The Finest Things

Atobe deals with some trouble among his officers. AU, Drama, I-3

Keigo drew his horse down to a walk, trying to keep a discreet eye on
everything as his men filed back up to the castle, sweaty and dusty
and noisy, the winners of the mock battle teasing the losers. Their
lord was watching, imposingly still on his own mount. Taki was riding
with his head down, barely lifting it to snap back when Mukahi prodded
him about today’s resounding loss. Shishido…

Shishido rode with his head raised for the first time in many weeks,
and his eyes burned bright. He had earned that pride back, to be sure.
But Keigo rather thought he knew what today had been all about, and
he tried once again to catch Shishido’s eyes and signal him to leave
his victory to speak for itself for now. Once again he failed and stifled
an impulse to throw over subtlety and just bang the idiot over the
head a few times. Tarou-sama was beckoning Keigo to his side, though,
and he would just have to trust fate for now. He drew rein beside their
clanlord and bowed. "Tono."

"How badly were Taki’s forces defeated?" Tarou-sama asked, evenly, eyes
on the men passing him.

"Completely," Keigo reported, keeping his voice dispassionate, no matter
how much he wanted to grind his teeth with frustration. "They would
have lost two out of three, had we been in the field."

"Hiyoshi will take his place as sub-commander in the future."

Keigo inclined his head, having more or less expected this. Of course,
he also half expected the scuffle of abruptly halted horses behind
him and Shishido’s sharp protest.

"Tono!" Shishido hauled himself out of the last of their men, who, wise
to the ways of their clan, were making their way out of earshot as
quickly as they could manage without actually running. "This was my
victory! You can’t…!"

Keigo cut him off before he said anything too unwise. "Shishido, what
did you expect? This doesn’t erase the way you lost to Tachibana."

Shishido wasn’t listening. As usual. He flung himself off his horse and
down to the ground before their lord, and his helmet hit the dust beside
him. Keigo stifled a sigh. Someday, Shishido would learn patience.

And then none of them would recognize him.

Keigo stiffened as Shishido pulled out his knife, though. Surely he wouldn’t…
And then he had to force his jaw shut as Shishido sliced away his
hair with a few savage strokes. Keigo thought the soft whistle from
behind them might have been Oshitari. This was certainly a gesture
no one who knew Shishido’s vanity would have expected, even in repentance.
Even Tarou-sama’s brow lifted.

It put the cap on the day’s surprises when their youngest captain stepped
forward and knelt beside Shishido.

"Oyakata-sama," Ohtori said quietly, formally, "Shishido-dono has worked
harder than any of us to repair his weaknesses. Surely he has earned
his rank back."

Tarou-sama’s other brow lifted and Keigo had to stifle a wince this time.
He appreciated courage in his sub-commanders, but couldn’t any of them
take the trouble to learn to read their lord’s moods and pick their

"Would you trade your rank for his, then?" Tarou-sama purred.

Ohtori’s eyes widened and Keigo saw him swallow; but then his back stiffened.
"I would."

Keigo really, really hated it when his officers put him in a spot like
this. But he also really, really didn’t want to lose Ohtori’s talents
in the field, and Keigo was the only person who could tip the balance now. He swung
down from his horse and came to stand at Tarou-sama’s stirrup.

"Tono. Ohtori is a valuable officer. And Shishido has, I believe, overcome
his faults." He bowed. "I ask this, as well."

He could feel Tarou-sama’s eyes on him for a long, hot moment, before
his lord murmured, "Do as you see fit, then," and turned his horse
away toward the castle. Keigo let his breath out and straightened up.

And then he turned to glare at Ohtori and Shishido, both of whom looked
a little stunned. "You’ll be co-captains," he snapped. "And you’d better
prove that I’m right."

"Yes, Taishou," Ohtori agreed, dusting off his knees briskly.

Shishido snorted. "As if we wouldn’t." And then he looked sidelong at
Ohtori. "Choutarou. …thanks."

Keigo rolled his eyes and left them to it, stalking over to the rest
of his officers. "No one says anything about this to Taki or Hiyoshi
until I do," he ordered.

Mukahi sniffed, nearly lounging in his saddle with what Keigo could only
call aggravated insouciance. "As if they won’t have heard
a dozen times by the time we get back to the castle."

Oshitari reached over and rested a hand just above the boy’s knee. "There
is a difference between general gossip and an account of Ouchi-dono’s
own words directly from our highest general, Gakuto," he murmured, and Mukahi subsided with a shrug.

It was, Keigo reflected a bit sourly, a good thing for Mukahi’s
continued health that he and Oshitari were so inseparable. Even
if Keigo, personally, thought Oshitari could have had better taste.
"Let’s go," he told them all, mounting again and reclaiming
the reins from Kabaji.

Taki was infinitely easier to deal with than Shishido, and Keigo was
thankful for the fact. Taki didn’t push or snap, and he quietly accepted
Keigo’s subtle assurance that his skill and accomplishments would be
brought to Tarou-sama’s attention at an opportune time.

Unfortunately, Hiyoshi was even more of a handful than Shishido, in his
own way. He took the news that his impending rank had been snatched away again without a word, merely bowing at an entirely correct angle. His eyes never fell, though, and they burned into Keigo’s back as he left.

He resolved to keep a closer eye on Hiyoshi. The times were unsettled enough to give young almost-officers ideas. The last thing they needed in this province was any more of the small samurai seeking to overthrow their superiors.



Note: The clan lord is, of course, Sakaki. He is roughly equivalent
to a mix of Ouchi Yoshioki and Ouchi Yoshitaka.