Chapter Thirty-eight

Harsh Truths

Hinata was still unsure of what to do about Gaara's extravagant gifts. He had just spent a fortune on her just to prove a point. It was obvious that from then on she was to shop until she dropped; no matter how she felt or how much it cost or he would shop for her. He would also invade her bathroom that same evening and watch her bathe like the dirty pervert that he was and then, to cap it all off, sneak up and scare the snot out of her while she was in the tub. She had never had such incentive to shop before.

She still couldn't believe he had gotten her such expensive gifts. The star sapphire set in white gold around her throat had made her shiver when she put it on in the morning, but not as much as when he had lazily dragged the tanzanite necklace around her neck last night. He had given that throaty chuckle too, so she had known that it was on purpose. Pervert

If you thought that was intense, just wait until I drag it across the insides of your bare thighs, my little morsel. She hunched her shoulders and sent a mental jab at him; why was he always so wicked? Surely being nice for just a short while wouldn't kill him!

Nice guys finish last, and wicked ones have more fun. He was smirking. She couldn't see him; he was in his court probably torturing and mutilating some poor creature and laughing about it, but she knew he was smirking. Smug bastard.

Not so; I have a father that has had me legitimately, so try for another insult. Mm, and while you search for something else think of how much you enjoyed my attentions last night. You certainly like having your back massaged; now don't you? She narrowed her eyes and blushed at the same time; he was such a know-it-all with his smart mouth and smug disposition, not to mention that cocky, arrogant attitude of his! Oh, and the fact that he was a dirty pervert with his naughty thoughts and wicked deeds; it was all his fault that she kept thinking of him in ways that made her blush because he kept planting ideas in her head and somedaysomehowshewouldgetevenshewouldandtherewasnothingthathecoulddoaboutitand-

Simmer down, my sweet; your thoughts are running together and you're probably mumbling to yourself about them like usual. You should be more careful; some consider that a sign of madness after all. Besides, you like my attentions. You just don't want to admit it. Now run along and have fun my little morsel. I'll savor you later. She let out an inarticulate shriek and stomped off. Kisame approached with caution, as did her maid. The emperor was very successful at making their lives miserable when it came to his mate. Why did he have to get her in a tiff before passing her off on them?

Shukaku and Temari came around the corner and hurriedly got out of her way as she stormed off into the gardens. He sighed softly; surely his son could find a better way of causing mischief. Temari looked at him.

"I'm going to assume that your son has something to do with that. Why the hell does he want her pissed off at everything?"

"Because he thinks her temper is adorable. I asked him the same thing. 'She has the most adorable glare, father, you should see it.' Those were his exact words. Yes, I know that there is something very wrong with him, but at least he is limiting his mischief to that. Be thankful for small mercies." So far, no dead animals have been found dancing in the halls. Small mercies indeed. They watched the girl attack the ground viciously with a shovel, despite wearing a cute knee-length dress that was a deep blue with silver sparkles. Thankfully her sandals didn't have heels. They were an ugly brown, and they knew that she had done that on purpose, just to tick off Gaara since they didn't match. Zetsu hustled over with a shrub of some kind, handed her a slice of melon, and scuttled back. She thanked him and resumed her abuse of the ground.

Gaara chuckled as he doled out his twisted form of justice to the lord that squirmed violently beneath him. His cries only egged him on, but he wouldn't kill him, not yet. He just wanted to break his spirit so completely that he never crossed him again.

"So, what is the rule about my servants?"

"They are yours!" his claw twisted in his back, wrapping around the spinal column and squeezing.

"I'm sorry, but who are you talking to?"

"Th-they are yours, Emperor Gaara, y-yours alone!"

"Very good, little pup; and what happens when I catch someone using them like they would if they were theirs?"

"Wh-whatever y-you see fit, Emperor Gaara."

"Hm, good answer, but a very poor choice of words…for you." The screaming continued long into the hours at his court, with the other lords and ladies watching silently. They knew better than to interfere.

