Disclaimer: Saiunkoku Monogatari is sooo not mine. Although, I'm ready and willing to kidnap Reishin and make him mine! Muwahahahahaha :)
Summer Nights and Oranges
by Raven Skye Blackhawk
A/N: This is a one shot and I'd started this before I saw her return to the Sa Province.
(Spoiler Alert! Do not read if you are not up-to-date on the anime!)
Actually, the only real spoiler is in the author's notes blush Gomen nasai! Anyway, this story takes place if nothing had happened the way it did, i.e., the spread of disease and the subsequent removal of her from office, etc. My regular readers know I have a liking for alternate endings, so don't be upset if I'm not following the manga/anime exactly. This story isn't supposed to. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I had writing it!
It was a warm summer evening in the Sa Province. Rou Ensei was sitting outside by himself, enjoying the balmy weather and a bottle of sake that he'd recently purchased in town. Normally he wasn't a drinking man, but tonight he was... as he had been for the past few evenings.
As he absently swirled the liquid around and around in the little cup, his mind conjured up rather unsettling thoughts and images. These things had been plaguing his every waking moment it seemed, as well as haunting his dreams at night for the last few months. Damn his traitorous mind.
Ever since Shuurei's return to the Sa Province- no, wait, that wasn't right- ever since she'd flung herself into his arms- yes, that was better- the sight of her small, sweet face with its delightful set of bright brown eyes turned up to his and the feel of her arms around him... her body pressed up against his...
Ensei could not suppress a groan at that tantalizing memory and quickly knocked back the remaining contents of his cup. There was no way he could continue to ignore the glaring truth. In a single moment his simple, uncomplicated, brotherly feelings for her underwent a drastic change...
He loved her.
Ever since that fateful day, he'd fought with himself, telling himself over and over again that she was a lady; a lady, moreover, from the second most powerful clan in the land. He was nothing, a nobody; an ordinary guy with no influential family behind him and no overflowing coffers to help pave his way in order to get the nobility to notice him. Even she, who had grown up in poor circumstances had the backing of her powerful family behind her.
Ensei heaved a sigh. Even if she managed somehow to return his feelings, there was absolutely no way Kou Reishin would allow his precious niece to wed a nobody from the Sa Province. If the Sa clan, one of the respected eight families of color, couldn't get Reishin to agree to give Shuurei over to them, then his chances of marrying her were even less than theirs.
He emitted another groaned and ran a hand through his disheveled hair. That was another thing that had been keeping him up nights. Marriage. He'd never really given it a second thought before... until that hug from Shuurei. The very moment her body touched his, it was almost as if his soul was brutally awakened from a long slumber. Now his body thrummed with energy whenever his mind returned to that day, and he felt as though he could take on anything.
In the midst of his third cup, a guard appeared from the direction of the governor's house.
"Sir, there is a package for Governor Kou that has just arrived by special courier," the guard informed him with a brisk bow.
"Didn't you notify the governor herself?"
The guard shook his head. "No, sir, both of the governors are busy at the moment. That is why I looked for you. I'm afraid I didn't recognize the emblem the couriers wore," he confided rather shamefacedly.
Ensei nodded and set down his half-empty cup. He rose to his feet as soberly as he could manage and followed the young man to the front of the house, where he saw several men on horseback, waiting patiently. Tucked under the arm of one of the men was a small, wooden crate.
As the Ensei and the guard approached, the man holding the box dismounted and Ensei noticed the crests on the men's chests. Relief flooded him. They were simply soldiers from the Kou family.
"Yes, how may I assist you?" Ensei asked helpfully.
The man bowed. "If you please, this package is for Governor Kou. It was sent personally from the head of the Kou clan." He handed the box to Ensei.
Peering down at the box, Ensei asked what its contents were. The one who had handed him the package shook his head and mounted his horse. "I do not know, sir. Reishin-sama did not say. He merely instructed us to see that this package safely and quickly reached Shuurei-hime." With a short nod, he turned his horse around and he and the other Kou soldiers rode away.
