Warning 1: I haven't written prose in four years. It shows. Also if anyone still follows this account, I'm kiseki gurl.
Warning 2: The real rating is probably a PG-13+. Or an M-.
Spoiler Alert: I took a tidbit from one of the later novels but put my own spin on its reveal and after-effects.
Disclaimer: Saiunkoku Monogatari belongs to Sai Yukino and all other properties.
As determined and forward thinking as Shuurei was, even she could not help lurking through happier memories of the past. The memory in particular was of her first official visit to Sa Province as co-governor. Now, she was traveling to Heki Province as government inspector. It wasn't the demotion in status that bothered her. No, the demotion was completely and utterly deserved. It was the traveling companion sitting besides her.
Eigetsu, Shuurei's co-governer and friend, had seamed together in perfect harmony. They were both hardworking, kind, and respectful towards each other. Throughout their six months tenure, Shuurei could not remember a single argument between them. Seiga, Shuurei's fellow inspector and current traveling companion, was just the opposite. Every word that he said towards her was vindictive, mocking, and full of spite.
Shuurei sometimes wondered if Eigetsu would have as kind and understanding as he is had he been a normal boy from a privileged family who passed him exams when he was twenty and expected to live for many more years. Surely, part of the reason Shuurei and Eigetsu were so alike were because they were both underdogs. Take away that from Eigetsu and would his good-natured soul have come through or did he acquire his good-naturedness through hardship?
Thank goodness for Ensei. He was a reminder of the earlier, happier days—the days where she could trust people and laugh wholeheartedly without wondering if said person was scheming against her. She was also grateful for Ensei because it ensured that Seiga could not harm kidnap her for another nighttime carriage stroll or any sort of matter. Even Seiga seemed to realize that he could not make thinly veiled threats of rape or call her a "bitch" or "cunt" with Ensei lurking by. Ensei was like a cuddly, kind-hearted bear. Shuurei smiled at that very ridiculous yet perfect description.
"What's so funny?" Seiga snickered dismissedly. His favorite pastime was to put Shuurei on edge, so seeing her unnerved made him genuinely uncomfortable.
Shuurei had a dozen of childish retorts that were clamoring to be set free, one of them being simply "your ugly face." But she noticed his uneasiness and realized appearing calm and collected will simply put him at more of an edge.
"Just excited to arrive at Heki Province."
"You should be, Hime-san," Ensei called from the front of the carriage. "I traveled there as a child and even today I remember it's exquisite beauty."
"Isn't the weather supposed to be unpredictable and often cold and rainy in the summer?" Seiga asked.
"Indeed, but that just makes you cherish the sunny days even more," Ensei replied.
As luck would have it, Seiga was right. The weather was indeed awful and chilly, for most of the days. The Governer of Heki took them on a four-hour excursion to see Heki Lake, the pride of the province.
"On a sunny day, the water and sky combine as one."
They did not see Heki Lake on a sunny day. Ensei summed it up best when he muttered afterwards, "On a rainy and cold day, its just another lake filled with horse poo at the edges."
The inspection was far from pleasant. Shuurei was sure that there was some corruption going on. The governor was living far too lavish a lifestyle while the normally prosperous Heki Province was starving. But neither nor Seiga could trace the origin of the funds, the governor had covered them up well. The inspection was going to take some time.
But it wasn't the job, the weather, or even Seiga that made Shuurei lose it. It was her own self.
She had been feeling under the weather lately, constantly tired and clammy from the time she woke up to when she went to bed, if she slept at all. At Ensei's urging, she plucked up the courage to visit a doctor. And while he couldn't tell her what was wrong with her body, he could tell her that she was barren.
She could never have children.
She could never be like her mom—the greatest person who ever lived.
She could never be Ryuuki's one and only Head Consort.
Ryuuki could never get his one and only wish. And Shuurei didn't even have a choice in the matter. It didn't matter how she felt about him—feelings that she still was unclear about. She could never be his wife unless she settled to be his second Consort. And Shuurei had too much pride for that. If she didn't, she would have married Ryuuki a long time ago.
Ensei found her crying outside on a night where the weather was chilly but clear. She had done her best to muffle her sobs with her hands but Ensei always had a way of finding her.
Ensei took one look at her and sat down.
"So… Hime-san, do you wanna talk about it?"
"Is the doctor sure?"
"Absolutely sure. The doctor said it would take a "miracle" for me to get pregnant."
"Isn't all human life supposed to be miraculous?"
Shuurei had to smile at that. "Reading lots of philosophy , lately?"
"Well, you know, the exams are coming up soon. No matter what, I will rank higher than you." Ensei quaffed at the ridiculousness of his own proclamation.
Shuurei tried to laugh too but her laugh came out more like a pathetic sob. At this, Ensei embraced her tightly as she started to cry again.
"It's not fair." Shuurei instantly regretted saying such a childish statement but it was honestly how she felt. It wasn't fair, mostly because there was nothing she could do to change anything.
"I know Hime-san, that's just the way life is sometimes. If life was fair, you wouldn't have to work with someone as evil or Seiga-san."
"I know this is childish to say…but I wish sometimes things could go back to before. When we were in Sa Province the first time, before the sickness. When Eigetsu and I were eager and new, and had the power to make change."
"Hime-san, it's hard to remember sometimes but you are eighteen. You are still a child. And that's okay. There's no need to go overboard denying or pretending otherwise."
