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.


23. A Change in the Rules

Whatever truce that had existed between them had dissolved. The turning point could only be guessed. She was certain that both she and Kenta agreed that it had occurred after she had hunted Akane. Of course, Kenta would never know the reason. He only knew that she treated him indifferently; as if he were not her husband. She herself noticed how Kenta came to bed several hours after she retired in the evening and ignored her. That was something that she was thankful for. If he had lost interest in her then that was good for her. They could live amicably even if their marriage had all but died. That had not been surprising though. She knew that they were not good for each other. They were only partners in hunting not mates. They could only be around each other for a little while not constantly. Nothing more was meant for them.

Everything slowly changed again. She started to see Kenta more. At first she blamed the lack of assignments that were given to them. The number of Level Es had dropped so both of them were often stuck at the house. Kenta still spent time away from the house to help their elderly neighbors. However, he often came to bed early. Gratefully, he never touched her. They just turned their backs to each other and slept. At least, they tried to sleep. Such a thing was difficult. Several times Kenta left the bed and she could hear him pacing through the house. More often than not he went to his work room. A few times she would leave the bed and sit awake reading. If it was a nice night though, she would sleep outside. Once Kenta came outside and sat near the area where she lay.

She had pretended to sleep. That was a futile attempt. She knew that he was aware that she was awake. For the longest time she hoped that he would leave, but he wouldn't. Once or twice it crossed her mind to ask him to leave. That would mean speaking to him though. She didn't want to do that. Eventually, she accepted that he would not leave her. That night she did not sleep. The feeling of him watching her was unsettling. She didn't like it. The knowledge that he watched her as she rested caused a knot to form in her stomach. Then, there was his scent. The wind did not carry it to her. With the darkness her sense of smell was heightened and she was acutely aware of what he smelled like. It was not clean. Instead, his scent was musky and was similar to that of the earth. Even if he had not been watching her his scent alone would have kept her awake.

That night did not repeat itself. Kenta still hung around more. She grew to accept that. If he needed to be near her then she would tolerate it. That was easier to do when he kept a comfortable distance between them and he maintained the silence.


Kenta watched her from across the room. Her dark hair fell down her back. She had let it down for one reason or another. When she turned her head he could see the curve of her neck. She was horribly tempting. Was she aware of this? Most likely not. She seemed ignorant of the effect that she had on other people.

The sound of heavy boots on the wooden floor alerted her to Kenta's approach. She turned her head slightly. His hands grasped her waist and she felt him press himself against her. "Kenta."

He ignored the warning in her voice. Leaning down, he kissed her neck.

She tensed. A strange sensation traveled down her spine. "What are you doing?"

"Taking pleasure... in what is mine," he said around nipping her neck.

His answer caused her to frown. She was not his. It did not matter that they were married. She was not to be owned. Focusing on her current frustration towards him, she tried to ignore what he was doing. That became next to impossible when he nipped her behind her ear. She gasped and tilted her head to the side to allow him more access before she could really think about what she was doing.

That was a small victory. He took quick advantage of it. Turning her around, he pressed his lips against hers.

She couldn't breathe. Grasping his arms as to push him away, she found herself unable to. Her eyes closed and she arched her body against his.


His lips were on her neck again and then her throat. She tilted her head back. Her grip on his arms started to lessen. What am I doing? She didn't know. She couldn't think. "Kenta.." She hated the sound of her speaking his name. The warning that she intended to give him was not there. She could feel him smirking against his neck. The bastard.

Why had he not done this earlier? Why had he resisted her? She wasn't worth the effort. He had convinced himself of that; especially after she returned changed. If she was not interested in him then he would not bother with her. However, it was difficult. He found that he liked being in her presence. That alone was not anything new. When they had hunted before he had felt the same. She was one of those people. However, she was not his hunting partner. She was his wife. She was his. There was no reason for him to not to take advantage of this interest in her. They could create something together. He could mold something new. After several long minutes he drew away from her. Her eyes were narrowed. If it were not for her flushed face and heavy breathing he might have been intimidated by her glare. "Is something wrong?"

"Do not mock me."

"I am not." He moved to kiss her, but she pulled away from him. Frowning, he settled her under his gaze. "What's wrong?" he demanded.