Ensei watched the riders until they disappeared before he dismissed the guard and headed into the house. When he found Shuurei, she was relaxing on her balcony, eyes closed. After a long day, this was where she was often to be found. He stayed where he was for the moment in order to compose himself... and to watch her.
Hime-san was so pretty, so delicate, that it hurt him to look at her sometimes. Whenever his- daydreams-crept into his mind, he would see her panting and writhing in ecstasy beneath him, her lips forming the word that was his name. When he would think these things, he would bring his desires up short and remind himself that he should never treat her as roughly, albeit passionately, as he did in his dreams. There was no way he could bring himself to hurt her, no matter how desperately he wanted her.
As soon as he was able, he made his presence known to her. "Hime-san," he called out in his normal, cheerful way and strode out onto the balcony. "A present has just arrived for you."
Shuurei opened her eyes and smiling up at her protector, let her hair down and shook it out. "A present? For me? I hope you didn't spend any money on me, Ensei. Having you by my side is enough."
He grinned and shook his head, setting the box on her lap. "Alas, no, it's not from me, hime-san. Open it."
A slight frown crossed her face as she attempted to pry open the lid. Eventually, Ensei had to do it for her and when it was finally opened, a scent of citrus wafted up to greet them.
"Oranges!" she cried joyfully, immediately reaching for one and held it up to her nose, taking a deep breath. "This is just wonderful! I've missed the taste of Kou oranges since we left the capital." She took another sniff and sighed.
Unseen by Shuurei, a letter, that was apparently attached to the underside of the lid, floated down to the floor where Ensei dropped down on one knee to retrieve it. "Um, hime-san, there's a letter for you."
"Hmm? A letter?" Placing the fruit she was holding back into the box, she took the letter from Ensei and opened it.
"My dearest niece," it began, "I hope these reach you in time for you to enjoy their lush sweetness at their peak. I am missing you terribly and wish you well until I see you again. I remain, as always, your most loving and devoted uncle."
Shuurei's eyes glistened with unshed tears. "Kurou oji-san," she breathed happily and clutched the paper to her chest for a moment. "He has always been so kind to me. I don't know how I could ever repay him," she said, folding the message and tucking it into the box.
"If that was from Kurou, he would have signed the letter as being from him," Ensei thought, his lips twitching in amusement. It was pretty obvious which loving and devoted uncle these oranges had come from. For a moment, Ensei could almost swear that he heard Reishin gnashing his teeth in jealousy at such glowing words concerning his younger brother. He'd heard about Reishin's undying and zealous devotion to Shuurei while in Kiyou and even though Ensei thought such fanatical behavior from her male relative was somewhat unsettling, he figured it was alright since it did not cause Shouka-sama any undue concern.
"I don't think he would wish any repayment," Ensei told her kindly, reaching for one of the oranges and giving it a good sniff as well. "I imagine that all he would want in return is for you to succeed in whatever you do. That would be repayment enough for him."
She smiled sweetly at him and Ensei felt instantly uncomfortable under her warm gaze. He wanted to reach over and kiss those tempting lips, but he dared not do such a thing. For one, Shuurei might tell Seiran about it... and Ensei didn't want to have to explain himself to that one. Understandably, Seiran would be furious and Ensei didn't want think about what he would do in revenge for daring to touch his darling ojou-sama, especially while Seiran was so near. All she would need to do was scream and Seiran would materialize out of no where, sword in hand, ready to slay anything within breathing distance of Shuurei.
There was yet a second reason he could not bring himself to kiss her. He did not want to be rejected by her, plain and simple. As it was, there was a very good chance she didn't even see him as a man anyway and that hurt him to think about it. The very last thing he wanted was for her to tell him to get off of her and go away. Although, even if she did tell him to leave, he wouldn't, Seiran or no Seiran.
"Are you unwell, Ensei?" she asked, putting a hand to his forehead.
He backed away and shook his head. "Er, no, hime-san. I'm fine, thank you." He got to his feet and was about to walk away when she grabbed his hand. "Hime-san?"