"Part of growing up is recognizing that you will always yearn for the past. The past is always simpler and nicer in our memories."
Shuurei buried her face in Ensei's chest. Even if Ensei often acted like an idiot, he was truly a wise person. Shuurei let herself thoughts loose as she was wrapped in the warmth of his embrace. That's one thing hadn't changed.
Until she noticed it had.
While Ensei had always been forthcoming with the huge bear hugs, he had never had to make a concentrated to keep his….lower regions at a distance from her. And Shuurei wasn't naive enough to not realize what that meant.
"You two are really in love, huh?" Tan-tan had asked when he had first met Ensei. Right after Ensei had been freed from the prison and lifted her so she would be in a sitting position. Ensei had dismissed the question with a coolly said "Yup" but Shuurei now realized Ensei had been telling the truth. It was so obvious now that she thought about it. But she hadn't thought about it because that would mean admitting that their relationship had changed. Their relationship would never be as simple and pure as it was before.
Shuurei wished Tan-tan was here right now. He was another one who had put on a fake dummy disguise to conceal his wisdom and incredibly keen powers of observation. But seeing as he wasn't here, she just tried to imagine what he advice he would give to her in this situation.
Shuurei abruptly let go of Ensei's embrace.
"I can't do this. It's not fair for you."
"What's not fair?
"I just realized...since we've been discussing life and changing…"
"You've changed too. How you feel about me, that's changed." Ensei looked shocked for the second time night before resigning himself to a small smile.
"Right again, Hime-san. I didn't plan on telling you this because since you figured it out….I changed. I changed from merely admiring you as a person to falling for you completely."
Shuurei wish he hadn't said that. There was no going back after what he said. No going back to pretending that they were still platonic friends.
"And that's why I can't just keeping running to your embraces, expecting you to give me everything while I give you nothing. I can't marry you or always be by our side. I don't even know what type of love I have for you anymore."
"Hime-san, do you know the real reason I returned from Sa Province?"
"The real reason?"
"The real reason was to be always by your side, in any way I can. I don't expect anything. Don't you think I wouldn't have realized that marriage is impossible? I just want to be there for you, in any way I can."
With this, Ensei embraced Shuurei again. Only this time, she felt something stir inside her. Something she had only felt once with one other person, with Sakujun.
"Ensei, I can't ever marry you but I want you. All of you."
Shuurei looked at Ensei but his expression was unreadable. He nodded once to show he understood exactly what she meant.
"But I can't guarantee you anything. I can't guarantee I'd still want you in the same way after we return to the capital or even tomorrow. I can only guarantee that I'll still love and care for you as a friend. And cause you heartbreak." Shuurei paused. "I really am the worst."
Shuurei found herself crying again at this. But she was absolutely right. She didn't deserve someone as kind, nurturing and patient as Ensei.
"I knew that heartbreak would be unavoidable. This is my choice," Ensei said calmly. Shuurei looked up at him right before he leaned in to kiss her. The kisses started off tenderly before quickly morphing into something more passionate, fiery, and full of longing. Shuurei found herself kissing him back, a first. She had no idea how her kisses felt like. She only knew that she wanted more.
"We should go back inside," Shuurei said.
Back inside, they both rushed to Shuurei's room. Ensei followed Shuurei at about three paces back, pretending that he was simply guarding her. Before Ensei entered, Shuurei could have sworn Seiga's mocking smile. Seiga had already been making cracks about a possible affair between her and Ensei since they first arrived. No matter, Shuurei knew about the crying and bruised prostitutes that emerged nightly from Seiga's room. That would get him to shut up. And perhaps to stop.
What happened next happened mixed together in a blur of anxiousness, lust, and passion. Ensei opening her robe and Shuurei folding it carefully afterwards so it wouldn't get wrinkles. Ensei laughed at that as he removed his own clothes. And then it was his body on top of hers, before he flipped her around so as "not to crush her". He both cradled her and was relentless once inside.
Shuurei found herself enjoying the feeling from her loins as it spread throughout her body. The pleasure was tinged with a little pain, but she knew was strong enough to pass through this at least. And when finally it came, she found herself pressing her mouth against his to mute her undignified moan of pain.
"This has to stop," Shuurei thought to herself the next morning when she woke up in Ensei's embrace. For his sake, it had to stop. She didn't want to cause him any more heartbreak than she had to. But it happened the next night, and then the next.
Eventually, the job was done. Shuurei and Seiga had finally found the source of the funds and they were back to the Capital. It was difficult to find an excuse to be alone with Ensei but the night before they arrived, the moment finally arose.
"After we arrive in the Capital, this will have to stop being a nightly ritual," Ensei said right after he finished inside her. They were still intertwined together because neither one wanted to let go. "Seiran watches me like a hawk. God forbid something ever happened to his precious Ojou-sama."
Shuurei almost snorted at the words "Ojou-sama". Naked, with Ensei in her, and his residue from when she took him at the mouth still spread across her breasts, she was currently the last thing near an Ojou-sama.
"As long as this doesn't stop completely."
"So is this how it's going to go, Hime-san?"
Ensei smiled. "By the way Hime-san, this is turning out way better than I anticipated."
Shuurei kissed him at this. She did not mind this change. And while she wasn't sure where this would go, she knew would cherish this moment always. No matter what happened or who she ended up with, if indeed it was anyone at all, this moment would always be a part of her. And that wouldn't change.