Date: Unknown (log received July 3, 2014)
The time has finally arrived for Ei to meet Ayumu's side of the family. Unfortunately, not all stories can be told before…
Poster's note: foul language filtered in obvious places.
"Meeting Obaa-chama and then-some!"
Iga Clan Compound
A beautiful summer's day; it is surprisingly pleasantly warm in the Land of Wind, and under the bright light of the sun there's nothing more you could wish for. There are of course those that shun the day regardless, and have even gone so far as to see to it that an entire section of the village reflected there abhorance for sweat inducing ball of gas in the sky. Granted, for the Iga Clan it was more than something so simple and straight-forward. There were tatical advantage to their choice, though for the sake of visitors they at least kept up what they called 'functional decorations' topside. There were of course those within even the main branch that disagreed to staying in the dark; Shun's family being chief among them, oddly enough.
After months of greasing certain wheels only to avoid the matter entirely, Ayumu finally accepted the fact that it was time to official bring in to meet the rest of his kin. He even resisted the urge to do anything pre-emptive to ruin it! But of course, only time would tell if their visit will turn out well following their arrival at the gates to the mini-community. Since there was no particular village wide emergencies to worry about, the gates were open for both kin and outsiders to enter. Although naturally, the latter is given some scrutiny by guards just out of sight.
"You know Ei-hime? We could totally skip out on this and just, I dunno, go for a walk around town today." Ayumu says after stepping in front of Ei and taking both of her hands into his own. The look in his eyes is almost pleading.
Ei was given the opportunity once before to be inside the Iga village of sorts. At the time, it wasn't something to celebrate — /definitely/ not — but now the girl was a bit giddy about it. Nervous and happy, she was walking along beside him with a curious smile on her face. That is, until stopped by the man. Tilting her head at him, she considers his expression and the words. "We could, yes," she murmurs, leaning in to kiss his lips gently, "but why? The more you put it off, the worse it's going to be, love. If you're worrying about me, then don't. If you are worrying about yourself, then stop. I understand you haven't gotten along well with your family in the past, but let's try, okay? If things go horribly, then we can find a house on the other side of the village when the time comes and never truly deal with them again, alright?"
The fact that she started off quoting him was already a bad sign. The kiss helped ease his nerves a little, but the man still looked on the verge of begging for a time. It is ultimately with shoulders sagging in defeat and a weary sigh that he accepts her points. "Alright… Just.. Don't be surprised if some of the older folk give you the cold shoulder for awhile. It's not so much as a me thing, or even a me and you thing. My clan is just kind of… a mixed-bag of sorts around these parts." He explains before taking Ei's hand and guiding her into the mini-village.
The surface world seems to be a heaven for children and young adults, because for the most part they are the only ones going about their business in one fashion or another. Without any warning save the kick itself, a ball comes zooming towards the duo; but more specifically, towards Ayumu!
Ei smiles as he gives in and follows after him. "I'm prepared, hun. Trust me…" She blinks, having been seconds away from mentioning that Shun's disapproval hadn't stopped her, either. Regardless, she's not about to let the words of someone else ruin their relationship. However, she happens to notice the ball simply because she was looking around at everything. Instinctively, she pulls her hand from his and manipulates enough wind to push back at the ball, causing it to just… lightly tap Ayumu on the shoulder before falling. "Er, sorry, love." She reaches up to rub the back of her head a bit sheepishly and takes his hand again while looking over toward who might've kicked it.
As worrying as feeling her slip away had been, feeling something lightly tap his shoulder instead of potentially plow straight into the side of his head proves even more distracting. Befuddled, he opens his mouth to voice a question when a childish "OI!" goes out. A gaggle of kids of kids — preteens, if not younger — come running up towards the couple. One of which slips forward to grab the ball before quietly melting back into the group, head downcast all the while.
"Sorry about that Aniki. When smelled that awful stench of yours, I just couldn't help but try 'nd get rid of it." Said the tallest of the boys as he stepped to the fore and a bit aways to the pack. The obvious ring leader no doubt. He had the look about him in posture, but those verdant eyes betrayed him a little considering his gaze seemed focus on the space above their heads. He was blind like most of the other kids seemed to be, marking them as kin to Ayumu in some fashion or another, though such a thing in truth extended beyond just that.
"Hmpf! Always a pleasure hearing that Rem." Ayumu ruffles the boy's hair, eliciting a grin and a half-hearted attempts at forcing the hand away. "And I see the rest of the gang's here as well.. Heh… I—er, allow me to introduce you all to the princess I captured from a far off land." All of them within seconds gasped and began swarming Ei, forcing Ayumu to slip his hands free before he too got swept up in their excitement. Some of them are a little mischeviously investigative of Ei's person, but they are all fairly well-behaved for the most part. Just no coordinated when it came to asking one question at a time!
Ei listens to the exchange with a raised eyebrow, but she didn't interrupt the little gang of kids and Ayumu. However, the moment they begin swarming her with questions, she blinks and raises her arms a bit. "One question at a time, please," she asks, looking around at them all. "Be careful with that hand," she demands a second later, looking off to one side for the one in question. She shifts her gaze up to give Ayumu a look, but she's not entirely sure whether he has an eyeball in order to see it with. "Alright, alright. If you all want the story, you have to calm down. Otherwise we won't be able to embarrass your aniki with the details."
