Well here we are with the next chapter in our saga. Sorry for the long wait. Per usual, real life gets in the way but I won't bore you with the details since I know you are here to read a story and a story you shall have.
With regards to this chapter, suffice it to say that there is a treat in store by the end and I won't say anything more except to thank everyone who has kindly reviewed and waited patiently to read more of the story.
Midori no Me
Painful Realizations and Sweet Revelations
Muramasa managed to take three steps through the entrance to his home before he staggered and had to catch himself with a shaking hand on the wall. He tried to hold back the cough that began to work its way up his throat but his body would have none of that. The sharp metallic tang of blood filled his mouth and his entire frame shuddered and heaved as his disease punished him for exerting himself.
A sickening gurgle filled the air and he closed his eyes in pain and no little shame as he realized that it was coming from his own lips. His vision flickered and he tried to ignore the spots of blood that began to spatter the floor as his body reaped revenge for his use of its power.
He barely heard Yuya as she came over and murmured something into his ear before her petite body wormed its way beneath his arm as she attempted to support him. Though he couldn't for the life of him pick out what she was saying, his Satori was still functioning and it was the deep concern and worry that both she and Kyo were projecting that allowed him to take the deep calming breaths he needed to bring himself back under control.
"…Sa…," he caught a fragment of what Yuya was saying and forced himself to listen to her.
"Mu...masa A… You …right?"
He could make out enough words to realize that she was asking if he were alright and he tilted his head down to look at her, ignoring the pain that tore through him at even that slight movement.
Forcing his lips into what he hoped was a reassuring smile he responded, "I will be fine shortly."
Instead of smiling back at him like he hoped she would, her brow furrowed in a frown and she bit her lip in obvious consternation before bringing up her free arm and, twisting slightly, swiping the sleeve of her kimono gently over his lips.
He blinked at her and was rewarded with a humorless smile as she said, "Please, don't tell me you're fine when you've just finished coughing up blood all over yourself."
Blinking at her again, he looked down at himself and cringed at just how much crimson there was on the front of his clothing. Usually he only bled a little when his disease made itself known but then again he hadn't called upon his powers in a long time either. It was one thing to swing a sword skillfully to protect himself from low level Mibu foot soldiers and quite another to use special techniques like the one he'd used on Shinrei.
Chagrined at having made such a mess of himself in front of Kyo and Yuya, he said, "I apologize for worrying you so much, especially when you've already had a terrible day yourself. I assure you that despite how serious this looks, I've been living with it for quite a while and I will be good as new shortly."
Muramasa had hoped that bringing attention to her own predicament would help her to stop worrying about him but he should have known that the woman Kyo had chosen would be utterly selfless. He could detect no mental shift in focus from his illness to her deadly curse. Rather, her mind was whirling with thoughts about how she could possibly help him and make him more comfortable.
The former Elder couldn't stop the soft smile that touched his lips. It had been so long since anyone had fussed over him to such a degree and he thought that if he had ever managed to have children, he would very much have liked to have a daughter like Yuya. As it was, fate had seen fit to gift him with a surrogate son in Kyo and he couldn't help feeling a father's pride that his "son" had brought home a woman who was so beautiful both inside and out.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" she asked, those engaging green eyes of her darting to fro over his face as if she could peer into his head and figure out how best to help him.
Since the pain was already receding, he straightened, slowly slipping his arm from around her neck, and brought a hand up to cup her soft cheek as he replied, "No need, my dear. I'm going to be fine. I just over exerted myself, that's all."
Her gaze told him that she didn't completely believe him and he moved his hand up to pat her gently on the head and said, "Truly, my sickness only really manifests itself when I use too much power. And before you start blaming yourself please remember that I do have the ability to make my own decisions. Just as you could not bear to leave Kyo at the mercy of Shinrei, I could not stand by and watch the only family I have left die. Surely you understand the feeling?"
He knew from his conversation with Yukimura that Yuya had been accused of murdering her brother who was her sole relative. Having met Yuya, he knew the concept of her murdering anyone in cold blood was laughable at best, what with her undeniably sweet personality and the deep loyalty he'd observed when she stood up for Kyo.
He didn't need to read her thoughts to know that her deceased brother had immediately come to mind, as he'd intended, and she nodded slowly in agreement to his statement.