Hinata sighed happily as Zetsu plunked the shrub in its new hole. They replaced the soil mixture, watered it thoroughly, and stepped back to study it. Hinata was pleased with it, as was Zetsu. Abusing the ground was an effective method of working off her temper with Gaara. Normally she was a very mild mannered girl, but Gaara knew exactly which buttons to push to set her off, and he freaking tap-danced on them all the time! Fortunately, they knew how to pacify her, even her maid, who had brought her a glass of iced tea to refresh her.

"Th-this iced t-tea is good, th-thank you, um, wh-what's your n-name again?"

"Oh, you needn't bother with such trivial details milady, I am pleased just to have pleased you," her maid said with a smile. Hinata gave a soft sigh, and then began to think. Gaara was really good at word games, but she was pretty sure that she had picked up a couple of things from their little chats and flirtations. Perhaps she could win the maid over to her thinking yet.

"B-but surely th-there is something I c-could c-call you?"

"Oh, 'maid' is more than sufficient, milady." Hinata gave her a cute scowl.

"Y-you imply th-that y-you're an o-object, b-but that isn't t-true. Y-you're a p-person, and people have names!" the maid simply smiled, and started to say the same excuse that she had been giving her for a while now, but Hinata was having none of it.

"And d-don't you say that l-little thing about you not b-being worthy! And f-furthermore, I have another reason f-for wanting y-your name. MAID!" she suddenly shrieked and dozens of them rushed over to see what the emperor's mate desired of them. She smiled softly.

"Y-you see? I can't just c-call you maid, it c-causes confusion. So, wh-what's you're n-name again?" the maid looked stunned, and thought furiously. What was her game? She had played word games with nobles before; and you didn't do it lightly. The emperor was the best lord to work for; at least that's what the other servants claimed. All servants claimed that, however. Was it true this time? She bit her lip. Lady Hinata had helped her when everyone else had watched one of her former masters abused her. And the emperor…he had also laid claim on her, teaching the youngling a painful lesson that she had learned long ago: in this world, might made right, and the emperor was the mightiest of them all. In any event, she sensed that she couldn't afford to play word games with his mate much longer. If you lost those games, you suffered for it.

"Milady, please don't do this," she did the only thing she could; she knelt on the ground on her hands and knees, abasing herself. She kept her head down, not even daring to look at Hinata's feet. You did not look someone in the eyes while you begged unless they gave you permission, and you most certainly didn't stand. They had taught her long ago that you groveled in the dirt, and that sometimes, if you were good enough, if they were distracted enough, if they were in a relatively charitable or lazy mood, sometimes they let you go.

"Don't do what?"

"Please! I beg of you! Please!" if possible; she groveled lower. Hinata simply stared at her; shocked and confused. What had happened? What had she done wrong?

"Alright, I think this has gone on long enough. Step back, Hinata. I'll take it from here." Gaara strode over and stood in front of the maid. She shook violently.

"Look me in the eye while I talk to you." She obeyed swiftly, panic obvious in her features.

"My mate is not playing the games that would entrap you; she is playing games of persuasion. Hinata is tenderhearted, and does not seek nor enjoy your pain. Now then, you will answer me truthfully; do you have a name, and if so is it one that you want to keep or forget?" the maid stared at him fearfully.

"I- I am no one. I h-have n-no name. I am only a m-maid."

"Then you and my mate will find a name for you. Agree on a name within one week. If you do not I will name you, understood?"

"Yes, Lord Emperor." He nodded his satisfaction and vanished, leaving the females to themselves. There was a reason he had selected this female for his mate. A nasty little secret from long ago; one that he would have to discuss with her soon, but for now, let her work her own bit of magic on the maid, and heal her as she had begun to heal him.

Gaara swung the chain holding the gemstone slowly back and forth, chanting softly as his intense eyes studied the figure before him. It was made of clay, and shaped into an amorphous form vaguely humanoid. It had no gender to speak of, a true blank slate, unfinished and unpainted. That was the point. He had chosen a silica based clay and sand mix, porous so as to let the power flow. The sand was from the arena itself, where the public executions were done. The silica was from beneath the tiles of the maternity ward of the palace. Death to create life, life to create death, his creature would be born in the bowels of the dungeons in one of the darkest pits of hell left over from his grandfather.