Even as he sought to relax against a nearby wall, Ayumu stays acutely alert for any signs of a threat to his Ei. He was prepared to brave any danger, even a gaggle of kids for her sake! Although… only in case of an emergency, obviously enough. Even without any eyes nearby active at the moment, the look is still precieved in some fashion, and in turn, he a look of concern is expressed. "Traitor." He smirks and shakes his head softly.
Meanwhile, the kirds seems to calm at the promise of a story. Albeit this is following a bout of laughter, snickering and mischevious "oohs" at Ayumu's expense. "I think you have our attention well in hand lady, I mean.. princess." Rem says, smiling sheepishly.
As the kids calm down a bit and Rem makes his comment, the green-haired woman grins. "Good. Now, let it be said I'm a rebellious princess. I always liked to sneak away from my guards. It just so happens that one of those times, I came across a very interesting man," she starts, glancing over toward her love. "My name is Fujiwara Ei, by the way," she adds, before continuing the story. "To this day, I'm not sure if he was there just for me or if I gave him a chance he was unable to ignore." She grins a bit over at Ayumu. "Are you going to help tell the story?"
The kids were enraptured; especially the girls. "Hmm… I would and mayhaps I should?" He strokes his chin thoughtfully for a few moments more, soaking in the attention of the kids before disappointing them all with a simple shake of his head. "Don't mind him Ei-hime. Ryoji's always been a bit of a gramps head about things." One of the younger boys pipes up, eliciting sagenods from most of the others.
Ei can't help but giggle at the children's responses. "Indeed, he can be," she agrees. "Back to the story. I'm a curious woman, always have been, so rather than be wary of this foreigner, I started to talk to him. Our conversation eventually turned to the subject of kidnapping. I decided… that I wanted to be kidnapped. So, he took me and eventually my clothes were too much and I had to spend a night making my kimono shorter." Leaning forward and cupping a hand around her mouth, she whispers, "I think that was the point where I may as well have been the one to kidnap him. He tried ever-so-hard not to encroach on my privacy, which made me start teasing him."
The kids snicker at Ei's agreement. Ayumu on the otherhand simply rolls his eyes before returning back to his watchdog duties. No matter how hard he tried to remain focused on the task, hearing his lover's version of the story — which as far as he can recall was accurate, mostly — drew the majoriety of his attention towards her. Soon, he is as wrapped around the petite woman's fingers as much as the kids were, if not moreso. "Whoa, whoa, whoa there princess! Your saying Ryoji over there actually didn't get all nosy with you?" Rem asked with a look of genuine disbelief. Seems Ayumu bore a bit of reputation around these parts.
It wasn't entirely true. She hadn't needed to make her kimono smaller on the trip. She'd spent time doing it before they left. If she told the truth, the kids would undoubtedly question the validity of being kidnapped. Ei nods her head as the kids question her. "That's what I'm saying. After that, though, he was always edgy around me. It was almost too easy to embarrass him. Maybe you kids should be telling me stories… Was my Ryoji not always a gentleman?" She smirks, very clearly believing that's possible.
Instead of an immediate answer all of the kids huddle up and start whispering amongst themselves. Even if Ei or Ayumu managed to catch snippets of the conversation, it is all just a smokescreen for subtle gestures and taps being passed along amongst them. It's not so much of a suprise for Ayumu given how come a practice it was amongst his kin. Unfortunately, he still far too rusty at interpeting it all to try and pass along what they were saying to Ei.
"Define… gentleman?" Rem finally speaks up for the bunch once the group huddle is dismissed. A soft sigh escapes Ayumu's lips.
Ei just stood there, listening despite not being able to decipher what, exactly, was being said. When finally Rem speaks up, she tilts her head. "A gentleman is a complex man. He knows when to give a lady her compliments and treats her with the respect that is appropriate, even if not necessarily earned. He doesn't push a lady into doing anything she does not wish to do, but encourages her to try new things. He gives her the privacy she requires and even goes so far as to defend that privacy at times. Does that make sense?"
The youngest of the bunch are all scratching their heads or chins over the matter, but those closer to Rem's age ahs and nod in a sagely manner. "When ya put it like that then… Yeah." Just about all smile or nod along in agreement; including Ayumu. "But-…" Ayumu stops abruptly and clenches his jaws. Nothing good ever came from anyone starting off a sentence with the word 'But', or at least by a technacality. "-A man of convience sounds more like him."
"Don't forget nosey too." One of the other kids yelled.
"Yep, that too!" Rem agrees.
The woman grins and hums thoughtfully at that. "Well… I can only say that I didn't notice him trying to peek. With the ability to create eyes that can hide in the underbrush… I can't say he /wasn't/ looking in full honesty. He /is/ a very curious individual," she admits. Ei glances over to see his expression before looking thoughtful. "Anyway, that was about the time I decided that I really liked my captor. He'd spent time trying to train me as a kunoichi, something my parents certainly wouldn't allow, and he showed several times that he cared for me. At that time, my teasing became much more forward. I ruined one of his attempts to perfect a clone made of the flesh you Iga can manipulate. I think it overheated."
Ayumu pouts, and it is the same expression she sees upon glancing back at him before returning her attention to the kids. Even if the man /did/ have his privacy issues back then, not once did he go so far as to spy on her while in such a state. It was simply not his way. Although, that is not to say that he wasn't tempted from time to time to do so. But then if he had, their relationship with another would have been drastically different, what with her being so… intoxicating, to him as is.
