I've been very lazy lately and I think it has something to do with the changing weathers here in Manila. Yeah, I'm still here. But I plan to leave this year, probably for either Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. The move really excites me. Anyway, thanks for all the readers who took time to leave their reviews, and even those who continue to follow the story despite the slow updates. I owe you a lot!
I redid the chapter plots and realized I'll be ending this story in 10 more chapters! I'm so happy! This story is the second hardest to write (the first: Falling White Threads) and after so many years, this one's finally getting a closure! Happy!
Adcloud: I'm glad you like this story even though it's too long! I'm not very confident with my Nakago but I hope it's acceptable.
Obsessed Dreamer: Yes, they're both so helpless in the previous chapter. Hopefully, they'll get happier in the next chapters.
Nile1283: You're right! That realization from Nakago was heartbreaking. Imagine liking a girl and then realizing she's related to the man you hate! It's really ironic.
ThePinkMartini: Yes, it got really dramatic, though I only wanted it to develop some connection between them. Haha.
Disclaimer: Fushigi Yuugi is not mine.
A Risky Proposal
NAKAGO WAS LOST. He clutched his forehead, banishing the guilt that filled him after he realized what he had done. He'd rather face her anger, her spite, her hate, than to see her kneeling before him, eyes filled with pity. The last he wanted was to be pitied by her. The man he saw reflected in her blue orbs was the man he loathed. He promised to never be weak again, to claim his revenge he had to be more than just a boy who cries over a kill.
But what was his purpose now? Where would his revenge bring him? The Emperor was dead, his parents were dead. The men who made him suffer were all nothing but rotting flesh. What would he gain? And what would he lose? Would his quest for immortality matter? Nakago laughed bitterly, fisting his hands. This was what he had become—a man with nothing. No purpose, no reason, nothing.
These hands made have always protected me… These hands made me a woman…
He covered his eyes, clutching his hair. Sweet Lord… What had she done to him? What had he done to her? What madness drove him to perpetuate such an abuse? When she looked at him, when their eyes met, his sanity waned. And in that instant, as his world crumbled before him, Nakago realized one thing: If it were in Yui's hands, he would gladly die. He heaved a sigh. How many have he killed for her? How many times did he hide his face as they grew up? How many times had he tried to depart from her only to come back, wanting her more?
Nakago was… He was afraid of her. Because if it was her, he succumbs. He gives in. How did she grow in him? He wondered. They only talked once before, she was very young. She probably didn't remember. She made a promise. She kissed him. A kiss he never forgot and will forever yearn for. Curse his boyhood fantasies. He never grew out of them. Realizing this, he left the Imperial Palace, hoping one day he'd learn to crush the part of her that grew in him.
He failed. He always fails.
"When will you return?" General Koyuu asked as he read a parchment, a report about the trainings. Nakago picked up an apple from the table, biting into it. It was one of those instances when he thought he was strong enough to return, only to find out he was still a tad weaker. "You have been living a vagabond life for four years. Eichuu is already vice-commander. Soon, he will inherit my position because my own son is out in the world, on a search—"
"I'm looking for the blue flower," he answered lamely. It was partially true, he was looking for the mythical flower. But his voyages showed no signs of it. He had come to accept that it was only a stuff of legends.
"What good will the blue flower bring if you miss your life looking for it?" his father asked, still not looking at him. "You are at the prime of your life, Nakago. Boys your age are already looking for a bride."
"If I have the blue flower… Maybe… I will be good enough to take the bride I want…" he reasoned, taking another bite of the apple. The General was against his wanderings but could not stop him. He was a strong grown man after all. Men, when they come of age, usually venture out into the world to find themselves. "Is she marrying the Prince?" he asked as he finished the fruit. This time, Koyuu placed the parchment down to look at him.
