THE EMPEROR'S COMFORT
“I’m sorry…I really like you, but it’s not love…”
Miaka’s words resounded through Hotohori’s head, echoing off the caverns of his lonely heart. No… All his dreams since he was a child dashed against the rocks. It wasn’t fair… but would it have been fair for Miaka to be denied her true love, Tamahome? No. Hotohori couldn’t hurt the one he loved. Never.
Tears mingled with regret, and heartache flowed in rivers down his cheeks. The Emperor’s brown eyes closed with the complete torture of it all. Why had he fallen in love with her? Miaka… So full of life, so eager to please and so determined; now he knew that Tamahome was the source of her vibrant outlook and he could never take that away, not as a man.
Hotohori wiped his tears from his eyes and looked up upon hearing soft footsteps padding through his room.
“Your Majesty…” Nuriko whispered, bowing before Hotohori as he had rarely done. For once, Nuriko was dressed in traditional male clothing, his hair pulled back in a braid reaching down his back. “She has made her decision, am I right?”
Hotohori’s throat tightened but he nodded, his eyes not even able to look at Nuriko. “We knew it would be Miaka’s choice. Tamahome and Miaka were destined to fall in love from the first time she entered this world. I cannot interfere with that, even though I want so badly to have her,” Hotohori confessed. “I could do it. I have the power as Emperor, but not the heart to do it as a man.”
Nuriko reached for Hotohori’s hand, holding it gently in his. “I would let you pretend that I am her, if it would ease your suffering but a little. I would do anything for you, Hotohori,” Nuriko whispered. The offer was given from his heart and every word he said was true. He would gladly pretend to be Miaka if it would serve to help Hotohori.
“Nay, I would not put you through that, Nuriko. You are my friend and I care for you. I couldn’t break you by bedding you while pretending that you were Miaka. I know you are willing, but if I bed you, I bed *you*,” Hotohori said softly, pushing a rebellious lock of Nuriko’s hair back.
Nuriko looked up with his big brown eyes soft and open but hesitant. “You would not want to bed me…” Nuriko murmured. “I am not Miaka, I am not even really a woman.” He closed his eyes as he said the words, beginning to break his heart with his own words.
“No. Nuriko, I care for you. I know that I could fall in love with you if given the time; I would take you as my lover if you would do the same,” Hotohori said, cupping Nuriko’s face. For the first time, the Emperor took in the true beauty of his fellow Celestial Warrior. The long flowing hair, not quite as beautiful as his own; the big brown eyes, the slender body that made it easy to pass for a woman. Though Nuriko was truly anything but feminine.
“The strength of your love and heart is even greater than the strength of your arms and legs; I think you are strong enough to mend me,” Hotohori said softly.
Nuriko smiled kindly, leaning into the touch of Hotohori. “Thank you, Hotohori. I accept the challenge…” he whispered, watching the Emperor.
Hotohori pulled Nuriko’s head almost level with his and pressed their lips together in a binding, sealing kiss. Their decision was final. Nuriko finally had his love and Hotohori had a chance to find love in Nuriko.
Nuriko melted into the kiss, all the warrior’s dreams coming true. Hotohori was kissing him. It was sudden but not unwelcome. “Hotohori…” he said, once their lips parted from the lock they had held. “Would you want to bed me this night?” Nuriko asked, somewhat nervously.
The Emperor studied Nuriko carefully, his thumb caressing his friend’s bottom lip, swollen from the passionate kiss. “My heart still aches from her words; would you still want me this night?” he whispered, the tears returning to his gentle eyes.
Nuriko nodded. “Yes, Your Majesty. I’ve desired you for so long…and now you are hurting and I would do my best to ease your pain.” The Celestial Warrior flicked his tongue over Hotohori’s thumb suggestively, longingly. “I would have you possess me this night, Hotohori,” he purred, his voice taking on a seductive edge.
Hotohori felt at bolt of lust as Nuriko took his thumb into his wet cavern. He closed his eyes, imagining Nuriko sucking other more needful parts of him than his thumb. “Nuriko,” he murmured, pulling him towards the bed and then pushing him down on it. “I want you, Nuriko, *you*.”
Nuriko fell onto the bed, closing his eyes as Hotohori covered his body with his own. Hotohori’s lips found Nuriko’s neck, sucking and biting gently. “Your…Your Majesty…” Nuriko moaned. He felt the larger man began to tuck at their clothes and he reached to help Hotohori with his robes.