Rem whistles. "That must been some fierce teasing to get Ryoji that distracted."
"What do you mean Rem?" One of the younger ones spoke up.
"I >mean< that usually when Aniki sinks his teeth into something, he keeps on pressing on till its done or darn well nearly dies trying."
"So now I'm a starving wolf pack in one now?"
"Naaw, more like a fennec!" That gets the kids laughing again before one of the girl who picked up the ball goes tugging on Ei's hand next.
"What came next?"
Ei giggles at the exchange between them all, shaking her head just a tiny bit. When her hand is tugged upon, she looks down at the girl and smiles. "I confessed," she answers. "I told your aniki how I felt about him. I'd fallen in love with him. At first, I don't think he was entirely thrilled about it. He has plenty of reasons to fear a commitment such as that… and at times, over the years, I've made it worse, but he is my everything." She chuckles a bit. "He's stubborn and I have to be grateful for that. If he was any less so, I'm sure he'd have given up on me long ago. Being a princess, I'm a spoiled little girl even now that I'm grown." She looks around at the group. "Any questions?"
The boys can't help but make subtle faces over the word love, but at least Ei recieved a positive reaction from the others. "Kids…" Ayumu says softly, shaking his head in exasperation. The rest the kids listen without interuption or jests. Although by the end, none of them seem to know where to start. Noone except Remi it would seem. "Just one… Are you two married yet?"
The woman blushes a bit, but grins. "Actually, no. Not yet." Ei glances at her love out of the corner of her eye, but says nothing directly toward him. Then she leans in again to whisper, "Do you think maybe that's why we're here? We can't get married without me meeting the family, right?" The woman shifts a bit then, giggling a bit at the prospect. Maybe it has some truth to it, but she's not terribly concerned either way. It's not something she wants to really rush Ayumu into… or herself, for that matter.
Rem may have managed to resist pumping his fist along with some of the others at the news, but the question she ask earns a sly smile from both the leader of the pack and a few others. "I dunno about all that, Ei-hime. But if that ain't what'cha guys here for, me and you can still make something like that happen." The boy says with a wink. "Tch! As if you know how to take care of a >real< princess." One of the other boys say. Needless to say, from there things start boil a little out of control. "So as I was saying Ei! Obaa-chama would really like to see us soon, so why don't we just run along now shall we?" Even as he says this, Ayumu has already politely taken ahold of Ei, and is just about ready to spirit her way when he gets gut check tackled and dragged down by the hoard of boys. Noones kicking and punching yet, but they certainly dog piled the poor Iga effectively enough! While one girl runs off (presumeably to go get help), the rest congregate closer to Ei and either watch the rest of their cousins and friends 'beat up' the old man, or try to get Ei's attention. "Hi-hime?… May we… uh.. Can we…?" One of them tries to say, but the more she tries the more she just ends up flustered and frustrated with herself.
Ei just watches as the whole thing devolves, both a slight smirk and a small droplet of sweat upon her face. She was about to follow Ayumu, but as he's tackled to the ground, she shifts to watch with a mildly surprised blink. Afterward, though, the smirk takes its place back on her face. When one of the girls tries to speak to her, she tilts her head a bit and then shifts to crouch a little. "Don't be afraid. What is it?" She says this reassuringly while placing a hand gently on her shoulder. All the while, she /does/ keep an eye on the pig-pile of boys just to make sure none of them actually hurt her dear Ayumu.
"Oww! That's my leg!"
Unfortunately for Ei, the sound marked things descending even more into bedlam. Any non-volatile attempt on Ayumu's part to dislodge the children on leads to them recorrecting their position and striking him now. Hardly powerful or anything a bruise would even form from, but painful nonetheless!
As for the little girl from before, she chews her lips, mulling over Ei's assurances before letting out her anxiety on one big exhale. "Would it be alright if I—We, touch your face?" She asks, clearly in a rush to just pass over the painful parts before she lost her courage. The other girls too look on expectantly… or at least, seem that way as much as blind children can.
Though she does hear the squeal of pain, she waits for the girl to gather the courage to ask her question before smiling. Ei nods her head. "Of course you can. Just… let me get the boys off poor Ryoji, neh?" She moves to stand and shifts toward the group flailing around on the ground. She claps her hands a couple times to get their attention "Boys, boys, boys! Come now, that's not any way to earn a lady's affection. If you all behave for a few moments — that means leaving the man alone — you can join the girls in their request. Plus, I'll offer a kiss on the cheek to the three most well-behaved." She honestly has no intention of restricting that offer, but it's the best way to get them all to behave their best.
All of them bear some disappointed looks after having their hopes lifted for a second. Still, they respected Ei's decision and would fan out, granting Ei the room to step forth with a couple of new shadows taggling along behind her and to the sides. With all the rough housing and the distracting sensations assailing their senses, it tames a few moments for the boy's to even register Ei's voice before the first starts scrambling away. Two others soon are next… followed by the rest after realization finally strikes them. Every last one of them line up in a neat line, grinning from ear to ear with a few bruises brewing as a result of their own mischief.
