Chapter 10: Forbidden Comfort
"Grief and guilt. A powerful combination. Guilt like a liquid, a thin liquor, seeping everywhere, informing everything, saturating the whole--corrosive, like seawater, scented with the rich stench of ordure and corruption, and carrying with it hard, abrasive shards of grief." -Simon Mawer, The Gospel of Judas
We returned to Katsu's home. On the trip back, I had ceased to cry, but would only sit there in silent shock. Katsu did not say one word to me that whole time. The only things I could feel outside of a numbness that had taken hold of me, was a powerful combination of grief, regret, and guilt. The three feelings were like a turbulent storm within me that raged and raged.
I had killed him. Practically I had for I had handed him the means to end his life.
This was not the first time I was responsible for someone else's death. Takao…in a way, he had tried to protect me…nothing but a child…and…and…
I looked over at Katsu who had led me to the bedroom. He was by the window, staring out at the evening sky. The clouds were a grey smudge that was turning darker into the twilight. I sat on the edge of the bed. My mind had been frozen until now as I looked at him. I had not even realized where we were or when he had led me to the bedroom. The room flickered in the torchlight, making me wince even now as I ignored looking at the flames. Katsu turned his head to look over at me with a clouded face. His eyes glimmered in the dark.
"Rana…" He began to say slowly, as if he were unsure. It was the first time I had heard plain hesitation from him. "I…I'm sorry about what happened."
I looked at him icily. "What else did you expect?" I replied harshly. "Death is better than to waste away in prison." A bitter smile formed on my lips. "Besides," I added darkly. "My mother is already waiting for him."
"And your brother?" Katsu questioned neutrally.
I looked away from his gaze and stared at my clasped hands on my lap which were clenched. "He was not his son," I murmured savagely. "My little brother was a child born from an act of hatred and violence."
"Our soldier's aren't supposed to do that," Katsu replied with an edge in his voice. "But it happens. Did you hate him?"
My head tilted back as I let out a wild cackle. "How could I?" I said heavily. My eyes started to welt up again with tears that I did not care to hold back. I thought I was done crying, but I did not care anymore if he saw them. "It was not his fault. He was only a baby."
"And your mother?"
I looked back at his glowing eyes that held back any judgment. "She loved him," I replied stiffly. "And hated him. You see, he had your kind's eyes. Kohaku…it means amber to my people, but it's not considered a good thing."
"Kohaku," Katsu repeated almost as if it were a prayer. "It wasn't your fault, Rana. None of this is. Don't let it consume you." He turned all the way around and approached me, falling down to his knees before me. His large hands swallowed mine as he held them on my lap. I could not look away from the intense look in his eyes. The shadows danced on his face from the firelight.
Tears trickled down my cheeks. But it was my fault…I could have saved him!...
Katsu's right hand released my hand and he wiped away the tears on my face gently. There was a look in his face I finally understood to be one of longing. There was a vast ache in me, a whole, a void that was making me numb. Here he was comforting me while I did not whether to scream and scream or to simply shut down entirely. I was on the brink, but his one action, just by touching me kindly led to the downfall of my previous barriers.
When he leaned over to kiss me, I did not push him away. The feel of his lips on mine, softer than before, but still demanding, drove away everything. I did not feel the ache as he pushed me down on top of the bed. My heart thudded and my body raced with strange feelings that pushed away everything as he started to kiss my jaw line, eventually moving onto my neck.
Katsuis an aggressiveand dominating persona, but caring enough that he drove away all the pain when he slept with me that night. At the time, I did not think about the repercussions of it, but only the pleasure that I did get from it and that everything was on a standstill when I followed that course. Even giving him the one thing he had not been able to take away from me yet.
The next morning though, was a completely different story.
I had woken up to the sound of Katsu's content breathing near my ear. His arm was across my waist, holding my back up against him as he usually liked to do. Yet this time it took me a moment as I came into reality that we were both naked underneath the sheets. A blush spread wildly across my face along with a fierce anger when I remembered what we had done. I…I had slept with him!
Than everything else came crashing back to me, along with that terrible void. I shivered. Katsu in his sleep tightened his hold on me and held me closer to him. The void lessened slightly, but silent tears still slid down my face. What had happened? What was wrong with me?!
Eventually, I slid away from his hold and out of the bed. For the first time since I had come here, I changed into my clothes on my own, but left my hair falling free. I hated the way Ran would do my hair, but I…I could not do it the way I had used to. I had…changed since then…but what…?
I walked back into the bedroom, seeing Katsu still asleep. The sun had barely begun to rise from what I could see through the windows. I looked at him for a moment as he slept peacefully. He did not look as threatening. Without a look back, I quietly snuck out into the hall to find some food.