"Don't worry overmuch about me, Yuya-San, I still have quite a few years left. One doesn't live for centuries without learning their limits."
He smiled as her mind turned over the word "centuries" and went scurrying off to wonder how such a youthful looking man could be so old. Absently, he wondered how she would have reacted if he had used the word millennia instead as he extricated himself from her person entirely and went about stretching his limbs slowly, relieved that his tremors had subsided relatively quickly. No need to frighten his friends any more than he already had.
Kyo's presence made itself known at his back and he wondered just how out of it he must have been for his pupil to get so close without him noticing it.
"Ah, Kyo," he said, turning to face him and biting back a laugh as those red eyes snapped back to his face after having been caught appraising his person, "before you say a smart remark about me having my foot in the grave or some other such nonsense, let me assure you that I am just fine now."
Kyo snorted and folded his arms as he replied, "As if I would actually care if you were really about to bite it."
"Of course, Kyo. Whatever could I have been thinking?" Muramasa replied with mild sarcasm.
Knowing his student the way he did, he figured it was best to refrain from mentioning the fact that Kyo coming to visit him in the first place showed how much he cared. And too, there was the tiny moment of panic he has sensed from him when he first started coughing. Kyo cared alright, his problem was that he was just…well…Kyo. Even as a child the man had been complex and, unsurprisingly, the conundrum that was the Demon Child hadn't gotten any less complicated now that he was grown man. If Muramasa didn't know that Kyo cared for her, he might have tried to talk Yuya out of falling in love with him because the man was difficult even on the best of days.
Speaking of love, he schooled his expression into one he'd favored whenever Kyo did something particularly foolish growing up and said, "All pleasantries aside. Would you care to explain what happened back there? I don't recall teaching you rush heedlessly into battle. Shinrei was willing to back off and give you time to improve yourself and fight him at a later time. And instead of taking advantage of that opportunity you try to take him on a second time immediately after your disastrous first run. Exactly what got into you, Kyo?"
Unsurprisingly Kyo said nothing in response but his body language told him what he needed to know. He had steadily tensed up as his master chastised him and his eyes surreptitiously swung towards Yuya before moving back to the former elder. Muramasa doubted Kyo even realized he'd done it but it was enough for him to figure out that he'd get no more out of his pupil unless they were alone and away from Yuya specifically.
Deciding that Kyo's pride had taken enough of a beating for one day he said, "We'll talk in a bit. Why don't you escort Yuya to her room and see me when she's settled in, hmmm? She's had a long day and she probably needs to rest. Isn't that right Yuya?"
He could sense that she was considering following Kyo back in order to eavesdrop and so he accompanied his verbal suggestion with a mental one that had her blinking and yawning in sudden exhaustion as she replied, "Yes, sleep sounds like a good idea."
Kyo shot him a look that was part knowing and part annoyed, with just a dash of gratitude. He rewarded his pupil with a tiny smile and waved the two of them away. They needed a moment alone to themselves anyway because such a luxury was going to be sparse for the next sixty days. Yuya's life depended on it after all.
"Is that all you have to report?" the Mibu soldier asked, his masked head swinging back and forth as if expecting Kyo to come charging out of the bushes.
"As I said before there isn't much more to tell," Okuni replied, "Kyo's memory has not yet fully returned, though it is apparently coming back with more frequency than before. I don't need to fill you in on the battle with Shinrei since you were undoubtedly watching the whole thing from the shadows. At this point in time Kyo is hardly a threat and Muramasa is still sick."
"And you are sure that is all?" he leveled a long stare at her.
He was trying to intimidate her but since they both knew he was nothing more than a disposable foot soldier, she was decidedly unimpressed. Besides, while she didn't have the same explosive power of the men in Kyo's little group, she knew she was more than a match in a one-on-one battle with the man before her and her wires were ever at the ready.
Still his constant implications that she was holding something back were getting annoying, so she decided that there was nothing to lose by asking for his reasons directly.
"You keep asking me if I'm sure about my information. Care to tell me why you seem to think I'm holding out on you?"
She was mildly gratified to see his eyes nervously shift towards her hands - he knew what she was capable of - before replying with far less bravado than before, "Not that I doubt your abilities, but there are some amongst the higher-ups who do not trust you to report Kyo's actions in full. It is well known that the two of you had a liaison some years ago."
