The Splintered Truth
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On her knees, she was seated, like a proper woman, perched faithfully beside his tea tray. She was a picturesque beauty, a portrait of Japanese eloquence. Even if the ice-blue kimono she was wearing was a hand-me-down from Okon. Would he even really notice the silk thread of her obi was beginning to fray at the ends or that there were a few stains on the body of her kimono? Anxiously, she was perched beside him, begging to be noticed.
"Love me, Aoshi-sama!" she declared after several minutes of strained stillness.
"…" She could almost hear his dread that they were going to talk about that again. How many times had she brought it up this year? Four, five times already?
"I will it to be so!" she thundered. "I'll cast a love spell, don't tempt me!" she threatened and then back peddled. "I wonder if those work?"
"You are too young-" he started, only to be interrupted, a familiar pattern, a familiar argument. One that would probably end in the stalemate it always did.
"Is this about my boobs?"
Aoshi was floored by the question and the quiet confidence of her tone and turned his gaze upon her. He couldn't help it. He took notice of her neat figure and her pretty kimono and, without intentionally doing so, dragged his gaze across her aforementioned bosom.
"Because Aoshi-sama, the kimono really pushes them down, they're bigger than they look. And why do they have to be big at all? What kind of man only likes big boobs on a woman? Is that all that's important?" Her outrage was inappropriate for the Temple setting and he was quite prepared to tell her so if the look on his face was any indication. She had no intention of being reprimanded today.
"You know what else, Aoshi-sama? I've accepted it. I'm twenty years old; my boobs aren't going to get any bigger. I'm not going to get any taller or become more beautiful. But I think-"
Oh gods, he had to stop her. Reaching over, he pressed a hand quickly over her mouth drawing her into instant silence and stillness. It was a moment of beautiful reprieve. She leaned forward, into his hand and not away. Life, sometimes, could be so simple between them.
"You are beautiful," he stated.
He withdrew his hand from her mouth knowing he ought not do so if he desired quiet but left without any other means of keeping it.
"Then why don't you love me?" her tone was petulant, a child demanding her favorite flavor of ice cream.
"We've discussed this before."
"Yes," she answered curtly. "Yes, we have. But it's been a while and I thought I'd give you the chance to think up a better excuse than your last one."
"My last reason-" he corrected.
"Was dumb!" she interjected. "Aoshi-sama, you told me that you didn't want to taint me."
And so he did. "You deserve better."
"Are you crazy? There is no one better! Anywhere. You're the most perfect man in the world!"
"That you still say things like that only convince me I am correct."
"Okay," she readily agreed. "You're not perfect at all, most of the time you're a cold son of a bitch, I think that's how Sano put it."
He didn't as much as blink at her use of foul language. She had become increasingly bold and brash over the last few months. Swearing had become more common. He wasn't certain if it was a new tactic or she was truly frustrated with him.
"So what am I supposed to do then?"
"What do you want to do?" he prompted.
"Dirty things to you," she murmured salaciously, and wiggled her eyebrows.
He met her eyes again and she managed to hold his gaze steadily. He wasn't sure he believed her. Did she really want-? Her dark, dark eyes told him nothing. Misao might sullenly demand he love her, but she was becoming increasingly clever in the ways of women and her facial expressions reflected that daily. How long had it been since he could take just one glance at her and know the direction of her thoughts? "What else do you want to do?"
"With you or to you?"
"With your life," he patiently pressed.
"Not a damn thing! What do you think I should do?"
"And what? Get married? Pop out a few kids with some guy who will probably end up boring me to death? I deserve better than that, that's for sure." She sat back a second and then grimaced. "Eew, what a nasty thought."
"You deserve someone who won't taint you with his past."
"What if I taint him with mine?" she countered saucily.
Their gazes met again. "You aren't a murderer." She could raise so many questions so easily.
"I might not've gone on a killing spree lately, but how do you know I've never killed anyone? What if some crazy relative comes to claim revenge and takes out my entire fictional family with boring guy?"
He heard the hypothetical and ignored it. Had she truly murdered? Was she guilty of that crime? Did it matter to him if she had? "Who have you killed?"
"You're dwelling on minor details – that's not the point!"
He didn't look appeased at her unwillingness to answer. "You are an innocent, Misao. You need to take a place in this new world and you need a man beside you who fits into it."
"I don't give a single shit about this world if you aren't a part of it. And this whole innocence thing better not be about virginity," she warned.
Good gods, who was she spending her time with?
"You aren't a virgin?" Was that what she was implying? Desperately, he pushed away the possessive snarl that tried to curl out of his chest at the thought. She was free to do as she pleased but he would not encouraged her to be… to be…
"Who cares about a thing like that anymore?" she answered flippantly, crossing her arms and looking, for all the world, disinterested.
"Lighten up, Aoshi-sama, it's a whole new world, remember? What's a fling or two?"
Two? She had to be lying to him. One man perhaps, but two men? After she declared her undying love for him?
