The Boy Bride - Chapter Eleven - That Was Not Love - PG13
"What the hell is going on, Shiya?" I demanded as I watched the Takahashi doctor examine Takeo's neck. All the lights in the main house were on and it seemed that every room that had been deserted earlier in the day was now filled with the angry murmur of enraged family members. Upon our return a few of Takeo's younger male cousins had immediately strapped on katana and taken off towards the woods to try and hunt down Ueshiro.
"It's no good." Takeo rasped. His throat had swollen up and now he sounded husky. "He'll have headed home to have his nose fixed up."
"Then we should go there and take revenge now!" Takeo's cousin Rosanjin argued.
"He will expect you and you will not get the upper hand." Takeo said firmly. Rosanjin stepped down at the direct rebuke.
"Come, Rian-san, I will tell you the Takahashi history you haven't yet heard." Shiya said solemnly, gesturing towards the doorway to the next room.
"No." Takeo said sharply. "Rian stays with me."
Shiya hesitated but gave in with a shrug and we seated ourselves on low cushions nearby. I moved gingerly- I had an icepack taped to my side to try and control the massive bruising my ribs had suffered.
"Shimada Ueshiro is the head of the powerful Shimada clan." Shiya began. "He is my age, and a few years older than Takeo and we attended school together as children. The Shimada clan is one of the largest of the formal Japanese clans. Are you aware of any of the Clan legislature passed by the Emperor and the Diet?"
I shook my head 'no'. I knew that a number of years ago, the ancient feudal system of Japan had seen a revival. As the rest of the world went to war, and the United States faced foreign enemies on its shores for the first time in centuries, Japan had once again revived a percentage of its old warrior caste.
"The Clans play an important part in Japan's political and economic structure." Shiya said "Each clan has several businesses and corporations that it controls and this adds competition to the economy. And the territories that each clan presides over lend stability and leadership to that region. However, the laws governing the revived clans are strict to prevent the zaibatsu, or corporate monopolies, of pre-WWII to once more rise to power. To keep any clan from gaining too much power, there are... exceptions to the rules that normal Japanese citizens follow."
"Exceptions?" I stared at him blankly.
"Most notably in this instance, dueling and physical violence are considered outside the reach of the normal judicial system so long as they don't involve non-clan members."
"You mean that attacks like this are legal?" I yelped.
"They are not only legal, but condoned by the Emperor and our judicial system."
"What is their reasoning for allowing something like this to continue?" I asked, confused.
"It is felt that the natural feuding of the Great Houses will keep their power in check, while allowing them to maintain the wealth and prestige that made Japan a great nation so many years ago." Shiya said "At least, that's the official reasoning."
I waited for him to continue.
"Many people feel that Japan was a more prosperous country under its old system of government. We were forced by shogunates and foreign powers to end that system and yet… there are some who would see it restored under the Emperor- with a few alterations, of course, to incorporate the moral beliefs of a modern age. We no longer directly impact the lives of the working-classes with our feuding and there are no standing armies or forced enlistment while a less centralized government allows each area of Japan to focus more efficiently on bettering itself."
"There have been other benefits as well. The declining birthrate has improved, as decentralization has allowed people to re-establish their traditional ties to their hometowns and the pressures of metropolis life no longer take such a toll on the lives of Japan's working-class citizens. Life expectancy is once again on the rise and we are seeing a surge in cultural growth and the arts. With the romantic image of Feudal Japan being restored, people are taking pride in their ancestry once more."
"But with all these benefits come sacrifices. The Great Clans each fight for the best opportunities for their people, and with a lineage-based ascendancy, you are bound to find a few bad apples. Ueshiro is one of these."
"So this attack is all a power-play? He made it seem like it was personal…" I trailed off, meeting Takeo's eyes.
"We were close." Takeo said bitterly. "He was my friend… maybe more." Shiya stared at the floor but then uncharacteristically raised his voice angrily,
"Ueshiro betrayed us." He spat, "We had a pact between our families that benefited us both. There were complex agreements in place that, if followed through, would have helped all and harmed none. But Ueshiro in his ignorance and greed violated the pact between us. He wanted to shift the balance of power all onto himself, and betrayed both the Shimada's and Takahashi's in doing so."
"What sort of agreements?" I wondered.
Takeo looked uncomfortable. "We had a relationship. Somewhat like yours and mine…"
"You were married before???" I groaned, feeling my stomach sink.
