Chapter 23- Getting to Know Kiyoko
"I wouldn't have it any other way, kitten. Are you hungry? Because I am starving." Raido held her firmly in his arms, he intended to keep her there for as long as possible. "Please don't leave me, kitten."
She smiled up at him, tears threatening to escape her eyes. "I won't." She leaned into his strong embrace, enjoying the feel of his physical strength surrounding her. "But I am a little hungry."
They both laughed.
"Do you want barbecue?" Raido asked.
Kiyoko nodded her head and they stood up and started towards the restaurant.
They were walking side by side, simply enjoying the closeness.
Raido looked at her, the sun glinted in her blonde hair making it glow and her blues eyes shone with emotion as she looked back at him. He thought that he'd never seen a woman as beautiful as her. "Did you really think Genma and I were lovers?" He smiled at the thought, he and Genma were good friends but not that good.
"Well, I didn't know what to think. That note certainly confused me." She smiled now at the misunderstanding. "And I was confused about how I felt. You are the only real man who has ever kissed me. When I reacted so strongly I thought it might be because you had rescued me. And I knew that was what everyone would think. I didn't know what to do, and I didn't have anyone to ask."
He nudged her with his arm. "Silly kitten. But then I suppose I was silly too. I was afraid that you would think I was just trying to take advantage of you. But I did intend to stay close and wait for you."
They had arrived at the barbecue place and found seats.
"So you have asked me all sorts of questions about being a ninja. It's your turn. What was your life like, before..." He wasn't sure he could casually say it, she had been sold like so many goods and the idea of it pissed him off.
"Before I was sold? It's ok. You can say it. I'm not ashamed by it. I didn't do anything wrong." The strength in her eyes surprised him. He realized that there was a lot more to her than met the eye.
"Yeah. I don't know that I could say that without wanting to kill someone though. You're too precious, not just to me which you are, but in general."
She smiled back at him, "Thank you. You have no idea how much that means to me."
"I'm serious. Genma nicknamed you, Raido's little kitten, because you followed me back and clung to me. But everyone started calling you that because you found a place in everyone's heart. They all saw how hard you fought to keep your dignity, they saw your kindness and bravery in the face of real danger. And they all grew to love you."
Kiyoko blushed at the praise. "Really, I'm no one. You may have found your Nemo when you found me, Raido. I'm just a farm girl from Iwagakure. No one special."
"Tell me about it. Tell me about this nobody farm girl from Iwagakure."
"Well, there's not much to tell. I grew up on a farm. Pretty uninteresting if you ask me. My brothers are a little younger than me. Katsuro is the older brother, he's three yrs younger than I am . And then there's Jiro, he's ten years younger than I am. Katsuro and I grew up playing together on the farm. We both learned to help my father with the farm work, I think I could milk the goat before I could read. And Katsuro knew how to care for the animals and fields before he started school as well." She smiled at the memories. "We would get up and do our chores and then go off to school together."
Raido watched as the memories played across her face. He hadn't seen her look so happy and relaxed, well, ever. "Sounds like a nice childhood."
"It was. When we finished school neither of us had the inclination to go on and become ninja, which my father supported. Ninja in Iwagakure are not like ninja in Konoha. We both just took up work on the farm. I helped with the farm work, mostly the animals and helped my mother in the house." Her eyes dimmed at the memory of her mother, she obviously missed her a lot. When Jiro went to school it was the same. He finished and came home to work. It was assumed that the farm would be split between them when father was too old to farm anymore."
"So what happened?"
"My mother died. I was twenty. It was very sudden. She got sick and was gone in a month. It was very hard on all of us and we missed her a lot."
"I'm so sorry." Raido knew how it felt to lose people who were close to you and his heart went out to her.
"At the time I'd been working in the village school. But when she died I left and stayed home to take care of the house, and my father and brothers. They focused on the farm. I was quite happy but I think my father was lonely. He missed my mother a lot and while he was at a market selling goods one time he met Minori. That's my stepmother."
At the mention of the woman who had sold Kiyoko into slavery Raido's gut twisted.
"She saw my fathers desperation and she played him. She wanted the boys to marry her girls so that they would have a safe future and I was in the way. She knew that as long as I wasn't married my father would let me stay."
"How long where they married when she..." He still couldn't say it, how was it that this woman in front of him could talk about her experience with slavery as if it was nothing and he, a trained assassin, wanted to kill someone every time he thought about it?
"They'd been married about a year." She sighed. "Minori started on me right after the wedding. She wanted me to to go back to work but there was no position at the school for me, I had to wait for one to open up. Then she started dragging men to the farm, sons of people she knew and such. But none of them appealed to me. And my father wasn't interested in forcing me to marry anyone. She gave up after about nine months. So for a while it seemed as if things might settle down."
"What happened then?"
"My brothers and fathers planned a trip to the Land of Snow to secure some new customers. I think she'd been planning to sell me for a while because they hadn't been gone for three days when she suggested we go to town for some girl time, just her and I. I wondered at her change of heart, she'd hardly spoken to me for the last few months but I never imagined what she had in mind." Kiyoko's voice caught just a little as she remembered that fateful day.
Raido, who had been sitting across from her, slipped around to sit next to her and put his arm around her. She looked up at him gratefully.
"Instead of lunch we went to meet Yori. The slave trader. One of his men held me to keep me from running off while he paid for me and then, since he was leaving that night, I was forced into a cart that was full of woman, girls really. It was the most frightening moment of my entire life."
Raido tightened his hold on her. "I hope you know that it will never happen again." His voice was low but she heard the reassurance in it. It was nice to know he cared that much.
"Thank you. I do know that. And you know the rest of the story." She shrugged, it was getting easier to talk about it and remain calm.
While she had been talking their food had arrived and Raido had started the barbecue cooking. They both turned to eat now.
"So, do you think you'd ever want to go see them?" Raido asked.
"I don't know. I have no idea how she'll explain my absence when they return. They were due to be back next week I think. And she will deny all of it. It would be my word against hers."
"If you decide to go back, I'll go with you. That way I know you'll be safe." He smiled at her, there was no way he was going to risk losing her.
"Thanks. But I think it will be a while before I'm willing to do that."
They were just finishing up eating when Genma slid into the booth across from them.
"Well I see you two managed to find each other and work it out."
Kiyoko smiled at him, "We did. Thank you Genma, for helping to set me straight."
"The pleasure is all mine. Do you two have plans for the evening? Some of the jonin were going to get drinks, I thought you might like to know."
Raido looked at Kiyoko, "We could go if you wanted but I was thinking a quiet evening would be better. You were in the hospital this morning."
Kiyoko agreed that she didn't feel up to being out so soon and that a quiet evening might be nice.
"Makes sense." Genma agreed. He hadn't really thought they'd come but he hadn't wanted them to feel left out. "Oh and Lady Tsuande wants to see you both tomorrow, after Kitten here gets done with school." He watched them, for a couple that had been so confused just a few hours ago they seemed to be doing very well. "Well, I'm going to get a drink. I'll catch you kids later." He rose to leave.
"Genma?" Kiyoko reached out for his hand.
"I mean it. Thank you. For everything."
"I know you do."
They both watched Genma leave and then Raido turned to Kiyoko. "So lets go back to my place. We have a lot to talk about."