"Oh, is that so?" she tapped a nail against the side of her lips and cocked her head consideringly, making a show out of perusing his form - as if she were trying to figure out which part of him to dissect first.
He flinched and backed away, holding up his hands as he said shakily, "Look I'm just a messenger so..."
Okuni lowered her hand and folded it together with it's twin within the folds of her robe, bringing her sizable cleavage to his attention. She then proceeded to gift him with a dazzling smile that had entranced more than one high-powered man. It was also what made her such an extraordinarily successful spy.
Her contact blinked in response and the rest of his sentence came out in a mumble, his eyes fixed on the clear picture of invitation she presented. Sometimes she wondered why is was that so many men assumed that just because a woman was seducing them, she was completely harmless.
The man stood stock still as she sashayed her way over to him and placed a hand on his chest right over his swiftly beating heart. So distracted was he that he didn't notice when her smile turned predatory and her other hand crawled up his neck as she were merely stroking the back of his head.
It wasn't until the wires had sliced through the thin cloth covering his throat and he felt them digging ever so slightly into his skin that he noticed the predicament he was in. Okuni rather enjoyed the way he tensed up and forced himself not to retaliate lest he lose his head, there was nothing quite like holding a man's life in the palm of her hand.
Of course, she had no intention of killing him since she needed him to deliver her message but that didn't mean she couldn't toy with him. She slowly walked her fingers up his chest and cupped his masked cheek, angling his head to the side so that she could whisper into the general vicinity of his ear.
"Would you take a message back to your masters for me?" she murmured, tightening her strings when his response didn't come quickly enough. He jerked his head in affirmation and sucked in his breath when the motion caused the wire to cut in deeply enough to draw blood.
"When next you meet them, kindly explain to them that if they have so little faith in me then they are always welcome to find someone else to do their dirty work. Also, remind them that the very thing that they criticize, my past relationship with Kyo, is what allows me to watch him as closely as I do. You will be a dear and convey that to them won't you?"
Another jerky nod and she bent forward to press a mocking kiss to the side of his mask before slowly drawing her fingers and the wires laced between them away from his neck. He quickly stumbled back once he was sure his neck was safe and brought shaking fingers up to caress the thin cut on his throat. The soldier made sure not to turn his back on her as he took his leave and she watched until he melted into the brush.
A low whistle sounded a few moments later and she whirled around, scowling when she saw who it was leaning against the tree behind her.
"Ya' know, there's this saying I once heard," Bontenmaru said, scratching at his whiskers, "let's see...it was something about a woman scorned..."
Okuni couldn't stop a scowl from making it's way onto her face and began to fold her arms then immediately thought better of it when that one eye floated down towards her cleavage and he let out a low whistle of appreciation.
Ignoring his reaction she asked sharply, "Are you implying yet again that I'm bitter? And didn't you have bodies to clear out?"
"That Tokugawa kid and Yukimura are handling clean up detail. Oh and you thought I was hinting? Nah, I was flat out telling you that you are a woman scorned, in other words a bitter woman. Then again, I'm pretty sure we already had this conversation and it ended with you falling into my arms."
"Is that how it ended last time? I had wiped that memory from my mind."
"Of course you did," he replied sarcastically, "and I'm really the Shogun in disguise."
Shaking his in disbelief he continued, "So what set you off this time? Was it that touching scene you witnessed between demon boy and his main squeeze?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yeah yeah, keep saying that and maybe someday you'll actually believe it, lady. Look, all I know is that a woman doesn't usually get as much fun out of torturing men unless she's been hurt by one. And between you, me and the trees I thought you were gonna' eat that Mibu soldier cause you were eyin' him like your next meal. So, let me spell it out slowly for you. You...are...bitter."
Every time he opened his fool mouth she got angrier and angrier until she asked in a dangerously soft tone, "Care to say that again?"
He was either too stupid to heed the warning in her voice or he simply didn't care but he gave her another one of those aggravating, cocky grins instead of answering and she promptly forgot all about that one time he'd offered her the comfort of his arms. It was a testament to how much he'd gotten under her skin that her feet were moving before she knew it and then she was jabbing a finger into his broad chest.