"No… Almost." Takeo shook his head. "The night of our wedding Ueshiro plotted to seize control of the Takahashi clan once our marriage contract was sealed. According to the contract, if something happened to the head of the clan, he, not I, would have inherited control." His eyes filled with sadness.
"Why would you have to forfeit your title to him?" I asked.
"At the time, I was not the head of the clan. My father was."
"...what happened to your father?"
Takeo's eyes were cold as steel. "Ueshiro killed my father… and my older brother, the night of our wedding."
I didn't know what to say. Takeo had turned his face to the wall and Shiya looked grim.
"But his plan failed..?" I said after an uncomfortable silence.
"The contract we signed in our wedding ceremony was a false one. We suspected a plot; Ueshiro's father was a clever and ruthless man, but we didn't suspect assassination. We were still naïve back then. We were foolish." Takeo's voice was full of regret.
"In the end, Ueshiro retained no legal right to take over our clan, but his damage was still done. I, who was completely deceived, became head of the Takahashi's. Ueshiro still wants to take over what he cannot have and so we have been at war with the Shimada Clan for over a year now."
"All this happened only a year ago?" I cried incredulously "How could you even want to marry me, or anyone, after what happened to you?" Tears sprang to my eyes at the thought of what he must have been going through. Shiya laid a soothing hand on my arm.
"It was thought best that we secure the Takahashi bloodline through another marriage. We picked you because we could trust that you were not already involved in the political feuds of this country. You were an outsider, you were safe." Shiya said, not unkindly.
Takeo reached out a hand and tilted my face to his, running a finger along my lower eyelashes where my unshed tears had pooled.
"I am happy you are here, Rian. I am happy you are mine." He said earnestly, staring searchingly into my eyes. "With you I have a chance at the happiness that was a lie with Ueshiro… and if something were to happen to me…" he spoke solemnly "…I expect you to carry on when I cannot."
I panicked. "It's impossible! I can't even speak the language! I have no grasp on the politics of this situation…" I groaned. Takeo nodded agreement.
"You will learn. What is most important is that I know you have a good heart. You will not be twisted the way Ueshiro became. I can trust you to make decisions for the good of the family. You are the best person to take over if something happens."
"Nothing's going to happen!" I said defensively and distraught. "And even if it did, why can't Shiya become Clan leader?"
"There are complications. Legal ones." Shiya said with a small smile. "Trust us, Rian- you are able to do this. We would not have gone this far if you couldn't." He patted my knee and stood up. "You two need rest. I suggest you take it while the night is still quiet." He bowed his farewells and left.
I must have still worn an expression of anxiety because Takeo slid next to me and wrapped his arms about me.
"Don't worry about things too much right now. There is plenty of time for you to learn all that you must do. Nobody is expecting you to jump right into all of this immediately."
"I wasn't even going to tell you these things for some time." Takeo sighed. "I didn't expect Ueshiro to be so rash. His jealousy was always one of his worst qualities."
Along with his homicidal tendencies, I thought.
Takeo laughed and I realized I had said that out loud. Seeing him laugh broke some of the tension in the room and I sighed and leaned against him with a sudden lethargy.
"It's not so bad, you'll see." Takeo promised, pressing his mouth to mine softly. "And it is better for me now that you are here." He added quietly. "I need you."
His hands clutched me to him. There was some tiny measure of desperation in the gesture and I realized that in some small way, I was a comfort to him.
"I'm here." I heard myself answering. "I am all yours." I rested my head on his shoulder and slid my arms around his waist. His face pressed against my neck and his slow steady breathing comforted my shaken nerves.
After a while I drew away and stood, pulling Takeo's hand to bring him to his feet.
"Come husband." I said with a smile. "You must be tired."
A smirk slid onto Takeo's face. "You wore me out…" he growled playfully. His hands slid onto my hips from behind and I swatted them away with a smile.
"None of that until you look a bit less like you just came out of a war zone." I laughed.
Takeo pouted but he must have truly been tired because he barely protested as I lead the way to the chambers we had spent our wedding night in. I even teased him a bit, fumbling with the knot on his hakama as we got undressed for bed, but there was no energy behind his reactions and we had barely lain down before his soft snores filled the room.
I snuggled up to his warm back, moving gingerly with my bruised ribs, and stared up at the ceiling for a while. A lot had happened in a short amount of time and it was proving difficult to wrap my mind around it all. Despite my anxiety, I had to admit that I was somewhat qualified to act in this situation. I had studied Political Science in college and had already made up my mind to do whatever I could to make this family my own. But I was so completely out of my element when it came to the finer points of Japanese culture and legislation.