“Call me Hotohori. I am your lover before I am your Emperor,” Hotohori whispered, pushing off his robes and throwing them on the floor. Nuriko’s robes soon joined Hotohori’s. Pressing their nude bodies together, Hotohori pressed their lips together in another kiss. His hands caressed Nuriko’s body, loving him with every touch. Their bodies burned like embers of a fire refusing to die, as their kiss grew deeper.
When Hotohori finally pulled away, Nuriko was breathless and completely aroused. “Hotohori…” he whispered softly. The name was sweet honey to his lips. Shyly, he spread his legs, letting his lover fall between them. His open eyes studied Hotohori, trying to control his breathing. “I love you, Hotohori…claim me tonight.”
Hotohori watched the nervousness and fear in Nuriko’s eyes, but the love surpassed it all, undying love…for him. “Nuriko, how long have you loved me?” he asked softly, his voice thick. How could he have been so blind in his years of knowing Nuriko? He was a fool; he had been so caught up in his fantasies for the Priestess of Suzuka that he had missed the love and the cure for his loneliness that had been with him for so many years.
“Since the first time I saw you,” Nuriko whispered, looking at Hotohori carefully. “What is wrong?” he said, reaching up to pull Hotohori closer, moving against him.
Hotohori shook his head, his hair falling into his face. “Nothing is wrong. I was just thinking what a fool I was,” the Emperor said. “I held onto the dream of being with the Priestess of Suzuka when right in front of me…all these lonely years I’ve had the answer to my loneliness and longing for love. Forgive me, Nuriko, forgive me for being such a fool these long years?”
Nuriko’s eyes widened. “Y… Hotohori…You are not a fool. There is nothing to forgive. You were following what you thought your heart was telling you. I cannot hold that against you, but please… please try to love me. If you cannot, I will understand, but it would mean so much if you would try,” the Celestial Warrior whispered, his thoughts somewhat muddled and jumbled.
Hotohori smiled and placed a chaste kiss on Nuriko’s lips. “I don’t have to try to love you. I already do,” he breathed heavily. “Are you sure you want to be with me tonight or should we wait and…and develop a relationship first?”
Laughing, Nuriko wrapped his arms around Hotohori’s neck tightly, pulling his lips closer. “I’m yours if you so desire. I can wait longer if that is what you desire. I love you and I’ll wait forever.”
Hotohori studied Nuriko, a plan formulating in his mind. “After all this is over, Nuriko, will you marry me? Most still do not know you are a man; we could get away with it. I would have you be my spouse,” he asked, tilting his head to whisper in Nuriko’s ear. “I love you and I would give you everything you desire.”
Brown eyes widened as Nuriko wiggled out from under Hotohori. “Marriage? You want me to be your wife so I can serve you hand and foot!” Nuriko accused playfully. “I can’t believe you, Hotohori,” he teased, crossing his arms in mock stubbornness.
Musical laughter filled the room as Hotohori grinned at Nuriko. “Somehow I don’t think you would make a good wife,” he joked back, enjoying the silly banter. Then his face became more serious. “Nuriko, I want you to be my husband. Even if all the world thinks you are a woman, you wouldn’t be my wife. Please, Nuriko…say yes.” Hotohori’s voice came near to begging.
Nuriko blushed and looked down. “Yes, Hotohori,” he answered, tears filling his eyes. This was the day he had been waiting for; the day that Hotohori would desire him. “It is my heart’s desire and the greatest honor I could ever have.”
The Emperor smiled and kissed Nuriko once again. “Then I want us to wait until after we are married to consummate our love.”
“Then let us go now and be married,” Nuriko exclaimed, playfully pulling at Hotohori’s arm. “But…Hotohori, let us not wait until after Suzuka is summoned…we may never get the chance to be married if we do that…” he whispered, his good mood starting to dissipate.
Hotohori’s brow furrowed. “Do not speak like that, Nuriko,” he said sternly. “We will talk to our friends and will be married before you leave to retrieve the Shinzaho from Bei Jin.”
Nuriko’s eyes widened again. “That is in two days, Hotohori!”
“It will be a small private ceremony. I only want the Suzuka seven to be there,” Hotohori said softly, his voice tight with emotion. “I will not let you leave till we are married and have spent at least one night in one another’s arms. Promise me you will marry me before you leave,” Hotohori’s eyes were pleading.
Nuriko smiled and nodded. “I will. I will be the best wife you’ve ever had!” he declared, his eyes sparkling mischievously, ducking a swat from the Emperor.
