The Challenge – Chap. 29 Epilogue: Proposal

A/N: This is an epilogue: Aizen's marriage proposal to Orihime. Hope you enjoy!

(Originally posted 9/6/12.)

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Aizen lifted the cup of jasmine tea to his lips and examined the woman sitting across the elegant rosewood table from him. Her eyes were downcast and her flood of auburn hair stirred slightly in the breeze. The French doors leading to the balcony were open, allowing warm, fragrant air into the spacious sitting room in the royal quarters.

"To start with, Orihime, I would like to thank you for your assistance during the final battle." He watched her face carefully. "Without your aid, it is likely that I would have gone down to death."

Her eyes rose and met his, and he was pleased to see a stricken look deep within them. He saw her jaw firm. She took a deep breath and said, "In that case, since you are indebted to me, I would like to ask for something in return."

He shifted on the brocade cushions, his eyes narrowing. "Indebted? I don't think so. Haven't I told you that I don't accept limitations on my actions?"

She inhaled sharply. "Are you saying I can't ask you for anything?"

"Oh, you can ask, my dear." He took another sip of the freshly brewed tea. "But I will not be compelled. You should know me well enough by now."

Her lips firmed. "Very well then. I—"

"You may ask, but first I have certain things to say to you," he interrupted.

Her eyes narrowed and it gave him a tiny thrill to see the fiery anger appear on her face. That was much better. She had been altogether too subdued since his ascension to godhood and it had started to disturb him.

"Well," she retorted, "before you start issuing commands to me, let's get one thing straight. Of course I know that you now have absolute power over me and everybody else in the world."

His eyes lit with a wicked delight at her words and he relaxed against the cushions. "Ah yes." He quirked an eyebrow and made a tiny gesture. Instantly, she was no longer on the chair across the table from him, but sitting beside him on the couch, encircled by one of his arms. She stiffened at the sudden transport, but made no attempt to pull away. He raised a hand languidly and traced a line on her face, trailing his fingers down to her throat. He heard her sharp intake of breath at the sensations, and smiled. She met his eyes with the defiant flare still present.

"What are you doing, Sousuke?" she demanded. "I thought we were going to talk."

"We are," he said with a mild smirk. "If I wanted something else I would have removed your clothes as well."

The furrow in her forehead deepened as she frowned. "Your arrogance has not been improved by ascension to the throne. You didn't even let me fin-mmph." Her words were muffled as he drew her face to his and took her lips in a kiss. They were soft and warm, and at first he could feel her small hands on his chest pushing him away, but after a few moments he felt her relax. He was demanding, taking his pleasure in her warm and jasmine flavored mouth at his leisure, his tongue exploring her as his hands buried themselves in her hair. He pressed his body to hers and felt the sparks of mingled reiatsu dance over his nerve endings. He relished the way she first trembled, and then gradually became excited and clutched him, returning his kiss eagerly. For a few moments he simply lost himself in her.

After a long time, he finally released her. Her face was flushed and her eyes had softened. He smiled down at her. "What was it you were saying?"

He savored the return of the fire to her eyes. "I won't be your plaything," she said. "I won't accept it if you threaten me or my friends."

He leaned back and studied her. The temptation to be cruel to her, to toy with her the way he so often played with his subordinates, indulging himself in his absolute control, rose up within him with the familiar frisson of anticipation of dark pleasure.

But with the ease of centuries of practice in self control, he merely lifted one eyebrow. "I have no intention to threaten," he assured her. He wanted to initiate their relationship properly. Although he knew she was strong, he also knew there had never been a soul born he could not crush or otherwise damage beyond repair. It was even more of a risk now that he was a god. He wanted to take his time exploring the new ramifications of all his relationships. He was accustomed to having others fear him, and the delicate technique of keeping the defiant ones just on the edge between rebellion and submission had always intrigued him. Still, he wanted something different with Orihime. He had not yet fully explored exactly what it was, but he wanted to make sure that he did not destroy any potential through carelessness. New beginnings were so fragile.

