The more things change, the more they stay the same.
There was no lust at the flash of bare skin, only a blossoming sense of conquest that fanned outwards from the chest, reached the head and made him dizzy. When he pushed her down, she made no resistance at all, dropping to the ground like falling through water. Rebellion in her eyes but not her body. Her lips moved with words he couldn't hear.
"I'm on to your game," he said, and took a vicious pleasure in the way her eyes shifted away and fluttered shut. Her body felt wrong under his hands, controlled submission that wasn't submission at all; he reached for her white throat and pressed down, gently at first but harder, harder, watching as she started struggling at last, thin hands scrabbling at his wrists, let up only when her mouth opened wide. He leaned forward until he reached an earlobe, whispered "I'll see you die before I let you leave," blew out a breath, clamped his teeth down hard, and wasn't surprised when her guilt made the blood taste sweet.
"Was there someone else?"
He didn't turn his eyes from the window as he asked. Setting: a featureless stretch of highway between Nagoya and Chita that they'd been traveling for an hour, a grazing cow or two the only break in sky and field. He was still holding the soft drink container that had been part of the McDonald's meal they picked up at the last rest stop; the condensation had drenched his hands at first, then dried, and now the damp poly-coated paper was lukewarm.
"Someone else?" Naoe's voice, deceptive: steady, trustworthy, reassuring even in puzzlement. "In what sense?"
"Besides Minako." His lips formed the name awkwardly. Too much history there, recrimination and bad feelings, and he wondered, for an instant, if he was crazy for bringing it out into the open again. "Was there another woman?"
Outside, the exit to Tokai flashed by, and a black Mercedes overtook them with a smug displacement of air. On the road ahead, heat shimmers played tricks with vision.
When Naoe spoke, it was in his blandest, have-some-sushi-and-let's-not-go-there tones. More wasabi? "Four hundred years, Takaya-san. There were many women."
"This one -- " was special, but before finishing the sentence, he paused to wonder if it were true.
There had been, in the end, a name, courtesy of slumbering Kagetora. "Yukiko," he said. "I think her name was Yukiko."
They went over a bump in the road with a jolt.
Early on, he'd realized that if he tilted his head just so, he could catch Naoe's eyes through the rearview mirror without openly staring; he employed that knowledge now.
"You know who I'm talking about, don't you?"
Touch on the past, and dealing with Naoe became the sticky process of prying open a clam that had been ostracized from its fellows for stubborness. I don't want to know, either, he thought, slightly aggrieved, but the questions themselves wouldn't let up: Was it just another possessor quirk? A common offense? Did one lose sense of the sanctity of the human body after years and centuries of discarding them, one after another?
"I dreamt," he said, slowly, because it was a difficult confession to make under the best of circumstances, and Naoe's expression suggested that this was the one of the worst, "that I. Took her body. Without her consent."
Naoe blinked. Honest-to-goodness blink, flash of surprise so obviously unfeigned that it made Takaya breathe easier for a second. "Just a nightmare, I'm sure. You never touched her." There was real relief underlying his words, reassuring even as it confused -- he'd felt the brutal satisfaction, had tasted it along with the blood.
"Maybe you just didn't know."
"I would have known," said Naoe, and the certainty in those words held the weight and solidity of tidal waves, massive and ponderous and unable to support anything despite that. The air conditioning was off, but Takaya felt his skin prickle. "Believe me, Takaya-san. I would have known."
Biography of the Cheated Girl
S. Yukiko, 1 day:
Significant event of the day being the perishing of the soul. Body hijacked by something ancient and tortured, determined, twisted together in chains of gold and black. The world is a blur, but Naoe can sense the unease flowing off her parents when the baby opens her eyes and stares at them. He lets nature take its course; allows her to open her mouth, too, and scream.
S. Yukiko, 6 yrs:
This body is useless. Barely noticeable so far - there's a limit to the strength that can be developed over half a dozen summers, male or female - but he can read it in the tiny hands and feet, the bone structure of a sparrow. He goes as far as to consider cutting her throat and finding a more suitable vessel, but decides, ultimately, not to add to the burden of guilt that accompanies him throughout the ages.
