June waits until the moon is high in the sky, night gone nearly silent, only the crackling and popping of their fire and Tetsuki’s soft, childish snores sounding through their camp. Father isn’t staring into the fire–he would never be so foolish as to ruin his night vision like that–but he’s definitely keeping his gaze away from her younger sister’s sleeping form.
June waits before she brings up the matter of the letter, “You can’t really mean to give her to them, do you?” she asks, more challenge than anything else. June is older enough than Tetsuki that she remembers Mother, remembers the way her face would go pinched and unhappy whenever she spoke of her parents. As far as June knows, her maternal grandparents are awful people. Tetsuki knows even less.
Tetsuki doesn’t even know where they’re going.
Father’s mouth thins into a flat line, perhaps remembering Mother’s displeasure at her family, perhaps just irritated at June questioning him, “Would you rather I give them you?” he responds, as much assessing as it is punishing.
If June were volunteering to take Tetsuki’s place, Father would let her, but neither of them want her to: Father reluctant to lose his trained apprentice, June unwilling to lose her freedom. Tetsuki is too young to know any better.
Maybe that’s just an excuse.
June grits her teeth, doesn’t answer, the pause was answer enough. But still she persists, “Why give in at all? We don’t owe them anything. Mother left them for a reason, they disowned her. She hated them!” Her shout rings through their camp, loud and almost repulsive in the night. Both June and Father glance over at Tetsuki, waiting, watching, but she remains asleep.
“They’re still your family,” Father says finally. Unhelpfully, “Your mother didn’t hate them,” he adds nothing else.
June can feel her face heat, and she struggles to keep it–rage or tears–down. “We could just ignore the letter, keep going on as we have. We could stay together,” it sounds more plaintive than she means to, Father won’t respond to this kind of weakness. June needs to be stronger.
Father is silent for long enough that June thinks he’s dismissed the conversation. She rises to ready her bedroll, as near to her little sister as she can stand–Tetsuki is at the age where she kicks in her sleep, never still even unconscious–they only have a few more nights before they arrive at Mother’s ancestral home.
June only has a few more nights with her sister.
“They’ll take care of her,” Father says belatedly.
June wants to bite back–we’ll take care of her–but the tone of his voice makes her hold.
“Your mother and I,” Father starts, and June can’t help but listen intently, “Who needed a home when we had each other? Even on the road, you were raised with love.”
What does this have to do with Tetsuki, June wants to ask, but doesn’t.
Unbidden, Father answers. “They’ll take care of her,” he repeats, still not looking at Tetsuki. Inanely, June thinks the night suddenly feels cold.
“The road alone is not enough for a child.”
A/N: The implication being that Tetsuki’s backstory is always sad. But at least June loved her! … but June is still only a child herself at this point 😦