Crown of Thorns

The war was something that she never desired, but her birthright as a daughter of the Yagari family forced her to be a part of it. She killed level Est and slowly destroyed herself until the night her life was saved. Salvation was a distant dream, but maybe it was closer than she had originally believed.


22. A Brief Haven

He was losing her. That realization was a difficult one. Shiriko belonged to him. She was his wife. No matter if he had wanted her to begin with or not she was his and she belonged to no one else. That would not change. She would not change that. Something was different though. He blamed the mission.

Almost three weeks had passed before he had seen her again. That had been strange. Those few missions that they had both completed together had been short. They had completed their assignments in a short amount of time. He had learned that she did not like delays. She only desired to finish the assignment. He had done nothing. However, he had been very tempted to contact their bosses and find out where her mission had been and how long it should have taken before her return. He had not though. Trust was necessary. However, he did not know if he trusted her to return. She had not wanted this union and he knew that she was not happy with him. While she may have grown to accept him nothing else had changed. She held no love for him. He did not love her, but that mattered little. He was attracted to her. She did not have the same feelings for him. There was only respect and that did not stop someone from fleeing.

When she did return he was caught off guard. The hour had been late. Later, when he looked at the clock, he saw that it was several minutes past two in the morning. He had woken when he had heard the door open. Within seconds he had risen from his bed and was making his way to the front. He had seen a shadow and he had been about to give a disabling blow to the intruder when she had spoken.


Her soft voice had frozen him. The little light that filtered through the window illuminated her face when she faced him. She was pale and there were dark circles around her eyes as if she had not slept for several days. "Shiriko." For the first time he had felt a spark of concern for her. He had dropped his weapon and he had pulled her into his arms. She had not pulled away from him like she normally did. Her body was cold and he rubbed her arms in effort to warm her. "Where were you?"

"Finishing the mission."

He had believed her and he had taken her to their room. After stripping her out of her muddy clothes he had tucked her into the bed and he had held her close. For the first time she had curled herself close to him. He did not sleep for the rest of the night. Something unsettled him though, he could not name what it was. The next morning she had remained close to him and he had not moved. He held her in his arms and watched her as she slept. Her chest rose and fell rapidly as she gasped. Several times she made pained noises. She was trapped in a nightmare and he found himself comforting her. When the sun was high in the sky he had finally left the bed. By then she had calmed and she was sleeping peacefully again.

The day had passed as it normally did. The only difference was that Shiriko remained in bed rather than doing the duties that were expected of her. Several times he had checked her. She continued to sleep. He had been hesitant to leave the house. His promise to mend a fence though, had prompted him to leave. The entire day he remained concerned about her. When he returned late in the evening he found that she was like how he had left her. He had made himself supper before searching her jacket. He had found her assignment. The paper had been torn in half. Blood was on the paper. Carefully, he read what he could before returning it to the pocket that he had found it in. The mission had been simple. She should have been back sooner. Of course, children were tricky.

That night she had started to weep as she slept. The sound had woken him. He had not known what to do at first. This weakness, even in her sleep, was unusual for Shiriko. Eventually, he had started to gently shake her shoulder. After only a few seconds she woke with a start. Her eyes were haunted as she looked around the bedroom before her gaze settled on him. Something flickered in her eyes before it was gone and she looked away. He was not certain as to what he should read about what he had seen in her eyes. She had drawn her knees to her chest after hastily wiping her eyes. When he tried to touch her she flinched. He made an effort to whisper soothing words to her, but she had ignored her. After several more attempts to put her at ease he had laid back down. His final image was of her staring at the door, her expression devoid of any emotion despite the drying tears that streaked her face.


"I am glad that you are home."

"Are you?"

He didn't respond. Shiriko had returned to her normal ways. The morning following her nightmare she had started cleaning the house and cooking. Her words to him were fewer than they once more. If she said more than five words in response to him he was lucky. Otherwise, she was being a wife to him again. Still, it was frustrating. He had made an effort to tell her that he was not bothered by her having nightmares and he had gone as far as to tell her that it happened to him occasionally. She had only looked at him and nodded. The rest of that day and the following day she did not speak to him. She had actually made a conscious effort to avoid him as if he bringing up the situation had embarrassed her. It was a frustrating matter.