The adults adore her; can't get enough of touching her cheeks, her arms, stroking her hair with its dark gloss of volcanic rock. He submits to it quietly, lowering her eyes and seeing purple flames. There is only one touch he craves, and he doubts it will ever willingly be offered.
S. Yukiko, 14 yrs:
The first time Haruie took a female body, she spent the entire duration of puberty entertaining them with new and creative swear words. He understands the feeling now, quite intimately: he bleeds, he hurts, it happens every month, and there's no cure in which to harbor hope. No escape, endless punishment, which is a concept he ought to be familiar with, but always manages to catch him by surprise.
The pain doesn't detract from her looks. The new viceroy's son hears of the village beauty and tries to arrange for a meeting; there's talk of exchange of gifts, an engagement, and he begins to wonder if he ought to have found a chance to disfigure the red, wrinkled infant he appropriated in youth. It's still an option, but he supposes he owes enough to this body to try the less dramatic route first.
In the shadowed tearoom with its calligraphic scrolls of 'Compassion' and 'Restraint', her mother asks him if he's certain, worry hidden in the tremble of her fingers and making amber ripples. He tips Yukiko's head forward until her hair brushes the surface of the table. He doesn't talk often; the soft high-pitched voice distracts him, gives him pause every time: am I still me? Can a creature like this undertake the duties I must complete? He knows there are servants waiting on the other side of those paper-thin partitions, ears pricked. An idea is born.
The viceroy's son turns out to be tall, stout and not terribly bad-looking. Kind, even. Yukiko might have had a chance of happiness if she'd happened to be born one day late. He gazes at her with embarrassed fascination, and Naoe has to take refuge behind her hair again, hiding from the familiarity of the warmth and hunger there, just a whispering shadow of his own, but enough to loosen their bonds.
They talk of flowers, poetry, history, the weather. He watches the young man flounder around for a topic both interesting and acceptable, and feels a terrible pity born of kinship. It's finally out of this pity that he leans forward, interrupting the boy in mid-sentence: "Ashida-san."
"Yes, Yukiko-san?" He actually blushes. Naoe follows the suffusion of red with her eyes, stifles a sigh, wonders if he'd ever been that young; certainly not when he'd met Kagetora, the rift of warfare and death already between them.
"Do you know, sir," he says, "what I do with the things I truly like?"
"I would be honored if you were to illuminate me." The poor fool sounds eager.
Naoe bows her head, concentrates. He thinks of Kagetora's body, sweat and skin a fingertip away, fighting back to back, Kagetora's scent almost distracting him from survival. Suppresses a shudder as he remembers those slanted eyes with their absolute assurance of obedience, asking for everything and taking all with no reciprocation and no guilt, and how he hates that, had always hated and was powerless against it. He pictures crushing Kagetora into the ground: look at me, listen to me, I'm real and I'm here, more than just the cur trailing at your heels, I can make you weak and make you mine, kissing away the arrogance, demolishing the pride, the power, until what is left belongs solely to himself.
He looks up, allows the honesty to shine through, and begins to talk.
No suitors bring gifts to their doorstep after that.
S. Yukiko, 16 yrs:
The call comes not long after her birthday, a curling whisper of a command: I need you. Come to me.
He packs up clothes, a bit of food, and slips away at the first hint of dawn. Before he leaves he arranges the spell that will blur her name from the memories of the townspeople, steal away sixteen years of existence. No sorrow of a lost daughter for her parents, and no joy, either. He usually prefers to leave the memories intact as a cover identity, but this time the complications start spinning out like the web of a particularly industrious spider. He would have had no excuse to offer them as to his absence, and he's incapable of staying just for their peace of mind -- Naoe is no stranger to being needed, but some needs take precedence over others.