"There is nothing wrong with this." He grabbed her hips and pulled her close to him. Their noses were almost touching. "Why fight it?"

"Because there is nothing?"

"What do you mean?"

He tried to kiss her again, but she managed to avoid it. She knew that he wasn't interested in talk right now. Trying to move away from him she only felt his grip on her tighten. "There is nothing between us."

"You are wrong."

She narrowed her eyes. "Let go of me."


"I said let go of me."

He held her hard gaze for a time. After a few minutes though he released her. She immediately stepped away from him and he regretted letting her go.

She quickly put several feet between them. "I do not care for you."

"Is that so?"


She sounded certain. Almost, he could believe her. "If you had no feelings for me then you would not give in to me."

"There is a difference between love and desire, Kenta!" She shook her head. "You are a fool," she said more to herself than to him. Her gaze returned to him. "We are nothing! This is nothing!"

"Is that so?"

"Yes." She took a deep breath in attempt to calm herself.

He took a step towards her. She didn't back away from him. He closed the space between them. "There is desire in love, Shiriko."

"You do not love me. This is only lust."

"That is what you think?"


The certainty in her eyes was unsurprising. Of course her thoughts would be warped in such a way. Hunters hardly believed in love. He hardly believed in it. However, there was no doubt in his mind that this was what this was. He knew what lust was and what he felt for her was nothing like that. If this was anything other than love then he would not want to be around her. He would not feel compelled to be near her. The slightest move on her part wouldn't spark desire in him. Her scent wouldn't drive him insane.

What she saw in his eyes made her want to run. She took several steps back.

"I love you, Shiriko."

"I do not love you, Kenta."

Her words hurt. They were not as painful as he thought that they should have been. If not for what he saw flicker in her eyes then he would have believed her. He didn't say anything to her as she left the room. More than likely he should have spoken. For now though, silence was best. She needed to think about his words. His words would effect her. He was certain of that.


He loves me. The bastard. How dare he. She made it halfway down the road before turning around and walking back to the house. After only a few steps she stopped and turned around again. He doesn't know what love is. He couldn't even begin to understand it. Words. It is only words for him. She had passed the third house down the road. Kenta's house would be far behind her now; far enough away that she would no longer be able to see it had she chosen to turn around. He doesn't know anything. Her legs were tired. She stopped. Looking around she found that she had left the town behind her. A house stood a short distance ahead of her. That house would be the last one of its kind for several miles until the next town rose up from the ground. Leaving the road, she sat down under a nearby tree. Just for a short time. Closing her eyes, she tried to relax. She felt drained.

"I love you, Shiriko."

She couldn't help but flinch. He doesn't love me. He can't. Was it so terrible though? She rested her hands on her abdomen. Would it be wrong to let him love her? She shouldn't even consider that and yet... Damn Kenta.


From his work room he heard the door open and then close. Shiriko was home. He waited a few minutes. She didn't seem to be planning to leave again. He could hear her soft footsteps and then the sound of her entering their bedroom. After a few minutes he stood up. Taking special care in putting the wet stone, and other supplies for maintaining his weapons, away he then left the room. Slowly he walked to their bedroom, feeling as though he were walking on glass. The door was partly open. He slid it open the rest of the way. She was standing near the window. Her back was to him. She looked lost. He lingered in the doorway for a few minutes. The sight of her eased away the concern that she would have not returned. The fact that she had was a good sign. He took a few steps into the bedroom. She didn't pay any attention to him. "Shiriko."

"Leave me alone, Kenta."

She sounded tired. He took a few steps closer to her.


He faltered. Almost he turned away and left the room. He did not though and instead crossed the remaining space that separated them. Touching her shoulder he was surprised when she flinched. He had not expected that. "Shiriko." She did not respond to him. He waited, but still she did not speak. "Welcome home." His kindness did nothing to make her speak. He sighed and quelled the frustration that was starting to bubble up within him. Rubbing her shoulder with his thumb, he tried to put her at ease. His gaze turned to the window. There was nothing to be seen. In his peripheral vision he saw her lips move. He leaned close and she repeated whatever it was that she had said. Giving her shoulder a squeeze he then stepped away from her. Turning, he left their room.

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