Inochi no Zankoku
By: Kage
E-mail: KageTenshi22@yahoo.com

Author's Notes: This is my own take on Fujin, whom we all know as the gray-haired violence-prone girl with a pirate eyepatch. However, I expanded on this story a lot, meaning that there's some (translation: a LOT of) matter in it that I'm absolutely positive Squaresoft didn't have in mind. Fujin probably never had a past like how I wrote it and although I know that Raijin is her brother, I didn't make it so in here. Those two are so notably different that I actually didn't pick up on their relationship until much, much later. And I didn't really pick up on the similarities in their names, either. ^_^;; There is also a lot of Japanese words and customs in here, which I chose to add since Fujin's name is in itself Japanese. The way I used her name is also not the way Squaresoft meant it to be used; her characters for her name is the character "fuu" (wind) and "jin" (person). I used her name as "fujin", which means "lady" in Japanese. I know, I know. It's my own fault for that error. But I chose to follow up on that, and let it continue as a freak accident that Fujin's name also matches with her wind element. Many apologies for any headaches and/or confusion that may follow with the reading of my story--arigato!

"Praise the gods!" the man whooped, throwing his arms into the air before next slinging them around the surprised woman. He gave her a strong hug before releasing her, his dark brown eyes shining with elation. "Are you sure?"

"Why, yes, Inu-san," she replied, obviously flustered as she tucked a wayward lock of hair back into place. "I'm not the best sanba in Inochiko for nothing."

"Thank you, thank you!" Inu cried, kissing her hand fervently. Then he went running headlong into the house behind the midwife, leaving her standing behind him, shaking her head slowly.

"That man," she muttered as she started in after him. "I can almost feel sorry for what poor Kaori has to put up with. And if the child is anything like him..." She fingered the no longer white apron covering her front that now sported splotches of dried blood all over it and then gently pushed the half-closed door fully open, stepping inside.

"Aki-san! Thank you, thank you, thank you!" Inu gasped out as he panted from the exertion of running straight into the house. "Arigato, my friend!"

"Do itashimashite," Aki replied with a slight bow at the waist. "You're welcome, Inu-san. How is Kaori-san and the baby faring?"

"I'm fine, Aki-san," Kaori whispered, smiling happily-albeit weakly-from where she was propped up on a hastily redone bed. In the crook of her arm, snuggled against her breast, was a newborn baby swaddled in layers of cloth to keep the cold out. Kaori carefully held the baby up to Inu, who took the bundle in an almost reverent attitude. "It's a girl, Inu."

Inu cuddled the infant to him, his eyes shining in excitement. "Oh, ren'ai," he sighed. "She looks just like you!"

Kaori giggled. "I should hope she looked a bit like you, too," she remarked dryly.

Aki deftly transferred the baby from the father back to the mother. "Sorry, Inu-san," she apologized as he sent her a reproachful look. "Your baby is a rather fragile girl, unusually slender, too. She's going to be a fighter, that one. But until then, she needs to nurse."

"Oh!" Inu coughed to cover his embarrassment. "I'll see you later, ren'ai," he added, giving Kaori a kiss on the forehead and patting the baby fondly.

Kaori smiled again as she shifted the baby closer to her. "Saa, of course you will, Inu," she called as Aki closed the door.

Inu leaned against the wall happily. "We finally have a girl!"

Aki sent him a look heavily laced with amusement. "What, your three other boys aren't enough?"

Inu waved a hand at her diffidently. "We've always wanted a girl, you know. I hope she turns out to be a proper little lady."

Aki shrugged and hid a smile. "I'm not too sure about that, Inu. She's got the eyes of a born fighter."

"Ah, well."

"What are you naming her?" Aki asked.

"Name?" Inu blinked. "Well...Kaori is leaving it to me this time, since she got to name the other three. And...well...since she's our first girl..."

"What is it going to be?"

"I think...Fujin." Inu smiled as he glanced backwards at the closed room where mother and newborn daughter lay.

" 'Fujin'?" Aki laughed softly. "Perhaps the name will change her spirit, neh? Mark my words, Inu-san...your little 'lady' is going to be quite a handful when she grows up."

"Niisan!"

Aki winced as the outraged young voice cracked up a note on its already high range. She straightened up, storing her current project in an out-of-reach cupboard just in time for four whirlwinds to come tumbling into the room.

"Fujin!" Aki shouted out, grabbing the last 'tornado' practically by its long, fine black hair. Fujin let out an ear piercing shriek-more of dismay than pain-and twisted frantically on the other end of Aki's handhold.

"Nyah, nyah, little lady can't catch us!" Kaji, the eldest of the three older brothers, replied tauntingly to Fujin's protest. He waved a strange little stone in the air, putting it in a tantalizingly close distance to his little sister's face before jerking it away just as soon as she made a wild grab for it.

"Yeah, Fu-jin! Let's see you fight for it!" Neko and Rei added, drawing out Fujin's name insultingly.

"That's enough!" Aki snapped, grabbing eight-year-old Kaji by his ear and shaking him around. Kaji squeaked in pain and dropped the tiny stone, whereupon Fujin immediately scooped it back up into her grasp, tucking it into the deep sleeves of her dress.

"What...did...I...tell...you...three...about...teasing...your...little...sister?" Aki growled, enunciating each word with a shake of Kaji's ear pinched tightly between thumb and forefinger.

Kaji yelped in pain. "Aah! I'm...s-sorry, Aki-san!"

"You're the eldest, Kaji! You should know better!" Aki released Kaji and glared down at the repentant boy, his twin younger siblings cowering behind his shaking back. "Do you call that a good example to set for your little brothers?"

"N-no, Aki-san!" Kaji quavered. "I p-promise not to tease Fujin again!"

