She glanced over at the man sleeping beside her, and smiled to herself.
The sun was slowly beginning to rise, and now that it was, she could finally begin to make out Nobukatsu's sleeping face. The way he curled up on his side, face smooshed into the pillow, and his mouth slightly ajar, reminded her of a cute, innocent little puppy—though she had the feeling he wouldn't appreciate the comparison.
As he dragged one hand to rub across his face, she sobered a little.
She cared for him, but she wondered how deeply he cared for her. After all, he never held her when they slept, and not once had he fallen asleep in her arms. Though they shared a futon, he always slept separately, close enough to touch if need be, but there never seemed to be a need.
And she was afraid of how he might react if she snuggled into his side the way she wanted.
She heard that he’d been different before the loss of Iga and the subsequent loss of his father’s favor, that he’d bonce been more frivolous and more gay, but she'd never seen a hint of that man.
The man sleeping next to her now wasn’t like that at all. He brooded and he was melancholy except when he was around his father. That was the only time he tended to be more brash and loud, as though he thought that perhaps if he was loud enough, Nobunaga might stop ignoring him.
Though, she admitted to herself, Nobukatsu was often reckless when it came to the samurai he dueled with, as though he had to prove to his father's retainers that he was a competent warrior and leader.
Earlier, he'd started an impromptu shooting competition, but he hadn’t been happy even when he easily won. In fact, she'd later found him back in their room, sulking as he drowned himself in sake.
And even when he was drunk, he didn't open up to her. Not once had he said the words she so desperately wanted to hear, and now, she was beginning to wonder if he'd ever say them at all.
If he even felt that way towards her to begin with.
Part of her was ashamed that she was in bed with him right now, knowing her parents would rise up from their graves if they knew she was sleeping with the son of their killer.
But how could she leave him? He'd looked so lost, so abandoned, that even if he never returned her love, she couldn't bring herself to leave. Not yet, not now, not when he needed her so.
It was only when she saw the dawn of the rising sun that she finally realized that Nobukatsu had actually stayed with her until morning, and she barely kept in her gasp of surprise, lest she wake him.
He'd always left before the sun rose.
She'd always assumed that it was because he didn’t want Nobunaga to know he was sleeping with the girl he’d given to his father for a concubine, or because he didn’t want to admit their relationship.
Evidently, she'd been wrong.
Why else would he have stayed?
Nobukatsu was a proud man. He was proud, and full of purpose, and believed than a man should never show weakness or disgrace.
And, she noticed with a gasp of surprise when the sunlight touched his bare back, he was also burned.
She reached out and touched the burnt flesh before she thought about it. Her fingers slowly traced the burn that covered his right shoulder and traveled a little down his back and sides before wrapping around to the beginnings of his chest.
Now she knew why he'd never pressed his upper body to her. The scar was puckered and roughly jagged, and she would have felt it rasping against her skin.
That had to be why he never held her.
He was ashamed.
He had to be.
Why else would a man so proud, yet gentle with her, refuse her her most basic need?
“What are you doing?” Nobukatsu growled, his voice still raspy from sleep.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, moving closer until she could kiss the burn gently. “Did it hurt?”
Nobukatsu pulled away and rolled over, and it was only then that she realized the scar went a lot further down his chest than it had his back.
She gasped before she could stop herself, and Nobukatsu immediately cursed, reaching for his clothes with quick, jerky movements as though he meant to run and hide.
Before he could leave the futon, however, she reached out and pulled him back towards her, not caring that they were both still naked and it was light now. And by the looks of it, she caught him off guard, because he lost his balance and tumbled back down to the futon along with her.
“I love you,” she told him, running her fingers through his hair with one hand as the other soothingly rubbed along his back.
She didn’t even realize that she’d finally told him how she felt until she felt his arms slowly wrap around her. Part of her wanted to take the words back, because it was the last defense she'd had, but as he lay there quietly, she thought that, perhaps, they'd been words he'd needed to hear.
“I love you,” she said again, pulling him closer. “I’m so sorry you were hurt so badly. I wish I could have been there for you, Nobukatsu. I wish I could have held you like this when you were hurt. I wish I could have protected you so that you weren’t hurt in the first place. I wish I could make you feel whole again. I love you, Nobukatsu; I love you so much.”
She gently kissed the burn again before snuggling closer, wrapping herself around him the way she'd always wanted to do.
After a moment, she felt something wet suddenly touch her neck. And then she felt another drop of moisture, and the another.
She froze in surprise.
Her proud lover was crying. She pulled him closer, rocking him gently as she told him over and over again how much she loved him. How brave he was, how beautiful, how perfect and manly he was.
And eventually, he spoke. Through his silent tears, he told her how he’d been injured. How he’d gotten the burn, and why he could only see through one eye. That he wasn’t as competent as his father, and that the people who knew blamed the fact on his injuries.
Why he sometimes felt like he was only half a man and, therefore, why he didn’t deserve her.
She cradled him close and soothingly rubbed his back, kissed his skin, anything she could to reassure him as he cried in her arms. And she told him that she was so grateful he trusted her enough to let her see him like this when all he wanted was to be seen as man who was as strong and honored as his father.
That morning, he didn’t say he loved her with his lips, but she understood anyway.
When his tears began to slow, she pulled back and gently wiped them away.
And then she kissed him, first on his eyes but then his lips and his burns as she told him over and over why she loved him, and that he wasn’t worthless, not to her, hoping that she could restore even a little of his faith in himself.
Finally, exhausted, as the sun made its way into the sky, he fell asleep in her arms.
She brushed the hair out of his blind eye and smiled to herself as she gently kissed his eyelid.
Never had she ever seen anything more beautiful in her entire life.
And she would protect him with everything she had, even from himself, at all costs.