“Good. Then we will be married tomorrow, if that is all right?” Hotohori said as a question, though he knew Nuriko’s answer, and so he continued. “Then…Then will go to a secluded wing of the palace and spend two nights together,” he whispered, choking on his words. “Promise me you’ll come back, Nuriko…promise me…”
Hesitation was clear on Nuriko’s face. “I…what if something happens to me?” he whispered.
Hotohori’s face grew livid. “Never say something like that, Nuriko,” he said harshly. “Promise me you’ll come back, Nuriko,” he pleaded again, gentleness filling his eyes.
Nuriko felt tears welling but he nodded. “I promise, Hotohori,” he whispered.
Hotohori smiled. “Thank you, Nuriko,” he said and kissed the warrior softly before pulling away. “Go to your room and rest. Tomorrow will be a long day. I’ll make the preparations in the morning and the wedding will be ready in the afternoon. We’ll have a nice meal afterward, but for now, sleep, my love.”
Nuriko nodded, standing and gathering his robes, dressing quickly. “You sleep as well, Hotohori. You won’t be getting much sleep in the next two nights,” he warned, giving the Emperor a kiss on the cheek before leaving. At the door he turned and whispered, “I love you.”
“I love you too,” Hotohori responded as he watched Nuriko walk away. His Nuriko.
‘How could I be so lucky?’ Hotohori thought, climbing beneath the heavy blanket. He sighed contentedly. His advisors would be pleased when he married Nuriko, though he knew they would have to hide the fact that Nuriko’s true gender was male. It would get complicated, he knew, but he could handle it. He and Nuriko could.
Nuriko was so much like a woman when in the feminine clothing and hairstyles. He was beautiful as a man or a woman. Hotohori would do his best to make Nuriko happy. Nuriko would come back safe with the Shinzaho. They would summon Suzuka and everything would be all right. He and Nuriko would be together, and Tamahome and Miaka would be able to be together without boundaries.
Konan would be safe, and all its inhabitants… Miaka, you can’t fail.
Nuriko lay restlessly on his bed, staring at the ceiling. He was really getting married to the emperor tomorrow. All his dreams were being fulfilled and Hotohori loved him. It was the most wonderful feeling. Tomorrow night at this time he would be in Hotohori’s arms, being loved by him.
The warrior forced himself not to think of what would happen after their two days were over and he had to leave. Nuriko closed his eyes, tears falling from his eyes. What if he died? What would that do to Hotohori? He couldn’t die. He wouldn’t die. He would protect Miaka but he wouldn’t die. Although he knew if he let her die Hotohori wouldn’t forgive him.
It would work out; by Suzuka, it would.
The advisors had been stunned when Hotohori informed them he would be marrying that afternoon. They rejoiced that the Emperor had finally chosen a mate and that an heir would be produced. Then they set about quickly planning it, with Hotohori’s help. That morning, he had sent a note to Nuriko, telling him to tell the rest about the ceremony and ask Chichiri if he would perform it.
Nuriko felt dubious about Chichiri leading the ceremony, but it seemed that it was what Hotohori wanted, and so he would comply. Soon he was dressed in feminine robes and his hair was done up in an elaborate hairdo. He was ready to begin his wedding day.
Nervous jitters fluttered in Nuriko’s stomach as he walked towards the dining hall where he knew Miaka would be, which meant at least Tamahome would be there. He could find Mitsukake, Tasuki, Chiriko, and Chichiri later if they weren’t there, but he was hungry.
The dining hall was noisy when Nuriko stepped in, quickly noticing that all those he needed to talk to were accounted for except Mitsukake. Since the treachery of Ambioshi, a Celestial Warrior of Seiryu, had been discovered, Mitsukake had been more silent and solitary than usual.. Nuriko knew that the betrayal and death of Amiboshi had wounded Mitsukake the most and his heart sympathized with him.
Nuriko shook the thoughts off; he could talk to Mitsukake later, but right now he had to worry about telling the ones present. He pushed down the urge to turn tail and run to Hotohori, and beg him to do it. Hotohori wanted him to tell them and so Nuriko would, for Hotohori.
Biting his lip, Nuriko said, “Everyone, I have something to tell you,” but no one was paying him any mind, so with a loud whistle he repeated what he had said more loudly. Everyone looked at him in shock, all with a expression of, ‘What’s so important?’ Of course, Miaka continued eating, and quickly downed more food than Nuriko would in a week.
“I…I need to tell you all something important. This afternoon, His Majesty and I will be getting married.” Nuriko said the words so quickly it took the rest some time to unscramble them and figure them out.