It had taken time but he had broken down his father's will and had the information about his grandfather now. Saigai was an evil bastard, but his preferred prey had been those too helpless to oppose him, and the weaker the better. A true sexual sadist, if you will, since he had often raped his victims before, during, and after the torture. Gender had made no difference, though he favored females just because they could become pregnant, and forcing them to lose the child was a favorite pastime. Purebreds though, they were abused far less often. They were stronger, and could not conceive. Still, his grandfather had found their pain delicious as well.

Shukaku was a terror when he was protecting his son or others that he cared about, but he wasn't a true sadist, so the chambers here had remained largely unused. His son, however, was another story. He could come up with torments that would've done his grandfather proud. However, he preferred those who had wronged him in some way.

This wasn't his first foray into these little slices of hell; he had been coming down here since he was only a century old. He knew them like the back of his hand now. He was nearly ten thousand years old now; an ancient, but young compared to some, such as his father. His father, however, didn't seem to realize that, and yet was all too aware of it. However, Gaara had greater concerns over his father.

Shukaku was withdrawing at last; grieving over his mate. With Gaara no longer needing him for protection he had lost his focus. He allowed himself to get swept away in memories and became unaware of his court's dealings. Those in his court were slowly but surely snatching at the power that the emperor commanded. There were two reasons why he had not been challenged for his throne. One was Shukaku himself. Although rather gentle, for a demon anyway, he was a formidable foe. He had slain Saigai and other challengers in the past. One didn't challenge the emperor lightly; failure meant death. The second reason was Gaara.

Gaara was old, powerful, sadistic and very, very cunning. He often ferreted out traitors for his father; dragging them before him to be punished. If the punishments weren't severe enough, Gaara often took a personal interest in the matter until it was solved to his satisfaction. Whether or not the emperor knew this was unknown, but the court knew it. It wasn't spoken aloud, but it was known. Of all the bits of power that Shukaku had lost Gaara had claimed the largest chunk.

Gaara continued to chant softly in the darkness as the clay figure began to pulse softly. Shadows began to twist and writhe through it until a fleshy sack enclosed it. It pulsed with what appeared to be its own heartbeat. He purred in pleasure as he slashed his hand; dripping the blood over the grotesque cocoon. Tomorrow he would add the final ingredient, but for now it would have to wait. As oblivious as his father was he would still notice his absence if he lingered much longer. It wouldn't do to have him ask questions.

As the prince moved toward his chambers he pointedly ignored Kenshi while his rival glowered at him maliciously. He knew that Gaara was too strong for him to take on as of yet; but that didn't mean that he would give up on his ambitions. There was more than one way to skin a cat after all.

As Gaara entered his chambers a startled maid let out a squeak. She had sapphire blue skin with golden hair and eyes. A hybrid; most likely one of the sea clans from the coast, but the exact origin was hard to say. A lovely creature, but she was an intruder all the same. He hissed angrily and lifted her off her feet by the collar of her brown work dress.

"What are you doing here?!" he growled angrily. The maid stammered incoherently and shrieked as he threw her out into the hall. He glared furiously at her as he cast an imprisonment hex on her; trapping her in chains made of pulsing red energy. He checked his belongings both magically and physically; reassuring himself that no tampering had taken place. He whirled around and strode angrily towards her.

"No one enters my chambers without permission. Ever. Have I made myself clear? Good, now get out of my sight!" he snarled as he released her from the hex. She scurried away frantically. The ill-tempered prince was not to be trifled with; especially now with the emperor not watching him as closely.

Gaara slammed the door and massaged his temples. That had been one of Bukko's and therefore one of Kenshi's. It seemed as if he had arrived just in the nick of time. That nosy worm needed to stay out of his business. Although it was to be expected from him; their rivalry had not dimmed in the slightest over the millennia.