"Are you being honest? Did someone take advantage of you?"
"Why?" she paused. "Going to avenge my honor? Force him to marry me? Please, spare me. I'd sooner tie him to a tree and cut it off."
"Are you a virgin, Misao?" he asked directly, certain that she was.
"No," he growled. "Now answer."
"Don't see why I should."
Aoshi sighed and turned forward once again, trying to find his center. She could be so aggravating, arousing emotions he wanted to remain settled. Moreover, what right did he have to be possessive over her? Just her own insistence that he was what she wanted, that was all. She didn't belong to him, no matter what she said about it. "What do you want from me?" he asked, tired of the conversation.
"Didn't I say already? I want you."
"In your bed?"
She hesitated, looking a little unsure of his sudden directness. "Bed, sure, in my life mostly."
"I am in your life."
"No. No! No you're not. You hover around the edges of my life!"
"Does this make you happy, Misao? To dedicate your life to me this way?" He was referring to her daily attendance to him. She brought him tea in the mornings and in the afternoons she brought him a snack tray if he was still at the temple. At home she summoned him for meals and attempted to include him in training sessions. She came to him if she needed advice with her Okashira duties, which mostly included directing mail to other Oniwabanshuu outposts.
"I'm a woman! Women devote themselves to a man and a family! That is what a girl is supposed to do when she grows up. You just won't let me!" She didn't seem to realize she was yelling if the way she looked startled at the end of her outrage was any indication or the way her tense shoulders suddenly dipped.
"And that's what you want? To be my wife?"
Her anger, simmering up slowly to her outburst, vanished abruptly leaving her looking small and vulnerable. Her boldness abandoned her.
"I never said that."
Perhaps directness was exactly what they needed. "Instead, you want to be my whore?"
Misao paled. "That's a strong word."
"You can only be one, Misao, a wife or a whore."
On trembling legs, she suddenly stood her expression fierce. "Good afternoon then, Aoshi-sama."
Leaving her tea tray behind, she left him, offended.
The back sitting room of the Aoiya was where Misao found refuge man hours later. She had Okon had been reading a book together, a foreign one recently translated, but today Misao had no interest.
"You look depressed," her friend commented as she snapped the book closed.
Misao sighed. "Aoshi-sama told me I could only be a wife or a whore."
"Did he ask you to marry him?" Okon asked, startled.
"No, of course he didn't." Absently, she tapped her knuckles on the table.
"But he was certainly nosy enough about my virginity. I don't understand. Kaoru and Megumi say my boobs are too small, so I flung that at him."
"You didn't!" Okon laughed.
"Oh, I did,"Misao insisted.
"What did he say?"
"That I was beautiful."
"But that's sweet," she pointed out.
"He was just saying it shut me up. Then he tells me I'm too innocent so I'm not sure he wants me to be a virgin. If I wasn't then maybe he'd change his mind."
"You're not thinking—?"
"Why not?" Misao blurted flippantly. "I'm curious and he's never going to come around. Why shouldn't I?"
"And if you should become pregnant?"
"I'm a virgin, I'm not innocent! I'll just make him take it out before… you know…" she made an awkward motion with her hands that only made Okon's eyebrows rise.
"And if he doesn't? Just because he agrees to that beforehand doesn't mean he'll go through with it in the heat of the moment. "
"Then it'll have to be someone I trust. Shiro is still single, isn't he?"
"I think he's seeing a girl in town actually. Besides, if Aoshi-sama found out?"
"You're right, that would be too awkward. It'll have to be a stranger after all, but where to find one?" she tapped her lip conspiratorially.
Misao hadn't heard the door open behind her and that traitor, Okon, who was cautiously looking down, had said nothing. But she knew the voice and she'd bet her tabi that he'd been eavesdropping. "A man," she declared boldly, knowing Aoshi-sama had barged his way into a private conversation, yet again. He'd done the same thing earlier in the month.
"Why do you need a man?" she could feel his eyes on the back of her head as if he was trying to stare her down.
"For sex," she answered simply.
"Oh," Okon stood, looking pink. "Please excuse me."
"Chicken," Misao muttered, Okon ignored her and escaped the open doorway, closing it on her way out.
Aoshi came around the table and took Okon's place on the other side. "Didn't you say you loved me?"
"I do love you," she answered bitterly, glaring at him.
"But you need a strange man for sex?"
"You're the one who said I was too innocent for you. As far as I can tell, that can be fixed."
"It doesn't need to be fixed. There's nothing wrong with-" She narrowed her eyes and him and he trailed off. "Is this really about sex?"
"It's about you."
They stared at one another over the narrow table. "You want to devote your life to me, Misao? To make a family with me?"
She looked away.
"Am I not good enough, then?"
"Not good enough for what?" she asked, confused.
"To be your husband."
"You won't answer."
"Answer what? You haven't asked anything."
"I told you your options."
"My options," she scoffed.