"Us too, Aki-san!" Neko and Rei piped up before Aki could turn her murderous gaze on them.

"Good. When your parents left me in charge of you four, they didn't say that I couldn't punish you. Now go and play with the other boys!" Aki watched the trio scamper off. "And stay away from the girls!"

Aki sighed and looked back down at her youngest charge, who was staring after the backs of the three boys with an angry expression on her young face. Already Fujin was the fighter Aki had predicted her to be, and only at the tender age of four. Although her three brothers were not that far apart from her own age, rebellious Fujin-who was so different from how her father hoped her to be-kept them in permanent contempt and refused to associate much with them.

As her father had insisted, Fujin's hair had never been completely cut and was only neatly trimmed at the most. It swung in long, silky black waves over her shoulder blades and framed a slender form and face. Sparking dark brown eyes that bore the spirit of her father were set in her pale face and her mouth was rather tightlipped at the moment. Aki supposed that the girl would grow up to be quite a beauty-but only if she remained the pampered little lady of her household. Inu and Kaori spoiled her hopelessly whenever they came home from their business travels, but Fujin always seemed to disregard the gifts and continued pursuing her ultimate dream in life-to become a member of the trained mercenary group, SeeD. Of course, when she had first expressed her dream in front of her parents, the shocked couple had immediately tried to dissuade her of her intentions. Aki, thought, silently applauded the girl onwards and gave her all of the support she needed. After all, the midwife reasoned, if that was what the child wanted, who was to stop her? And Fujin had certainly proved herself more than enough times to be capable enough of attaining her goal.

"And what was that about, Fujin?" Aki asked tiredly, crouching down so that she was eye to eye with the girl.

Fujin drew the object of argument out of her sleeve, handing it to Aki. "It's my lucky stone, obasan," she muttered. "Kaji took it from me."

Aki turned the object around in her hands, regarding it with a serious air. It was flat like a tiny doll's dish and was a rather muddy brown color. "Ah, Fujin," she sighed. "So much fighting over a rock?"

"My lucky stone, obasan," Fujin corrected her as she took the stone back and replaced it in the upper part of her garment this time, near her heart. "There is no other like it."

"I see, I see," Aki said comfortingly. "And just like there is no other of your lucky stone, there is no other girl like you, Fujin-chan. Your parents should given you a boy's name!"

Fujin shoved her long hair out of her eyes impatiently. "Not my fault," she mumbled.

"I know, Fujin-chan. Go with the other girls now and keep out of trouble, all right?" Aki gently pushed the child in the direction of the young girls gathered underneath a tree.

Fujin sighed and stumbled towards them, pausing by an extension of the lake her village was located beside. They called it Inochiko, "Lake Life", also the name of the village.

Some life, Fujin groused as her "best friend", Arashi, sauntered up to her with a smug smile on her face.

Arashi was three years older than Fujin, and as such treated the younger girl like her own personal slave. However, she was the only girl who associated with Fujin at all, and for that she was labeled as Fujin's "best friend".

"So-o-o-o, Fujin," Arashi greeted the wary girl with. "What happened to you?"

"Kaji stole something of mine and I got it back," Fujin informed Arashi shortly, in no mood for the older one's games. She sat down on the grass, disregarding any resulting grass stains and leveled her gaze across the shimmering expanse of Inochiko.

"Oho, still thinking of your grandiose plans, lady?" Arashi asked with a flip of her hand. "Still going to be a SeeD? Give it up, Fujin. Once you're destined to become a married lady, there's no breaking of it. All of us here-" she quickly indicated the surrounding girls. "-have already given up and decided to just live out our lives. When will that happen to you?" When Fujin made no answer, Arashi snorted out "Baka!" and left.

"Baka"? Fujin thought to herself as she drew her lucky stone out of the top portion of her kimono, fingering its slightly rough expanse with a thumb. A fool? Is that what I am, for wanting to become a SeeD? Maybe...maybe Arashi is right. Maybe I'm just...a little fool.

Fujin pressed one side of the stone against her forehead, letting the cool rock clear her mind. As it did, her clouded worries seemed to clear as well and she stood, troubled thoughts gone.

I don't care what everyone thinks of me, Fujin thought, clutching her stone in her fist over her heart. I swear that I will leave this meaningless village someday, and I will become a SeeD! I don't care what my name means, I don't care what my parents think! Once I'm old enough...I'm leaving!

"Ohayoo gozaimasu, Aki-san," Fujin yawned, rubbing her eyes with the backs of her hands as she trudged into the warm room that served as a kitchen. "Good morning."

"Fujin-chan, I told you that your parents were coming back today!" Aki scolded the surprised youngster with. She gestured sharply towards a closed room, where Kaji, Neko, and Rei's excited exclamations mixed with two other voiced came from. "Where were you?! Sleeping in again?!"

"I-" Fujin began, trying to think of a good excuse. In actuality, she had been up late last night imagining herself as an elite member of SeeD.

"No excuses, Fujin-chan!" Aki hustled the eleven-year-old girl to a small side room, shoving Fujin's unresisting arms into a freshly pressed silk kimono. She skillfully tied the obi sash and combed back the long black hair as neatly as she could get it. Before Fujin was pushed into the room where her parents waited, Aki tucked the leather pouch that contained Fujin's lucky stone into its usual spot near the girl's heart.

"You're going to need this very badly, Fujin-chan," Aki sighed. "Now go please your parents and make me proud of how I've raised you, all right?"

Fujin numbly entered the room, trying to compose herself. The group inside went silent as she entered, head bowed, quietly sliding the door shut behind her like a proper Japanese girl. Then she made careful, even steps towards a side of the room, kneeling next to Rei's left side and keeping her eyes trained on the ground. She hadn't seen her parents for a complete five-year time period, but some cold place in the back of her heart made her completely uneager to even look at her mother and father. Acting like a good Japanese girl infuriated her even more and made her ache for her goal as a SeeD, but it kept her from meeting her parents' usually disapproving eyes.