Bukko had been trying to sire more children with his Chosen, but Oumu kept having miscarriages, leaving only Kenshi to carry on his line. If it had been otherwise Shukaku may have allowed a duel to the death between their two sons but he forbade it for now. This infuriated Gaara; but he understood that his father had a fierce affection for his friend and that they had been through a lot together. They had been close friends during Saigai's reign and Bukko had helped his father to get through the grief of losing his mother to that monster. So Gaara waited and hoped that he would sire another child; preferably one that wasn't such a pain in the ass. Then it would be possible to make a permanent move against Kenshi.

Until then, he would have to be satisfied with irritating his rival; just as Kenshi irritated him. He had sent that maid to snoop; well, that called for retaliation. Hmm, perhaps his feeders should be laced with a little something…extra. Perhaps an elixir to prevent completion and yet sow lust, or perhaps one to make the orgasm painful? Maybe one that brings pleasure too soon to satisfy the female in his bed? If she was a noble that would be hysterical. Decisions, decisions, how was one to choose between such delicious choices?

"Gaara!" he turned to see his father standing in the doorway; arms crossed. Gaara narrowed his eyes; just what had brought him here?

"Yes father? What brings you here? Surely not my warm companionship."

"Your tongue will only land you in more trouble, little youngling. Why is there a maid crying hysterically in the hall? Do you have any idea how difficult it is to calm hysterical maids, especially when one is a powerful lord that could at any moment snap them in half? Also, why is Kenshi sulking out there? When he sulks, servants suffer; you know this!"

"Hmm, could be because I threw the maid out when I found her snooping. She is one of Kenshi's, dear father, surely you recognize her…"He searched his father's face, which was, for the moment, focused and in reality. Good, or, perhaps, not so good, depending on what you were about.

"The maid is his? I hadn't realized."

"All of Bukko's servants are Kenshi's, you know this. She's hysterical because she failed and has to tell him that. Are you not aware of what he does to them?" Gaara said in wonder. Surely he couldn't be this unaware of things…

"Bukko wouldn't allow such abuse. Not after my father."

"Bukko has only one child to carry his line and is loath to punish his son the way that he should because of it. That, and the servants fear going to anyone for help since it would only gain them more pain. Do you not see it? The way they act? You know this to be true. Why do you think he seeks another child so desperately? He wants an alternative to Kenshi!" Shukaku blinked slowly, in shock.

"Are you certain? I do not see-"

"You're slipping, father. You need to get a grip. You have far more important things to worry about than my doings. For the record; I am almost ten thousand years old; hardly a youngling anymore, yes?"

"Perhaps, but you are still my son; and you are as a youngling in my eyes; and a part of you always will be. You will understand when you have younglings of your own."

"Yes, but still. You need to attend to your court, and you know it."

Hinata was bothered. Disturbed even; and she didn't know what to do. Time alone had given her time to think, and she had so many questions; yet she hesitated to ask Gaara. Love him though she may, but he still terrified her, even if he had kept his word not to harm her. She wanted to ask questions; she had so many; and yet, she didn't know who to turn to.

It stemmed from Temari; and herself, if she was to be honest. She didn't understand their feelings, and how they came to be. Herself, well, she was always weak. Weak in body and spirit, but Temari was strong, and yet she had still fallen in love with her kidnapper. She supposed that Shukaku was far more charming than his volatile son, but still…

Chiyo had been helpful, but she didn't answer all of her questions, and she needed answers. She felt as though she would go mad without them. So…well, crap. Gaara was probably the only one who would give her a straight answer. But he wasn't going to like her questions; she could see that from a mile away. Perhaps her maid would have a good idea for a bribe. Hinata turned to her.

"Ah, um, d-do you h-happen to know w-what Gaara l-likes as a b-bribe?" the maid blinked, surprised.

"Ah, well, that would depend on what you wish to ask of him. An offering of blood and flesh for safety is common for we servants, and the commoners not of his household offer information on the noble houses, and different types of goods for his favor, or to turn away his wrath. The nobles offer him different types of goods as well, or an exchange of knowledge, flesh and blood; the life of an enemy."