"Of Konan?" Koyuu laughed. "The Prince is a Suzaku warrior and the Emperor wants her husband to rule over Kutou. If there was a Crowned Prince, she would have been sent off to Eiyoh by now. But marriage is not possible at the current situation." Koyuu stood up and walked toward the window, where he sat, looking out into the familiar garden across the General's house. "The Emperor wants a distinguished soldier as her husband… Someone from the Kutou army."
"A general?" he asked, turning to him.
"A future general," the older man clarified. "So you, my boy, should be aiming for that instead of looking for a mythical flower," he said, moving away.
"That man doesn't want a prince?" Nakago smirked, slightly laughing. "She's probably not as…" an image caught his attention, a girl walking from the flowery garden into a pathway. A familiar face with a smile that could part the darkness in the heavens. He straightened, enamored. "…Beautiful…"
The face slowly turned to him and he immediately jumped from the window, crawling behind the bookshelves in his father's office. Koyuu was briefly curious of his reaction but immediately stood up when the girl arrived. He bowed low, forcing not to let out a laugh.
"Yui-sama…" he called her name in a manner that was close to a tease. Nakago held his breath behind the shelves, crouching to remain hidden. His heart was pounding. If he had stayed longer by the window, their eyes would have met. And he would have made a decision he will forever regret. "Why would you be here in such a day? Shouldn't you be… pampering yourself?"
"I get all the necessary pampering on normal days, General," she answered and Koyuu laughed. It was unlike his father to laugh easily in other people's presence. But after his performance, Nakago knew the General would laugh more once they were alone. "I came to give you my gift," she said. One of her court ladies walked forward, bringing a small chest tied with a ribbon. Koyuu graciously accepted it.
"Yui-sama, you should be receiving gifts on your birthday, not the other way around…"
"I'm already twelve years old and I am no longer a girl. I realized I should be giving back instead of receiving," she said. Nakago closed his eyes. Her voice had matured too. "Were you talking to someone when I arrived? I thought I saw… someone…?"
"Ah yes, I was talking to my son." Nakago stiffened. Curse the General, he was not ready to face her. "But he… he already left. He's a very shy boy."
"Oh… how unfortunate, I was looking forward to meeting him," she answered, smiling. Nakago covered his face, it was warm. "Father said he is one of the best warriors in the Empire and he was the one who gave me Fufu... Maybe we can have tea in my garden when he comes back?"
"He will be very pleased to accept your invitation, hime-sama," Koyuu answered, snickering. She smiled.
"I shall be going then." She bowed, turned, and sashayed out of the office, her ladies at her heels. Koyuu bowed lower and was laughing when he finally emerged from the bookshelves. Instead of teasing, the General sat on his chair and smiled sheepishly to himself.
"The service still doesn't entice you?"
"She is the Emperor's daughter."
"You have always been aware of that, my son," he noted, chuckling. "You loathe the Emperor very much your blood boils at the sight of him… But his daughter…" he smiled, letting the words hang. The General knew his innermost feelings even before he acknowledged them. He was a very keen man, and because of this ability, Nakago was never good at lying in his presence.
"I won't go back. Not just yet… I'm not ready, Father." The younger man looked away. He was not ready for many things. And he knew four years could not prepare him. Maybe in a few more years he will be ready. By then, he will claim everything that should be his.
"My son, I will support whatever path you choose," Koyuu said, breaking through his thoughts. "If you plan to win her affections by not showing your face, I cannot do anything about it." Nakago looked out into the disappearing figures. He can only see the numerous gems on her hair. When the time comes, he will be able to afford one as a gift. "But some battles are already won—one simply had to show up."
He smirked, remembering the numerous instances he would imagine being in her garden, sitting across her as she served tea, under the falling cherry blossoms. That was three years ago. He never came back afterward. He knew that if he does, she'd see him and all the years of hiding would be futile. But he still came back, unprepared, to save her life. It was the carrot stick of the Murasaki house: Kill the Emperor and we'll let your Father live. Silly him, he also wished for her life.