"Fujin-chan, look at us," her father commanded.

Fujin willed her head to tilt up, leveling her gaze on the area between her parents' heads. From the corner of each eye, she could catch her father's dark, eagle-like image and her mother's elegantly subtle one. For a moment, there was complete silence.

Finally, her father actually smiled at her. "I see that you've decided to become a proper lady at last," he announced happily. "You're actually presentable."

A proper lady... "Arigato, otoosan," Fujin replied formally as she kept her eyes trained on the same area of the wall. An interesting dark stain was there, almost in the shape of a heart. It had always been there as far as Fujin was concerned, and its presence helped keep her eyes locked on one spot.

"Don't embarrass the girl, Inu," her mother chided her spouse affectionately. "Fujin-chan, you please us very much. Would you like to pour some tea while we talk with your brothers?"

Fujin wanted to snort with contempt, but complied and lifted the teapot waiting nearby. She ducked her head and held her sleeve back with one hand while she poured tea into her father's teacup, moving on to her mother's next.

"So, Kaji," Inu began as he waited for Fujin to finish with the tea. "A friend of ours told us that her son, what's-his-name...Raijin? He just left to become a SeeD. What do you think about becoming one, too?"

Fujin almost spilled her oldest brother's tea at that remark. She instead carefully finished and kept her ears pricked for any information.

"Yes, otoosan," Kaji agreed eagerly. "I would like to go to the Garden on Balamb. It's the closest to us, isn't it? And this way I can be of some help to our people! I can come back after I've finished training and protect Inochiko!"

"A splendid idea, Kaji!" Inu applauded his son's foresight. "You may be a little old, but I'm sure they will accept you if you promise to work hard at becoming a SeeD."

"Oh, yes! Arigato!" Kaji bowed excitedly.

"How about you two?" Kaori addressed the twins. "Do you want to become SeeDs as well?"

Neko and Rei nodded in unison, as they usually did. "Very much, okaasan!"

"Well, then, after you two have reached a good age, we'll let you go to a Garden as well," Inu asserted with a proud smile.

Fujin couldn't stand it anymore. She set the teapot down at her side in the middle of pouring Rei's tea and met her father's eyes for the first time since he had arrived that day.

"Otoosan! Why can't I be a SeeD, too?" Fujin demanded in a loud, definitely unladylike voice.

"Fujin!" Kaori's warning hiss pierced Fujin's ears, but she ignored it.

"There are plenty of female SeeDs! I know there are! I want to be one of them, too!" Fujin cried, ignoring her brothers' blank looks.

"Fujin!" Inu snapped in a voice that brooked no argument. "Remember your place!"

"What place, father?!" Fujin rose to her feet, her cheeks flushing red. "Why? Why can't I be a SeeD?"

"Because it is not our way!" Inu growled, hackles raising like an animal's. His argumentative body language had earned him his nickname, inu, meaning dog. Fujin was getting her first face-to-face encounter with her father's face behind his pleasant exterior. "Now sit down and remain quiet!"

Fujin quailed at her father's abrupt anger. Her knees shook in their stances, but she firmly locked them and told herself that this time she would be getting her way. "NO, father! I'm not going to be quiet! I've been quiet for eleven years, father...Eleven years! In all those years, have you ever listened to me?! Have you ever taken me seriously?! NOW you are going to send Kaji off to where I want to go the most...Kaji, father! He's never said anything about wanting to be a SeeD since he was born!"

"Fujin!" Now Inu was on his feet as well, eyes narrowing with rage.

"And the twins! I bet they've never even thought about becoming a SeeD until you brought it up! Where's the justice in that?! Why can't I go where I want to go, too?!"

Inu slapped her.

Just like that, straight across her cheek. Fujin's head snapped back on its slender neck, her hair flying about her face and finally settling in a disarrayed position around her shoulders. Kaori's startled gasp was the only sound in the suddenly quiet room, but to Fujin's ears all she heard was the ringing in her head. Her cheek stung from pain and burned from humiliation and anger that she kept quelled in her trembling chest. With a pale hand, she reached up and covered the area, trying to use the hand to shield the hot tears that swelled in her eyes from her father.

"So," she said in a tiny, tremulous voice. "I know what tradition is now."

With that, she fled out of the suddenly tight room, past Aki's startled face in the kitchen, out the house, and straight to the shores of Inochiko. Once there, she collapsed against the side of a tall, stately tree and cried helplessly, letting the tears roll down her face in huge drops of frustration that had been pent-up for far too long.

What happens to me now? Gods...what happens now?

Spirit broken, heart broken, dreams broken within her soul, Fujin eased her "lucky" stone out of its leather pouch and held it tight in her fist. It had not helped, not one bit. She raised her hand to toss it deep into the glittering depths of Inochiko.

But it was the only memory of her past dream.

Confused and alone, Fujin slumped over herself, clutching the stone against her heart and curling up like a baby, determined to never, ever let her dreams be broken like that again.

Never again...

"Ren'ai, wasn't that a little excessive?" Kaori asked later that night when the children, even Fujin, were fast asleep. She sat up in the center of the futon that Aki had set up for them as a temporary resting place before they set off on their next "business" expedition. "Fujin's still a child, after all."

"No, she's not, Kaori," Inu muttered as he emerged from the washroom, wiping his face with a towel. "I think eleven is old enough to understand most things in life. She has to learn that her place is a lady of our household." He sighed and draped the used towel on a rack to dry. "Damn it, this would be so much easier if she wasn't so much like me."

"Aki warned us that she would be a downright hellion when she grew up," Kaori said softly, clasping her hands around her knees. "She's got all of your spirit, Inu."

