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Soga no Tojiko is, hands down, the cutest and strangest girl you have ever seen.

The first kiss of all is when, minutes after you meet her, you press your lips to her hand. She scowls. She does not want to be your wife. A kiss on the cheek follows days later, when she isn't so opposed to the idea of your marriage, and she smiles in a way that could mean a million different things. You really like this girl—she's a little shy, and yet below that her true personality is blazing, coarse, and so very genuine. When she shows that side of herself to you, you feel fulfilled in a way like no other.

It's an arranged marriage, one for political reasons, but you couldn't have asked for it to work out better. If you really have to marry a near-stranger, you're glad that out of everyone in the world it's Tojiko. The day before the wedding she invites you to kiss her on the lips, quick and easy. Now kiss me again, she says. She gives you the most wonderful smile this time, one that can't be anything but happy.

After the wedding, Tojiko's uncomfortable at first; you know she is. Not with you, no, but the idea of trying to force a romance with someone she barely knows. She wants to be a good wife, you can see that, but she's nervous sometimes. You let her take things as slowly as she needs, never complaining. On your wedding night she tries to undress herself and then starts to cry, hunching down away from you. Eventually she blurts through her tears that she's afraid of sex, and so you don't push her to do anything. You just let her lie in your arms, kissing the top of her head and stroking her back until she falls asleep. If you have to, you'll lie and say of course you consummated the marriage. Nobody has to know, if it's for her.


 

The first time she takes the lead and kisses you makes your heart flip in your chest. You're leaving home for the day, and she says Have a good day, dear, and gives you a quick peck at the corner of your mouth. She's blushing when you pull back, and that's when you know you're in love.

It's quickly apparent that Tojiko is far from the legend of the perfect, quiet wife. She can't cook, can't clean, always wants to do more than sit around the house all day. She has quite the temper, and isn't afraid to make scathing comments, especially to anyone who would talk down to her. Sometimes, people try to joke with you about her, when she isn't within earshot. As if you don't know what your own wife's personality is like. As if you don't love her. Over and over, you keep saying, Tojiko is a wonderful wife, I wouldn't trade her for anything, you don't know her like I do, you don't love her like I do. You’ve always seen her as a person, not a piece of property. Maybe that’s why. No, it’s definitely why.

She becomes more forward and open as she comes to trust you. She leans right into you after dinner and kisses you right on the mouth, letting her lips part, and her arms slip around your waist and you cup her face in your hands to kiss back.

She sleeps pressed against you nowadays, warm softness tucked against your body. You give her goodnight kisses and watch her smiling in the dark, her eyes sparkling. I love you, she says one night, I'm in love with you, and you can't resist kissing her slowly, languidly, achingly warm, for hours.

When she's finally ready for the utmost physical intimacy, a few short months after your wedding, you trail your lips all over her body, marveling at her soft skin and breasts and hips. You want to kiss every single inch of her, collarbone to ankle, the top of her head down to her toes. And you do, sprinkling kisses everywhere you can reach and loving the way her pulse quickens under your lips. When you reach the place between her legs, the way she cries out makes your heart race. And after you're both exhausted from lovemaking you let it slip that even though you're a prince you're a girl, have always been a girl.

Tojiko understands. Your wife is not quite a woman herself, it seems. Almost a girl, but the identity feels too hollow to really fit.

I'm fine the way I am, she adds. But what about you? Does it... bother you? That everyone sees you as...

Yeah, you say after a long moment. And then, heart in your throat, you tell her your real name, your female name, the one you've always wanted to be called.

Miko. With the kanji for god and child.

Full of yourself, huh? I like it. She smiles softly in the moonlight. Miko, she whispers. Can I call you that?

I'd love it, you whisper back, and tears of relief and joy and a thousand other emotions pour from your eyes.

You lean down to kiss the place her hair parts when she fits herself comfortably against your body. Soon, she’s drifted off to sleep with her face against your shoulder, holding you tight.


A Taoist hermit comes to see you one day, after the initial fuss about you and your new wife has died down. She doesn’t take no for an answer. She doesn’t wait for an answer, actually; she uses her hairpiece to phase herself through your wall and into your house.

Taishi-sama, she says appreciatively, with more than a slight Chinese accent. I’m Lady Seiga Kaku. It’s an honor to meet you. You don’t want to be rude, but why is she sitting at your table uninvited? Just as you’re contemplating finding a nice way to word it, she says, I’ve heard so much about you. You can do amazing, amazing things.

They aren’t that amazing. You’ve always been intelligent, able to figure out solutions to complex political problems, and as you grew you got better and better at reading others’ desires, their hearts, their souls. Extraordinary, definitely. But not amazing.

Seiga smiles like a cat and changes the subject. How would you feel about Taoism?

Who was that? Tojiko asks once Seiga is gone.

A hermit.

I thought they were supposed to—

I think she isn't a true hermit. She wanted to talk about political things. She'd like to unite the country under Buddhism, using my talents. But she's going to teach me Taoism.

I’ll learn too, she says. You can teach me if she says no.

You agree, of course. You don’t leave Tojiko out of things like this. She deserves to learn it if she wants. Right now, though, you’re more preoccupied with Seiga's proposal of immortality, strengthening your spirit for it by taking cinnabar. You've been thinking more and more lately about how to live forever, how to be a celestial in heaven and never have to worry again.


Spreading Buddhism is so easy. When you’re able to read people so well, they’re more than willing to listen to you, especially since you’re a prince. Buddhism is so favorable to the people. So nonviolent, so respectful of all life—just the thing to quiet an unstable country. And under the surface, Seiga teaches you and Tojiko the details of Taoism. Your spiritual powers become stronger and stronger, and people trust in you more and more. The cycle repeats itself over and over.