Of course the Murasaki house didn't fulfill their part of the trade. They ordered her death, fooled him by bringing forth a fake priestess, gave him a sub-commander who was the devil himself. All these misfortune, he realized, came after he chose the wrong side. He should have killed the Emperor by his own prerogative—other people's plans always had loopholes that bring trouble.
A bark snapped behind him and he immediately turned to find Yui walking toward him. She wore a torn robe, clutching his cape around frail shoulders. If it weren't for the face, there was no resemblance of the princess in his memories. Her eyes had lost the untainted happiness in them, her hair was in disarray, her face bore silent resilience. Yet, after all these years, he remains enamored by her beauty.
He stood up. It was time to face his fear.
SUBOSHI TUGGED AT the ropes that tied his wrists but it remained unclasped. Across him, the warrior Soi was ferrying them into a cave. Beside him, the boy Ashitare was sleeping, hands and feet bound by the same ropes. Suboshi felt his skin prickle but he couldn't look down on the patch of skin. His brother sent him a message but he couldn't read it.
The marks on their bodies shone without their consent, lighting the dark cave. The waters likewise shone brightly, beautifully. But Suboshi was staring at the woman to notice the cave and the looming darkness.
"Where are you taking us?" he snarled. She merely turned to him, not saying anything. "Hey, say something!"
"Where we will await the priestess," she answered.
She continued to paddle toward the darkness, into a sea of sparkling waters. He cannot see their destination but it didn't scare him. Suboshi chose to remain silent, focusing his attention on the ropes. Even though he knew it was futile, he wanted to escape the binds. Being trapped by a woman wasn't helping him regain his confidence.
A blinding flash of light appeared before them and Suboshi looked away. It took him awhile before his eyes adjusted to the bright day as they left the cave. By the time his eyes no longer hurt, the boat was already near the dock and they had passed a small but thriving fishing village with houses on stilts. He looked around as the people left their homes to look at them.
"Tell your brother I will meet him at the dock in Souun. Do not bring the Imperial Army with him," Soi told him as she yanked him off the boat and into the dock.
She pulled out a knife from her side and slashed at the ropes, freeing them. The action left Suboshi surprised. Soi pulled his arm and read the message in there. Suboshi pulled away, hiding it.
"Why—Why should I trust you?"
"You shouldn't," she pointed out. "But without me, he will get lost in the cave. It's your choice whether to save his life or not."
With a smirk, Soi turned to lift the younger boy into the dock. She likewise untied the rope as a couple approached them. Suboshi heard them talk in whispers but his attention was focused on the message his brother left him. After reading it, he immediately scribbled a response. He had little choice. He doesn't know where they were and he doesn't want his brother to get lost in the cave either.
We're in some fishing village… She will meet you by the dock in Souun… by yourself…
YUI ALWAYS FEELS different conflicting emotions whenever she looks at Nakago. He killed her father, he brought her house to its knees, he ruined her life. Yet, when their eyes met, all the reservations, the anger—everything disappears. With a look he creates a tremble in her body that weakens her knees, her breath caught, and her heart pounds achingly loud in her chest. She should hate him but she reacts otherwise. She let out a breath and walked toward him, steadying her footsteps.
"Are you calm now?" she asked. He answered by raising an eyebrow, face still emotionless. She raised her head to match his stares. "I won't apologize for forgetting you," she added, a little sternly.
"Ditto," he answered in a deep rough voice, like he was holding his temper. "I wouldn't apologize for killing your father," he said, smirking. Annoyed, Yui smiled forcedly.
"Well, I thought so too."
"It was a trade-off. I kill him, they let another person live," he explained.
It was her turn to raise an eyebrow. She was angry—very angry. Even though she pitied this man earlier, even though this man aroused the most sympathetic emotions in her, she could not completely control her temper when he's involved. He always says the most unusual remarks. He was dense to the say the least.
