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.


29. Check

The arm around her was cool. She kept her eyes closed, enjoying the comforting weight behind her. She was deeply aware that this would soon end and the night would become nothing more than the morning's dream. Lips brushed against the shell of her ear. Words were whispered to her that she hardly understood as she drifted further away.

When she opened her eyes the sun was bright and the bed was cold. Turning onto her back she stared at the ceiling. The breeze was warm. Sitting up she held the sheet to her chest. She was tired. Pinching the bridge of her nose she wished away the lingering exhaustion before looking outside. The day was beautiful, but she could smell dampness in the air that hinted towards a storm. The sound of heavy boots drew her gaze to the closed door. She waited, wondering if she had in fact heard the sound or if it was just her imagination. For a time it was silent and then she heard several footsteps before they stopped again. Hurriedly she pulled on some clothes before going out into the hall.

Kenta was in the kitchen. He was tearing into the loaf of bread that she had left out to cool. His gaze flickered to her and then dragged over her body. She folded her arms and hardened her gaze.

"I'd hoped that you would be happier to see me, Shiriko."

She didn't respond to the statement. Instead she joined him in the room and poured herself a glass of water. For a time they just ignored each other and then she felt his gaze on her again. He was watching her a little more closely then she would have liked, but she ignored him. Doing so was becoming simple.

He tore off a piece of the loaf and chewed it thoughtfully. With the way that she was he would have been better off not returning, but he had been too long away. "I missed you."

To a degree she could share the statement. Being left alone at this house was tiring and any company other than Ren was welcome. Yet at the same time she wished that he did not return. She could walk away then. He set the loaf of bread down. She heard him walk across the room before returning. He stood close behind her. She wondered if he would let her leave if she tried to move.

He ran his hands down and then up her arms before massaging her shoulders.

"Stop," she said quietly. He did so, but then he tried to kiss her cheek and she turned her head away.

Sighing heavily he resisted the desire to tighten his grip until she bruised. "You're my wife, Shiriko, and I am your husband."

"That means very little."

"I'm growing tired of your moods." He turned her around so that she would face him. Her gaze didn't waver. In her eyes he could see the resentment from the first few months of their union. Any warmth that had been there was gone. Her affection had been fleeting. That was hardly surprising. He pressed himself close to her, pinning her to the counter. "We have had some pleasant times." He gently brushed his knuckles against her cheek. "Haven't we?"

"I suppose." His lips were against her neck now. The touch was hesitant. She turned her head, allowing him to be close to her. He was right in a way she supposed. Closing her eyes, she felt his arms circle her.


Kenta was eager and she was nearly overwhelmed. She did her best to hold him, submitting to desire. Almost she could sense flickering affection from him. This surprised her. She thought that had faded in the time that had passed. Perhaps he maintained a better facade then she thought possible of him.

Afterwards she left the bed to bathe rather than to lie with him any longer. He had looked annoyed when she had left his arms, but she couldn't be bothered by that. As she dried her hair she felt the burden of recent thoughts. This decision was weighing more heavily on her. She wished that she could turn back time and rebel against her father's decision. It was too late now. She had lingered too long. It would have not have been enough to have left with Toga. Too much time had passed and she couldn't leave just yet. She needed to wait until the time was again right.

A quick glimpse of her reflection prompted her to turn away. Her situation was not all too bad she supposed. Kenta provided support that was becoming increasingly necessary. The times were changing.

She pulled on some clothes and left her hair damp. Glancing into the bedroom she saw that Kenta had fallen asleep. Rather than returning to bed she went to the couch. Lying down, she stared at the ceiling. The setting sun cast shadows across the ceiling. She watched as the shadows of branches twisted themselves into claws and various devil-like shapes. The images were entrancing and soon she found herself lulled to the edge of sleep.


Two crimson orbs glowed in the settling darkness. For a long time Kenta stared at them. They were too far away for him to discern the shape that they were attached to. He almost dismissed the image as belonging to his imagination. Yet as the darkness deepened the orbs became brighter. This bothered him. They seemed to be eyes to him. When at last night had fallen he rose. The orbs had remained where they were.

Going to the window he pushed it open. Nothing changed. He stared at the glowing orbs for a long time before they suddenly vanished.

He left the bedroom and found Shiriko lying on the couch. Her eyes were open, but she didn't not acknowledge his presence. He had found her like this before when they were partners rather than husband and wife. Though she slept, she was still very much alert. He was certain that if he came too close to her that she would respond in a manner that could mean harm for him. His gaze flickered to the windows. In his peripheral vision he thought that he had seen those red orbs again, but nothing was beyond the glass. Looking at her again, he allowed himself to study her.