Miaka was the first to speak. “Will there be a big cake?”
Tamahome laughed and hugged Miaka. “Is food all you ever think about?”
“Y’ see I tole ya they’d get hitched!” Tasuki taunted.
“No da?!” came Chichiri’s response.
Chiriko simply smiled.
“Chichiri…I need to talk with you…” Nuriko said softly, motioning for them to leave. The older man followed Nuriko out onto the porch. Nuriko thought the sooner everything was done, the more pleasant his food would taste, so he would ask Chichiri now.
“His Majesty desires that you conduct the marriage ceremony…it’s only going to be the seven and Miaka, maybe some of his advisors,” Nuriko started. “Are you willing to do it, Chichiri?”
“Of course I’m willing, no da!” Chichiri answered, his face smiling as always. “I’m happy that you have finally won His Majesty; I’m sure you’ll make him a very happy man.”
Nuriko smiled and hugged Chichiri impulsively. “Thank you!” he exclaimed, getting excited about the day. “Now I only have to tell Mitsukake.”
Chichiri nodded. “Be careful how you tell him, Nuriko,” Chichiri warned softly. “He is still sensitive from Amiboshi - we may never know the depth of Amiboshi’s betrayal and death, but it runs deeper than the surface.”
Nuriko looked confused but nodded. “I’ll be careful, Chichiri. Thank you,” he said,then walked back the dining hall to get some fruit before going to find Mitsukake. ‘What could Chichiri mean?’ he pondered, taking a bite of his apple.
Soon Nuriko had finished and he decided that he should try to find Mitsukake as soon as he could. He walked to the gardens and along the river, knowing Mitsukake loved nature. On and on he walked, not paying attention to where he was going, his feet following a path he didn’t know he was taking.
And then there was Mitsukake, sitting on the edge of the river. The place were Amiboshi had drowned. The sad, mournful, longing look on the man’s face spoke of his profound sorrow. Could he and Amiboshi have been? Nuriko shook his head at the thought. What nonsense. “Mitsukake?”
The quiet healer looked up, forcing a slight smile. “Good morning, Nuriko.”
Nuriko smiled back, sitting beside Mitsukake. “How are you?” Nuriko asked, concerned.
Mitsukake shrugged. “I am fine.”
The short answer bothered Nuriko, but he ignored it and said softly, “Hotohori and I are getting married this afternoon. We would like you to be there, Mitsukake,” Nuriko said, trying to be careful in his request.
The healer nodded, staring back out over the water. “I will be there, Nuriko,” was all he said. It was obvious that Mitsukake didn’t want to talk and would rather be alone at the moment.
“Good, thank you. I’ll see you later,” Nuriko said, feeling bubbly again at the thought of the wedding. He ran off and hurried to Hotohori’s throne room, hoping he would be there. Nuriko wanted to talk to him and tell him his job was done.
Hotohori argued with his advisors on the issues of the sudden marriage decision. They didn’t seem to understand that it was of the utmost importance to him to be married quickly. Finally, he said it was his final decision and they could do nothing to change it, ordering them away.
The Emperor sat alone on his throne, the room empty. He sighed softly, waiting for the afternoon to come. They would have the marriage and then a feast. After all that, Nuriko and he would run off to the isolated wing of his palace, undisturbed for two days. Nuriko would cook and they could take care of themselves.
He looked up at the sound of someone entering the room and smiled, seeing Nuriko standing there. Hotohori smiled and motioned for Nuriko to move closer. “Good morning, Nuriko,” he whispered gently, his eyes admiring his soon to be “bride”.
Nuriko smiled back and walked elegantly to Hotohori, careful to keep up his feminine side so that if anyone saw him they wouldn’t have anything to suspect. “Your Majesty,” he murmured, licking his lips flirtatiously. “I’ve informed everyone, and Chichiri has agreed to perform the ceremony,” Nuriko said.
Hotohori grinned mischievously, saying, “And you are here for you reward?”
Nuriko giggled, moving to sit on the Emperor’s knee, even though it was highly inappropriate at the moment. “No, but is there one?” he whispered. “I simply came to inform you,” he teased, nuzzling the Emperor’s neck.
Hotohori shifted, his eyes falling closed. “You are a temptation, my Nuriko,” he whispered into the shorter man’s ear, wrapping his arms around his slender frame. With gentle fingertips, he lifted Nuriko’s head so that their lips could meet in a soft, searching kiss, exploring the wet caverns of each other. “I love you, Nuriko.”