The road is long and, for this body, difficult. He's well aware of what happens to solitary females wandering Shirakawa-machi alone. In the stories it's easy enough to masquerade as a man; for him, even more so, with two centuries of experience to draw upon, but for this same reason he can identify the telltale signs that would draw the eyes of passers-by: skin, hips, curve of the chin and cheeks. Mouth.
He wonders, in passing, which of these Kagetora will focus on when they meet.
As fortune would have it, these are familiar grounds. Forty years ago, he'd scoured the forest while stalking a wayward Onryou; going back another two hundred, he'd served directly under the lord who ruled them. Same woodland animals, same slender cypresses, same forgotten paths that still show a hint of past use, and only the vessel of his soul is different. The boundaries of state have changed, but the land has not.
By the time he arrives at the site from which Kagetora had called, he's a disgraceful blemish on the face of womankind with torn clothes, skinned knees, cuts from branches and sharp rocks along his arms and legs. Yukiko's skin does not take lightly to travel. He remembers dropping kisses on skin like this in the past, fascinated by the softness, the fragrance that seemed to emanate from each pore. Now he knows the secret: three different kinds of oil, applied day and night, and baths drawn with the essence of rare blossoms undergone as often as weather permitted. The absence of secrecy steals much of its allure.
Kagetora had chosen an antique pavilion to stage the summoning, six pillars holding up the round, sloping roof, the carved woodwork chipped, cobalt paint flaking away. It's a familiar landmark: they'd taken shelter here from the rain one afternoon, when it had been a rest-stop on the road to Minami-ku and the paint still possessed the gloss of newness, and Haruie had composed a poem on the spot as they huddled around the fire for a meal of wild mushrooms. Now it's been swallowed up by the city proper, monument to a past age that he still, occasionally, thinks of as young.
He doesn't expect Kagetora to be waiting, and like all his worse expectations, this one proves true. Instead, there's a narrow-eyed youth lounging against the wooden seats, blue-clad, a sword sheath at his side that manages to swing loosely and without awkwardness, engaged in what appears to be the absorbing task of counting the magpies in the rafters. When Naoe steps closer, he turns his head lazily.
Does a double take.
"Don't," Naoe warns, and pushes the tangle of hair out of his eyes.
Nagahide doesn't reply immediately. He gets to his feet and begins to prowl a circle with Naoe -- Yukiko -- at the center. Smirks, finally, like a divinity's dropped him an unexpected gift from its cloudy perch. "Haruie's going to die of jealousy."
"Didn't she manage to find a body of the suitable gender for her swain?"
The thought of an exchange is the best hope he's had in years; pity, from the way Nagahide's grin widens, taking up the entire width of his thin face, it's a futile one. "Nothing so convenient. I wouldn't rule out a catfight when the gentleman decides that you're a better catch, though."
"Enough." He's never been talkative, but in this life he's learned to treasure words like pearls, keep them in for fear of slipping up and coming out with something entirely indecorous. "Where is he?"
"Nowhere you want to visit in this form," and it's only the undertone of deadly-seriousness in Nagahide's voice that gives him pause.
Years since he's been able to shed the fetters this incarnation placed upon him, though, and he's not slipping back into them. "I hardly expected to see you ever take up the mantle of chivalry," he says, constricting his throat, hardening his voice, trying to make a weapon out of its fluidity.
Nagahide shrugs, unconcerned. Turns and walks off, and doesn't check to see that Naoe is following. "Suit yourself, Nobutsuna-chan. Just don't come crying to me for not giving warning."
The building to which Nagahide leads him is squat, low-eaved, respectable enough in appearance. Naoe might almost have been unaware of its nature if not for three centuries of masculine instincts. The women that greet them are clean and well trained -- Kagetora had always been fastidious in his choice of dalliances. One of them pauses as they pass, a butterfly birthmark vivid on the side of her pale neck, and when she looks up, her eyes hold the placid calmness that he's seen before reflected from the surface of a lake deep in the mountains, untroubled by strong wind or rain. Her hands curve around a flute of smooth bamboo.
