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Just for the record, I was asked to write this scene, which is the first night Hiko and Hikaru spend together. (If you haven't read "Return", you might want to do that first.) I thought it might be a good opportunity to let them talk a bit about their pasts and bring out things that don't appear elsewhere in the stories. However, it didn't work that way at all. As usual, they made me do it their way.
Yes, there is some (mildly) explicit stuff in this scene.
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With the setting of the moon, the alley beside the Murasaki residence was so dark, even Hiko had trouble seeing his way. The gate in the back wall was simply a blacker square in the blackness, detected more by feel than sight. But it was already unlocked, and someone had given thought to the possibility of his getting lost, because as soon as he touched the gate, it opened and a small hand grabbed his and pulled him inside. At this hour, in this darkness, he thought Hikaru was carrying discretion a little too far. Then a soft, scented woman's body slid into his arms, hands tangled in his hair, and lips hungrily sought his, and he realized it was eagerness and not discretion that had caused her to drag him in so quickly.
It was very gratifying. It was also exciting. Whatever she was wearing, it was thin, made of silk, had no obi, and was a negligible barrier between his hands and her skin.
She broke the kiss after a long time, nibbled on his lower lip, then his ear, and kissed him again. Then she laid her cheek against his chest and chuckled. "You can be seen from half a mile away in this cape." After a moment, "I can feel your heart beating. It's so strong." Then she chuckled again. "I'm not usually this impulsive."
Impulsive? She was pressed tightly against him from breast to knee. There had to be a better word than "impulsive". When she pulled away from him, he actually felt cold.
Her fingers twined through his. "Come on, this way. I know you're going to have a hard time believing this, but other than me and my maids, you're the first person to see the inside of my little summer house."
He followed her blindly down the path. "If I didn't think that, I wouldn't be here."
"You are so hard on people. How will you get through life, being that way? You'll always be lonely."
"I'm never lonely."
"Being alone isn't a burden for me."
She stopped abruptly, and when he bumped into her, she was back in his arms. A cool finger stroked his jaw. "Ever?"
He could feel his control slipping away again. How the hell did she keep doing this to him? He said drily, "Sometimes I do miss my Master."
She giggled like a girl and continued leading the way. He knew she could see right through him, and probably always had been able to, but he found that it didn't bother him. She had a gift, that she could see him clearly without judging, and laugh at him without hurting. "How do you do that?" he mused aloud.
"Make fun of me without making me angry."
"It's because I love you."
"It can't be that simple."
"Oh, love isn't simple. Not at all."
The summer house was lit, and by the faint gold of the light coming from it, ten paces further up the path, he could see her expression. She was serious, even solemn. Then the merriment came back into her eyes and she pulled him along again. At the door she slipped off her zori and looked at him expectantly. He stared back, scowling. She folded her arms on her chest and tapped her foot impatiently, standing there blocking the door. He gave an exaggerated sigh and sat to take off his boots. But she wasn't finished with him there; she also made him leave his sword just inside the door. "If I'm going to be stuck with something, I don't want it to be that big sharp object," she said, and while he stared after her, wondering if she could possibly have said anything quite so vulgar in those dulcet tones, she set out sake and cups on the table in the center of the room. The gown she wore was loose, pale green with a pattern of bamboo and flying birds, beautiful not only in design but in the way it flowed around her curves. Her hair was tied loosely back and fell in a long thin trail down her back almost to the ground. He did for her what he would have done for no one else, and left his sword by the door.
The summer house was essentially one large room, but a door to his left indicated another smaller room was attached. Lacquered cabinets lined one wall, and another wall was nothing but a series of doors, obviously meant to open onto the garden. Against the fourth wall was a neatly made-up, oversized futon bed. There was a small brazier for heat in the colder months, now tucked away in a corner, but nothing for cooking. This was obviously a place meant only for entertaining or for a quiet retreat. On one of the cabinets was an untidy pile of scrolls, and he picked one up. Hikaru said, "I'm practicing drawing and painting."