“I love you too, Hotohori,” Nuriko replied.
“Go and get ready for our wedding. It’s only a few hours away,” Hotohori inflected it ever so slightly as a command.
“You know…just because I’m marrying you doesn’t mean that you can tell me what I have to do,” Nuriko teased.
Hotohori laughed and gently swatted Nuriko’s bottom as Nuriko stood to leave. “I wouldn’t dream of it,” he said with a wink. “Now go.”
“I now pronounce you husband and er… wife, no da? Now you may kiss the, bride, no da!” Chichiri proclaimed finally.
Hotohori wrapped his arms around Nuriko pulling him closer, pressing his lips to capture Nuriko’s. Together they truly looked man and wife. Hotohori was strong and dressed in the groom’s robes, while Nuriko was much shorter, and wearing a bridal robe. His hair had been piled on his head in a fancy hairdo again, pearls braided into some of the strands. Nuriko’s body was slender and womanly. It was no wonder he could pass for a lady.
Nuriko melted against Hotohori, pressing their bodies together as the kiss became more passionate, both forgetting that all their friends were watching.
After they had been locked into each other for several minutes, Tasuki started to clap and the others started to clap also. The two newlyweds parted, blushing and looking out over those assembled.
Nuriko noticed how upset Mitsukake looked and then how Chichiri glanced at him worriedly. Chichiri would take care of Mitsukake; Nuriko felt assured he didn’t have to worry for his friend. Nuriko could feel Hotohori intertwine their fingers together holding his head firmly just as he held his heart.
Hotohori watched his new spouse. It had all happened so fast, and now he was married. He smiled - there was truly no one he would rather be with, not even Miaka. “I love you, Nuriko,” he said softly so that no one else could hear and Nuriko looked up at him, grinning.
“I love you too,” Nuriko answered and rested his head on the Emperor’s shoulder. “We should go to the feast.”
Come, everyone, let’s go to the feast,” Hotohori announced, not letting Nuriko’s hand go as they walked the short distance to where food was, though Miaka had, of course, beaten them. Some things never changed.
“I’m glad there was food left over after Miaka had eaten!” laughed Nuriko, leaning against Hotohori as they walked towards the rooms they would be staying in before Nuriko left.
The imminent departure of Nuriko weighed on both spouses, though neither would ever let the other know. These next few days were times for celebration and they would enjoy one another before they were forced to part for a while, though it would seem an eternity.
Hotohori opened one of the doors and ushered Nuriko into the spacious, luxurious room. Candles lit the room, giving it a soft romantic glow. Hotohori had ordered lavender incense to be burned and the scent filled the room. The room held a large bed with plush pillows and quilts; rose petals were scattered over the red silk quilt. “Nuriko,” Hotohori murmured as he removed his robes slowly.
Nuriko gazed at the room. It was beautiful, and the smell of lavender and the soft glow of the candlelight relaxed him; he hadn’t noticed how tense he had been since he had left Hotohori to get ready for the wedding. He smiled and turned his eyes to Hotohori who was undressing, revealing his glorious body. Slowly he reached and began to undress himself. “This is so beautiful. It’s perfect, Hotohori,” Nuriko said.
The Emperor smiled as he took his crown off and his long hair fell down his back. “I’m glad you like it, Nuriko. I had hoped you would. I want this night to be one that you will always remember and cherish,” Hotohori whispered, moving closer to pull Nuriko into a loving embrace. “I love you, my heart,” he said into Nuriko’s ear.
Hotohori’s breath caused Nuriko’s ear to tingle and the shorter man shivered against Hotohori. “I love you too, Hotohori, Emperor of my heart,” he said softly, gazing up into his lover’s eyes.
Their lips met as they pressed against one another, longing for more and settling for no less. The love they felt poured out in their kisses and touches and soon two melted into one in a frenzied passion. Soft moans and grunts could be heard from the large bed as the couple spent their first night together in each other’s arms.
This night would only be the beginning of the lifetime they would share. The Emperor had been comforted and had found love in a place he had never suspected. In the one who had loved him all along, though it had always brought them pain. No one knew what would happen in the future; they could only hope for the best and believe in their love and fate. It was all they could do.
“I love you, Hotohori.”
“I love you too, Nuriko,” the Emperor mumbled sleepily as Nuriko and Hotohori fell into a peaceful slumber wrapped in one another’s arms. Forever they would remember this. Time and space, death and pain would never dim the memory of this night.
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