The woman waits, looking down at Ayumu curiously once he's revealed beneath the hoarde. She reaches down to help him up if need be and brushes him off a bit. "My poor dear. Just a few moments and we'll be off to see Obaa-sama, alright?" Ei leans up to kiss his cheek and then walks back over toward the girls. She kneels in front of them, a traditional eastern sitting style, and takes the hands of the girl that first asked, lifting them to her face gently. With patience, she lets each and every one of that little gaggle of kids do the same, though she's particularly careful with the boys so they don't take an opportunity to grab elsewhere…
Ayumu is seeing stars. Rather or not its because of the sensory assault from so many bodies up close, nearly suffocating, or the boys antics at trying to up fast enough for the reward is uncertain. The Iga does recover swiftly enough, though the ache in the back of his head promised a good half hour of unending pain in the near future. In the meantime, Ayumu graciously accepts Ei's aid and offers Ei a rueful foxy-grin for all the trouble he's put her through already. The grin fades into a soft smile in the wake of Ei's kiss to the cheek. Albeit belatedly he tries to pout at recieving >just< that.
Nevertheless, he accepted it. Just as the kids too accepted the wait with only the subtlest hints of dissidence amongst the boys. Naturally the most unruly of them would try to make up for it when it becomes their turn to get a picture of Ei. Some of them are… blunt, to say the least with their mischief and go for her breasts. Whereas others are either sly or a mix of the two when it comes to try to actually plant a kiss on Ei. If Ei didn't discipline them herself, Ayumu would make sure there's a hair whip with their butt cheeks name on it.
Thankfully with some disciplanary action of some sort the rest get the message quickly enough… though none are eager to see or let Ei go just yet.
The ones that go so bluntly for her bosom are swatted on the hand and she clears her throat. "No kiss for you, then," she explains to any that do that. If Ayumu feels the need to whip their behinds still, she isn't going to argue. Ei is a bit more amused by the ones that try to sneak a kiss, but she simply shifts her face so they only get her cheek or possibly forehead. Those ones, she allows Ayumu to take care of the discipline for. She is still just as patient with each of them, though she has a feeling her dear prince is on edge whether he shows it or not. Whatever the case, once all of them have had their chance to 'see' her face in their own way, she shifts to stand. Even if she had told them they weren't to get a kiss, she offers every one of the boys a kiss on the cheek — still careful to not let them sneak one on the lips. Each of the girls get a hug as well. "I'll come by to visit another time. Ryoji and I need to go now," she explains to them, turning to Ayumu with a teasing smile.
Ayumu defers to Ei for the most part, though obviously those that went for the bosom recieved the lash on top of their troubles. The rest… grudingly gets off virtually scott free. He made a note to pay them a visit later…
That aside, the Iga hid his discomfort for once behind a weak foxy-smile, and kept his hands folded behind himself as an extra safety measure. Even with the boy's behaving themselves when the princess delivers her boon, Ayumu remains on edge up until the last few girls are given their hug; the last of which having been exceptionally clingy.
Tension coiled up from not being able properly defend his wi—girlfriend eases with just a look. An embarrassed blush soon reaches the surface. "That we do indeed. Now all of you scatter. Especially you Rem… or do you prefer if I have words with your brother later." Just mentioning Rem's brother alone is enough to get the boy to start gathering his loyal followers (much to their collective reluctance) and lead them back to their game… or adventure… perhaps both?
Ei giggles softly at the reluctance from them all and turns her attention to her dear love with a shake of her head. "Relax. Besides, you only really have yourself to blame. Telling them I was a princess just made them twice as interested as they might've been, you know?" She's teasing him, grinning even as she's wrapping her arms around one of his. "Let's go. We can talk about which of us needs punishing later."
Ayumu is nothing less than thrilled to have Ei in his arms again. Her warmth, the very balm his soul 'desperately' needed after such a trial. "Aye… though something tells me that it'll be less of a discussion, and more of something… else." He teases right on back as he led them onwards. Thanks to the distraction from the kids Ayumu is little turned around for awhile, but thankfully not for -too- long. The entrance as it turns out is an agnozingly long flight of stone-work stairs after entering one of the 'decorations'. One with a few off shoots meant either to confuse invaders or simply lead on to other places within the underground networks. Although the main stair-way is well lit using a network of underground cables and light fixtures along the walls, some of the off shoots are pitch black.
Eventually, the duo reach the base of the stairways. A little winded perhaps even for trained shinobi, but otherwise no worse for wear. It is only then Ayumu recalls the faster entrance… though of course, he quickly plays off the epiphany by delivering a "Welcome to the humble abode of the Iga Clan!!"
He's technically off his mark by a good hundred meters or so of walking down the sole well-lit tunnel, but oye… they'll get their officially… soon… maybe… >.>
Ei just grins at his tease, neither truly agreeing or denying that. Once they've made it down the staircase, she lets out a big breath and takes control of her breathing. "Indeed. Where's Obaa-sama's office? Or… home? I'm not sure which we're actually going to… or something else." Whatever the case, though, she takes this moment to give him a proper kiss upon the lips. She then takes his arm again, ready to be on their way.
"That is a—" But the rest is stripped from him with just a kiss. By the time she has hold of his arm again, the Iga has regained some small semblance of composure and focus. "Right, uhm, right. It'd be.. let's see now.. home, I think… though do forgive me Ei, it has been some time since I've actually had to walk down here instead of using that other method from last time." He apologizes preemptively before leading them down the well lit tunnel; well-traveled considering the amount of dispersed sand and well-worn stone floor.