"You're not very good at it."
He could hear her smile in her voice. "No, but my calligraphy is excellent, I'm told, so I'll probably have to settle for that. Come and have some sake. Maybe it will improve your manners."
"I doubt it." He turned and found her almost directly behind him. She put her arms around his neck and kissed him again. She'd had some sake, he could taste it on her mouth, and when she stopped kissing him, he remarked it was the best sake he'd ever had, which made her do that absurdly childish giggle. He was beginning to like it.
"Want to see something else I do well?" she offered.
"Why don't you let me judge for myself if you do it well."
She regarded him from under her lashes for a moment, smiling. Then, still holding him, she brought her right leg slowly up, and up, until her toe was pointing straight at the ceiling. Still slowly, with perfect muscular control, she brought it down to the level of his shoulders, crooked it, and ran her calf down his back to encircle his waist with her leg and hold him against her. "I'm a dancer," she said. "What's your opinion?"
He could cheerfully have choked her. Every single nerve ending in his body was now alive to her, and his senses totally full of her. He was conscious of the faint perfume she wore, of the fine pores of her skin, of the sheen of her hair and every long lash that shielded her eyes. Once again she'd simply snatched his control away. He waited to answer until he was absolutely certain his voice wouldn't squeak, then said, "Let me see you dance."
"Now? I'm not dressed for it. I don't even have a fan."
"I thought you said you were good."
She was challenged, and gave him a speculative stare before unwinding from around him and moving to the center of the floor. She pulled her hair up and tied it in a casual knot, out of her way. "I'll do something short. The story of the frog who was in love with a bird. At least there are only two roles. You'll have to imagine the fan. And I will have to imagine the music," she sighed.
As soon as she struck the first pose, she forgot him. Her eyes were focused on something internal, perhaps the music she was trying to hear. With a few steps and a fluttering of her hand to indicate the missing fan, she created the bird for him, pretty and frivolous, and then the frog, ponderous, solemn, and squat. He watched the frog see the bird, fall in love with her, and pursue her, and the bird flirt with him. The frog offered the bird all he had, bits of food, and the bird ate it all and looked for more. When there was no more, she playfully flew away, leaving the frog broken-hearted and unable to follow. Hiko didn't know the story, but he had no trouble seeing what was happening, so expressive was the dance and Hikaru's skill. The simplicity didn't deceive him – he was a swordsman and could see and appreciate the complete control of her body which made the telling of the story possible, and he was impressed.
She held the frog's final pose for several seconds, arm reaching for what the poor creature could never achieve, her entire body eloquent of suffering. Then the spell broke, her eyes met his, and she got to her feet smiling. "Good enough?"
"Much better than just good," he said, taking the hand she extended to him. "If you were to take up the sword, you could be a Master in some styles."
"The Hiten Mitsurugi?"
"Not quite," he smiled. "The Hiten Mitsurugi involves a great deal more than just being able to find a proper kenjutsu stance."
"I was only joking, of course."
She laughed. "You look so offended. Show me a proper kenjutsu stance."
She was still in a challenging humor, so he indulged her, standing behind her to adjust her arm and body angle. When she had it right, she said, "You're right, it's not so different. Except I would pull out a fan and not a sword. Can you do this?"
"Are you deliberately insulting me?"
"Yes. The temptation is simply irresistible. You know, you could be a dancer. Stop scowling at me, I'm serious now. I think you underestimate the dance. Why don't you try one of our more difficult poses? Then you won't think it so easy."
"All right, show me."
She was right, it wasn't easy. Or it wouldn't have been for an untrained man. He had no trouble getting the pose correct, even distracted by her flitting around him, adjusting it. Nor did he have trouble holding it. But he did admit to her it was more difficult than it appeared.
She made another minor adjustment and informed him, "Now, you must look beautiful while doing it, too," and grinned when his lips twitched. "And you must hold it no matter what happens. Hold there." Then she dropped her entire weight on his extended arm.