An hour later, after Ran who was shocked to see me up so early got me some food, I ended up walking on top of the outer wall that kept me imprisoned here. The sun was rising above the soft green hills. A golden sunrise with a touch of pink on the edges. The sky was a twilight that would become a clear blue. Already the air was warm. I hated the heat here. It felt strange to not having Iwao trailing me I noticed with a slight pain. But mostly, I tried to ward off the void, but slowly, ever so slowly, it started to encase around me.
"Rana?" Katsu called. I turned around to see him striding towards me. He was dressed in the newer black robe outfit he seemed to like. His hair was bound up like always. Katsu stopped only when he was in front of me and paused to look over at the sun. It was almost above the hills now. I looked up at him as he looked back down at me.
There was a smile on his face, however small, before it disappeared that was genuine. "Are you alright?" He asked concerned.
My face was blank. "No," I replied simply. I turned my side to him to look back at the rising sun. I heard a noise come from him that sounded like one of anger.
"Did I hurt you last night?" He responded thickly. "Or do you regret it now?"
I let out a laugh. Here I was burdened with something else entirely, and he thought only about that? I looked back at him to see an affronted face. "It's not that," I snapped. "It's…this void." I paused and touched my chest for a moment. I could feel the small bump there that was the necklace underneath my clothing. "Last night made it go away, but it's here still," I confessed confused. I quickly turned away from him, looking back at the sun which was now making its way across an almost blue sky.
I did not know what to think.
"I feel like I should die," I went on slowly. "Like before, what's the point? I am tired of all of this." His hand grabbed my shoulder and turned me back around to face him. Katsu's eyes were blazing when I looked up at him.
"Don't," He said shortly, before his lips came grazing down on mine.
It is hard to describe over what happened over the next several weeks. The void was there, it was always there, but being with him made it lessen. I still hate him, but in some ways…just a little, I do not. He had taught me things I had not imagined of before and now, unlike before, I found myself liking him…I mean, his body at least. Katsu knew what he was doing. But I hate him! It is…confusing…
There was the promise I had made that I would not try to leave. That promise had condemned me, but I had given in over the need to see my father. Even if it had been for the last time. Someday…if the chance truly did come…I would still run. Promise or no promise, for in a way it had died with my father.
One day I sat in his study, looking at the poem I now knew that he had written was about me.
A Fire Lily
Fire in ocean eyes
Weep not Lady Mine
I wondered for the first time more about the meaning for him to write this. He had a lot of poems in this scroll and a lot of them were good. It was surprising in the least for I would not have expected it from him. He is a soldier. A killer. But to write poetry…? A tiny smile at the irony grew on my lips. Sunlight came through the windows behind me, lighting the room and warming my back.
I set the scroll aside and picked up another that sad beside it. This one was his as well. I had recognized his writing earlier when I had stumbled across it. The paper crinkled as I opened it and my eyes were drawn to the very first poem.
Pale as the snow.
Sun touched eyes and heart.
Masuzu, My Love.
This…was about his first wife! A strange tug pulled at me that disappeared quickly. I read the next several poems which were about her and one that referred to his dead father I thought. That poem had a hint of anger to it.
I read more.
This book of poems was lighter and hopeful, unlike the previous one I had read. The last one had been darker. Bitter. Quite suiting for how I felt. Yet he had written this one when he had been happy.
Had he really loved her that much? And…his daughter…he thought his pain to be greater than mine!
"Lady Rana?" Satoru's voice greeted me politely. I looked up from the scroll to look at his polite smile. He stood at the entrance and gave me their unusual bow I had become used too.
"Satoru," I responded with a dip of my head. We had lessons three times a week for a whole afternoon. Our lessons had become a highlight to me. Though I detested to admit it, Katsu's effort to have me educated I enjoyed. I could read and write now! Being able to read had opened a whole new world for me; History, Philosophy, and Art. Those were my favorites. Except for Etiquette. Dancing. I hated dancing the most. My feet seemed to be unable to follow a simple dance.
Satoru walked over and sat down to the right of me. He picked up the other scroll and looked over it for a minute. Ever since…what had happened those weeks ago I had been more withdrawn than before. Satoru had not questioned it. These lessons…and that….were what kept the void away….
I looked at his softer face as he set the scroll back down on the table. The sunlight made his face seem even more gentle and considerate. "You like these poems?" He asked me. I felt a prickle of resemblance at his question. Katsu had said something similar here and in the very same room.
