Ren balanced a tray of tea on her hip and knocked on the door. It had been over two weeks since she saw the warlord, and Ren wanted to thank him for the salve. She saw some gooey sweets in town and thought he would enjoy them.
“My Lord? It’s Ren.” She heard a low moan and some shuffling from the room. She waited a minute…it was midday. The hallway was freezing, but she expected nothing less for mid-February.
A low moan. He couldn’t still be asleep? Was he hurt?
“Shingen, I’m coming in.”
She slid the door open. Shingen was curled in the corner. The room was freezing, but he was soaked in sweat, his skin pale. A wracking cough took him and he doubled over, his head pressing to the floor.
“My Lord!” Ren closed the door, setting the tea by it. She ran to him, pressing a hand to his forehead, he was burning up.
“My Angel,” he croaked out. “Have you come to take me? I am not finished yet, I need more time to-" another wracking wet cough interrupted his rambling. Ren propped him up against the wall.
“Just stay here, no one is taking you anywhere.” She lit the brazier to get his room warmed back up and then poured him some tea placing the cup in his hand. “Drink this.”
He stared at the cup for long moments before raising it to his lips. Ren busied herself in his room, finding a washbasin and a towel. Gently she wiped him down, smoothing his sweat-slicked auburn hair out of his eyes.
“Shingen, why didn’t you call for someone if you are this sick?” She refilled his tea. He was breathing more comfortably. She pressed her ear to his chest, he sounded congested. His kimono stunk of old sweat. “Uggg, let’s get you out of this.”
She stood again, going through his things to find a fresh kimono. Ren returned to his side, taking the now empty cup, his red eyes peered up at her.
“Ren?” His voice sounded clearer. She untied his kimono, sliding the damp cloth off his shoulders.
“Shhhh, it’s going to be alright. I’ve got you.”
He started coughing again, she held him through it. His hands went to his mouth, coming away flecked with blood.
“Oh, Shingen.” Her eyes misted. She wiped his hands off on the towel, cleaned him up and redressed him in the clean kimono. The room was starting to warm up. “Come on, let’s get you back in bed.”
“I thought…” he cleared his throat, “you’d never ask, my angel.” He let her wrangle his substantial body into a sitting position on his futon, pillows stacked behind him.
“You…” She smiled tenderly at him, tucking the blankets around him. She refilled his tea, placing the cup in his hand. “When was the last time you ate?”
He shrugged, his eyes rolling unfocused.
“Alright, I’m going to send for your doctor and get you some broth from the kitchens ok?” She stood to leave, he reached out, grabbing her hand.
“Please don’t leave me.” A whispered plea, his eyes were bloodshot.
“Shingen, I promise I’ll come back.”
“Promise?” He sounded so weak.
“I’ll always come back to you.”
The fever dreams and the wracking bloody cough felt like it had been going on for an eternity, he was so hot. His lungs squeezed painfully, his throat was on fire. Distantly he could hear a crashing noise. Then gentle hands lifted him, he rolled his eyes open.
The light behind her made a halo of her white-blond hair. An angel had come to take him from this world. He faded in and out of consciousness, tea was pressed to his hands. She was undressing him, was this a dream? The tea made his throat feel better. A cool cloth wiped over his body, it felt blissful. The angel then wrapped him in soft, dry warmth, he was back in his bed somehow. She pressed another cup of tea into his hands. She said something, her voice was so sweet. He realized it was Ren, his little bird, his heart felt light. She turned to leave.
No, please stay.
“Please don’t leave me.” He didn’t recognize his own voice; it was a pleading croak.
“I’ll always come back to you.” The Angel promised him, he drifted out.
A warm bowl was pressed to his hands, small hands covered his.
“Drink.” He obeyed the concerned voice. A cool hand pressed to his forehead. “We need to get that fever down,” she muttered.
There were noises, footsteps, the room was brighter.
“Give him this every few hours mixed with tea. That should keep his lungs clear and his fever down.” A man’s voice…then the angel spoke, he couldn’t hear what she said, but her voice was so dulcet he could listen to it for an eternity. The low murmur of talking went on for a while, then he heard the door slide shut. The room darkened.
The cough rattled his bones, it was never going to end. Small hands soothed him, he felt himself being propped up against something soft, a cup of warm liquid was held to his lips. He drank, he slept.
The room was warm, a pleasant smell of broth and rice porridge wafted through it. Shingen opened his eyes, gazing upward. He was in Ren’s arms, propped up against her chest. Her hands rested on top of his blankets. She was asleep.
Shingen studied her a moment, there were shadows under her eyes darkening her pale skin. Her hair was mussed, fluffing up at odd angles. Soft lips were slightly parted; he reached up, cupping her cheek. Violet eyes opened slowly, gazing down at him.
“You’re awake, how are you feeling?” Her hand went to his forehead, he ached at the tender concern in her smile. This was not a look a kunoichi had for her Lord, this was the gaze of a lover. His thumb traced her lower lip.
“Better…how long has it been?” His voice was rough from disuse.