He held, but it took all the strength he had, not to mention some self-discipline, because she was laughing and hanging on his arm like a mischievous child. When he was sure she knew that she wasn't going to break his control, he curved his arm and pulled her to him.
"Do you want some sake now?" she murmured.
"Hmm." She straightened, kissed him once, gently, and went around the room, putting out all the lanterns but one. Then she sank to her knees with him on the bed.
He had not wasted the three years he'd been away from Tokyo. He couldn't forget how she had made him feel in the teahouse garden, oafish and clumsy. He'd determined that if he ever got to see her again, and if he got lucky enough to take her to bed, it would be different. He'd taken every opportunity that crossed his path to be with women and learn from them – how they acted, what pleased them. He'd become skilled, or so he'd been told, and in the back of his mind had been the hope that he could try his skills on Hikaru and prove to her he wasn't a clod. But the moment she touched him, he forgot it all, both his fears and his hard-won confidence. He embarked on a journey into a different world, where touching her and tasting her were completely new experiences, associated with no worries, fresh, a timelessly delightful series of pure discoveries. The way she'd kept snatching control from him earlier, he expected more of the same as they lay down together, but she neither led nor followed; instead, they became partners in giving and taking pleasure. His hands and eyes and mouth collected memories that would remain with him forever, to be brought out and treasured on lonely nights – the arch and curve of her hip, the way the muscles of her stomach quivered when he ran a finger along that softness, the smoothness of her thighs along his, the way her hands seemed to cherish him with their touch, and, most of all, the womany smell and taste of her once the last of the perfume had been sweated away. He also discovered, to his delight, that she was a noisy woman in bed. All that geisha refinement left her, and he could follow her reactions to what he did to her and with her by the sighs, moans, and ecstatic cries she made. She even talked, although she constantly lost her sentences in the middle and let them trail off into other sounds when he moved in a different way. She would sometimes moan his name, and it sounded erotically different, not his name at all but a primordial call to his body.
They took their time, so that when they finally came together, it was hot and exciting and exactly right. Then they lay resting, face to face, legs intertwined, and she began to giggle. He asked her if something was funny, and she said, "No, but I just feel so good." Which made him laugh, something he'd never done in bed with a woman.
When they were cooled, they got up to quench their thirst with sake, and she produced a robe for him, a silk counterpart to her own. He asked, just to see what she'd say, if it were one of Murasaki's, and she said tartly, "One of his wouldn't even cover your arm. I got it for you today." She pulled his hair out from under the collar and let it fall on his shoulders, then said, pleased with herself, "It looks good on you, too. Although, truthfully, you look better with no clothes."
"So do you." He meant that sincerely. Once he'd seen her as nature made her, he knew that nothing the most artistic tailor created could be half as lovely. "We could drink sake in the nude," he offered.
She frowned. "That's not civilized."
He resisted smiling. She was serious. So they drank sake in a civilized manner, out of the same cup, and then in a most uncivilized manner she climbed into his lap, straddling him, and informed him that he was sweaty and needed a bath. She took him through the door into the attached room, which was small and crowded by a good-sized tub, half full of scented water. A sturdy brazier was heating a bucket of water in one corner, and Hikaru got a towel to protect her hands from the handle when she picked it up. She never got near it, however, for he stepped in front of her and poured it himself. There was no way she was going to do labor like that with him in the room, and the surprised, pleased look he got was a generous reward for such a small thing. "You're sweaty, too," he said over his shoulder as he poured. "I think we should take the bath together."
"You really are uncivilized. Get in there and let me bathe you." However, she didn't say it in the same tone as with the sake, so he figured he could talk her into sharing the tub eventually. It took him about ten minutes, and getting her robe soaking wet, before she finally gave in, laughing, and slid into the water with him. They got clean, but never quite dry, because they ended up making love again on the floor, in too much of a hurry to even get out of the cramped little room. Then, warm and still damp, they curled up together again in the bed. She snuggled against him like a kitten, and he buried his nose in her hair where her neck curved into her shoulder and dropped at once into a profound sleep.