"Yasui-san, welcome; how can we entertain you today?" The proprietress' voice is deferent, cheerful, but the cheerfulness turns into question marks when her gaze sweeps across Naoe. Most men don't bother to bring their own female companions when whoring.
"Nothing for me, thanks all the same. I only came by to deliver this beauty to my friend. She refused to wait -- said she'd die if she went another moment without seeing him, poor girl."
Naoe's fingers twitch.
"Truly?" Nagahide's voice had been loud; now there are a number of curious looks being cast in his direction, wondering and weighing: wife? fiancÃ©e? jilted lover?
He makes a suitably inaudible assent, and thinks of having a talk with Nagahide on his sense of humor. Illustrating the salient points with a sword.
"Allow me to send one of the girls to inform him of your arrival, then," says the proprietress, back to porcelain-smoothness; she's a professional, after all. Her eyes flicker towards the butterfly girl, who bows immediately and glides off into the interior of the building.
She's a favorite, he thinks, watching her leave. Had known at the first sight of her. Grave, gentle, nurturing; she's the type he gravitates towards time and again.
Nagahide chats up the proprietress as they wait, while Naoe stands to one side, silent and still. After a while the proprietress is called away, and Nagahide turns to him.
"You're so suited to this role," he murmurs, bending in, pitched for Naoe's ears only.
"No," he replies in the same low undertone. "I'm truly not."
They're saved from continuing the exchange by the sound of footsteps. He tenses. Sixteen years, new bodies for both, but he'd recognize those footsteps if the sixteen had been six thousand. He can feel his breath coming quicker; makes a concentrated effort to calm himself, and knows that he's only indifferently successful.
When Kagetora speaks, no amount of willpower can prevent the leap in his pulse.
"We don't have time for your love affairs, Yasui."
Kagetora in this incarnation is much like himself in every other -- slim, strong, a newly-forged blade still red from the smelting. Like the tiger of his name, unremarkable amongst the foliage, until the instant when focus shifts and he's suddenly splendid and shining, emerging from the shrubbery with jewel-bright eyes.
His reaction to Naoe is something to treasure for ages to come. Naoe holds himself motionless, taking a perverse pleasure in it: the sudden halt, widening eyes, slackened mouth, image of a man whose world is turning topsy-turvy.
Then rights itself.
"You're late," says Kagetora, as if the shock a moment ago had been nothing more than a trick of the light, cool disapproval given the wrong slant only temporarily.
Kagetora-sama, you liar, but he inclines his head without words, demure for the sake of the audience, and also, admittedly, out of the desire to needle Kagetora in the only way acceptable.
Kagetora takes one step towards him before stopping himself. He's off-balance, Naoe realizes, amazingly so, more than Naoe would have imagined. He doesn't like Naoe as a woman. Or maybe, he thinks as Kagetora's eyes reach his chest, pause, then shift away; maybe he likes it too much.
S. Yukiko, 16 1/2 yrs:
Six weeks, and Kagetora's unease hasn't diminished, the outcome being that he's doing his best to make Naoe miserable.
Kagetora pushes; he doesn't pull. He looks at people and it's as if there are invisible limbs that reach out automatically to shove, to propel them towards Kagetora's goal and only indirectly, as it seems, away from himself. He's Uesugi Kagetora and he holds himself in a vacuum.
Kagetora pushes. He doesn't pull because he doesn't need to; somehow they all come spinning back into his orbit, Nagahide and Haruie and Irobe, himself. It's easier for the others. Once he found himself wondering if that had been part of Kenshin's calculations in the first place, then realized that of course it must have been: they're all flexible, capable of bowing to Kagetora's aggressiveness or at least of taking it in stride.
All except one, Naoe thinks, and draws out the last comb that keeps his hair secured. Unloosed, the locks tumble freely down his back, silky and vibrant, one of fate's little jokes. Still beautiful despite the exhaustion that threatens to overwhelm him. Kagetora's been pushing at him harder, more frequently, more fiercely as the days pass, until Haruie is beginning to protest, until one of the brothel girls comes over to pat him comfortingly on the arm. What makes it harder to take than usual is that he doesn't know /why/. Kagetora barely looks at him anymore these days; when he does, Naoe can read nothing from his expression but distance and disdain, a hint of betrayal.