But you’re dying, you’re supposed to be on the way to immortality and the cinnabar is killing you. When Seiga isn't there to tell Tojiko that everything is okay, Taishi-sama’s spirit is becoming so strong!, Tojiko worries beyond belief. She often lies you down so she can bring you cool cloths when you shake and get headaches, picking you up in her arms and placing you on your futon. You try to reassure her, try to stay as strong as you can. But you know it. You’re going to die if you don’t do something fast.

Become a shikaisen, the hermit says, propping her chin against her hand, sitting at your bedside. You and the Mononobe girl. Seiga has never made an effort to remember Futo's name in all the time you've spent together. You’ll die, but you won’t really die, you’ll sleep. Sleep for as long as you need to. Sleep until everyone forgets about Buddhism! They’ll treat you like a saint if you resurrect then. You just need to unbind your soul from your body.

You shake your head. I’m sorry, but that sounds too risky. I can’t die. I absolutely must not die.

Have someone else test it for you, then! She throws her hands into the air, clearly exasperated. See it for yourself. I’m quite skilled in matters of the boundary between life and death. I wouldn't lie to you, she adds, but her grin says otherwise.

When you see how calmly Futo sleeps, though, you’re inclined to believe it. It’s been almost a month with her soul bound to a plate, and her body hasn’t decayed at all. But yours is getting worse by the day.

Let’s become immortal together, you weakly tell Tojiko, at one of the many times she’s at your side trying to soothe your cinnabar sickness.

Didn’t work out so well for you, dear, she replies, sighing.

No… Futo… The hermit told me how—

The goddamn hermit poisoned you, Miko!

No, we… We have to trust her this time. I believe her. I can’t die, you whisper desperately. I can’t.

You are. You’re dying and I— Tojiko turns away, but not before you can see angry tears filling her eyes. I don’t want to lose you.

The next time you wake, disoriented and worn down, Seiga is there, sitting on thin air above the edge of your bed. Your wife is in a jar now! Congratulations. The look on your face must be the reaction she was aiming for, because she laughs, and adds, Relax, Taishi-sama. She’s not ashes yet. She’s going to be a shikaisen. I have her down in the mausoleum next to the Mononobe girl. All we need next is you.

This is what you’ve been waiting for. You gladly accept, let Seiga take over. And you sleep, with the last vague thought that you never got to say goodbye to Tojiko.


A thousand years is a long time to be sealed underground, even though you’re unconscious. You still feel it, feel the darkness and the watery passage of time. Sometimes you half-stir, sense the two bodies next to you, sense their desires, and drift off again. You told Tojiko everything would be okay, her and Futo, your wife and your best friend, that when you woke up it would all be fine.

It isn't. And also, it is.

When you wake, you’re alone in the mausoleum save for Tojiko, pale and floating anxiously around the great hall. After years of marriage you learned to read her emotions as clearly as anyone could ever hope to, but you've never seen her like this before. She looks so conflicted, like she's feeling too much at once.

Miko, she says when she sees you, her eyes filling with tears. Oh, Miko, I w-woke up like this and y-y-you didn’t wake up and I thought I was the only one and I’m… She holds you so close and cries into your shoulder, and you lean your cheek against the top of her head the way you always used to.

You look so different, she finally says, after a deep breath to ease herself.

So do you. Her two ghost tails are unexpected, and also unexpectedly cute.

No, I mean... Look at you! Did the hermit give you that body?

She helped, you admit. And she did. Seiga, out of nowhere, had let on that she’d been in the same predicament as you, living most of her life uncomfortably until she was able to fully show herself as the woman she always was. She was more than willing to help you resurrect in much the same way.

You're beautiful, she says.

You are too.

I'm dead, she tells you sullenly. The jar didn't work.

You're still here. Doesn't matter, you're my wife.

Her lips are cold, and she tastes like the musty air in the Hall of Dreams. But she kisses you the way she used to, sudden and strong, tilting her head and leaning up into you and wrapping her arms around your shoulders and neck.

I love you, Miko, she says, soft against your chest.

I love you too, Tojiko. After a pause, you say what you've been thinking ever since you saw her for the first time after your resurrection. Your ghost legs are awesome.

I don't even have legs! she shoots back. Here. She looks over her shoulder to make sure you and she are alone together, no Seiga or Futo or wandering jiang shi there to interrupt, and lifts up her skirt to her waist. The tails are cloudy and nearly transparent, then start gradually fading into skin from her knee to her mid-thigh.

You run your hand down her bare skin from her hip. True enough, just before the knee you feel your fingers start to sink into Tojiko's leg. That feels weird, you laugh, and extract them.

I don't think I like it, she snickers back. All in all, she seems to be fine with being a ghost. You knew she would from the moment you saw her. Tojiko's always been good at adapting. Even though you were planning on living forever with her as shikaisen, you'll ensure her ghost never fades away.

I guess I can openly call you my wife now, right? she asks.

Sure, you say, slipping your hand into hers and feeling the familiar details of her palm and fingers. I'm fine with being your wife now. Or I could still be your husband.

A female husband?

A female prince, you decide.

The corners of her eyes crinkle in happiness. I think I'll just call you Miko.

That's fine too. I'm just happy being with you, to be honest.

Me too.

You grin back at her before your mouth meets hers again. And, even after all these years, there is nothing sweeter in the world than Tojiko smiling against your lips.