She ignored the tiny flutter of feminine appreciation that always made itself known when she was up close and personal with the walking, talking mountain of muscle that was Bontenmaru and said, "I dare you to say that to me one more time."
The grin on those arrogant, albeit shapely, lips widened and he surprised her by bending down until his face was right in front of hers. That close, she could see every detail on his chiseled features and a tiny voice in the back of her mind said that even though he wasn't the same level of gorgeous as Kyo, he was by no means an ugly man.
His breath was warm on her cheeks as he said in a low rumble, "So you want me to tell you again that you're bitter? That you're hung up on Kyo? That you plan to punish every man who comes your way because he isn't yours and never will be?"
"Stop it," she said.
"Why? Can't you face the truth? Come on and tell me that you don't resent Kyo."
"Stop it," her voice came out louder this time.
"Tell me you don't imagine that every man whose life you toy with is Kyo. Tell me you aren't eaten alive with jealousy every time you see him with Yuya."
"Stop it!" she all but yelled at him, lifting her hands to push him away.
Bon caught her arms, forcing them to her sides and she blinked, shocked to find that she had been unconsciously preparing to tear him to shreds with her wires for speaking out loud her deepest and darkest thoughts. She tried to step back but he tightened his grip and she felt a surge of panic at the disturbingly intent look on his face, all traces of amusement wiped clean. He had seen through her pretty facade to the ugly woman she harbored inside and the informant suddenly wanted very much to run and hide because she felt so very...lacking. She wasn't good enough for Kyo and now this man, one of the few men who didn't make a fool of himself around her, had seen just how twisted she was.
Okuni closed her eyes, fighting the urge to cry, and turned her head to the side so that he couldn't see her vulnerability. And why oh why did she want to borrow his arms again? Why was it so easy for her to hate him one moment and weep all over him the next?
Words escaped her or perhaps she didn't dare to speak as he pulled her forward into a hug. Instead she sighed and allowed her body to melt into his by increments, tensing and relaxing as he ran a large hand up and down her back in a soothing pattern.
"Someday, you'll figure out what it is that you want, Okuni. In the meanwhile, I'm thinking some time apart from him is what you need. And before you ask, yeah, I did hear everything you said to that Mibu dude and, yeah, I have to tell Kyo. If it was just him involved I'd let him figure it out himself but he and Yuya are a package deal and she isn't like the rest of us. That kid will trust you just because you're travelling with us and I don't want to see her hurt."
"So you're just worried about that girl?" she asked, preparing to jerk away if she didn't like what she heard.
"Naww, I'm worried about both the girls in our happy lil' family."
Since she wasn't quite sure what to say to such honest concern about her well being, she said nothing at all and contented herself with enjoying his warmth and the scent that was uniquely Bontenmaru.
Kyo half expected Yuya to bombard him with questions the moment they were alone but, surprisingly enough, she remained quiet as she walked beside him. If anything, she appeared to be lost in her own thoughts and he wondered if she blamed him for her current situation. Did she wish he had never put herself between him and death? Would she resent him or, even worse, hate him now?
His heart clenched at the thought of seeing those green eyes looking upon him with disgust. Though he was a loner by nature, he couldn't forget the soul crushing pain and fear that had gripped him when he saw that Shinrei had captured her. Nor did he wish to dwell on the burning jealousy that had hooked its claws into him when that Mibu dog had the nerve to touch his lips to hers.
Yuya was his and that included everything from the top of her head to the soles of her feet and everything in between. He'd had to force himself not to erase that filth's kiss with one of his own the moment she was back in his arms. Even now he was hard-pressed to keep his eyes from roaming over her figure to see if Shinrei had hurt her in any other way.
Before long, they were standing in front of the door to her room and she paused, twisting her fingers together nervously and keeping her eyes averted from his. He simply stared at her for a few minutes before reaching out and placing his hand over hers, stilling the slender digits. Green eyes snapped up to his and he took a moment to search them for any lingering signs of pain.
Finding none, he said quietly, "We're here."
She hazarded a look towards the door before responding softly, "So we are."
A pause and then they both spoke up at once.
Yuya flushed and bit her lip in consternation before taking a deep breath and saying, "Kyo...I...I just..."