"Like I said, that's the problem." Inu dropped down onto the futon next to Kaori. "Kaori, I just don't know how to handle her. Sure, since she thinks like me I should be able to read her, but...her thoughts are...different in some way. She wants to fight, she wants to be somebody, but she's almost...I'm not sure."

"Almost what, Inu?" Kaori leaned against Inu's side. "Fujin is a child. She doesn't understand, Inu. Give her a chance."

"Kaori..." Inu turned and blew out the flickering candlelight. As he closed his eyes to drift to sleep and felt Kaori's breathing turn even and slow, he whispered softly, "...I think she understands...all too well."

Fujin held her head proudly in the air as she stepped down the narrow streets of her village, ignoring the looks boys her age gave her. She had learned over the course of time that if you kept a certain air about you, people gave you more respect...and, most importantly, left you alone. And right now, she certainly did want to be left alone. She was in no mood for the excited gossip of other girls or the shy chat of the boys. Currently, the fifteen-year-old was on an errand for her recently returned mother, going down to the trade center to barter for some new silks. Fujin's shrewd nature had asserted itself as the perfect trader, and she was often sent out to get much-needed supplies for her family at a low price.

Of course, her family was thinning out. Kaji had attained his SeeD status, rank 5, a far cry from the most elite rank A. However, he was just happy to be a SeeD, and had been recently transferred to a different Garden, Galbadia, and was currently under the order of General Martine. The twins had been split up during their first year at Balamb, and Neko disappeared to the snowy and cold regions that Trabia Garden resided in. Rei had remained in Balamb and was on a break visiting his family. Both of the twins hadn't attained a SeeD rank yet and were still just trainees, but at least Rei (who was the only one they heard of) was working hard to get there. He had boasted of a SeeD written exam coming up that he was sure to ace. Once he had passed, he would go on to the field test and hopefully become a SeeD.

Fujin took every opportunity she got to get away from the house. Rei's current presence only reminded her of her distant dream that had been shattered four years ago. Her brother prancing around in his SeeD trainee uniform was more than she could bear. Rei was as oblivious as always and had completely forgotten that incident a while ago when Fujin had first emotionally expressed her desire to become a SeeD and had been punished for it. As boys tended to be, Rei was arrogant and bossy, also seeming to think that he now had control over his sister's life. Fujin knew that he was up to something, most probably trying to find her a proper husband. That was one thing she absolutely could not take.

Fujin walked up to the silk seller, Taro, who was actually only one year older than she and had been running his family's business since he was fourteen. He smiled at her approach, brushing back the bangs of his dark brown hair and his strange, yet warm, pure black eyes sparkling in the sun. They were such a deep black that no one could see his pupils, lending him an otherworldly look.

"Konnichi wa, Fujin-san!" he called with a slight wave. "On another errand?"

Fujin granted him a slow smile. Taro was the only boy she could stand since he had a good nature and treated her like an equal. "Konnichi wa, Taro-san. I think Rei's up to something again; that's why I have to escape so often."

Taro whistled between his teeth in sympathy. "I see, I see. Probably trying to set you up with some prospective spouse, neh?"

"That's my best bet, too, Taro-san." Fujin set her basket down on the edge of Taro's spread out, checking over the silks that lay in a canopy's shade to protect them from bleaching by the sunlight. "My mother wants a good blue silk and a strong white one. I have no idea what she's up to, either. She hasn't made a kimono out of those colors in a long time."

Taro laughed and smiled again. "I've got the perfect ones, then. I usually save these for people who're trying to get material for wedding kimonos, but..." He turned around and began unlatching a small chest.

"Wedding kimonos"? Mother wouldn't have...would she? Fujin bit her lip and instead riffled through the silk cloths already laid out. She didn't want to think that her mother would betray her like that. And why would Taro, of all people, be in on the conspiracy, either? I'll go visit Aki after this and see if she knows what's going on.

"Ah, here we go!" Taro pivoted, holding two folds of fabric in his arms. He carefully set the bundles down and briskly unraveled one of them, revealing a beautiful, shimmering length of deep, sapphire blue silk. "This what you're looking for?"

"Taro-san!" Fujin took a tiny corner of the silk and rubbed it between two fingers, feeling the fine quality of the material. She shook her head in amazement. "Where did this come from?"

Taro winked at her as he gently laid the fabric across the other available ones. "It's my own family's secret. It takes a long time to make, though." He reached over and unfolded the second bundle, letting waves of pure, almost eye-blinding, white silk roll out, its bottom portion landing against the blue cloth spread below. "How's this?"

Fujin didn't even need to feel the cloth to appreciate the grade of silk this white one was. "This is too much, Taro-san! I don't have anything of this worth to barter for."

Taro grinned almost smugly. "My mother and sisters spent a long time on this one. What have you got?"

Fujin spread out the barely adequate items, trying not to blush. There were mostly food items; fresh fruit and vegetables harvested from their little garden, a carefully wrapped fish, and several smaller versions of the sticky-sweet rice cakes her mother made. The only other item was an intricately designed little metal ring Fujin had created herself, using scraps of metal Rei didn't want anymore and set with a clear quartz crystal she had found on the shores of Inochiko. Jewelry making was a strange hobby that she had picked up, but she was fairly good at it and usually gave them as gifts to friends.

Taro examined each item closely, pausing at the ring. He picked it up, raising an eyebrow. "I think I can recognize who made this one," he remarked cheerfully. "Must have taken you a while, Fujin-san!"

Fujin shrugged modestly. "It's one of my better works."

"Tell you what, Fujin-san. I'll just take this ring and you can consider it a done deal." Taro held out his hand to her.