"What would you like for supper?"

"Whatever you make is fine."

She nodded before going to pull out the bag of rice.

He watched her in silence as she started to prepare the meal. She was very effective in the process. He was glad for that. It was nice to have a good meal. If not for the tension that she carried he could almost imagine that she was content in what she was doing. In the past she seemed very comfortable when it came to cooking. It was her forte. Now though, he supposed that whatever had happened on the mission was disrupting the normalcy of the process. "Shiriko."

"Please let me cook, Kenta."

She had said more to him than she had in the past several days. He could not let the matter rest though. The way that she was acting was stressful and he did not need to think about what might have happened. He did not need to be worrying about her and what she may or may not do. "We need to talk, Shiriko," he said, speaking carefully so that she would not disregard him.

For a long time she was silent. She did not want to speak to Kenta. The fact that he knew that something was wrong was one that she was very aware of. However, it did not concern him. He did not need to know that killing a child had effected her so. The situation was one that he would not understand. To the core of his being he was a hunter. "What do you wish to speak of?" she asked after several minutes.

"What happened on your mission?"

He was certainly not one to approach things slowly. It would have been nice if he had been a little more mindful. She supposed that he had been. He had waited a few days before bringing up the subject. "I tracked and killed a Level E child." Behind her she heard him sigh in exasperation.


"There is nothing more to discuss."

He dropped the matter. At the moment he had no patience to try to force her to speak about what had happened. "What are you cooking?"

How strange that he could jump to a normal conversation so easily. "Chicken?"

Nodding to himself, he turned his attention back to the knife that he had been sharpening. She had only frowned the first time that he had sharpened weapons at the table. It was good that she had said nothing about him doing such a thing even though he knew that she did not like it. He was not about to change his habits. Enough had been changed when she had come to live here.

When the meal was simmering in the pan she took the time to set the table. She moved his weapons aside, but he made no move to remove them from the table.

"We will talk."

"We have talked, Kenta."


She met his hard gaze. His expression was serious. She could see that he had no patience for her at this moment. "It does not concern you."

"You are my wife. Whatever is bothering you it is of my concern."

Frowning, she turned her back on him.

"Perhaps you should stop hunting."

His suggestion prompted her to turn around quickly to face him. "What did you say?"

"I said that you should consider ending your hunting career."

"You have no right to suggest such a thing."

He paused in his task to look at her. An amused expression lightened his features. "You do not want to."

"No." She should not have said that, but she did. He did not need to know that she agreed with his suggestion and that if she had the option she would do such a thing. However, she could not. Ending her career as a hunter would disgrace and anger his father. Though, the former she cared very little about her father's anger was not something that she was prepared to face at this time. She was dealing with enough right now.

"Are you sure?"

He knew. Narrowing her eyes, she then turned her back to him. She said nothing more to him.

His amusement grew. He had struck a nerve. That would prove to be both good and bad for him. "Dinner smells wonderful," he commented in an offhanded manner. She said nothing response to him, but he was unsurprised by that.

When dinner was done she set it down before him. Taking the seat opposite of him, she watched as he filled his plate.

"You are not hungry?"


He shrugged. It was her decision if she wanted to be stubborn and not eat. He would not be the one suffering as a result.

She turned her gaze to the window. He was taking his time eating. That was perfectly fine with her. It would mean that he would be preoccupied for a longer time and he would not talk to her as a result. She wished that he had remained as he had been the past several days. That was too much to hope for though. To act any differently from his normal self would not be Kenta. It was necessary for him to be a bastard and speak of subjects that he had no right to bring him. He being her husband was only an excuse. Husband was a title and an inconvenience; nothing more. She almost wished that he was capable of being the man that he had been when she had returned. He had been kinder and more accepting of what she was going through. Even though he did not know what was troubling her he had made an effort to be an actual partner for her. He did not insist on being intimate. Instead, he only held her. It had been comforting. For once, she had felt as though she belonged in his presence. Once, it even crossed her mind that maybe this marriage had been right and that they could make something with himself. He had been patient. All of that had passed and he had returned to being just Kenta. She could only wish for the man that she had caught a glimpse of. That side of Kenta was only a fantasy though. He was a hunter and he was nothing more.

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