Again she paused and closed her eyes briefly before opening them again with a determined gleam in those emerald depths. Hesitantly lifting up her hands, she glided them oh-so-softly across the skin of his cheeks until she was cupping both sides of his face, effectively trapping his gaze.
Pathetic man that he was, even her touch was enough to make him want to follow her into the room and comfort her her the best way he knew how, with his body. Unfortunately, he wasn't entirely sure that the comforting was for her alone, not with the disarray his thoughts and the emotions were in.
Besides, all he needed to do to drag his mind out of the gutter was breathe and feel the pain that lanced through him from his wounds. That and remember that his clothing was bathed in his own blood. Yup, that was enough to bring him back to his senses. Somehow he doubted that Yuya would enjoy him bleeding all over her the first time they came together.
Putting aside all lascivious thoughts, he focused on the present and waited for Yuya to say what was on her mind. Imagine his shock when, instead of speaking, she went up on tip-toe and urged his head downwards with her hands. He obliged her unspoken request and brought his head down until it was only inches away from hers.
He felt something low in his belly flutter with pleasure at the feel of her breath across his face - that simple yet vital function had come so close to ceasing forever. His own breath ground to a halt as she bridged the gap and gave him a kiss that might have been comparable to a butterfly brushing its wings across his lips. Instead of deepening the kiss, she surprised him yet again by tilting his head to the side and laying an equally sweet peck on first one then the other cheek.
So afraid was he to break the spell she had woven that he said nothing as those gold tipped lashes lowered over her eyes and she touched her forehead to his.
He jumped slightly as her voice finally broke the silence with a soft, "Kyo...I...you...almost died today."
Kyo didn't respond, knowing that she had more to say and that it needed to be said on her terms.
"I don't think I've ever been so afraid in my life, Kyo, not even when Nozomu was killed. And I...I just wanted to thank you for letting me do that because I needed to erase the memory of Shinrei's... I needed to forget that thing he did to me."
Her eyes flew open as she drew away, cheeks pink with embarrassment and the exertion of revealing so much of her inward thoughts to him. Yuya turned and put a hand on the door to open it and he stopped her before she could get it more than halfway open.
"Woman...no, Yuya. Before you go, I want you to answer something. Why did you do that?"
Even from the back he knew she had tensed up but she still tried to play it cool as she asked, "What do you mean by that Kyo?"
Though he had no desire to force her, he wanted...no...needed to know the answer to that question. He needed it with every fiber of his being and so he did not allow her to feign ignorance.
"You know what I mean, Yuya. Why did you try to protect me? I can understand you traveling with me because I've saved your life. I can even understand you wanting to satisfy your virgin curiosity about what goes on between men and women with me. But you put yourself between me and a man you knew could kill you when I could not protect you. Why?"
She remained so still and silent that she may as well have been a statue. He could see her trying to think of ways to keep from answering him directly and he was about to prod her again until he noted that her fingers curled inwards one by one until she had a deathgrip on the wooden door frame.
"Kyo...," she whispered so quietly that he had to strain to hear her, "can you promise not to laugh if I answer your question truthfully?"
She shifted until she was able to peer over her shoulder at him with one bright green eye. He kept his face neutral and nodded, making sure to maintain eye contact.
Her thin shoulders rose and fell as she let out a heavy sigh and turned around completely, clasping her fingers together once more. Slowly, slowly her lids lowered until she was peering up at him from beneath the shelter of her lashes once more and her blush spread further down her neck.
"Kyo...I... How do I say this? The reason why I travel with you and put up with your teasing, why I allow you to kiss me, why I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about you, why I can put my life on the line for you, why the thought of you dying scares me to death is a simple one."
She closed her eyes, took a deep shuddering breath and then looked him square in his crimson irises as she continued so firmly that there was no doubt she meant every word.
"The reason why I think I would do just about anything for you is because I...I love you, Kyo."
And with that, she backed away through the half-opened door, bowed her head ever so slightly in farewell and closed the door, leaving a very bemused samurai behind to stand in the hall and stare at her door.
Now raise your hand if you saw that coming. I hope you enjoyed this chapter and look forward to a lot more romance in the next chapters. Kyo and Muramasa have a little talk and who knows, he might finally get the girl. Thanks for reading and, as usual, please let me know what you thought. Providing I don't get sick again, I plan the get the next chapter out much sooner than this one.