Kagetora is building himself into a victim in his own mind, carving a tomb out of the stones of martyrdom. He can bury himself as deep as he likes; this time, Naoe's not playing along.
The sudden twinge of survival instinct warns him, gives him enough time to stare fixedly at the mirror and blank his face. A moth alights on the surface of his dresser, drawn by the candlelight. He waves it away. It flutters off beyond reach, but returns moments later.
The door opens and shuts. /Kagetora/, his mind sings, a familiar chant of lust and resentment, while his tongue curls. Taste of blueberries that Kagetora's presence brings him, sliver of sweetness almost overridden by the sour.
"Haven't you primped enough?" Kagetora sounds disapproving, a stern father reprimanding his wayward child, but one look is enough to tell Naoe that their roles should be reversed. Within the frame of the mirror, Kagetora looks -- disheveled. His jacket is wrinkled and appears to have been tied together in haste; hair tousled, lips with a tilt of sleek satisfaction behind the habitual coldness. Naoe wants to touch them. He wants to bite them bloody.
"Haven't you fucked enough?" he responds, choosing the words deliberately. It would have been the butterfly girl; there are rumors flying around over how the handsome new cash cow never exits her room, practically living there, leaving his poor childhood sweetheart to shut herself in her room and weep the livelong day. More rumors about Yukiko and Nagahide, and, in an occasional twist, Haruie.
(He'd never known before how much women talk amongst themselves. This is only what he's heard without digging, doing his best to stay aloof. Heaven knows what they choose to talk about behind his back.)
"You overstep your boundaries, Naoe Nobutsuna." Censure, a fleck of impatience. It's the same tone Kagetora uses to reprimand his horse.
Fury flares, augmenting desire; he twists his head to look Kagetora full in the face. "You think I can't take you like this?"
Kagetora's eyes glitter. "I know you can't."
A comb goes clattering to the floor as Naoe's sleeve sweeps it off the dresser; the moth, startled, takes wing. For the first time Kagetora is taller and heavier, but Naoe's had years to accustom himself to this body, to learn the limits of its strength and the ways around them. They barrel into the wall together, his shoulder jabbing into Kagetora's chest, his chin meeting Kagetora's collarbone, and from here, the scent of cheap perfume is unmistakable.
"Get away from me."
Even pinned to the wall, Kagetora's voice holds nothing else, not fear, not even anger, just undiluted disdain. The last time this had happened, after Naoe backed down, he'd picked up a strand of Naoe's hair that had dropped on his shoulder and tossed it away without looking, lips thinning a fraction.
Naoe wants to gag that mouth with his fingers, hear Kagetora try to beg while sucking him. He wants Kagetora on his knees, wrists shackled behind his back, chafing the skin. He wants love; he wants submission; he wants so many things that they melt into just one word, Kagetora, who --
He looks at Kagetora, actually looks without allowing desire to blind his vision, and beyond the usual elements of beauty and superiority, he finds in it the tightness of triumph.
It's not about what you want, Yukiko's mother had told him, tying a knot at his waist. Useless to dwell on that, and time is not plentiful enough to waste. It's about what you can get.
He lets go. Releases Kagetora, steps back, and lowers his eyes, clasping his hands in front of him, vision of chastised femininity. "As my lord wishes," he says, using the humblest form of speech at his command, listening for Kagetora's intake of breath with the satisfaction of a fox stepping clear of a hunter's trap. Kagetora pushes, but the day will come when his victims stop pushing back; one day, he'll realize that it does not always equal pull.
"See to it that you remember your place." Unlike the usual shame-twisted anger he feels at those words, this time he thrills to them as to a call to battle.