"You don't need to leave, Ensei. If you don't mind, I'd love it if you stayed with me awhile."
Ensei was instantly concerned. "What's wrong, hime-san?" he asked, dropping back down on his knee beside her.
But she only shook her head and handed him an orange. He took it with thanks and sat beside her. There was a long silence as they peeled their fruit. Shuurei brought a slice to her mouth, paused, then lay the slice back down. Ensei frowned and lay his slice down too.
"What's wrong?" he asked again.
Finally, Shuurei picked up her orange slice and ate it as she stared into space for a moment, contemplating. Then she blinked once and turned to face him. "I think I should be asking you that, Ensei."
To keep from having to respond right away, he shoved the orange slice into his mouth and chewed for a moment. "I don't know what you mean, hime-san," he muttered around the fruit.
"I think you do. You haven't been yourself lately, Ensei." Her gaze was steady upon his face. "What's wrong? Is it something I've done? If you don't agree with what Eigetsu-kun and I have been doing, please tell me. We will always rely on your experience."
Putting his orange to the side, Ensei vehemently shook his head and took her hands in his. "No! It's nothing you've done, hime-san. It's nothing like that at all."
She clutched at his hands. "Then what? You seem... different, somehow. I thought perhaps you've matured, aged, but that doesn't seem right. It's something else entirely."
His mind was in a whirl, but his heart was not. It wanted him to tell her everything, to come clean with his feelings for her, but his head knew that it would not be beneficial to her to know what he was truly feeling. But then again... perhaps the truth was best...
Lifting a hand to her face, he sighed heavily, stroking her smooth cheek with his thumb. "Shuurei-"
"Uh oh," she murmured, eyes widening a bit.
Ensei's blue eyes widened in surprise. "What?"
She smiled and shook her head. "You never call me Shuurei. You've always called me hime-san. This must be important, huh?"
He grinned at her in spite of himself. She really was just too perceptive. "Shuurei," he continued soberly, grin fading, "you're right. I haven't been myself lately. Of course, I should have known you'd pick up on that." She nodded and he went on. "There's something I feel that I must tell you, but it's difficult for me because I've never experienced anything like this before."
"Oh?" She stared up at him uncomprehendingly.
He nodded and looked away. "I don't know how to put it into words," he told her quietly. "I... I just don't know-"
"Then why don't you show me?"
His sharp blue eyes darted to her face, unable to believe what she was saying.
"If you can't say it, show me. I'll do my best to understand." She smiled reassuringly at him.
Ensei straightened his body and pulled himself together at the same time. Now was the time, he thought, trying to ignore the feeling of hundreds of butterflies fluttering madly in his chest. Taking hold of her shoulders, he bent down and pressed his lips gently against hers.
Her lips were frozen with shock for a moment and during that moment Ensei felt his heart drop to his feet. He should have known she would never return his feelings! What had he been thinking? He was such a fool!
But it was too late, he thought. She would need to know everything now.
Pulling quickly away from her, he got up, turning his back on her. "Forgive me, hime-san. I... I never should have..." He paused, then whirled around, passion flaring to cover his feeling of helplessness. "Look! I know I'm a nobody from this run-down province and that you are a lady of the great Kou clan, but I love you! Alright? When you threw yourself at me that day you returned, I don't know... I just... it felt right! You... in my arms..."
Dropping down on his knees in front of her, he grabbed her hands. "That day... that day, everything changed for me. You were no longer my cute little hime-san. I wanted... damn it, I wanted something more from you!" He released her hands and sat back on his haunches, torment etched all over his face.
"Wh-what did you want from me, Ensei?" she asked him, her voice so soft that he could barely hear it.
Forgetting Seiran for a moment, he blurted out rather loudly, "I wanted you to see me as a man and not just some friend who just so happened to be male." He made as if to reach out to her, but pulled his hands back. "I wanted to mean more to you than I do already."
"But... I know you're a man, Ensei," she replied, confused. "And you know I need you to be here with me. I couldn't have done what Eigetsu and I accomplished here without you."