I nodded and put the scroll I held onto the table. "Katsu wrote them," I admitted with a shrug. "I was surprised when I found out." When I was with Satoru, I was honest. More willing to say, and in a genuine manner, what I thought. He talked to me as an equal in intelligence, even though I was much less learned. Such conversations did not happen at home.
"I wouldn't have thought him to be a poet," Satoru mused, interrupting my chain of thoughts. "Life is full of surprises I suppose." He glanced back at the doorway. "I have been wondering, Lady Rana, what happened to your constant shadow?"
I felt a thickening in my throat. …What?... "He was dismissed," I said lightly.
Satoru laughed with mirth. "Really?" He asked amused. What was so funny? He did not act like this most of the time. Satoru was the epitome of politeness, outside of Iwao who had been more like a statue though. His grey eyes were critical as he gazed at me. "I would have thought his lordship too fearful to be rid of him with your constant efforts to escape."
"You know about that?" I contested in surprise.
Satoru waved his hand carelessly. "Yes, yes," He murmured. "So, how is that you haven't gotten away yet? Though I would be sad if you did, his lordship's payment to me would be missed if you did succeed."
I stared at him blankly for a moment before I busted out laughing. He was teasing me, something he had not truly done before. This was the first time I had laughed in good humor since….
I could not remember.
Satoru looked at me with a broad smile. "I do believe this is the first time I've heard your laugh, Lady Rana," He noted warmly. "You should laugh more." I paused and set my hands on the table. My skin had become lighter from not being in the sun all day and my hands were softer. My nails were longer and taken care of. The hands of a lady. I curled them both into fists. "Lady Rana…" Satoru began, but his words trailed off.
I looked back at him, seeing plain hesitation on his face. I raised my eyebrows. "What?" I demanded rather sharply.
Satoru reached out with his right hand across the table. It was smaller than Katsu's. A scholar's hand. He touched my hand lightly as I looked at him, wondering what the hell he was doing. "Lady Rana, I…"
"Rana!" A familiar voice cried. We both looked up with Satoru's hand leaving mine immediately. Akane stood at the doorway, rushing onto the room with a brilliant smile. I stood up as she pulled me into a familiar embrace. Akane let me go as she paused to look at Satoru. "Who's this?" She asked with a kind grin. Her hazel eyes held no knowledge of seeing anything.
"My teacher," I stated pleasantly. Satoru was already on his feet. "May I present Lady Akane, my sister-in-law," I went on formally. Satoru must be proud of me for this. The words felt strange coming from me. "Akane, this is Satoru of the Himura Family. My teacher."
Akane looked at him with an analyzing gaze. "A commoner?" She asked with a hint of…It disappeared as she smiled again. "Well, Katsu hires only the best. M apologies for stealing your student, Satoru."
Satoru had slipped into a neutral, polite mask that reminded me of Iwao. He never looked at me like that as he did now to Akane. Satoru bowed to us both. "It's fine, Lady Akane," He replied briskly. "Good day to you both." He turned to leave, but halted as he spoke to me. Satoru still held the mask, but his eyes were softer as he spoke to me. "Until the next lesson, Lady Rana, and don't forget to practice!" He left without looking back.
It was bewildering to see Akane. What was she doing here? She watched Satoru leave with a small frown before she spoke. "Practice what?" Akane inquired with a mischievous grin, her frown disappearing. She looked the same since I had last seen her, except she was dressed in a new outfit of a light red mixed with a darker red.
"The erhu," I answered with a hint of a grumble.
"Oh, how lovely!" She exclaimed. "You will have to play for me while I am here!"
"Why are you here?" I asked shortly. "Katsu didn't mention it and you didn't write to me either."
"You don't want me here?" Akane asked with a quiet hurt. She looked at me intently.
"No, that's not what I-"
"I'm worried about you," Akane confessed, interrupting me with a loving look of concern. The hurt in her eyes still remained. She touched me on the shoulder comfortingly. "Your last letter was…Katsu told Masato and I of what happened. I wanted to surprise you."
I turned away from her caring gaze and looked out the sunlit window. Akane's hand had fallen away from my shoulder. Her letters had made me come to care about her. She reminded me in a way of Kanna. But…it hurt to see the pity on her face. Even now. Yet part of me was glad she had come for she had become….my friend…
I turned back around to face her. Her pale face was only sympathetic, caring, and the pity was there as well.
Ocean Spirit….Moon Spirit…seeing her kind face….it hurt too much!
Tears crept out of my eyes and fled down my cheeks. A sob stifled in the back of my throat as Akane pulled me into a hug. I cried on her shoulder, forgetting entirely that she was one of them.