The floorboards are stiff and worn with age, with deep chestnut-colored whorls that stand out like blemishes. He keeps his eyes on them as Kagetora strides out of the room, waits for the deliberate rattle of the door sliding shut before releasing his breath. What he can get, he realizes, is victory.
S. Yukiko, 16 3/4 yrs:
His triumph lasts for months. During this time they travel, exorcise malignant spirits and bicker amongst themselves, all as usual. Nagahide still challenges Kagetora out of habit; Haruie still broods over her missing lover. Irobe still has moments of shaking his head and sighing, keeping a precarious balance of neutrality.
The difference lies in the way Kagetora no longer picks at Naoe. At first he continued to find ways to provoke, criticizing Naoe's diminished speed and strength, parading whores around like trophies, but Naoe countered with indifference, accepting the disparagement and abuse with equal pliancy, experiencing for the first time what it was like to truly bend without resentment, and gradually the attacks tapered off.
Winning, he discovers, is wonderfully addictive. Kagetora's shoulders grow stiffer day by day, and with it Naoe's ascendancy. The others stay well out of it. "I wouldn't have thought you had it in you," is Nagahide's only statement on the subject, spoken with near-admiration, and he'd looked back blandly to reply, "I have no idea what you're talking about."
They're dining with one of the lesser nobles of the district, who'd hired them to take care of spiritual unrest in their castle -- it turned out to be the shade of a spurned lover, not yet cognizant of her betrayer's death and the termination of her love story -- and Naoe works to keep himself unnoticed, out of the spotlight. Men, he's realizing from the other side of the divide, can truly be beasts when their loins are engaged, and he doesn't want complications.
He keeps his ears open out of habit, on the alert for potentially useful bits of information, which is how he doesn't miss Kagetora saying, with exquisite casualness, "Why don't we have Yukiko-san perform a song for us?"
Instantly, he's the center of attention.
The tricks he's learned during the past few months vanishes, and he stares at Kagetora, trying to cling to disbelief as an alternative to the sinking weight of resignation that's pressing down on his lungs. "Kagetora-sama."
Kagetora meets his eyes levelly. No guilt there, nor mercy either. "Will our hosts lend her an instrument?"
"Oh yes, willingly," and within a few minutes a lute is proffered, dusty with disuse, wreathed with the lingering scent of past owners. It might even have belonged to the ghost they'd abjured. The man who passes it over views her with speculative eyes, and allows their fingers to brush on its neck.
"Entertain us, Yukiko," says Kagetora. Naoe hears, in an echo, /entertain me/. There's a soft, distressed noise from the end of the table that he thinks comes from Haruie, but she won't go up against Kagetora, not in public. None of them will; not even Nagahide, certainly not in protection of Naoe's modesty. "Go on."
Yukiko had been trained in all the proper arts during childhood. It's not an impossible task, just a distasteful one, and after three centuries, he should be used to those, shouldn't he?
As he strums out the first chords of a love song in minor key, he realizes that he isn't.
S. Yukiko, 16 5/6 yrs:
It happens again. And again. And then, predictably, once again, because Kagetora is known for pressing his advantages and not forgiving easily, if ever.
He's also creative in his punishments. It's poetry recitation the next time, then singing, and dancing after that, until Naoe finds himself pleading headaches in order to keep from the public eye, where the men look at her -- him -- and see the snowy face of a high-class tart, their gazes forcing him into a box in which it's harder and harder to remember he doesn't belong.
It's night, and the others have just returned from an exorcism, which Kagetora forbade him to join out of concern for his delicate health. They stumble into the inn, dirty and exhausted, drawing looks from the other patrons but no comment, since money is money, and Kagetora pays well.
He has, Naoe notes, a smudge of ash on his cheek, like a thumbprint pressed right beneath the sharp angle of cheekbone.
They retreat to their rooms: Nagahide and Irobe sharing, Kagetora and Naoe sharing, Haruie on her own. Kagetora's decision, of course, and gloriously ironic when one remembered his reaction upon first discovering Naoe's impulses towards himself, when no distance between them was too great and no words were too harsh. It had taken a lifetime to make that up and more; nothing's been the same since.