"Ah, I w-want to ask h-him questions…th-that he may not like m-me asking."

"Hmm, were you another, I would discourage it; but you are his Chosen, and you have his affections, so it would not be so dangerous. Perhaps a private meal with some of his favorite food, and very, very careful phrasing of the questions; start with the least offensive and go from there. I could escort you down to the kitchens to get the meal set up, and then help you primp and preen for him, yes?"

"Thank you, um, you haven't thought of a-any ideas for a n-name yet? He will probably a-ask…" Hinata poked her fingers together, while her maid looked thoughtful.

"Hmm…I was thinking of something related to bees; for they work hard, and I think they are sort of cute, especially when covered in pollen…" they made their way down to the kitchens, throwing around different ideas about bees.

Gaara strode up to his chambers suspiciously. His mate's mind had felt agitated; but she had been trying her best to shield from her; and as he had not sensed any danger or outright pain; he chose to respect her wishes. It had been easier when he had been in his court dealing with his subjects; the distractions had been sufficient to keep him occupied. When that had been finished, he had visited his prisoners deep in his dungeons to have a little fun. Normally he was practically whistling in joy and contentment after he was through, but it had worn off when he got the distinct impression that his little mate was in his chambers.

He was still covered in blood and flesh from his Yashamaru and Worm; the black color of his clothing and royal robes may hide it somewhat, but it was still there. Hinata was so squeamish when it came to these things that he usually cleaned up before seeking her out, to spare her from unpleasant reminders as to who and what he was. Knowing that her mate was a homicidal psychopathic monster and seeing it were two entirely different things, and he had no desire to rub her nose in it.

He sighed as he opened his door, resigned to having issues this night. He could smell it from here. A delicious meal undoubtedly comprised of his favorite treats in his chambers? He knew a bribe when he came across it; and when you combined that with her anxiety, well; that meant questions. Questions that she feared he wouldn't like. She was right; he probably wouldn't like them. Issues galore tonight.

Her maid was putting the final touches on the table in his alcove, and Hinata was fidgeting nervously in a dress that hugged her curves and was made of a black silken fabric. The gold chain glinting at her neck suggested one of the new trinkets he had gotten for her, and her hair was in an elaborate design; an intricate knot at the back of her head with her lengthy tresses flowing down from it. Both were standing with their back to him.

"Sneaking up here to bribe me?" he enjoyed how they both jumped and squeaked. Hinata blushed furiously as his eyes skimmed her figure, while her maid looked nervous. His gaze held them in place as he slowly stalked to them, taking in their expressions of guilt and fear.

Hinata's lips were a brilliant red, her eyes smoky. Golden earrings dripped rubies from her ears and a necklace of diamonds and rubies was around her neck. She also had a matching bracelet on her wrist. Low black heels were shifting nervously. A delicious bribe; but the tastiest ones could hide a bitter, bitter poison.

The only thing she could possibly want was information; and she clearly feared his response to her questions. The feeling was mutual. The bond between demons and their Chosen only ran so deep; and not only was she not completely Bound their relationship was rocky at best. It was far better than before; but still, they still clashed. She was so different from him; and although she brought some much needed balance to his life, their differences often reared their ugly heads.

"I sense a most uncomfortable night ahead of me. It will wait a few more moments," he snapped as he went into his bathing chamber and shut the door. He could hear them murmuring softly behind the door, and his mate sounded more than a little panicked. He rolled his eyes; honestly; did they really think they could fool him? Foolish little females! He grumbled softly about them as he yanked off his clothes and shoved them in his hamper before jumping in his shower. He cranked the heat up and sighed in pleasure as it soothed the edge of his ire.

He had this coming, he reasoned with himself. It was to be expected. As his Chosen, she would have questions and it was his responsibility to answer them and guide her in this world. This should have been dealt with far sooner instead of being left to fester. This was a reasonable thing for a reasonable person to do. There was nothing wrong with it.