Above all, he wanted her as a companion and not as a subordinate. He had plenty of those.

"As I was saying," he continued, "before you interrupted me, I am grateful for your assistance, and wish to offer you a gift."

"A gift?"

"Yes." He stopped and regarded her. "As you know, I would like to plan our wedding soon." A tiny line appeared in her forehead at his words and he smiled inwardly. "I am aware that I have not formally proposed to you, my dear, and I would like to rectify that as soon as possible. I would not like you to think that I did not respect your wishes. So I have a question for you." He allowed the smile to blossom on his lips.

She tilted her head and looked inquisitive.

"I could make the proposal a beautiful, utterly romantic scenario." He eyed her. "Or," he continued, his smile turning slightly wicked, "I could be truthful."

She narrowed her eyes at him. "You should know me by now," she returned his words to him in a slightly mocking tone. "Of course I want the truth."

He relaxed, stretching his arm out over the back of the couch, as the slow smile lit his eyes."You are truly worthy."

She glared at him, but could not hold the frown, eventually shaking her head ruefully.

"Now then," he began, "I'm relieved that I will not have to kneel at your feet with a jewelry box in my hand." He watched as she rolled her eyes. "The gift of truth then. My dear Orihime, as I'm certain you are aware, I never ask for anything. I take what I want. And then I arrange things so that there will be no negative consequences for me personally. I do not care about the consequences to others. This is how it has been for hundreds of years, with regards to objects, wealth, authority, influence, or... souls." He raised his eyebrows with an arrogant gesture. "And as you can see, that approach has been quite successful for me." She frowned slightly, and he leaned forward to take her hand. "But today..."

He held her eyes with his, and she was taken aback by the intensity in their depths.

"Today, however, I am going to do something different. I am going to ask you to marry me, and it will be a completely free choice on your part. Regardless of your answer, I promise I will not harm you or your friends." She opened her mouth as though she was going to say something, but he held up his hand to stop her. "What's more, I promise that in the future, I will never threaten you or your friends with harm as a means to coerce you. You may live your life, either with or without me, free from the fear of my power."

Her eyes widened but she did not say anything as he continued. "Nevertheless, I am hopeful that you will accept my proposal, because although I need no one, I want and yearn for your presence beside me, your love to fill my days and nights, your support and even your advice throughout my rule." He ran a hand through his hair and continued. "Most of all, I wish for that deep connection that includes and goes beyond friendship and companionship and reaches toward completion: one soul calling out to another in the darkness, with a love that I have never felt before nor even dreamed I was capable of feeling." He paused, his eyes searching hers, aware that for the first time there was vulnerability in his. "You know who I am and what I have done; I have gone beyond redemption. What's more, I do not think I am capable of changing. I do not ask for your forgiveness, only your acceptance.

"Orihime, will you marry me?"

She stared at him, at those dark eyes, and it struck her anew all the wickedness those eyes had seen, had delighted in, had commanded. Did she truly want to tie herself for an eternity to this man? Someone with no conscience, who used people at his whim, who killed simply because it was convenient for his purposes... someone who was selfish and evil in all aspects of the word.

And yet, and yet... she had seen it in him—his soul was not of unrelieved darkness. She had witnessed him commit unselfish acts, display surprising emotions, and evidence an odd humanity that surfaced at unexpected moments. He had a brilliant and wide ranging mind, was more intelligent than anyone she had ever known, a fascinating companion, even capable of consideration in his own way... and somehow, she still believed that he might turn out to be a better ruler and god than anyone expected.

But what mattered more than any of this... she loved him. It might be wrong of her to love someone like him, but she could not help herself. She could not help that her soul longed for his with a passion that swept through her days and scorched her nights. She could not help that she belonged with him, regardless of his past or her future.

She looked up into his dark, dark eyes, and said, "Yes. Yes, I will, Sousuke."

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A/N: Let me know if you want the URL and password for the site where I'm going to post the uncensored version of this story.

Also, I'm planning a sequel that will begin with the wedding scene. Please let me know if you'd like to be notified when I start posting that story.