"What?! Oh, no, Taro-san! That's not right!" Fujin tried to shove the rest of the items at Taro. "Please, take the other ones, too!"

"No way, Fujin. Come on, you're a smart girl. You should know a good deal when you get one." Taro kept his hand held out, waiting for Fujin to seal the bargain.

Fujin reluctantly put her hand into his and they shook. "I can't believe you did that, Taro," she muttered. "You're giving away two masterpieces for one lousy ring."

"Not any 'lousy ring', Fujin," Taro corrected her as he slipped it onto his right smallest finger, the only one the delicate ring would fit on. "You made it yourself, and that's more than enough payment. Go on and take the silks to your mother."

Fujin smiled and gathered up the fabrics, tucking them safely into her basket among the other discarded bargain items. "Arigato, Taro-san," she said, bowing before she left.

Fujin made a quick detour to Aki's house. Aki had moved into a different establishment after Fujin's parents had decided to stay in Inochiko permanently. She still visited, but Fujin was the one who visited her more often since Aki was getting quite old.

"I knew you were coming today, Fujin-chan!" Aki greeted the young girl with as she stepped up to the doorway of the woman's home. The middle-aged woman pulled back her length of graying black hair into a neat tail as she smiled warmly.

"Aki-san! Here's some food for you." Fujin gave Aki the items that Taro had refused to take.

"Why, arigato, Fujin!" Aki took the food and set it on a table. "What brings you around?"

"I just wanted to visit you, Aki-san. Also...would you happen to know what Rei is up to? He's been acting a little strange lately."

Aki paused. "No, sorry, Fujin-chan. I wouldn't know."

"Oh, well, then. See you next week, Aki-san." Fujin bowed and left, trying to hide her disappointment. What was going on, anyway?

Two weeks later, Fujin got the answer to her question that had almost slipped her mind.

Unfortunately, the answer was the same thing she had feared the most would happen.

"Fujin, we have to talk," Rei announced roughly as Fujin entered their house, back from yet another one of her mother's demanding errands.

"What is it, niisan?" Fujin asked, setting her basket down on a table.

"Look, Fujin, it's time you got married."

Fujin just stared at him in numb shock, feeling as if someone had just sent a waterfall of icy cold water pouring torrentially down on her head. She grabbed the edge of the table and sat down shakily on a nearby chair, trying to compose herself.

"I hope that you didn't pick someone for me," she returned icily.

"I did. You know Keiichi-san, don't you?"

"Keiichi?! That bastard?" Fujin rose to her feet, abruptly forgetting her past surprise. "For crying out loud, Rei! He's ten years older than me and deals in the black market!"

"He is rich and can provide for our family," Rei reasoned stonily.

"He's rich, gods! Is that all you can think of?! Where do you think he got all that money? He's an illegal dealer, Rei! And he's...he's...intolerable!"

"Fujin-"

"GODS, Rei! I'm fifteen! I can take care of myself! What the hell do you think is wrong with me, anyway?! I'm more independent than you!" Fujin shouted angrily.

"Fujin! Keiichi-san is a reasonably man. He proposed this arrangement to me three weeks ago. Besides, it's tradition that you be married at fifteen, isn't it? And dad is too busy to bother with you right now. I'm the head of the household right now, and I want you to get married. Your wedding kimono is ready, anyway."

"To hell with tradition!" Fujin snapped. "Dammit, Rei, if I wanted a husband, I sure as hell would get one by myself! YOU aren't going to set me up with a total moron!"

"Don't curse, Fujin," Rei said mildly, not at all ruffled by her explosive behavior. "It's not ladylike."

Ladylike?! Fujin was suddenly reminded of that argument so long ago with her father over her future as well. It all came flooding back to her, the fight, the slap, and her retreat to Inochiko...

"You aren't going to decide my future for me, Rei! I'm leaving, and this time, I'm going my own way!" Fujin stormed out of the house before Rei could move and slammed the door shut behind her. With tears of anger beginning to well in her eyes, Fujin ran down the road, kimono hem clutched in her hands and her wooden geta kicked off to lie forlornly in the road so that she could run better. Her blind rage made her ignore all of the people who stopped to stare at her go running by, even Taro, who was packing up his supplies and getting ready to return to his home. He dropped his supplies and ran after Fujin, trying to catch up with the long-legged girl who had a considerable head start.

Fujin finally collapsed in a clump of trees a distance away from Inochiko and the Inochiko village, breathing heavily and crying herself into exhaustion. She quickly grabbed her lucky stone that was still stored inside of her kimono top, pushing it forcefully against her heart as if that would stop its fluttering beats.

"Fujin?" Taro appeared, confusion in his eyes. "What's going on?" He knelt next to her, trying to take her hands and calm her down.

"T-Taro!" Fujin gasped out, immediately letting go of her hidden stone and clutching both of Taro's hands with her own. "Taro...Rei...he...he..."

Her voice trailed off into incomprehensible muttering that was mixed with wet sobs and hysterical hiccups. Taro had never seen Fujin like this in the one year he had known her, and that alarmed him despite the fact that he had only been friends with her for a short amount of time.

"Fujin, calm down. Take a deep breath. Good, now take another. Come on..." Taro gently coaxed Fujin past her hysteria to staccato gasps and finally tiny tremors that shook her frame only once between long periods of silence. Okay, Fujin. What's wrong? What happened to Rei?"

Fujin shook her head limply. "Taro, it's not something that happened to him. Rei...Rei set me up in a marriage with someone."

Taro froze when he heard those words, eyes narrowing ever so slightly. "With who?"

"Keiichi-" Fujin snatched at Taro's sleeve as he rose to his feet. "Wait, Taro! Don't leave me alone yet."

Taro stopped in his movements and sat back down again, placing a gently arm around Fujin's shoulders. He was silent for a moment, and then: "Fujin, I have to tell you something."