A few minutes later, the duo eventually find themselves exiting into an underground chamber so vast in terms of height that its cieling disappears into darkness, and stretching for good few miles at least. The dizzying aspects of size aside, it is the dwellings of those that inhabit it that might provoke a double-take. For all intents and purposes, the mini-village is a mirror to the one on the surface above, though less focused in design on any concern towards keeping out the heat of day. Another, and perhaps more appearant difference between the two, is the fact that there seemed to be more folk meandering or taking it easy 'outside'. While most chose to walk around in heavy robes on account of the prevasive underground chill, others wore what was atypical for any Sungakurian, and moved about with such ease that one would not suspect that any of them were of Iga blood.
"In trouble again, Ryoji?" Ayumu sighs and grudingly draws to a stop. "In a matter of speaking, yes, Tori." Ayumu stays before casting his gaze towards something — someONE behind the duo. It would not be until the stone lining the wall began to break away from the rest that that someone would be revealed, though only in terms of the generic. The figure stood a little shorter than Ayumu by a few inches and garbed himself/herself in a thick robes with a cowl that cast deep shadows, hiding the face from plain sight.
The green-haired woman grins softly at his reaction to her kiss. She looks around as best she can given how few true light sources there were around. When that voice comes from behind them, she turns her head and raises a brow. When the person comes away from the wall, she squints a bit. What /is/ it with Iga and hiding their features like this? She says nothing, though, to avoid stepping on any toes, so to speak. After all, she has no idea what kind of traditions this clan has, nor what their expectations are. Ei just… waits, curious to see how Ayumu and this person react to each other.
If not for the ambient noises of the other Iga, the silence would be outright defeaning between the trio. After what may have felt like the passing of an eternity, the hooded figure begins to laugh so hard that eventually 'it' starts holding his midsection as if to stay stable. Ayumu, too, lets out a soft chuckle of his own, followed by an exasperated shake of his head. "Don't mind Tori. In some ways he's as bad as Shun used to be, and in others…" He needed not say more given the antics of his relative.
Roughly a few minutes later, Tori finally calms down enough to focus on the present and move closer to the duo. Even with only a foot or so seperating the two, the darkness of hood is prevasive. However, at such a close range it might become clear to Ei that there were faint designs along the rim of the hood. Designs that bore a sharp resemblance to what one may find regarding seal arrays, only — "If my guess are correct, the woman that your so protectively hovering by must be Ei?" Tori would ask, seeming genuine curious for… whatever 'it' is. One could never be too sure when it came to the Iga.
"You guess?" Ayumu asks with a smile playing at the corner of his lips. "You should know well by now that even us guardians are not omniscient." Tori stated flatly to Ayumu before seeming to focus back in on Ei. "My apology, but if it is alright with you, might I borrow your right hand?" He asks of Ei.
The woman began to get nervous at first, but the laughing causes her to emit a sigh. Ei chuckles a bit, though rather nervously as well. As the two Iga speak, she just stays calmly quiet. She instinctively nods her head when her name is said, but doesn't respond right away. However, as she's addressed directly, she smiles. "Of course. No need for an apology." She does glance at Ayumu to see if it unnerves him at all, but unless there's a specific tell on his face to make her stop, she gives the 'guardian', as he mentioned, her hand without question.
Ayumu prided himself on being open about himself. The foreknowledge of what was to happen to Ei the moment she accepted the guardian's request at face value irked him enough to wish to hide his feelings. Doing so has always been a rather hit or miss type of deal with Ayumu, so despite his desires the man still showed an inkling of concern in his visage. Knowing Ei the way he did, any sign of his own feelings being influenced by his would prompt him to put on his best nonchalant foxy smile in place and nod, giving her the go ahead to proceed as she wished.
As it turns out (should Ei actually accept), Torii simply meant to take her hand — revealing in that instant skin pale as a sheet — and gently sandwhich between two of his own for a brief few moment or two before releasing her. "The shadow cast remains true to its predecessor it seems… Be that as it may, Atsuko-sama is expecting you. Best to not keep her waiting for long." That said, Tori would make his way back to the wall once more, form a short series of hand seals, and then, begin to meld with it.
Ei noticed that little bit of concern, but as he covered it up, she figured it was because of his past with his clan and went along with it. She tilts her head at the guardians words, looking confused, but as he just mention that Atsuko is waiting, she turns her attention to her beloved. "Um, alright then…" Her shoulders rise and fall in a shrug and she returns her hands to Ayumu's arm. "What was that supposed to mean?" She asks curiously, head tilted at him interestedly. "The shadow part, I mean."
Instead of an immediate reply, Ayumu rubs the back of his neck with his free hand for a brief moment before guiding them onwards through the mirror village. Unlike on the surface, the people beneath the earth begin to pause whatever their doing to regard the duo, or slow down in their activities enough to be consider just as mindful of the pair in their own way.
"He meant just what he said. We are reflections of our parents, which is fine considering given the underlying conditions to that… but to be compared to a shadow to some is to say that I am only an imitation of my father." He gives Ei a side-long glance. "A poor one, considering shadows have no depth of their own and are bound to shirk away from the light." Ayumu explains indifferently before focusing on the path ahead. "Its a pretty harsh sentiment made moreso given who my parents are, but its nothing new."
Ei walks along with him and tries her best to not act awkward when she notices the others giving them particular attention. It isn't all that odd to her. She's almost used to this, but this… this situation is far different than what she's used to. While attention is something she's used to and even living up to expectations, or presumed versions thereof, she really needs to impress these people. At least seem decent so as not to start rumors.