He had successfully calmed down by the time he yanked on his soft black evening pants and walked out the door. Until, that is, he saw her fearful face. He had fought so hard to make so that she needn't fear him; yet one little flash of impatience brought it right back. He growled angrily; this was going to test the limits of his self-control tonight.

"I see you have grave concern over your questions; might I offer you a suggestion?" she meekly hunched her shoulders. He took that as a yes.

"Start with the least offensive: and work your way up from there," he moved over by the table. She hesitantly followed, throwing her maid a worried look.

"Ah, um…o-okay…" she thought for a moment, then blurted out, "is it okay if w-we use a b-bee for i- inspiration f-for her name?" he blinked in surprise, and then looked at the maid in question.

"It w-was my idea, Emperor Gaara." She looked down at her feet; clearly wanting his attention elsewhere.

"Do what you like, it's your name. Hm, you do realize that I shall call you 'busy bee' until you pick something, yes?" he poured a glass of deep red wine and handed it to Hinata; who took it reluctantly. She held it awkwardly in her hands as he poured himself one. He handed her maid something from the table.

"Off you go, Busy Bee; I have unpleasant things to discuss with my mate." She bowed deeply before scurrying out. He turned back to Hinata.

"Next question, then, my little one."

"Ahh, um, okay, um…why does y-your appearance l-look s-so…you know…" she poked her fingers together. She already knew this, but it would be good to see him in a better mood. He was vain, almost narcissistic, so this should be a good one for him.

"You already know that, but if you insist…a demon's skin generally stops aging once they've reached their prime. I have the proportions of the adult that I am, and I am powerful, and pure-blooded. As such, my body is constantly regenerating itself, and that means no bothersome wrinkles in my lovely complexion. Sit, eat, or I'll answer nothing else at all," he gestured to the chair, and she lowered herself into it. She took a small piece of beef from the plate in front of her; the well-done piece. He nodded and took a far rarer piece, and cut a bite from it, looking at her as she chewed her bite.

"Ummm, I don't know h-how to a-ask this one…" he patiently chewed another bite while waiting for it. She opened and closed her mouth a few times before giving it another shot.

"Um, well, wh-why are you…th-the way you are?" he blinked.

"You're going to have to be more specific than that, you know."

"Ah, um, well…wh-why d-d-do you e-enjoy, um…" she trailed off, looking down at her plate. He cocked his head at her.

"I'm going to take a guess and say that you are asking me why I am a sadist." She hunched down and gave a slight, hesitant nod. He looked at her with both frustration and gentleness.

"Well, I'm not sure you can understand that. I don't believe you have the capacity. It isn't a matter of intellect; it is a matter of empathy, or lack thereof in my case. I will try to explain, but I don't really expect you to understand.

"I could say that it was all the humans' fault, that they turned me into this; that because I was tormented as a youngling by them it made me this way. However, that would be a lie. I swore long ago, just after I left that shack that I would never again be prey for anyone or anything, and I have kept my vow to myself. So, that is true, the reason I hate humans, but as to why I am a sadist? No, that is not all, only a very, very small part.

"Another small part is that to keep my subjects in line they have to know that I will stop at nothing to hold onto my throne. I will always be their worst nightmare, my wrath is always to be feared above all, and I always, always, get my vengeance in the end. But that part is also small.

"The real, honest reason? The one that holds the most truth? I enjoy it. I relish it. I crave the sensation of another's flesh tearing in my claws; I savor their screams and adore it when they beg. The reason that I get off on others pain is that I am a monster; a sociopath in many aspects. You are not; therefore you cannot understand why I take such pleasure in others' pain and suffering.

"I will not and cannot change this. Not now, not ever. I have seen over seventy millennia, my little sweet, I came to terms with who and what I am long ago. You will just have to accept it."

"Y-you make it s-sound l-like I have no choice!" she protested. He gave her a look.

"You don't. You are my Chosen; and I will never let you go." He stood up abruptly, and reached over the table to take her chin in his claw; forcing her to look at him.