"What is it, Taro?"

"Rei...maybe he wants to protect you or something. Maybe he actually cares about you. Because, you know, Keiichi isn't all that bad. You've just got a permanently bad impression of everybody."

"Taro, that's not true!" Fujin glared at Taro. "All he sees in me is an opportunity to make money. That's all!"

"Maybe so, little lady. But...but I think you should think about it."

Fujin hunched over, brooding.

"I have to tell you something else."

"What?"

"I must say that, despite all that..." Taro paused dramatically for a bit. "...Your brother is seriously a complete dork."

Fujin stared at him incredulously for a moment and then gave a weak grin. "You always can make me smile, Taro." She leaned against his chest and closed her eyes. "That's what I love about you. You're just like...like the best older brother I could have." With a soft sniffle, Fujin began to cry again, out of sorrow and hopelessness. "Oh, T-Taro..."

Taro patted her shoulder, hugging her to him. "I know, little lady. I know."

"Inu-san! Inu-san!" Young Raion dashed into Inu's room, throwing the sliding door aside.

Inu blinked up at him rather nearsightedly. "What? Raion, what are you doing here?"

"Inu-san, there're all of these men waiting outside for you! What do we do, Inu-san?!"

Inu almost stopped breathing. "What do they look like, Raion?"

"They're...foreign, most of them. A few look Japanese, like us. And they're all dressed strangely, and they have strange weapons."

"Describe the weapons."

"Sort of...sort of like a sword, but it's got a trigger and a gun handle..."

"Damn," Inu swore softly. "I'll bet anything I have that it's Galbadia."

"Ren'ai?" Kaori stepped out from the washing room, fear in her voice.

"Kaori, isn't Kaji in Galbadia?" Inu asked in a low voice.

"Y-yes, I think he was transferred there..." Kaori suddenly realized what was happening and covered her open mouth with a hand. "Oh, gods..."

"That's how they found us," Inu whispered, clenching a hand tightly. "That has to be the only way that they could find us. No one knows that Inochiko exists...its such a small village. Damn it to hell."

"I-Inu-san?" Raion asked in a tiny, frightened voice. "What should we do? They're threatening to k-kill all of us if you don't come out..."

Inu stood resolutely. "I have no choice but to surrender myself."

"No, Inu-san!" Aki appeared in the doorway behind Raion. "You can't! Hide, both of you, and try to escape once we create a diversion of some sort. Right now we're playing stupid, but they won't be fooled for long. Raion! Come on, let's go, and don't you dare breathe a word of this to anyone." She herded the boy out of the room, closing it firmly behind her.

Kaori let out a shaky breath. "I-I-Inu, what now?"

Inu grabbed up a stick lying nearby that aided him in walking and began prying up the floorboards. "We have to hide, Kaori. We've got no choice."

"Inu...Kaji...how could he?" Kaori sobbed as Inu deftly cleared the boards away.

Inu swiftly grabbed Kaori about the waist and pulled her close to him. "No regrets now, ren'ai," he murmured into her ear. "No regrets."

"I love you, Inu," Kaori cried before lowering herself into the dark hole in the floor.

Inu followed and quickly pulled the detached boards over the gap, covering it as best as he could. Before he set the last plank in place, he took one last look around the room. "No regrets," he muttered. Then he brought the board in place, joining his wife to huddle together in complete silence in the dank, dark room of their hiding space.

"You are defying the trained forces of Galbadia Garden, lady," the leader growled in broken Japanese.

Aki remained stalwart as she barred the armed troop's way from entering the house. "You have no right here," she replied calmly.

"We are here to arrest Washi Yuki and his wife Kaori," the man snapped. "They dealt in black market trading before returning here, as we've been told by our sources."

"And how do you know that your sources are reliable?" Aki shot back.

"One of our men back there-" the man jerked his head towards the troop of mercenaries, "-came from this village. He also knows Washi and Kaori Yuki on a more personal scale."

"Kaji," Aki breathed.

"I see that you've guessed it," the leader smirked. "He surrendered the information readily enough once we offered something that he wanted very badly."

"Kaji!" Aki quickly singled out the face she had known for fifteen years, hiding near the back of the lines. "Kaji, why? What was it that made you bring dishonor like this?"

"What dishonor?" Kaji retorted. "Father brought dishonor on himself by doing his so-called 'business trips' all the time! He went against Galbadia, and for that he must be punished. Besides, this is mercenary business, Aki-san. I don't get paid as well being a SeeD rank 5. Class A is much, much better."

"You...you little..." Rei was staring at his own back stabbing brother, tongue-tied.

"Ah, Rei." Kaji nodded at his younger sibling. "I forgot to tell you, but Neko died. He wasn't used to the cold conditions in Trabia. Sorry."

"He...he what?!" Rei screamed. "NO! Not Neko! He can't be dead!"

"Oh, he's very dead. I saw him breathing his last myself. Of course, by then it was much too late for the doctors to help him. He caught pneumonia just two years ago and never recovered from it."

"NO!" Rei wailed. "NO!"

"How's our dear sister, Rei? Never mind, I never cared much for the girl anyway." Kaji grinned, a malicious, tight little smile.

"Enough chit-chat, Kaji," the leader barked.

"Yes, sir." Kaji seemed to melt and disappear into the other SeeDs standing at attention.

"This is your last warning, lady," the man added, returning his attention to Aki's hunched body.

She raised her head and then straightened up, proud, defiant, and her old beauty returning to her in that one moment. "Never."

Rei immediately appeared by her side, the only weapon he had been trained in held at ready. Suddenly, the entire teenage to adult population of Inochiko was gathered around them, glaring defiantly and holding makeshift weapons.

The leader smiled, slowly, harshly. He stepped back among his soldiers and pointed at the group with one foreboding finger.

