Note: Another story that I created for a LiveJournal, this time for the 101 Kisses community, based on the challenge "Four of Diamonds." In a tarot deck, the four of diamonds (originally the suit of pentacles, discs, or coins) represents possession, almost jealously or protectively guarding something. And while I wrote this, I was listening to the Sarah McLachlan song of the same name.
For a long time now, she had stood quietly and watched... but did nothing.
She had watched Kirara's own infatuation with Kambei begin, but she was no stranger to jealousy.
She had watched Katsushiro struggle with his feelings for the water priestess, but she was quite familiar with unrequited love.
She had watched Kambei try to keep both Kirara and Katsushiro at arm's length, but she was well aware of futility.
And still she did nothing.
But now, she was tired of watching.
It was time to act.
Kambei sighed and ran his fingers through his long brown hair as he walked toward Rikichi's house. It had been another long day of training and supervision and working with the farmers, and for once, all he wanted to do was just relax. Used to years of aimless wandering, this constant need for focus and attention was more than a little draining on him.
He rubbed his temples to try and ease the headache that had been building there for the last hour or so. Information had been coming in from each of the samurai on the progress of the preparations, and later this evening, the samurai would be meeting again for updates. Until then, he craved a quiet moment to himself.
"Great samurai... Great samurai, wait!"
Recognizing Shino's voice, Kambei stopped and turned around as the farm girl approached. She stopped a couple of feet away, her eyes respectfully lowered.
"Shino... what can I do for you?"
"Sensei told me to give you this," she replied with a bow, and handed Kambei a folded sheet of rice paper. He frowned slightly - there was only one person Shino ever referred to as sensei.
"I see... thank you, Shino."
The girl bowed again and left, and Kambei unfolded the paper, curious to know what Nasami wanted, and why she did not simply seek him out herself. But he was even more puzzled when he saw her message.
"Please come to the sacred grove."
There was nothing more.
For a moment, Kambei stood on the path, looking ahead to Rikichi's house, and then he turned his steps toward the sacred grove.
Nasami waited patiently among the trees, listening to the breeze rustling through the pines, feeling the wind lightly toss her hair and brush against her cheek. She looked skyward and saw that the sun would be setting soon - already the first hints of twilight were starting to appear.
She had done everything she could to prepare for this... now the only thing left was to wait for Kambei.
She didn't have to wait long - shortly after she'd sent Shino to deliver her message, she became aware of footsteps along the path to the grove. She stilled her breathing as she'd been taught to long ago, and carefully listened, gauging the stride, and nodded to herself. Then she moved back to fade into the shadows of the trees.
Kambei stepped into the small clearing in the grove and looked around. At first, he could see no sign of the samuraiko, but as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw that at the base of one of the trees was a white shape.
A piece of paper with his name, and beside it, a length of white silk.
Now even more puzzled than before, he crouched down and picked up the paper, recognizing Nasami's calligraphy.
"Put this on."
At first, Kambei didn't understand, but as he lifted the silk, he suddenly realized that it was just about the right length for a blindfold.
All at once, he crumpled the piece of rice paper in his other fist and started pacing around the clearing, looking around for Nasami, but other than the note and the cloth, there was no sign of her. But he just knew that she was there, somewhere among the shadows... watching him... and waiting.
"Damn," he whispered, clutching the fabric, but he did have to admit, his curiosity had been piqued, so he took a seat at the base of the tree where she had left the note, and placed the blindfold over his eyes.
From the shadows, she smiled, and watched as he sat and waited. Then a few moments later, she stepped toward him.
As soon as she entered the clearing, however, his head came up and he turned toward her. For a moment, she stopped, wondering if he could still see her, but then she realized that he was simply aware of her on the same fundamental level that she was of him. So she moved forward once more until she was standing in front of him.
Then she reached down and took his hands in hers, and lightly tugged to draw him to his feet. He rose, slightly awkward from not being able to see, but did not let go of her hands.
Although his sight was gone - or perhaps because his sight was gone - Kambei's other senses were sharp. He'd heard the whisper of crackles when Nasami's feet had touched the fallen pine needles, caught the faintest scent of the sandalwood scent he so often associated with her, and could feel the warmth of her hands, even through his gloves.
Everything about him was tense, waiting to find out what it was she was trying to do. It was because of that uncertainty that he had taken a seat at the base of the tree, wanting to keep its solid trunk at his back... he'd needed something solid to anchor him to reality now that his world was shadowed and dark.
He felt her carefully withdraw her hands from his, and he clenched his own hands into fists at his sides, wishing that she would tell him what all of his was about, but the samuraiko remained silent.
Instinctively he stiffened when he felt a hand against his face, startled by the gentle touch of her palm as it slid along his cheek and around to the back of his neck. Every nerve in his body seemed to come alive at once, tingling with awareness.
Then he felt himself being pulled forward, and his whole world tilted wildly as he felt something warm against his lips.
Nasami's blood sang through her veins, even as her whole body shook. Her eyes were closed tightly, savoring every second of the kiss, the warmth of his skin against her palm, the gentle weight of his hair against the back of her hand.
And unless she was very much mistaken, underneath the shock, Kambei was enjoying himself just as much as she was.
She wanted more... much more.
She took a step forward so that her body was up against his, his long form caught between her and the tree at his back. When he opened his mouth to protest, she kissed him even harder, giving no quarter as she slid one small hand up his chest. He tried to move away, but then she wrapped both arms around his neck and pulled him even closer, standing on her toes and leaning all of her weight against him, kissing him again and again until she thought she might faint.
Kambei couldn't have drawn a breath if his life had depended on it. Not being able to see had heightened all of his other senses, and the combined sensations of sound, scent, taste and touch were almost overwhelming. But as he felt his body reacting, an almost irrational terror filled him. A kiss alone would not be enough to jeopardize the samuraiko's reputation, but if this went on much longer, if he were to lose control...
As though sensing the direction of his thoughts, Nasami brought her hands back down to her sides and drew away.
Then for the first time, she spoke.
"What gives you the right to protect me?"
Nasami stood, her hands clenched at her side, staring at him. She watched the emotions flash across his face, and even though she could not see his eyes, she still felt as though she were gazing directly into his soul.
For a long time, Kambei said nothing, then he sighed and bowed his head forward.
"My duty as a samurai," he said at last.
"And if this is what I want?"
"You are still a samuraiko," he whispered. "I know what your vow means."
Then she startled him by reaching up and yanking the blindfold from him, and he blinked several times as his eyes adjusted. Nasami waited until he could see her properly, then she stepped closer to look up at him.
"Look me in the eyes, then, and tell me that you do not want this as much as I do."
He closed his eyes and swallowed hard. "Nasami... I..."
"Open your eyes, damn you, and say it."
For what felt like an eternity, Kambei slumped against the tree, wondering if he could actually make himself do it... if he could protect her from herself and from him, even as everything in him wanted her.
How appropriate that she'd blindfolded him, and then torn it away - it was so easy to live with an illusion, closing one's eyes to the truth, even as pleasant as that deception could be.
At last, he opened his eyes, and met her gaze directly, dark grey locked onto dark blue.
"Damn us both," he whispered, and as darkness fell around them and she moved into his arms once more, Nasami smiled.