It takes three months for Sayuri to awaken. Three beautiful, blissful months of living her dream before the freezing water is carelessly thrown over her. Danna-sama is visiting, as he often does, and talking proudly of his daughters when the truth hits her. She is his, well and truly his, but the thought suddenly brings no pleasure when she realizes he will never be hers. Not completely. She is a trinket, bought and paid for; a doll to sit on the shelf and look pretty until someone wants to play with it. Becoming his hadn't changed that, it had only moved her into a much bigger, much emptier toy chest where there were no other dolls to pass the time with.

His next visit gives her no joy. He is upset, pouring out his troubles but expecting no input from her. She isn't expected to offer opinions or advice, only to smile and cheer him so that he might forget for a little while. Perhaps he will do so in her bed; it's what he paid for, after all. Her mask slips, just a little. Just enough. Instead of teasing his black mood away, she frowns pensively to herself and thinks about lost destinies and peach pits.

"Sayuri," The Chairman frowns at her in playful disappointment. "I've upset you with my tale. Smile for me, won't you?"

She smiles obediently and asks if he will bring her a peach on his next visit. He laughs, assuming a joke where there isn't one and agrees to bring the gift as penance for making her frown so. The fruit is handed over with a proud flourish the next day and she eats it daintily, self-consciously aware of his eyes following the suggestive nature of her small feast. Piqued, she throws the pit at him and conveys a silent message he'll never understand.

"What a silly game." He grins and tosses the pit gently back at her. "I did not know you geisha were taught to throw food. I thought you were more gracious than that."

And, oh, there it was again! 'You geisha,' just like other men. As if she could never say or do anything that was simply Sayuri, and not a trained response. Had she ever truly believed this man somehow knew her? He'd spoken to Chiyo for less than ten minutes. Thinking of another who had grumbled about 'you geisha', always poking and needling to try and make her respond as she wanted instead of as she should, her hand closes protectively over the peach pit and she rises.

"I'll just put this away." More than anything, she needs a moment free from his presence.

"Just throw it out." His dismissive wave pains her and she shakes her head, hand tightening around the pit until it has imprinted itself onto her palm.

"No." Her smile is as tightly clenched as her fist, but he can't tell. Of course he can't. She looks so lovely smiling at him, what does it matter if her eyes are dead?

Making her escape as gracefully as possible, she goes to the lacquered box that houses her greatest treasures. Before Sayuri places the peach pit inside, she clutches it close to her breast, centers herself with it snugly against her heart then raises it to her lips to press a kiss against the roughened surface. She wonders if scarred, blistered skin would have the same texture.

With her newest treasure safely tucked away, the guilt hits her like a physical blow. Perhaps it will be unhappy, housed amongst presents The Chairman has given her. Perhaps it would like a fragment of concrete for company, but that gift and that promise are irretrievably gone. She cannot mourn them now, but later, when her danna has returned to his family, the ones he truly belongs to, she will allow herself to weep for the loss of one who might have been truly and completely hers.

That night, after the tears have washed her mind clean, she resolves to change her destiny. Weeks turn into months and months into a year of desperately chasing down any gossip about Nobu-san. The only thing she hears is that he avoids the teahouses as much as business permits. Though she knows this to be a wise decision on his part, for her presence still occasions whispers about Mr Lizard's painfully obvious affection for her, Sayuri begins to despair nonetheless. If he will not come to her, how can she ever hope to...but, no! She's drifting belly up in the stream again. She has an advantage to use. No longer confined to Gion, she can easily go to him, instead.

His secretary allows her entrance on the pretense that she brings a confidential message from The Chairman. She had dressed herself in western style clothing that morning, something modern to lend credence to her story and make herself believable as just another worker. Her relief that it works is almost as great as Nobu's shock to find her suddenly in his office.

"I haven't forgiven you."

She nods, lets the mask slip so that he can see the arrow has hit home. "I had hoped -"

"Yes," he says coolly, "so had I."

And she wants to speak to him not as a geisha, but only as a woman as free to love as any other woman. Perhaps he will hear her if she offers him the same bluntness he always gave her. But for all her resolve to do so, she finds the words stick in her throat. Had they ever done the same to him? Had he ever found himself hovering just on the verge of a declaration, only to find that there were some things even he wasn't bold enough to say?

"I..." The words and her courage have fled in the face of the anger she can see building. Sayuri knows instinctively he will not accept what she offers now; not now and not like this. She has effectively locked herself out from him and the walls are well-guarded against her. "I threw a peach pit at The Chairman," she manages instead, hoping he will remember and understand what she lacks bravery to say.

He was prepared to rage at her, to verbally rip her to shreds and send her from the building with her pride in tatters, she is familiar enough with his moods to know that, but at her words the storm passes. Hope is hammering wildly in her chest when his eyes soften, but it dies at his next words. The knife blunted for the sake of their past friendship and the apology he knows her to be making.

"Leave, Sayuri. I'd not throw one at you."

No more words will ever pass between them, and they will never meet again. She can already see the future laid out as clearly as a film. Nobu will warn his secretary against her and say nothing of this afternoon to The Chairman, and she can never ask danna-sama where Nobu-san lives without suspicion the men's strained relationship can ill-afford. She can give him nothing more than knowledge of her suffering, but it will be enough if he takes even small comfort from that.

"Should Nobu-san ever wish, I hope he will contact me someday." She hopes, but there is no hope left for he makes no move to stop her from leaving.

That evening, The Chairman comments on her tearful eyes and she assures him she'd only been watching a sad film. When he jokes that even movies must not dull her beautiful eyes and offers to cheer her with sweet ice, she smiles and grits her teeth against the urge to ask for peach pits and broken concrete.