"And that person is more important than the Emperor?" she asked in a serious voice. He turned to give the most annoying smirk she had ever seen. And she made a face in response.
"Absolutely," he answered slowly.
Yui took a large intake of air to control herself. She would not have her way if she lets his bantering affect her. Before she approached him, she had decided that this time, she will get what she want. She assured herself that she had the upper hand in the situation. He was, after all, still her warrior. She cleared her throat and looked at him, proudly.
"Serve me," she said, not as a plea but a command. "For killing my father, I want you to serve me and become my warrior. It's the lowest punishment in the courts—"
"And what will you do for me?" he asked and Yui was taken aback. "He ordered the death of my tribe. He raped me."
"You already killed him!"
"It's not enough." Nakago turned to face her, taking a few steps closer. Yui instinctively stepped back. Nakago smirked at the move. Yui cursed herself. Her body betrayed her—and he knew now that she was afraid of him. Nakago didn't take another step. "If I were given a proper trial, everything he owned will be mine."
"How presumptuous," she responded, shaking her hand behind her. She always does so when she's nervous. "May I remind you that I am your priestess—you are destined to protect and serve me—"
"I don't give a damn about Seiryuu and this mark," he hissed, stepping forward. Yui stood frozen on the spot. She closed her eyes and looked away as he circled her. "If you want my services, you need to pay for it. I told you the same thing when we met… again," he whispered and the hair at the back of her head prickled. She opened her mouth to respond, she was trembling.
"I'm a fallen princess—what could you want from me—" she said, voice breaking. Their eyes met and she looked away in surrender, biting her lip. "Fine. Name it," she whispered. Nakago smirked.
"I want two things," he answered as he took a few steps away from her. The space calmed Yui and she felt her confidence rebuilding. "I want Seiryuu's third wish."
"What?" she turned to him, eyes wide. She covered her mouth. Does he know what making the third wish meant? Does he really wish for her death? Her heart broke and tears beaded her eyes. She closed them and heaved a sigh as Nakago watched her. "The third wish is yours. Granted that you help me summon Seiryuu," she said calmly. "And your second condition?"
Nakago stepped closer and loomed above her, their face inches away. Yui matched his stares. "I want you to marry me," he whispered and her eyes widened.
"WHY WOULD I?"
"When we marry… this—" Nakago pulled the hand where the silver ring was placed and rolled it between his fingers. "—and your whole house will belong to me," he said slowly, cruelly. Yui pulled her hand away.
"How dare you," she hissed.
"I want Kutou. And I will do everything to get the Dragon Throne—even if it meant serving a spoiled princess all my life," he said, smirking. "Don't worry, I won't touch you, you need to be pure for Seiryuu. But when I'm Emperor, I'll let you sleep with anyone. I'll even let you run away with your lover—"
Yui slapped him and immediately turned away, embracing herself as tears fell from her eyes. Her whole body trembled. This was the only thing she was good at, crying. She was offended, felt like she was slapped in the face with a wide wood. She smiled bitterly. Her blood was the only thing that was of use. With her blood, with her title, with her lineage, any man who claims her shall have the throne. She was well-aware of that fact but coming from him… the truth pierced her heart with a thousand knives.
"I'll do it. For Kutou, I'll marry a heartless man like you," she answered, still looking the other way. She was crying but there was no use hiding her tears. He always knew how to hurt her. "Just promise to be a good Emperor… That's my only wish."
"I will be better than your father," was his only response. Yui bit her lower lip and laughed bitterly.
"Prove it. If you can't… I will kill you. And this time, I won't think twice. I will really do it," she warned him. Even if it pained her, she will do it. Once he fails, she will unsheathe her dagger and bury it into the calloused heart that will never be hers.
A/N: I just can't help but love the exchange between Yui and Nakago in this chapter. Haha. I hope you enjoyed it too. Okay, there will be more movements after this. Haha.