"Attack!"

The first scream pierced through the quiet atmosphere of the forest like an arrow through water. Taro and Fujin shot to their feet, eyes wide with surprise and fear.

"Taro, where's it coming from?!" Fujin asked desperately, straining on her tiptoes to see.

Taro, who was much taller than the girl, had seen what was happening already. "Oh, good gods," he whispered shakily.

"Taro! It isn't...it isn't from Inochiko, is it?!"

"Fujin..." Taro grabbed Fujin's arms. "Fujin, it is Inochiko! There're...there are people down there...and they're killing them all! Fujin, they're burning the houses!"

"We have to do something!" Fujin cried desperately. She twisted out of Taro's grasp and began all-out running towards the burning village. "REI!!!! REI!!!!"

"No! Fujin, wait!" Taro ran off after her, knowing that it was hopeless. But he had to try anyway...

Fujin stumbled twice over dead bodies, screaming as she met with grotesque corpses of people she had once known. She scrambled to her feet, searching frantically for Rei.

But the next person she found wasn't Rei.

It was Aki.

Fujin barely choked back a startled scream when she saw her lifelong friend lying face up on the ground as if she were taking a nap. But she knew that she wasn't. Blood from a deep sword slash still seeped from her heart, spreading in a puddle below her. Sobbing out loud, Fujin turned, looking all the more harder for Rei.

She saw him leaning exhausted against a wall, his one weapon, a spear, hanging limply in his hands. He was badly wounded and looked as if he couldn't fight anymore. As she watched, frozen in place, Kaji-Kaji?!-appeared, gunblade slung casually against his shoulders.

"Kaji...traitor..." Rei whispered, voice hoarse from a bone-dry throat. "...All...this time...I...trusted...you..." He tried to straighten up in one last act of defiance, raising his pathetic spear. "I...won't...let...you...get...Fujin..."

Kaji smiled. "You know what, little brother?" He leaned in close and smiled. "I don't care. And I sure don't give a damn about that little kid."

Rei's eyes widened in despair before Kaji thrust his own sword through his little brother's back, going straight through him. Rei opened his mouth, blood bubbling out of it and spilling crimson all over his chin. Kaji put a boot to Rei's back and shoved him off of the blade, letting him fall to the ground in a motionless heap.

The world spun crazily for Fujin as she screamed, high and piercingly. Kaji turned and saw her, smiling even wider.

"Why, it's my spoiled little sister! Who would've thought that you would grow up to be a little beauty? Too bad I have to kill you." He stepped forward, weapon raised...

...And stopped as a spearhead appeared straight through his ribcage, jutting out like an extra bone covered in blood.

"What...the..." he whispered, dropping his sword and collapsing on his knees.

"I...told you..." Rei let go of his end of the spear and fell over again, his sentence dying on his lips. "...Already..."

Fujin, traumatized, dropped to her knees and stared at her brothers' dead bodies. The screaming around her had stopped, and now there was only the crackling of flames as the houses of Inochiko burned and the SeeDs laughed.

Rei...

"Fujin! Look out!" Taro screamed, vaulting towards her like a deer.

Fujin's turn of her head was all that saved her from getting her neck sliced through. A SeeD's gunblade sliced straight through her left eye, cutting through veins and rendering it useless. Fujin screamed again, her world suddenly shaded in red as blood poured over her face. She covered her eye with her hands and pressed down as if that would stop the pain.

Fujin was rendered completely blind, one by her ruined left eye, and two by the blood that forced her to shut her right eye. The next thing she felt was a painful jab at her heart area as if someone had punched her there shadowed immediately by a shattering sound and then a cry of anger followed by double screams of pain.

And then everything went black...

"My god."

"Is she...alive?"

Fujin let out a whimper of pain as someone nudged her gently, arousing her from her dreamless sleep and sending new waves of pain into her.

"God! Raijin, do you know her? Get over here! She's still alive!"

Now a pair of hands was comfortingly pressing a wet cloth over her left eye, washing blood away from her face with another wet rag. The sound of approaching footsteps came, and then someone stopped nearby her.

"I'm not sure...it's been a while since I've been back, ya know?"

"Let me get the blood cleared away..."

More wiping at her face.

Gods...what happened...?

There was a low whistle of astonishment. "Yeah, I know her, ya know? She's Fujin, the only daughter of Inu, ya know?"

"Who's this fellow, then? When we found him, he was covering her like he was protecting her from something."

"Him? Oh, that's Taro! He couldn't have been trying to protect Fujin. He never knew her, ya know?"

Taro...Rei...

"This is very strange. Only the villagers' bodies, and no one else's..."

"Whoever did this was covering their tracks, ya know?" Raijin stopped talking for a moment. "My...my mom and dad are dead, ya know. This whole village is dead..."

"Raijin, we have to get this girl to safety."

"Uh..." Fujin hissed in pain and forced her right eye open, blinking at the sunlight shining straight into it.

"God, she's awake." The speaker was identified as a tall girl dressed in a SeeD uniform. Next to her was a strong boy a year younger than she, wearing a SeeD trainee outfit.

"Who...you?" Fujin croaked.

"I'm Instructor Quistis Trepe of Balamb Garden," the girl replied instantly. "We...had a report of suspicious activity down here. What happened?"

Fujin reached up to touch her left eye, but a hand went out and grabbed it.

"Don't try to touch it, girl," a young man's voice admonished. She blinked up at a reddish-blonde boy around her age who seemed to be a rebel of some sort and wore a white trench coat.

"Seifer, leave the girl alone," Quistis said in an annoyed voice. "Let her talk. Now, what happened?"

"Can't..." Fujin caught sight of a body lying nearby, covered by a blanket. The only thing that she could see of it was a hand, and on the little finger of that hand was an ornate ring set with a clear quartz crystal. "Taro...?"