However, Ayumu's explanation causes her to look downright pained. "Ah," she offers simply in response. "Who your parents are… and mine," she murmurs.
The nervous tension in Ei was one thing, but sensing her pain echoed in his own heart as well. Twice he opened his mouth to try and uplift her spirt or dissuade her concern, only to be thwarted at both turns by his own growing common sense and feeling of responsibility. On the third attempt, Ayumu drew to a stop and plant a kiss atop her forehead and whatever bangs might've gotten away.
"Your heart need not be filled with such woe my dear Ei." He smiles weakly. "While it is true some would not look fondly to you, it is only down here that such a thing will be, and even then, far from long at all; especially not amongst a family as nosey as this one." He says with genuine mirth behind his tone this time around.
Feeling the kiss upon her forehead before she even realized he was moving thanks to her own thoughts. Ei is surprised at first, but smiles calmly after a moment. "You simply have a bigger family than I. Perhaps they are not all close enough to worry about, but understand that in the same way you would have my father accept you… I want your clan to accept me. My father does not accept you… and if I am but a shadow of him, then…" Her gaze falls and she shakes her head. "What does that say of me?"
Only silence would be Ei's answer to the question, for Ayumu's scramble for answers turned up nothing during those first few moments. Since words failed him, Ayumu turned towards embracing Ei, heedless of some of the looks nearby kinsman gave the duo. "The fact that you here proves that your not just a shadow." He whispers firmly, and after giving it a moment for the words to sink in, pulled just enough a ways to peer directly into Ei's eyes, as odd and impossible as that may sound. "You are so much more than that… and I don't just mean to me. So, don't start treading that path on a whim now, alright?"
Ei's arms wrapped around him when he grabbed hold of her. When he actually withdraws, she smiles faintly just because he looks at her that way. It was mildly disconcerting years ago, though fascinating at the same time. Now, it was just… wonderful. "You're right, love. I'm sorry. I'm just… really nervous about this. I've met Obaa-dono before, but this… is different. I'm focused again. Let's get going… before rumors start with no foundation."
"We might be a little too late in avoiding that… but right, let's get going before Obaa-chama takes matters into her own hands." Ayumu says with a shudder. He loved his grandmother and would do virtually anything to protect her. Nevertheless, the woman was something to be feared even without having crossed her at present! But in anycase, once the duo are back up and moving again, it only takes them another few minutes of walking before arriving at one of the more simplier looking dwellings compared to most of the surrounding houses. About the only thing that DID distinguish it was its relatively small size and lack of the common decorations. Ayumu is hardly given a second to consider his options when a familiar voice from inside calls out them to enter. Surpressing the urge to gulp, Ayumu gives Ei one last pleading look to see if now she might reconsider before following her lead.
Ei gives him a glance, recognizing the pleading look but shaking her head. After all, this is very important for the both of them. When she enters calmly, she looks around until she notes the position of her love's grandmother. She bows — blind or not, it's polite — and then greets her verbally, "Greetings, Obaa-dono. It's been a while since we have seen each other," she murmurs.
Ayumu sighs lightly and bows his head in defeat. Well, at least he can later say he gave it his all. Until the time however, Ayumu would be 'forced' to shuffle in after Ei and close the door gentle before finally regarding his elder. Throughout this entire time, Atsuko has not so much as twitched in response to their presence. Eyes closed, telescope pipe in hand, relaxed in her chair, and her very presence radiating watchfulness — the Iga elder is, unlike last Ei met the elder woman, the embodiment of what most of her could only hope to achieve and retain successfully; especially considering how little her youth has seemed to fade over what should by now be decades of stressful, unending work to help maintain the clan.
The awkward silence starts to grow between them. Just as Ayumu is about to open his mouth to try and clear the tension from the air, Atsuko finally inclines her head to Ei and motions for them to sit upon the nearby Sofa. Once the duo are seated, the impassive look about Atsuko fades into the first genuine sign of being even the least bit happy that the duo were there.
Ei was worried she'd done something wrong. She did her best not to gulp or lick her lips in a nervous fashion or otherwise show her fear. Once, finally, she got the nod, she shifted to sit and smiled softly. For now, she says nothing more and is just seated politely. Years of her father's version of training have taught her exact etiquette and she's using it right now to the best of her ability.
Ayumu could sense Ei's turmoil, and knowing that his grandmother probably picked up on even more than just that, the younger of the two Iga wraps an arm around the back of Ei's head. It was perhaps a breach of proper etiquette in most formal settings, but if this alarmed or provoked Atsuko in anyway, she certainly did an execellent job of not showing any kind of concern towards the act. Granted, it wasn't as if she could directly 'see' it either, but still, the prevasive sense of being watched says otherwise…
"Grandson, It seems I forgot to put the tea on again. Won't you—" Atsuko doesn't get to finish her request before the young man is up and hurrying to the kitchen without so much as a little sass or a smirk. If that wasn't a clear sign that her boyfriend was whipped…
"Now that our meddlesome Fennec is out of the way, Now would be a good time for us to get to know each other… Don't you agree, Fujiwara-san?" Atsuko asks politely enough, but there's a spark of something else in her eyes as well. Mischief, maybe?
The act first surprised Ei, but after realizing this was his attempt to comfort her, the young woman smiles softly at her love. She leans lightly into him while still remaining mostly upright. However, she doesn't get too much time to enjoy his presence before he's off to the kitchen. Her brows rise a little, but she merely giggles a bit beneath her breath.