"I have already decided that I will not force you to witness it more than necessary, but I will not deny it. You've seen me play my games far too often for you to deny that you have an idea as to how ingrained it is in me. I will never stop." He slowly released her and sat back down. An uncomfortable silence lingered for a while.

"I don't understand…" ah, here it was, at last. It was the real reason that she has been so nervous about their little chat; the question that would probably send him over the edge; or so she thought. She may be right.

"Understand what, Hinata?" she shook in her chair, and he barely restrained the urge to dig his claws in the chair. Any sign of violence on his part would make her freeze and this question more than any other needed answering. The seconds dragged on, and silence swirled thickly in the air.

"How I can-how I can-why I-I-I," she buried her face in her hands and sobbed once, before steeling herself once more, "how I can, even after everything, even kn-knowing all of this, how c-can I l-love you!" she buried her face in her hands again, sobbing wretchedly. He came around the table and took her in his arms, holding her close while murmuring reassurances.

He had known that this question was coming. It was hard not to. With everything that had happened between them; her confusion, doubt, and suspicions were justified. He sighed and rubbed her back in gentle, slow circles. His little mate was still shivering, but was no longer sobbing. She was stealing herself.

"There now, little bird, shhh, I will not harm you for asking questions like that, you are infinitely precious to me," he kissed her eyes and ran a claw along her cheek and throat.

"Are you ready for my answer? I am not sure it will be to your liking, or even complete, but it is the best I can do." She shuddered, but nodded.

"In my experience love is not a simple thing; indeed it seems to take joy in defying logic and simplicity. I can tell you that as my Chosen you are naturally drawn to me, and are predisposed to seek me out unless circumstances have become…extreme. We never got to that point; close I think, but not quite. So the…call, if you will, is still there. You are twice Bound, only the third Binding remains. The pull between us is strong.

"Then of course there's you, Hinata. You are by far the gentlest, most forgiving person I have ever met. It would be a lie to say that is the only reason for your love, but it does play a part. Soft and sweet as you are; it is indeed a form of strength.

"After those two factors there is a third. Time has passed, my dear, more than what you may be aware of. You were eighteen when I brought you here; how old do you think you are now?" he leveled his gaze on hers, making her blush a bit. His eyes were still hypnotic; and she couldn't help herself; she had to answer him.

"Um, t-twenty…?" he chuckled softly at her, and leaned back, amused.

"No, my dear, you're off by a little. You are over twenty-four now." She gagged; how had she lost four freaking years?!

"You are twice Bound; your sense of time runs more like mine now; the only reason I keep track of it as well as I do is because I see the date every day when I look over the scribes' copies of the events and such in my court for the day. That is how I know your age. Why do you think little trinkets show up in your room on certain days? Why do you think I gave you a shopping pass? I like spoiling you, and the timing was close enough to the date of your birth that I took the opportunity.

"Humans say that time heals all wounds; but I found it only to be partially true. Some wounds fester with time, while others begin to simply hurt less," he gazed thoughtfully into the depths of his wine glass for a moment before continuing, "that is the best answer I can offer you." Silence reigned in the room for some time before she broke it once more with another question.

"Wh-what wound are you…?" he looked at her sharply, intense eyes piercing her soul. After a moment he shook his head with a soft sound that could have been a laugh, but then again, perhaps not.

"I'll make you a promise; when you and your maid come up with a name, ask me again, and I'll tell you." He took another sip of his wine and gave her an amused look.

"You did do your research, now, didn't you?" he gestured to the wine, and she blushed a bit as she nodded. He smirked at her. He was, like all demons, sensitive to the smell of alcohol, and thus only the finest drinks would suffice. Even amongst them he was considered fussy. It was immensely flattering and amusing to him that she went to such an extent to find one that he would enjoy. He wondered if she realized the way it affected humans.

It was probably a good thing she had a glass of it, he reasoned. A bit of liquid joy like that would make such harsh truths much easier to swallow. With what she had already learned, and what she would learn in the future, she would need all the help she could get.