Disclaimer: The entire series for Harukanaru Toki no Naka de (including the games, various animations, and manga) is owned by Mizuno Tooko and Koei. I merely borrow the characters for a short time.

Flower and Sleeping Arrangements

Akane knew the rumors, had heard them many times since her arrival in Kyou. General Tachibana, the guards whispered when they thought no one was in earshot, had been seen with this or that woman, and then when the two were alone... If Akane was lucky, the conversation would end at that point on a suggestive note, but the one time when that had not been the case still caused her ears to burn with the details they had taken in.

Winding her way through the garden, Akane was grateful that she could duck behind the trees any time she heard someone approach. She had no real desire to run into anyone after overhearing three men with little better to do than gossip discuss the party Tomomasa had apparently taken Takamichi to the previous evening. Two women next to him, they had said, and the general had still let his eyes wander around the rest of the room. She knew it was none of her business, and that Tomomasa was free to do what he wished as long as it did not impede his duties as a Hachiyou, but Akane couldn't stop herself from feeling uneasy.

"Ah, and if it isn't the prettiest flower in the garden."

Akane jumped at the sudden voice even as its rich tone made her shiver. Turning this way and that, she eventually found Tomomasa sitting on a bench down the next path, his eyes smiling at her over his fan. "Tomomasa-san," she greeted, stalling for time while her face cooled down. "I didn't know you were out here."

He rose to his feet, batting his eyes as he snapped the fan shut. "When you say it that way, I don't know if you're happy to see me or not." His movements were slow and measured as his eyes took in the details of her expression. His usual smile changed to one edged with curiosity. "What brings you out to the gardens this early in the morning, Akane-dono?"

At his question, the memory of the guards' conversation flooded through Akane with embarrassing clarity. Her blush renewed its color as she slid her gaze toward the nearest blooms. "I wanted to see the flowers," she lied, the words sounding false to her own ears. "I've been here so long and I don't think I've ever really gotten to admire the gardens here. They're beautiful, aren't they?" She reached out a hand to brush against the soft petals.

The crunching of gravel indicated Tomomasa moving closer. "Indeed, this garden is kept rather well." He took another step, and Akane could feel the fabric of his robes brush against her bare calves. "I could scarce make it more lovely myself." The words ghosted across the shell of Akane's ear. She took a quick step forward and turned around, one hand clenching the pleats of her skirt while the other brushed her ear in an attempt to calm her nerves.

In order to cover her anxiety at being in such close quarters to the general, she commented, "You know an awful lot about flowers, don't you Tomomasa-san?" She smiled up at him in what she hoped was an innocent way.

His low chuckle flowed down her spine. "Of course, my dear Miko-dono. Great care must be taken with flower arrangements." He gave a slight bow before the fan flipped open again to hide his smirk. "If you will excuse me, I was about to retire when you arrived."

Akane blinked in surprise. "You haven't been to bed yet? But it's morning!" She felt silly stating the obvious, and even more so when she remembered what he was rumored to have done the previous evening.

Tomomasa laughed aloud at that, his eyes crinkling at the corners in amusement. "No, I am afraid I was kept busy all night. However, if Akane-dono is free, perhaps she would care to join me..?" He raised an elegant eyebrow in invitation.

Flustered, Akane sputtered out a protest. "But that's... And I..." She stopped, took a breath, and told herself to calm down because it he was only teasing her.. "No. I slept last night, thank you."

"A pity," Tomomasa drawled as he walked past, his sleeve brushing hers. "After all, I am quite particular about my sleeping arrangements as well." He chuckled until his footsteps faded away as Akane stood staring at nothing and willing the blush from her cheeks.