"Yukiko," Kagetora calls once the door is shut, as he often does nowadays, even in private where there's no need for pretense.
He'd bit out on the first of those occasions, "My name is Naoe," and Kagetora had only responded, lightly, "But I find Yukiko prettier."
"Yes, Kagetora-sama?" is the only response he has left.
"Help me off with my shoes."
"I'm not your maid," he says, but even as he speaks he's anticipating Kagetora's next words:
"I am your leader," and there's no response to that but obedience.
He never asks her to do anything overtly shameful. Sees to it that she gets comfort and care, pretty fripperies such as beads and hair ornaments that he tosses into the streets for the beggars to fight over. If he were Kagetora's wife, Kagetora's concubine, he could hardly have asked for finer treatment -- and if he'd hurt Kagetora with passivity before, Kagetora is surely repaying the debt ten times over with generosity.
Kneeling before Kagetora, removing his /geta/, cupping Kagetora's ankle in his hand. Kagetora's feet stink, but they stink of /him/. If he wanted to, Naoe thinks, he could lean in and kiss his way up Kagetora's leg, nibble on the inside of his thighs, go higher and turn all of Kagetora's commands into gasps and pants and breathless incoherencies. He could --
He looks up and meets Kagetora's eyes. Lowers his head again, and completes the task with concentrated efficiency. Stands once he's finished.
"If you'll excuse me," he says and withdraws without waiting for a reply, trying not to imagine Kagetora's gaze on her back as he leaves.
For the first time, Kagetora is watching Naoe with desire -- true desire, he can discern that much, a tightly controlled flame that doesn't bother to hide itself -- and he despises it, can't stand it, wants to tear Kagetora's eyes out to blot out the condescension there.
Kagetora doesn't harp on his mistakes anymore; instead, he takes up an air of beautiful indulgence. "Go get some rest. Let us handle the rest," -- he wields solicitousness like a weapon, and he won't stop /looking/.
Yukiko is lovely, soft and pliant, and he hates -- no. He is -- no. He's himself, and the body is only a tool, but that means that it's Naoe that Kagetora is admiring with such appreciation, such contempt, and he thinks that that would be the most devastating blow of all.
He steps outside the room, outside the inn, escaping into the night where Lady Moon dominates the sky, her curve a hook on which men can hang themselves: brilliant, bewitching, eternally out of reach.
The wind cuts and he shivers, goosebumps rising along her skin. His, he reminds himself. /His/.
"So who was she, then?" Takaya still sounded uneasy, dubious of the assurance; his hands moved restlessly in his lap. "What happened to her?"
"She drowned." He kept his eyes on the road.
He'd taken her into the water not long after. It might -- must -- have been illusion, but it had seemed as though her limbs resisted the slow submergence as they passed from the icy chill of lakewater to another kind of coldness. "A slippery slope on a rainy day, I heard. An unfortunate accident, but nothing to be done for it."
"There's something you're not telling me." Accusation, clean hostility, but still preferable to the brand of affection that had driven Yukiko to destruction.
/This is not my body/, he'd told them before he took her away.
"You're worrying over nothing," he said and leaned over to turn on the radio, putting the volume on high, thankful for once for the atrocious noise that had taken the place of music -- B'Z would put an end to further questions. "Truly, Kagetora-sama. You've never forced your attentions upon any woman; you were always a perfect gentleman."
Perhaps Takaya heard the grain of truth in his words; more likely, he was just taking the chance to escape from unpleasantness. He glared at Naoe before swivelling back to sulk at the countryside. Very seventeen-years-old.
Naoe tamped down the desire to light a cigarette; the craving would pass, as would the youth.
Yukiko had died a virgin at the age of sixteen. His next host had been the son of a restaurant proprietor, poor but healthy, jug-eared and barrel-chested, and Yukiko's brief existence and subsequent demise had never been mentioned again, remaining a single episode in their long and eventful history.
Four lifetimes later, he raped Minako.