“A few days, your healer should be by this afternoon to check on you.” She straightened out of his caress, carefully sliding from behind him and replacing the warmth of her body with some cushions. “Can I convince you to eat something? While you are awake.”
She handed him a warm bowl of porridge from the brazier, her hands covering his.
“Can you manage?” Again, the concern, he found it difficult to look away. Her eyes were like the summer sky at twilight, that magical time when the world pauses in silence before the golden light of the sun arrives.
“Shingen?” She lifted the spoon to him. He took it from her, bringing the warm food to his mouth. Satisfied, she stood and busied herself at his desk.
“Have you been here the whole time?” His voice grew stronger.
“Well someone has to look after silly warlords who don’t ask for help.” Paper ripped, ceramic tinked. She turned and smiled at him. “Finish that, and we’ll get some tea into you to keep those lungs clear.”
“You knew?” He asked between bites.
“I’ve always known, hush, and eat. Don’t waste your strength on questions that don’t matter.”
Shingen smiled at her chastisement, it amused him that she sounded like a caring wife.
Ren took the empty bowl from his hands, replacing it with a cup of tea. She sat before him, watching him drink.
“Thank you.” He handed the cup back to her, she refilled it placing it by his side. “Why did you stay? I have healers.”
“You asked me to, so I did.” She brushed his thick hair back from his forehead, “get some rest. I have some things I need to attend to now that your fever has broken. I’ll be back to check on you in the afternoon.” Her lips lightly touched his forehead, and she left.
Shingen starred at the door as it slid closed. His mind slowly working through what had just happened. She cared for him, more then what was expected as his mitsumono. Lust did not hold that level of commitment, he sighed. His feelings were conflicted, it was too much to consider. Shingen’s eyes slid closed, and he drifted back to sleep.
Ren padded silently down the hall, she was relieved he was finally awake and looking better. She was concerned that history had changed so much that his demise date or cause may also have changed. More then once, during the last few days as she listened to the rattle of his breath or held him while he coughed up blood, she was concerned he would not make it. Ren chewed her lip. She needed a bath, fresh clothes, and a nap. She stripped as soon as she entered her small room, dropping her clothes to the floor and stepping behind a screen to wash.
A tap at the door.
“Ren, it’s Sasuke, I’m coming in.”
Ren continued to bathe.
“Hey, I’m just washing up I’ll be out in a moment.” She heard the clink of ceramic.
“I brought us food.”
She wrapped her sleeping kimono around her still damp body, toweling off her hair as she stepped from behind the screen.
“Is it pizza? Because I would give my left arm for a deep-dish pie right now.”
He let out a laugh, his mouth twitching upwards in a small smile.
“Unfortunately, no, but maybe I’ll see what we can do about that in the future.”
She leaned down, kissing his cheek in greeting. Sasuke returned the friendly kiss and gestured for her to sit.
Rice, broth and broiled fish with root vegetables for two lay spread on her small table. She picked up her chopsticks to dig in.
“Thank you, this looks amazing.” She said around a mouthful of fish.
“I heard you’ve been taking care of your boss, so I figured you could use a break.” He picked up a bowl of broth sipping the fragrant, steaming liquid.
“Mmmm yeah, it looked like pneumonia complications from whatever the issue is with his lungs. I don’t have enough medical knowledge to treat it, all my expertise is in first aid and patching up bullet holes.” She shoveled in two large mouthfuls of rice, nodding in appreciation. She’d neglected herself taking care of her lord.
“Unfortunately, my Ph.D. was not in a medical field. And my knowledge of history is no help. Historical documents were either vague or conflicting. The Tokugawa tried to claim a single sniper of theirs killed him in his camp, but medical documentation shows that he had frequent chest illness over his life and that he may have finally succumbed to pneumonia in the end.”
“Not on my watch,” Ren growled fiercely, eyes down on her food.
Sasuke raised his brow. "Ren, have you developed actual feelings for-"
“Don’t start Sasuke I’m merely looking out for his health, leaders can’t lead alone.”
“Mmmhmm.” He didn’t look like he believed her.
Ren wasn’t sure she believed herself.
A few days later, Shingen was at his desk with Ren before him. She was back in her usual snug-fitting dark clothing just returned from teaching a class in the dojo. Her blonde hair was damp, clinging flatly to her scalp. Wet March snow dusted her shoulders. She must have come straight to him upon receiving his summons. His kunoichi took a knee before him.
He paused his brush, looking up.
“I wanted to thank you, Ren. If there is anything you would like as compensation for your service, please ask.” Shingen graced her with a warm smile.
“Your health is reward enough, my Lord.” She was formal again with him today, appropriate for their rank. He found he missed the lighthearted comradery.
“I also ask that you not speak of it to others.” His tone was soft but commanding.
“Of course, Lord Shingen, I comprehend the morale issues that could cause.”
He nodded, he expected nothing less of a blade this sharp. He put his conflicted thoughts to rest. This was just Ren, his most lovely blade, anything else he saw must have been imagined, a fevered dream, a side effect of the medication.
He nodded to her in dismissal.