He shook his head firmly. This was harder than he'd orginally thought it would be. Taking a deep breath he said, "That's not what I meant. I wanted you to need me, to want me, as a woman needs and wants a man. I wanted you to love me back. That's what I wanted, Shuurei. It's what I still want."
"Oh." Comprehension dawned in her luminous eyes. "You mean... in a romantic sense," she murmured.
"Yes, that's exactly what I mean." He studied her for a moment then said, "But you'll never see me as anything more than a friend, will you? What do I have to do to make you see how much you mean to me or how much I want you?"
Stunned, Shuurei dropped her gaze before his piercing blue one and stared down at the uneaten orange in her lap. "I had no idea you felt that way about me, Ensei. I'm... honored that you feel so strongly for me."
"But you're just not interested."
She shrugged. "I don't know what I am. I've never felt emotions of love, unless you count the love I have for my father and Seiran." She looked up quickly and gave him a small smile. "I suppose that doesn't count in this case, does it?"
He shook his head and she dropped her gaze again. "If it makes you feel any better, I care deeply for you, Ensei. Also, my father didn't even receive nearly the same excited greeting from me that you did."
Ensei's eyebrows shot upwards. "Really?"
Shuurei nodded. "Really. I was just so utterly happy to see you again that I couldn't help myself. I... I wanted to feel your arms around me." Her brows furrowed, as though she didn't understand what she was saying, then her frown cleared. "You know, you've always made me feel completely safe, Ensei." She looked up again and gazed into his eyes. "Knowing that you're nearby... knowing that all I must do is call out your name and you're there beside me... it makes me feel absolutely protected from anything. I feel... I feel..."
"Shuurei," he breathed, his heart pounding in his breast.
By now, her eyes were shining with happiness and tears and a there was a tiny smile on her trembling lips. "Show me again, Ensei, please? Show me..."
This time he cradled her face in his hands when he kissed her. His eyes slid closed as he slipped his tongue between her lips. She tasted wonderfully of oranges and without a second thought, he scooped her up in his arms and he sat down, after he situated her comfortably on his lap.
Her arms wound shyly around his neck, one hand sliding up into his wild brown locks. He groaned into her mouth and it was all he could do not to crush her to him. It excited and pleased him to feel her clutching at him and returning his kisses with as much passion as he was giving her.
The pair froze. When the sound of Seiran's booted feet could be heard nearing her bedroom door, she scrambled off of Ensei's lap just in time. Seiran appeared in her doorway and looked in. "Ojou-sama?" he called again.
Ensei nearly chuckled at the sight of Shuurei, hidden from Seiran's view, trying very hard to hide her flushed cheeks and fanning her face with her hands. "She's here with me, Seiran. What are you doing here this time of night?"
Seiran frowned. "I could ask the same thing of you, Ensei. Why are you up here? I thought you were having a drink out in the gardens." He came forward into the room and made for the balcony, where he found a perfectly composed Shuurei eating an orange. "Oranges? Where did you get those, ojou-sama?"
"They were sent by special courier," Ensei replied smoothly. "Her uncle sent some of his personal soldiers with a box of Kou oranges. Wasn't that kind of her uncle, Seiran?"
By now, Seiran had dropped to one knee and was examining the small wooden crate that contained the citrus fruits. He picked up the letter and read it quickly. "Very thoughtful of him," he murmured and replaced the letter in the box. "It's obvious your uncle loves you very much, ojou-sama."
Shuurei smiled and nodded. Plucking a slice off her orange, she held it to Seiran's mouth. "Here," she said with a grin. "Try a piece, Seiran. It's so very tasty."
Obediantly, Seiran took the orange and ate it, missing a heated look pass between his lady and Ensei. Although if he had seen it, they were so taken with each other at the moment and neither of them would care very much at all.
Okay, guys, you know what to do. Do I pass or fail as a Kokumono writer? I... um... have a Shuurei/Shuuei fic in the works if anyone's interested... .