Ryuuki closed his mouth. Anyone could see that she'd gained so much charm that she outshone the pure red tsubaki. She was the only one who didn't realise it, let alone that the attractiveness that came from within herself wasn't lost simply because of the removal of a layer of clothing.
......Perhaps it's not so surprising since there was no outward change, but......
"Ah, could it be that not wearing the headpiece was bad, after all? Since the buds were left as a hairpin, if I wore th headpiece, I wouldn't be able to wear the hairpin. When I asked Yuushun-san about it, he said it would be all right since it wasn't New Year's Day...... But the hairpin was a bit plain on it's own, and before I knew it, after some lively discussion, it ended up like that...... Ah but that got me thinking"
Shuurei was completely lost in her idea
"I'll submit a formal proposal later, but I'm thinking of requesting that except for full formal wear, that woman officials be permitted to go without the headpiece. It was much easier. While I did have it made smaller than normal, it's still heavy, hard, makes my shoulders ache, and hurts because of the pressure it puts on the head...... Since I found it that way, I think it'll be quite hard for other women, too. More so for the elderly. It's one thing to put up with when wearing full ceremonial clothes, but wearing it with everyday clothes would be rough. So, putting up the hair without the headdress and having one's rank shown through the hairpin or the colour of the cloth to tie one's hair...... if it's done now, it'd be easier to slip these in and getting them passed right? I thought it'd be better to have what's easier on the body be made formally accepted."
Shuurei's eyes shone with life.
"Ah! I wasn't supposed to say that. Forget you heard that. If it does come before you, pretend you never heard anything about it. Come to thnk of it, you're the Emperor, right? That's not fair!"
Ryuuki couldn't help smiling.
"When you're being an official, you're so dignified and full of life."
"Well, yeah. After all, I'm living the dreamed I've wanted for so long. Thanks to you."
Forcing her arm to move, she patted Ryuuki on the back.
Ryuuki hugged Shuurei tight once more. Like glass beads, all feeling disappeared from those eyes.
"......To be honest, I was lonely without you."
"I love you."
For some reason, those words sounded like they were saying "I'm lonely" to Shuurei.
"......I love you."
While being crushed in that embrace, that murmuring voice was so tiny that it would've been erased by the sound of leaves rustling.
"I love you, and only you. Always."
Like a child's, her hair fell against her cheek. Almost as though making sure she was really there, cold fingertips crawled from her throat, hesitated along her jaw, and came to rest beneath her chin. She looked up as his fingers made her. His own eyes were so close and she felt like she would drown in them. Looking still like he was fighting back tears, his long lashes lowered, and he pulled Shuurei closer. His lips drew near almost as though seeking her soul. And just before their lips could meet, Shuurei's white palm slid between them.
The two of them stared at one another like that in silence for a long moment.
After a whil, Ryuuki moved the small hand that was pressed against his mouth aside gently, and muttered, "The smell of alcohol doesn't bother me."
"It does too! Or rather... You! Sit there!"
Being directly so firmly contrary to the mood until then, Ryuuki uncomprehendingly sat quietly at the base of the cherry tree. Shuurei likewise sat directly facing him.
Ryuuki thought that it was the first itme hewas ever told to sit like that for having tried (but not yet succeeded) to kiss her.
Shuurei coughed self-consciously.
"Listen. Actually, while I was in Sa Province, I...... well a number of things happened there that made me consider things in life."
Ryuuki was still confused but indicated he was listening.
"And I came to realise that I tend to leave myself open."
'She only realised it now?!' Ryuuki thought. For the most part, it was due to Shuurei's own kindness and caring, so it was easy for a wandering soul (<--himself) to become caught.
(After all, she even let him sleep together with her......)
Ryuuki thought back to those distant days. They seemed almost like a dream now.
The gentleness that overflowed like a spring made Shuurei reach out her hand countless times. And taking advantage of that, Ryuuki buried his solitude countless times, devouring the caring like a spoiled child.
"So, I decided I'd be more careful from now on."
He inadvertently let slip his true feelings but quickly reconsidered.
If things continued in their current situation, Shuurei would become too beautiful. So, if she herself learned how to protect herself against the other insects, his fears would be decreased. But.
"What do you mean by 'Eh, but...'?"
"Hmm... Yes, well, I don't mind if you make an exception for me."
"In that case, what were you trying to do a moment ago?"
"But the way things were going...... you want to do that, right? ......Kisses are out, huh...... that's strict......"
"--There's one other thing I've decided," Shuurei hit the ground with her fist.
"Well, I expect it'll almost never happen, but if a man's attracted to me like this, I've decided to think over it carefully and to give him my response as quickly as possible."
Shuurei cleared her throat once more.
"Now's as good a time as any. I'll tell it to you straight, so listen carefully."
"No," Ryuuki replied instantly and looked away. Shuurei's brows rose at his response.
"What was that?! Ah, hey! What're you doing plugging your ears like that?! Hey! If you're a man, prepare yourself, clear your ears, and listen up!"
"No. That's sexual discrimination!"
"Quit talking such nonsense!"
The two argued struggling beneath the cherry tree. Ryuuki glared at Shuurei.
"Listen. While I did say I love you, I didn't say a single word about wanting a reply!"
"What's that supposed to mean?! Oh I get it, this is that "do and run" that you often hear about, right?!"
""Do and run"?! You didn't let me *do* anything, so that's completely unjust! I'm not going to just let that pass. For one thing, it's not likely I'd do anything as rude let alone wasteful as to run after a single night, right?!"
Shuurei looked surprised at Ryuuki's genuine anger. ......While she didn't fully understand, apparently she'd said something rather rude to him.
"S-sorry. I'll look into the meaning more carefully later and make sure not to misuse that again."
"Wait a moment!"
"What? You mean you'll tell me what it means?"
"Th-that's the sort of thing you say that gives guys their opportunity! If I weren't a nice guy, it'd be quite something!"
Shuurei had no idea what he was talking about. She then realised with a start that their conversation had completely gotten off topic.
"I'm not going to let you confuse the issue!"
"I'm not! But I absolutely refuse to listen!"
"What are you saying?! It's better when the hurt will be less right?! I've realised a number of things! Quit plugging your ears! Grr...... Such bad manners!"
"It's only natural! If this were that easy to abandon, I'd have given up long ago!"
Reishin looked towards the garden irritated, and hit his fan into his palm. He didn't care what the little upstart thought. What was important was that, right now, he was the absolute worst possible match for Shuurei.
"If having her call him by name is enough, there's no need to try making her his wife." Reishin said coldly.
Shouka sighed, "......Reishin, you know, there's nothing worse than having the woman you really love tell you "let's be friends for life"......"
"What's wrong with being good friends? It's a wonderful relationship."
"All right, I'll ask you then, if you actually managed to tell Shuurei you're her uncle and she smiled and said "let's be strangers for the rest of our lives", would you be able to say that's a wonderful relationship?"
As he watched, Reishin's face became paler and paler. Not only would it not be a wonderful relationship, the look on his face was saying that it would be the end of the world.
And that's as far as I've reached so far. ^^; I'll probably either skip the rest of the talk between Reishin and Shouka or summarise it. It's really interesting though. ^^;
I have no idea how long that was... Oh, and most of this was being written up very late at night, so I give no guarantees on accuracy. I was literally falling asleep sometimes when I stopped. ^^;
Four more pages for the rest of this scene between Ryuuki and Shuurei. ^^;