He was, of course, a light sleeper, as was any Hiten Mitsurugi Master. He would have awakened if her heartbeat had changed due to a dream. So when she rose and left the bed, moving so slowly and carefully, trying not to disturb him, he was instantly awake, alert, and amused. He said nothing, however, but let her have her illusion.
When she came back and sat beside him, she had bathed again. All trace of his smell and of what they'd been doing was gone from her, and he knew then why she had risen. Holding her hair back with one hand, she bent and kissed him, butterfly-soft, on his cheek. Then she sat for several minutes, watching him sleep, as she supposed. He didn't grow restless; one thing that Hiten Mitsurugi taught was patience, and he let her do as she pleased. He supposed he always would.
Finally she said his name, quietly first, then a little louder, and put her hand on his shoulder. "Seijuro. Wake up."
He opened his eyes. "Why?"
"I have to go now. Can you leave before dawn?"
He sat up. "I can leave now."
"Don't, if you need more sleep."
"You're ridiculous. Stop trying to baby me." Then he surprised himself by doing something completely uncharacteristic. He caught her wrist and said, "Don't go."
"I must," she said softly. "My husband will be home any moment. I must be there to greet him, especially if he brings company."
"At this hour?"
"It's not at all unusual."
"He has no consideration for you."
"He does, in other ways."
He didn't want to hear that. He didn't want to think about Murasaki at all, and particularly not about Murasaki's plump, wrinkled, money-grubbing hands on Hikaru. "At least don't..." he began, then bit it off. What had come over him to make him so weak?
Worse, she understood. "I wouldn't. Not tonight. "
"He's your husband."
Her mouth curved. "I have my ways. Although, truly, they're rarely necessary." She kissed him once more. "Don't worry. Will you come back tomorrow night?"
He'd had it with his own weakness. "I don't know."
Her hand in his tightened. "Please."
The single, whispered word melted him like snow in a fire. "I'll come. The same time?"
"Yes. And Fujio goes to Kyoto on business tomorrow, to spend a few days, so I won't have to leave like this." She rose fluidly, then bent to kiss him once more. "Thank you."
Her smile was catlike, smug, and totally feminine. "Many things."
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Hikaru left the summer house with dignified grace, but once in the gardens, she hurried to the house. Fujio had not yet returned from his meeting, but it was very late. She had stayed with Seijuro longer than she should have. She didn't have much experience with temptation, and she was discovering she wasn't good about resisting it.
With her maid's help, she got swiftly into a kimono, choosing one of her more elaborate ones to conceal the fact that her obi wasn't what it should be and her hair was more casually dressed than usual. Even so, she had barely made it into the front room and composed herself before she heard Fujio at the door, talking drunkenly to whoever he'd brought home with him. She was pleased at the sound. If he were already full of sake, and intended to stay up late and drink more, she'd need no wiles to keep her promise to Seijuro. Fujio rarely took her to his bed anyway, and never when in any way incapacitated by drink or fatigue.
Idiotically, the very thought of a bed brought Seijuro to mind, and she blushed so deeply that Fujio noticed. He had only one person with him, but that man was a local governor, a man of real influence. So when Fujio saw her flushed cheeks and took her aside to ask, with polite concern, if she felt well, she replied that she was shy in the presence of their honored guest. She told the lie convincingly, with practiced ease. One condition of their marriage which Fujio had not outlined to her and in fact would have denied, but which she'd known about anyway and accepted, was that she would have to lie to him as a husband just as much as she had as his mistress. She was allowed to be unwell, and he was caring and attentive on those occasions, but she was expected never to be upset, depressed, or angry. Furthermore, she was not expected to have her own opinion of his guests, but his. Until tonight, this had never been a problem, but, on the contrary, what she thought her life was supposed to be. So she lied now, smoothly, and naturally he believed her.