The last few days had been focused on getting to know my new husband better, but as we settled into a 'normal' routine I hoped to find some time to research more about my current situation. Samurai Lifestyles 101 had, unfortunately, not been offered at my alma mater. I would have to figure a lot of things out on my own. The good news was, if I survived, I could write the most kick-ass Master's thesis ever... I drifted off to sleep with visions of a dissertation committee dressed completely in samurai gear, top-knots nodding solemnly in unison with Takeo's snores, running through my head.
I woke up with an empty bed beside me and an odd jingling noise and the sound of footsteps ringing in my ears. Groggily, I pulled myself to a sitting position and looked around. It was still dark out and several small lamps around the room were turned on low. The door was slightly open so I stood and wrapped myself in a robe and peered out. The low porch outside that let onto the inner courtyard was lit and on the edge of it sat Takeo, one leg drawn up nonchalantly- foot tucked beneath his opposite knee, and looking much more awake than I felt. He was loosely dressed as I was. His robe was draped across his shoulders but his arms were not in the sleeves and instead were folded across his bare torso. Other than that, he only wore a pair of hakama and sandals. Where his bare skin peeked through, the black lettering of the tattoo on his could be seen gleaming sinisterly in the darkness. I padded over to him before I realized there were other people present. That was the source of the noise that had awoken me.
There must have been a hundred other men in the inner courtyard, all standing perfectly still and dressed in light armor and carrying katanas. I stared out at them in amazement, and paused in the act of putting my hand on Takeo's shoulder. I hadn't meant to interrupt his business.
Takeo glanced up at me and said something in Japanese. The man standing directly in front of him bowed and murmured his response and then the entire body of men turned and exited. I stared after them.
"I hope I wasn't interrupting anything." I said.
"No, you are always welcome." Takeo said with a smile, rubbing his shoulders against the cold and standing.
"Who were those men?"
"Some are relatives. Others are families who have chosen to ally themselves with the Takahashi's. Although we cannot raise standing armies or enlist from the common people, volunteers are welcome and many families seek to increase their status by helping us." He said with a yawn. "Did you sleep well?"
"I slept okay." I said, shuffling forward and leaning against him. "I'm hungry."
"Me too." Takeo agreed. "Get dressed and we will go get food."
I was surprised to discover, about an hour later, that we weren't just trekking over to the kitchens nor having breakfast in our rooms. Takeo was waiting for me at the front of the house with a sleek black car purring in the driveway beside him. He was wearing a dark pinstriped suit and sunglasses and peered seductively at me over them as he opened the door for me to get in. I felt rather plain in my jeans and button up black shirt but I figured it didn't matter too much if Takeo hadn't mentioned anything. I climbed in and fastened my seatbelt as Takeo put the car in gear and pulled away from the grounds.
"Where are we going?" I asked, gazing out through the tinted windows curiously. I hadn't been outside the family home since the first night I arrived in Japan.
"To the city." Takeo said, turning on the radio and flipping through the channels until he gave up and stuck a CD in the stereo. The adrenaline-pumping rhythms of drum and bass filled the car as we turned out of the drive and onto the main road.
"How long will it take to get there?" I continued, watching the bushes and trees whip by on my left.
"About an hour." Takeo said "What would you like to eat?"
"Oh I don't know what's good." I said, honestly. "You pick."
"Do you like seafood?"
"Maybe. I don't know. We don't eat it much at home." I said. "I'll try it, if you want."
Takeo looked thoughtful as he drove and after a while he suggested we could go for ramen.
"You are hungry, so maybe we should try something you know you'll eat." He said with a smile, reaching across the middle of the car to grasp my hand.
"Ramen is good." I agreed. The road had curved out of the woods and behind us the mountains were getting smaller. Takeo hummed along with his music and his fingers tapped against mine. I smiled and pressed my hand on top of his, on top of my thigh. It felt so good to have a boyfriend… well, more than a boyfriend, again. Getting out of the house felt good as well- it put things in perspective as we began to see the skyscrapers of the city rise in front of us.
"What sort of music do you like?" Takeo asked after a while. I smiled at the question, the first really personal one I had heard him ask.
"Rock mostly." I answered "But I listen to a lot of different things. Guitar and drums are good. I love anything with solid percussion, ya' know?" I glanced over at Takeo and he smiled back.