"Yeah, that's Taro, ya know." Raijin, whom she barely remembered, nodded. "You knew him? Didn't know that, ya know."

"We've identified one of our own trainees, Instructor," the boy named Seifer called. "He was on a break...Rei Yuki."

"Rei..." Fujin whispered.

"Instructor, we've identified two bodies in the burned remains of one of the houses. They are the two outlaws, Washi and Kaori Yuki. They seem to have burned to death when the attackers set the village on fire." An unknown SeeD trainee appeared, saluting sharply.

"And you're Fujin Yuki?" Quistis sent the girl a sympathetic look. "I'm sorry, Fujin. Other than Raijin, you're the only one left alive in your whole village."

"Me?" Fujin stared at her incredulously. "But..."

It can't be...Rei...Aki...Taro...No...No...Not my family...No...

Fujin stared at herself in the mirror, expression stony and her hands resting on her lap. The reflection showed a young girl with a sharply angled face and a black eye patch covering her left eye. Her other eye was dark and flinty, peering out as if it were daring anyone to gawk at her. Her hair was no longer a dark, jet black color. Instead, it was now a pale silver-gray, all pigmentation that had colored her hair lost.

"I'm sorry, dear," the voice of the nurse in the infirmary whispered. "The eye patch is necessary for your ruined eye. And your hair...it's lost all of its color because you've been through a very traumatizing experience. When that happens, people can lose all of the coloring in their hair. Maybe it'll come back someday...?"

With an absent hand, Fujin ran a finger on the area over her heart where there was a raised white scar about the size of her pinky finger. Somehow, her lucky stone that she had always carried over there had driven into her flesh and caused the permanent mark. While others could only speculate, Fujin knew that it was because someone had tried to kill her while her blood blinded her. The stone had protected her at the cost of its own existence; it was now a shattered rock left back in the destroyed remains of Inochiko.

Fujin blinked back a sudden tear that tried to escape from her eye. Everything she knew was dead. With a swift movement, she snatched up the scissors that lay on the tabletop nearby and snipped off her long, silky hair with one deft cut. The mass fell like a cloud to the ground, lying around her feet like the silk Taro had sold her.

"Never," she croaked, her voice still dry from hoarse sobbing. She swallowed and tried to make her vow again, mouth gaping like a landed fish's. But no matter what she did, she just couldn't force anything other than one guttural, harsh word out of her throat at a time. Every time she tried to speak, she would remember the crimson blood of her friends and the dead bodies of her family, strewn about her old home like windblown stacks of firewood. She inhaled and forced herself to calm down, standing and unconsciously smoothing down the end of her short haircut at the nape of her neck. Fujin turned and pushed the door from her room wide open, narrowing her eyes slightly at the sudden burst of light outside.

All conversation stopped as soon as her door opened. Once Fujin had adjusted her eyes to the abruptly harsh light, she saw that the hallway was filled with whispering people in both SeeD and SeeD trainee uniforms. They all started guiltily when they saw her appear, telling her that they had been talking about her.

Paying no attention to the unimportant people, Fujin made her way across the hallway, people backing away from her as she passed. She stopped in front of a middle-aged man who was rather short and stocky, wearing glasses and a red sweater and bearing no remarkable looks about him. Beside him was the girl, Instructor Quistis Trepe, who had led the investigative mission into Inochiko, and the two other boys who had showed themselves predominantly to her when she awoke-Raijin from her home village and the boy named Seifer, all approximately around her own age.

The man was Headmaster Cid, the leader of Balamb Garden. He glanced sharply at her and lowered his glasses slightly and peered at her from over the frames.

"Fujin Yuki?" he asked in a low, bear-like voice.

Fujin nodded sharply. "Yes," she replied, her harsh, shortly punctuated voice making people behind her whisper in astonishment.

"Fujin, I assume that you know of your...family and your village." Cid looked closer at Fujin. "They are no more. Inochiko has been wiped from the face of this earth, and Galbadia Garden intends for it to stay that way. We cannot do anything about it. Do you understand?"

Fujin nodded again.

"Fujin, you are free to go wherever you want to. What is your choice?"

Fujin paused, opening her mouth and trying to speak clearly. She stopped tears that tried once more to squeeze out of her eye.

I'll never cry again.

She held up two fingers, her forefinger and middle finger, and made a swift cutting motion with them at the base of her neck where her luxurious hair used to be. Then she pointed at her lost eye covered by the eye patch, placed a right hand over her heart, and then gestured widely at the area around her.

"The cutting of your hair was the discarding of your past life, and you want to stay here?" Seifer translated, raising an eyebrow in slight surprise.

She nodded once to him. Then she turned to Headmaster Cid and gave him the sharp salute she had seen Rei demonstrate once so long ago.

Headmaster Cid closed his eyes and smiled. "You are welcome here, Fujin. We are your home and family now."

My home...my family...and my dream...

Balamb Garden SeeD trainees mission log: Mission #00579

...Upon investigating the remains of this unknown village, the trainees found all of the inhabitants slaughtered except for one. It was a girl named Fujin Yuki. She had sustained considerable damage and lost one eye as well as incurring trauma to her inner self. Unfortunately, she has been apparently so traumatized that she cannot speak very well without breaking down. I suspect that this handicap will remain with her throughout most of her life, including the eye patch she wears to cover her lost left eye. The strangest thing is that her hair is completely gray. When people have gone though frightening experiences, it is proven that they can lose the pigmentation in their hair. I wonder what this Fujin girl had to go through?

In any case, this girl is now an orphan. Therefore, at age fifteen, Fujin has now entered the academy of Balamb Garden where she will sustain training to become a member of SeeD.

-Headmaster Cid