had just smiled at each other. I was sheltered and not allowed to have contact with boys my age, much like you were. I think my father had always had an arranged marriage in mind for me."
"Don't be. I have you, and you are the greatest treasure of my life."
Chikako smiled at her, "Thank you mother."
Tobirama came to walk with them now. "How are you two doing? It's getting into evening, we could walk another hour or so, or we could stop now."
Chikako looked at her mother, "Are you up to another hour?"
"I think so."
Chikako lay in Tobirama's arms looking up at the stars. "Did you know my mother was only thirty-three?"
He glanced down at her in surprise. "I hadn't thought about it, but it makes sense. She doesn't look much older than that."
"She still has so much life in her and my father was willing to let her waste away in that room."
"Does that make you angry, or sad?"
"A little of both I think." She nestled into him and closed her eyes. "I'm glad she's with us. She told me today that she'd been taught to keep house and cook and he wouldn't let her."
"Really? So she will easily find a place with us then. Do you want her to live with us?"
"I think in the beginning anyway, until she's built a life. Do you mind?"
"Not at all. She'll be good company for you. Will you have Akira-obasan stay as well?"
Chikako looked up at Tobirama, "Would you mind, until I'm better at cooking and such?"
"No. I don't mind. I like Akira, she and I have always gotten on well. And her sons wife can't stand her. She's a better fit in our home and she will be a great comfort to you when you have a child. She's a midwife and a very experienced mother."
Chikako smiled at the mention of children, she was looking forward to them. She closed her eyes and fell asleep imagining what their children would look like.
Chikako groaned out loud. "Tobirama, why does it seem so much further when you're walking so slowly?"
He laughed at her, "My offer to carry you is still open."
"I'll walk, but thank you."
"We're almost there. See that mountain in the distance? That's the mountain that rests behind the village. My brother keeps threatening to get his face carved into it."
She giggled, she could see Hashirama doing it.
By midday the village was discernible in the distance and they came upon the gates just as the sun was getting ready to set. Their approach had been slow and because of that they'd been spotted and a small crowd of people were waiting at the gate to greet them. Mito and Hashirama were at the front.
Chikako stopped the procession and got her mother to step out of the palanquin so that she could walk beside her. When they stood in front of Mito and Hashirama she introduced them. "Mito, Hashirama-sama, this is my mother, Maki. Mother this is Tobirama's brother and his wife."
Hashirama said "Hello, welcome to Konoha." And then turned to Tobirama to hear the details of the trip and make plans for the Iwa nin who had returned. The men who had traveled with Maki would leave the palanquin and return to Iwa tomorrow.
Her mother greeted them shyly and stood there quietly.
Akira approached them, "Chikako-chan. It's so nice to have you back. I've missed you."
"Obasan. I missed you also. This is my mother Maki. She'll be living with us." She smiled at the older woman turned mentor. "Do we have a house yet?"
"We do. I took the liberty of moving us in and setting it up for you. I hope that's alright?"
"Of course. Thank you."
"Shall we go then? Maki are you tired? We can have some tea and a light evening meal."
"Thank you, obasan, that would be nice." Maki shyly responded.
"You must call me Akira if we are to be friends." She smiled warmly at her.
"You two go. I'll let Tobirama know we are leaving and catch up with you."
"So, why did you bring your mother home with you?"
Chikako glanced at the doorway, her mother had stepped out to use the newly installed bathhouse before breakfast. "Her marriage with my father was not a good one and I think she was very lonely there. I'm her only child. I asked father to let me bring her here and convinced her to come."
"Will you still want me here then?"
"Of course! Tobirama and I talked about it and we both feel that you'll always have a place in our home as long as you want it."
"Yes, thank you Chikako." Her mother entered the kitchen where Chikako prepared breakfast under Akira's watchful eye. "You're right, I wasn't happy in Iwa and I think I'll be much happier here."
Chikako smiled, they had just gotten home two days ago and it seemed as if Akira and her mother would be good friends. Things were going nicely.
"Did you have plans for today Chikako?"
"I did Obasan. I thought I'd show mother around a bit and introduce her to some people. I'd also like to find Takao and Kei and make sure they're comfortable." Chikako smiled at the two older women in her kitchen. "Are you up to that mother?"
"I think so."
"Obasan, I'd love it if you'd join us. I'm sure Tobirama will be be busy all day with setting up a training schedule for my father's men."
"You're right. I will be. In fact, I imagine it will take a lot of my time until they're settled in." He sat down as Chikako served breakfast and waited for her to join them. "You'll find Takao and Kei in the encampment near the large training field. Hashirama will build them a barracks there today."
She smiled at Tobirama, "Are they settling in then?"
They chatted about the coming day as they ate. When they had finished Tobirama rose, "I need to be back shortly. I expect I'll be here for dinner." He pulled Chikako into his arms and held her, kissing her as he did. "See you then, Chika-chan."
"Sure don't say goodbye to me, Tobirama." Akira huffed.
"Did you want a kiss also?" He teased his aunt.
"Oh get out of here!" She said laughing at him.