Returning her attention to Atsuko, she bows her head. "Yes, I would have to agree with that, Obaa-sama. How have you been since we last met?" Sure, small talk may not be the best way to start, but it couldn't be the worst, either, could it?
Atsuko smiles softly, and then replied almost jovially, "I'm still alive and kicking, so I would say well enough." After having said as much, Atsuko rested more fully against the back of her chair and fold her hands atop one another in her lap. "But I suspect you fair much better. That is, if that worthless grandson of mines has any hidden redeeming qualities at all." She jokes without any real mirth behind her words, or care that Ayumu may be listening in.
He has certainly been quiet in the kitchen all this time…
"That is most certainly a positive," Ei responds to the first comment. She has no negative regards for Atsuko, so this is quite certainly very true for her. Chuckling a bit at the rest of what was said, she shrugs her shoulders. "He has some good qualities. Most importantly… he cares deeply about me and I him. I've made mistakes… and he's forgiven me. If he hadn't… obviously I'd not only not be here, but I… can't say I'd be anywhere. At least not anywhere good. I think I'd have to say that his willingness to do requested chores is a definite good trait," she mentions, certainly loud enough to make absolutely sure that Ayumu does indeed hear.
There's a clamor of pots and pans that follows Ei's outspoken comment. It seems he had been indeed listening… or conviently clumsy at the moment. Regardless of what the case may be, Ayumu was more than likely set back by whatever it was that happened.
Meanwhile, Atsuko remained as poised as ever, silently guaging Ei's reaction and prior response, or perhaps simply organizing her thoughts. It was hard to tell one way or the other. "You must at least give your Minoru-sama some credit now." She says off-handily.
Ei just affectionately smiles at the response from the poor man, shaking her head lightly. When the Iga woman speaks up, she blinks and looks both surprised and confused. Then some understanding settles into her expression and she purses her lips. "What, exactly, should I be giving him credit for? I give him credit for my etiquitte, for my intellect, for my knowledge of household responsibilities. Is there more I should be giving him?"
"To love you unconditionally." Atsuko replies calmly. "Or am I misreading his intent — their intent, to be fair, in allowing you back in their home after my foolish grandson of mines cast you away." On that note, she finally cracks open her and 'regards' Ei through narrowed slits. "… Forgive me child. Sometimes my words get away with me. A weary mind, you know." She says, closing her eyes once more and canting her head to the side slightly with a smile.
The young woman's head turns away and she closes her eyes. "My father is the one that drove away your 'foolish grandson'. He tried to drive him away so that I could be married off, nothing more." Ei says this with disdain, but she neither raises her voice or snaps at the elderly Iga. "What he cares about is an heir, Obaa-sama… not about me. My mother… yes, I give my mother some credit. If not for her, I wouldn't have ended up running away with that interesting stranger so long ago. She allowed me luxuries like story books where the prince saves the princess or the fair maiden falls in love with the rogue. If it were up to my father, I wouldn't have been allowed an imagination." She turns her gaze back up to look at Atsuko. "I still love both my parents, but I have no intention of relying on them any longer."
Aside from a raised brow at one point or another, Atsuko doesn't respond in the slightest to Ei's admission. She merely takes it all in politely. After a pregnant pause following the younger woman's closing statement, Atsuko inclines her head, consceding the point to Ei. "Like father and son." Atsuko chuckles softly. Before there can be a chance of her going into further details, Ayumu finally arrives with a tray filled with a standard tea set. Where Atsuko failed to show in regards to her home, she did seem to have a soft spot about the subject of tea; considering the expensive look to from tray to tea pot and so on.
Both Ei and Atsuko (with Atsuko being the first) are poured in turn before Ayumu sets the tray aside and stands at attention at Atsuko's side. "Ayumu dear…"
"Huh? … Oh!" Ayumu practically dashes to Ei's side and plops down obediantly.
Ei really isn't sure what to make of that comment. In fact, she is so curious about the reference, that when Ayumu comes back, he may well feel the green-haired woman's stare upon him as he goes about pouring the tea. He'd… never been able to talk about his father at length and she never pressed, but those simple set of words from Atsuko made her curiosity concerning his direct family rise. When the elder Iga speaks up and Ayumu is quick to react, she peels her eyes from her beloved and looks to his grandmother with humble interest.
If Ayumu felt his girlfriend's stare, he showed no signs of having registering it even after sitting down. Atsuko, on the otherhand, can hardly hide her amusement over what her words wrought, though she tried, nevertheless. Drinking the tea — an odd blend of sweetness and something else that one can't quite put their finger on no matter the amount of effort — helps calm her down enough, so that by the time Ei's eyes upon her, she's is back to normal again. "Something in particular on your mind, Fujiwara-san?" Atsuko asks polietly. Ayumu lofts a brow and turns to regard Ei more closely now.
Did he miss something just now?
Ei went to take a sip of her own tea, polite and perfect — or granny near close — when it came to etiquitte. However, when she's questioned, her mind starts to spin. The look from Ayumu causes her to blush lightly. She's not so sure she should ask questions given the situation. Would he worry she cared too much about his past? It doesn't really matter! B-but… "J-just… curious. It's not truly important, but I'm a very curious person. Ayumu… isn't really able to talk about his parents. Part of me would like to know /something/ about them," she admits, feeling… oddly guilty for even speaking.