"You have the courage to talk dirty to me and you can't tell me you want to marry me? That or I'm not good enough to marry, I'm only good enough to-"
"Don't you dare say that!" her eyes widened in horror.
"I speak only the truth."
"It is not."
"Then say it."
Crossing her arms grumpily, she answered. "I want to marry you, Aoshi-sama. Not that it makes one bit of a difference. You don't want to marry me. You don't love me."
"I will marry you."
"Absolutely not," she dismissed it immediately.
"I just told you why. You don't love me."
"I do love you."
She glared. "I don't believe you."
A clock ticked in the background as they eyed one another.
"How many I prove it to you?"
Uncertainty made her pause. "Give me your most treasured possession."
"You are my most treasured possession."
"Then give me something else! Give me your swords."
He stared a long moment. "Very well, come up to my room."
Darkness fell hard over the Aoiya and Aoshi's room danced in shadows under his pale flamed candle. She had seen his room before in passing but she'd absolutely never been invited inside his private sanctuary.
"Shut the door," he requested. Aoshi was already across the room, kneeling down looking through a chest.
His hands closed around his swords sheathe as she slid the door closed, shutting them inside. Standing to regard her, he asked aloud. "How does this prove my love for you?"
"Then why do you want it?"
"I just don't believe you is all. You're the one whose spent years telling me-"
"What am I, Misao? To you?" he interrupted.
"Everything," she replied without faltering.
"I can't change my mind?"
"About loving you."
She pointed. "You're the one who said-"
"I never said I didn't love you. I said you deserved better."
She stood silently.
"At the end of the day I'm a man like any other," he advanced softly. "Who has had a young woman become increasingly bold in her declarations." Raising his hand, he traced one calloused finger along her jaw line. It was so dark; she could make out his outline but not his face.
"Yes, but I-" her breath hitched at his touch, his nearness. Misao dry swallowed as his finger traced down the column of her throat.
Leaning down, closer, he lessened their height disparity. His breath fanned against her cheek and she trembled from the warmth of it as his hand curled around her nape. Gently, he tugged her forward, nearer to him and she stumbled into him.
"If this is what you want," he murmured softly, the words spoke against the shell of her ear. "You need to make an honest man of me first."
Misao's scrambled mind whirled. Shy, she'd kept her face down but now, she found herself looking up, still unable to see what she wanted. His face. His expression. She snorted in incredulity. "Is this the part where I ask you to marry me?"
"I should think so."
Torn, Misao struggled in silence. Could she ask him? What way, if any, might induce him to say yes? Closing her eyes she sighed softly. "Aoshi," she breathed. The hand on her nape tightened, but he remained carefully still. "Will you marry me?" the words were soft, barely audible in her fear of speaking them.
The swords in his hands, her demand to have them, were forgotten and they clattered loudly to the floor as he reached, instead, for her. He cupped both hands to her face and, in answer, he devoured her.
Misao met breakfast blearily. Sleep had evaded her. Kissing her senseless, Aoshi-sama had sent her off to bed. In her own room no less, she thought grumpily. After that, she hadn't been able to contain her excitement, her joy. She'd tossed and turned restlessly all night. The others, she noticed, looked wonderfully rested. Even Aoshi-sama.
"I have an announcement," she declared, grabbing her cup of milk, which she hated, and raising it up. "I have decided to get married."
Silence rose from the table like a puff of steam.
"Just in general or you have someone in mind?"
"Actually," Misao answered, sipping from her cup. "I think I'm the suitor."
"You're marrying yourself?" Okon grinned.
Misao laughed. "No. I'm going to marry Aoshi-sama."
The others seemed unimpressed and no one immediately said anything. "Well, when you pick a date, let us know." The skepticism in the air was thick.
"A week from today," she retorted tartly, setting her cup down so quickly she nearly upset the contents. "He doesn't want anything fancy. I told him I'd buy him the finest money could buy, you know, if I could afford it." The girls laughed. "But he said he didn't need money to prove my love for him, or… something like that."
Glances were exchanged amongst cynical family members.
"You can stop looking at each other like that. He said yes when I asked him!"
"He's at the damn table!" she snapped.
Okina turned to Aoshi, who was quietly eating. Softly, he sat aside his chopsticks and reached for his tea. "It is the truth; I have accepted."
"That went well," he remarked, late morning at his temple tea time.
"Can you believe they didn't believe me?" she muttered, still annoyed at having to defend herself.
Quietly, he sipped.
"I thought I handled it really well, too. I didn't even jump up and down or anything."
"I didn't even say a single thing about marrying you for your virtue," she teased.
Blue eyes met across the table. "Is that the only reason?" The warm cup in his hands found its way back to the tea try.
"Aoshi-sama! You know perfectly well that…" Were his eyes sparkling at her? "Wait… Are you messing with me?"
AN: I haven't written something RK in quite a while. I'm going to restart working on Hope in the Hollows, that really needs to be finished.