He was nine years old the first time he saw a woman nude.
It had been away from his home, dull wood beams and rock weed gardens traded for lush green fields and pure water. Jien had talked about the village before, mentioned the goods to be found there and the fresh food to be bought. It so was so rare for his brother to make the journey there, not when there were so many things he couldn't leave behind and money not to be spared. Work and chores to worry about, and /her/.
There was always Mom to consider, after all.
But this time Gojyo had convinced him, after much begging and insisting and threats, loudly wondering why his brother wanted to keep him from having fun. This time Gojyo was going to pass through their town and leave it behind, even if only for a small slice of time. Sharp, clear, bright moments he could store away until they equaled something more.
Because that was what he had and he kept them safe inside, wrapped in silk he could never afford and tucked away in the back pocket of his mind. Later in life, he had long ago decided, he would peel back layers and peer inside, examining those treasures in half-real moments when no one was looking.
He would add this too, he knew. They wouldn't be like the others in his town, the only place he knew. Wouldn't push him away or throw hard earth at him, vicious childish tricks that somehow hurt more than her claws and fists.
They would be different, somehow, and brighter like the grass and women's stands, lined with colors to match and hide the one everyone hated. The one Jien made him cover before they left, a dirty reed hat secured on his head.
"The sun is strong," he had explained at Gojyo's complaints and attempts to throw it away. "I don't wanna have to carry you if you pass out."
That hadn't matter to him at the time. It was old and ugly and /in the way/.
Now the halfbreed was glad of it, as they passed over one last hill and everything was whited out by fast daylight. From the shadow of the hat Gojyo could see it all, just as he had imagined from all of Jien's stories. Rice fields and neat fences and a blue blue river gliding away from the scene. A farmer smiled at Gojyo as they walked passed, little girl chasing after the old man with a basket in hand. Yellow flowers escaped from their cage, a few dropping onto the road, a graceful descent.
He had been /right/. It was perfect.
Then he saw her, falling behind his older brother to watch as light glinted off the glass surface of water. She was beautiful, far more beautiful than Mom, even as she did nothing more than lounge in the water like some spirit from a fairytale. Long water-dark hair curled in stream twisted ringlets, floating about the woman like so many lotus flowers in Heaven.
A mermaid, maybe, with pearl tears and immortal kisses. Or a siren, prefect mouth open in song. Summer tanned skin bare and enticing, wanting, promising. So much there, naked emotion and shameless would-be-kisses.
Another moment to be tucked away.
One slim finger curled slowly, beckoning, and Gojyo inched forward in response. Anything to get closer. She was calling for him, calling for him even with all these other people wandering pass and living their ever normal lives, none of them seeming to notice her.
Closer, closer, just a bit closer and he could join her, share her freedom. Be at ease with himself like she was, unashamed and gloriously free. That look on her face, thankful and knowing. Do you want it too?
Mouth opened wide-pearl teeth-but no sound came, no playful bubbles spilling forth.
A strong hand gripped his wrist suddenly, wrenching him back and away, far too away, and Gojyo wanted to pull away and kick and curse. He had been so /close/.
"Don't look, kid," Jien ordered and tugged him along, pushing the hat down further on his little brother's head and casting a wary glance around. "You shouldn't have to..."
But Gojyo did anyways, one last glance at peace, and blank red eyes stared back from beneath a rush of airy nothing.
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