Both Iga wait patiently for the answer. Albeit, their anticipation for it varied a great deal between the two fo them. When it finally does become clear as to exactly what it was she desired, Atsuko… it is only for a brief moment, but during that instance, the elder Iga looks, well, her actual age for once. "Top shelf, towards the right, down stairs." Unless impeded in some way, Ayumu would wordlessly follow the unspoken command behind the description and disappear back into the kitchen. Meanwhile, Atsuko goes back to her tea; unable or unwilling to so much as face Ei's direction.
The reaction causes Ei to feel even more guilty. The only pause she gives him is to grab his hand and ask Ayumu, "Do you… want me to know? Rather, do you really want to… relive things like this? I don't want to hurt you…" However, beyond that point, she allows him to let go of her hand without resistance. If he does, eventually, leave the room, she simply sits with complete and humble respect while her mind stews with uncertainty and guilt.
Ayumu hesitates for a moment, then turns to steer at Ei with a look confusion. "Mm… Well…" He scratches the back of his head with his free hand and averts his gaze. "It's not that I don't want you to know… or even all that painful." He turns to her immediatly after the admission and brings out his best foxy smile. "Just wish I could do the tell'n is all." With that said, he leans in to plant a kiss between Ei's brow before returning to his assigned task.
"He may not always be honest with himself, but around you is another matter." Atsuko would abruptly say, regarding Ei now with a look that border on admiration for the young woman.
Ei smiles softly at his response and the kiss to her brow. It eases the guilt somewhat, but still… When Atsuko speaks up, though, she blinks and smiles a bit. "Wasn't… really always that way. I just had to be patient with him. I think it really helped… that I could translate his riddle-laden way of talking. Almost nothing he says makes true sense on its own, but for someone that can figure it out…" She chuckles at past thoughts and licks her lips.
Atsuko appears taken aback at first, then sighs lightly as realization dons on her. "I had heard as much from Shun and the others, but…" She dismisses with a shake of the head. "It is enough knowing as much… Still—" She doesn't get to complete the sentence before her attention abruptly goes to the kitchen. A few seconds later, Ayumu steps around the bend with what appears to be an ancient tome under his arms. "I'm not too late for story time am I?" He asks as he swept in to the room and handed the book over to Atsuko.
The young woman tilts her head curiously at the reaction. She really is a rarity, judging by this. It makes her nervous but… very happy. When Ayumu comes back in, she smiles at him. "Never too late, my dear," Ei responds, chuckling. Looking at the book curiously, she waits patiently for what Atsuko is going to say… and share.
Atsuko turns to Ayumu, but would neither say anything or accept the book. "… Ah, well… I—" She cuts him off with a raised hand, then turns it over for him to pass the book over. Ayumu more than hapily obliges the elder Iga then, and is quick to return to Ei's side afterwards. "If you were to have met my son in his youth, you'd say that there was absolutely no way possible that he and worthless over there are related." Atsuko emits as she opens the tome to seemingly some random page and began running her finger across it. From Ei's perspective, with the exception of some faded symbols and pictures, the whole thing looks… too empty. "I'd liken him more to Shun-mei, only more lively, a real charmer he was back then." As she spoke the part about charm, Atsuko stares at Ayumu heavily until he finally averts his gaze.
Ei listens interestedly, raising a brow at the way she talks about her son versus Ayumu. She doesn't really understand this concept of her boyfriend being worthless. Although she looks over the pictures and symbols carefully, she's not sure what to make of it all. The emptiness could be blamed on the blindness. Maybe she put it together without actually looking at it…? "If he was a charmer, he was much more like his son than you seem to want to admit…"
"There's more to it then what it seems." Atsuko says as if reading Ei's mind. "And I'll concede that he can be" She looks to Ayumu, only to let out an exasperated sounding sigh a few moments later. "When it pleases him, at least… But in anycase" She turns her attention back towards Ei. "Besides being devoted to his clan and charming — and this grew mind you with age, but…" Atsuko purses her lips, and covers her mouth for a moment or two before returning it to her lap. "He could be a little—"
"Why don't we move on dear old mom." Ayumu chimes in, hoping to alleviate some pressure from the elder Iga.
She doesn't appear to have heard him…
Ei looks a little surprised, but nods her head slightly and licks her lips. As Atsuko keeps cutting herself off and loses herself, the woman looks at her uncertainly. It seems almost as difficult for her to speak of him as it is for Ayumu… "Obaa-dono, please don't push yourself. I want to know, but… I can see this is difficult for you." She tilts her head ever so slightly and gulps, looking curiously but carefully at the elder Iga.
The effort is haphazard and a little belated, but Atsuko waves of the suggestions before setting her tea down. "I'm quite alright dear… It has just been so long since I've allowed myself to speak about this without circumstances requiring me to trample on my memories of him." Atsuko leans back against her chair, head slightly tilted back, and lets out a weary sigh. "I honestly wonder if it was the right thing sometimes." She emits. After a pregnant pause in which not even Ayumu dear not breeched, Atsuko rights herself, seeming in that moment to return to her former self. "I believe…" She pauses, brows furrowed and lips thinning out as she reconsidered her train of thought. "I need to lay down.. Ayumu, be a dear and help this old woman to bed." Ayumu hesitates for a second before moving to assist Atsuko up. Even if she appeared hardly a day over thirty, the truth was far from it. Seems their family meeting would be put on hold for another day…