She appeared unchanged yet she had felt different. He couldn't quite place what this change had been.


Shiriko looked to where Kenta had been standing. He had left after some time. She could still feel the lingering weight of his gaze. He seemed suspicious, but she could not tell what it was that had drawn his attention. Soon she would know. Kenta was not one to let things just sit. He would confront her and she would have to speak. She supposed that nothing terrible would come from the confrontation.

Sighing heavily she put one arm over her eyes. She was tired.

Outside she was aware of Takeshi's presence. He remained for some time before vanishing.


A silent mutual agreement over breakfast had resulted in both of them devoting the day to working. She had ended up inside cleaning the entire house while he moved outside to make the necessary repairs. They moved quickly, but efficiently. Neither of them interacted with each other save to sit together in the kitchen for lunch or to help the other when it was needed.

Shiriko wondered how the house had come to such disrepair. The damage was not great, but it was enough to bother her. She knew that Kenta was not happy either for he frowned at each new task. Neither of them were to blame. They both took great care in making sure that the house was kept in good condition. Checking certain parts of the house had not occurred to either of them and the roof, as Kenta would later tell her, was long due for repair. She would have to make sure to inspect the house when Kenta was away. Much of this she could have completed on her own if she had only noticed.

Stepping outside, she shook out one of the rugs. Her gaze flickered to Kenta. He was fixing part of the fence now. A couple beams had begun to rot and Kenta seemed to find this something that was pertinent to replace now rather than later. Something about him working like this was nice. He reminded her of Toga now when he was busy with his chores at home. She felt a smile turning her lips and forced a frown. As normal as he appeared this was not something that she wanted an attachment to. He glanced at her and she held his gaze for a moment before looking away. She did not miss the furrowing of his brow. Holding the rug in front of her, she turned her back on him.


In time Kenta came inside. He didn't speak to her but drank several glasses of water. His brow was wet with sweat and she decided that he needed to take better care of himself on days such of this. Though the past several days had been cold this one was not. A random heat spell had visited the village.

Through the window she could see Ren walking down the road. She looked in the direction of their house and she thought that the woman was going to come to their front door. Then Ren continued past the house. This was odd, but she would not complain. Any day without that woman coming to pry was a good one.

"We should see if they need any help."

She glanced at Kenta and nodded. He was right. They would need help if any repairs needed to be made. Ren and her husband could not do everything that they once did. "I am sure that Ren would be happy to see you."

"Ren is not as terrible as you seem to think."

"When you send her to spy on me she is." The words had passed her lips before she could consider them. She did not regret speaking though. Kenta had been wrong to do as much. She wondered only if he would deny his actions.

"Some things must happen."

So he would take accountability for his actions. This was honorable. She wondered if his excuse would change that. "For example...?"

He did not answer immediately. "You are alone too much."

The implication was insulting and she bit her tongue so that she would not spat harsh words at him. "That is not by my own fault," she said, her tone cool.

Kenta watched her leave. Her back was stiff and her steps heavy rather than silent and graceful as they normally were. She was bitter and he supposed that he could not blame her. Shiriko was accustomed to her freedom, but she was a married woman now. They both had given much up even if she did not yet see this. Though, he supposed that she had sacrificed more; willingly or not.

He left his glass on the counter before following after her. She was busy dusting the furniture now. All of the windows were open and a cool breeze was passing through the room. He folded his arms and watched her for a time. She was stubborn. He hoped that this would not persist. It would cause more harm than good in the future.

His footsteps were light as if he were being cautious. She spared him a sharp glance before turning her attention back to the chair. "I do not need help."


She frowned when he took the cloth from her. When she tried to take it back he held it out of her reach. She let him keep it and went to fetch another cloth. Kenta followed her and she found herself cornered in the hall.


"What do you want?"

Her tone was venomous and he took a step back before moving close to her again. This time he kept more space between them. She could walk away now if she wished.

Kenta's gaze was strange and she did not know what to think of his expression. He was seemed so serious, but there was a sadness and perhaps hope even in his eyes. She felt his touch on her abdomen and stiffened.

"Why did you not say anything?"

She was almost disarmed, but she managed to keep some control. Her shoulders suddenly felt heavier though. "I thought it best to wait," she said with a quieter tone.


"You just returned."

"This is more important."

She allowed him to caress her cheek.

"Are you happy with this?"

The question was offensive and she did not keep the irritation from her tone. "Why would I not be?" He didn't respond, but she knew his answer. She placed a hand over his; feeling that it was now necessary to reassure him. He drew her into his arms and she settled in his embrace. This comfort she did want.

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