Fujio was so pleased by her answer that he told his guest, and the two had a nice laugh over it. Flattered by having this effect on a pretty woman, the guest mellowed and grew expansive. Hikaru did and said everything she was supposed to, but for once she had to concentrate on duties which she could normally have accomplished in her sleep. Even so, she was good at what she did, and she heard the guest, as he left, tell Fujio that all men should have such wives. Hikaru smiled at that. It would put Fujio in a good mood for days, so when she told him tomorrow morning that Seijuro had come back into her life, which she must, he would take it well.
Once Fujio was comfortably settled in his bed, the front room restored, and the drowsy servants sent to their well-earned rest, Hikaru was still wide awake and restless, wondering where Seijuro was staying and if he, too, found it difficult to sleep. She sat in front of her mirror – a beautiful thing, gilt, a recent gift from Fujio – and stared at her own face as if it were a stranger's. In less than a day, Seijuro had managed to upset her entire life as if it were a vegetable cart, spilling out all the things she'd believed true and forcing her to look at them anew.
All her life, she'd wanted to be what she was now, the well-trained wife of a wealthy, influential, kindly man. She had never dreamed there was anything better to achieve. Her mother had filled her with the belief that the best thing in life was to become a geisha. Once in the okiya, everyone around her believed the best thing was to be a successful, famous geisha. Once among the other successful geisha, the ideal of real success and happiness was to become the mistress or, if one were very fortunate, the wife of a man just like Fujio Murasaki. The submission, the gentle lies, and hiding one's feelings to present the proper façade were all necessary to life, she'd thought, as natural and normal as needing to dress warmly for the snow. Never once had she questioned what she did, and she'd taken pride in how well she did it.
Then along came Seijuro, and now she questioned everything. Even as Kakunoshin, so long ago now, he'd made her wonder. Love was something that ruined a geisha, so she had put that aside and pretended, even to herself, that she had never felt it for him, until she even began to believe it. He'd become a memory, no longer an emotion. Wonderful, but never to come again, and not part of real life, just a pleasant product of the starry nights and good sake and conversation.
Now he was back, and she could see with painful clarity how she had cheated herself. She wasn't living, only surviving, moving with what she considered success through a beautiful but bland and empty world, where her true face and her true thoughts were not wanted. She was contented, not happy. Except when she was with Seijuro.
She put her face in her hands. How had Seijuro done this to her? He'd opened doors in her soul and in her heart that she'd never dreamed existed, and another woman had emerged, one who was vibrant, passionate, happy. She'd done things with him tonight that she'd never done with anyone, things that made her face hot to remember, yet had seemed natural and right at the time. With Seijuro, she could be silly, or snappish, or wanton, or whatever she felt like being at any moment, and she could change in the very next moment, and he not only didn't care, he actually enjoyed it all. There was no understanding it. He didn't seem the type. He was rude, blunt, arrogant, and intolerant. What was wrong with her, that those qualities brought out all that was hidden in her, good and bad? Why should she feel such overwhelming joy while with him, when he scowled at her and insulted her? And why would a man like that come to her in the first place?
She knew the answer to all those questions, of course. He loved her. No matter how he growled or what beastly things he said, behind it all, he loved her. And his love was not a mood, not dependent on the time or place, or on her behavior. Seijuro was like the very stone of the mountains, solid and unchanging. He would love her forever. She didn't feel vain thinking that. It was simply a fact, like the sun rising or the rain falling. He would love her forever not because she was eternally loveable, but because that was the kind of man he was.
She lifted her head and looked into her own eyes. I will love him forever, too. However undeserving she was, fate had brought them together, she was certain, and their destiny was to love each other. The knowledge was both wonderful and terrible. From now on, she knew, she would live only for their time together, from visit to visit, getting by on habit and training in a hollow life between each visit, perhaps for the rest of their lives. That, too, was her fate. She not only accepted it, she embraced it. Life was hard, and it wasn't fair, and you had to work hard for everything you got. That was true for everyone. But few were given the joy she now had, and if those short hours made the rest of her existence seem lusterless and false, she was still grateful to have some happiness to seize.
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