"How is your English so good?" I asked after a few more minutes of companionable silence had gone by. "No offense, but you and Shiya both seem to speak really well and I've been wondering about it."
Takeo laughed. "A lot of hard work, mostly. But I did have some opportunities others might not. I spent some time studying abroad when I was in elementary and middle school and I traveled to several different English speaking countries. Shiya came with me for some of my trips."
"Did you ever go to America?" I asked excitedly. The idea that Takeo had been to my country- that he might understand a bit about where I was coming from- was intriguing.
"Only very briefly." Takeo admitted. "The political situation wasn't so good." He added, seeing my look of disappointment.
"Maybe, when the war's over, we can travel back." He said, kindly. I smiled at the thought of introducing Takeo to my family. I knew my female cousins would be jealous of my good-looking man.
"You are smirking." Takeo said, looking at me oddly. I wiped the evil grin off of my face. "What were you thinking about?" he asked, slightly concerned.
"Only about how much fun it would be to show you off." I admitted. "Is that a bad thing to say?"
Takeo chuckled. "I like showing you off." He admitted with a smile, rubbing my leg with his palm. "I thought you were very cute the first time I saw your picture."
"You saw my picture before I came?"
"Yes, when your family made arrangements for you to come here." He said. "They didn't tell you?"
"They never even told me I was coming until the deal was done." I said sadly, still feeling a twinge of betrayal.
Takeo looked sad for a bit, as though this changed his view of me. "Were you scared?"
I pondered that question for a while. "Yes and no… I understand that they just wanted to keep me safe, and I understand why I was sent here. I was surprised and shocked at the time. I don't really know what I feel now."
"I am happy you came." Takeo said earnestly. "This whole situation isn't just about family politics. I really want things to be good between us…" he looked worried that I might not believe him after last night. "My parents had an arranged marriage…" He said hesitantly after a pause. "…and sometimes it was really rough. I don't want us to be that way."
I didn't really know what to say to that. Obviously we hadn't been put into this situation because we had a mutual attraction before hand the way most couples would have. And if balancing spouse and duty had been difficult for Takeo's father, did I have much hope that the same thing wouldn't happen to us? Would we get torn apart by conspiracies and the stress of running such an important family? Even if we found a way to make our relationship work, there would always be outside forces trying to tear us apart and destroy our happiness in the name of power. I sighed.
Takeo looked concerned that I hadn't replied, but he said nothing until we hit the outskirts of the city.
"Our family has an office building downtown." He mentioned, only slightly emphasizing the'our'. "I should warn you, there are some people who have turned the revival of the Great Houses into a focal point for many types of political statements." He frowned. "Sometimes we get protesters, and other times it is the opposite." Takeo looked amused at some memory.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"You'll see." Takeo said mysteriously, looking at me with a wink. Then he let his eyes wander down my body, taking in my casual attire.
"You look good."
"I try." Takeo smirked. "I have to make sure I'll have access to your body whenever I want, after all."
I slapped his hand away playfully as he slid it a bit higher up my thigh.
"What a charmer you are." I said sarcastically "However did I live without you?"
"A question everyone should ask themselves from time to time." Takeo said glibly, pulling up to the curb in front of a small shop with a bowl of noodles painted on the front window. We were still slightly outside of the city-proper but close enough that the buildings along the street were packed against each other like bricks. We stepped out and Takeo dropped some coins in the parking meter before holding the door open for me to enter.
"Irasshaimase!" A cry came from the four or five staff members working inside. I glanced at Takeo and he smiled.
"It means 'Welcome!'." He said quietly.
"Nanmei sama desu ka?" said a cute girl in an apron and pigtails.
"Futari desu." Takeo replied, holding up two fingers. The girl nodded and grabbed two menus off of a nearby stack.
"Douzo, kochira e." She said, indicating for us to follow her to a small booth near the back of the restaurant. We sat down and glanced at the menus which, fortunately for me, had small English translations written beneath the pictures of the various dishes.
"So what's good to eat here?" I said, bemusedly out of my element. All I saw were different types of noodles, fried rice, and fried dumplings. I couldn't tell what the differences were between one bowl and the next, and there was no familiar seasoning, like 'chicken', to help me out.
"How about shouyu ramen. That's with soy sauce." Takeo suggested, looking at my panicked expression. "It's usually my favorite. The gyouza pork dumplings are good too."
"I guess I'll just try those then." I said. "Have to start somewhere."
Takeo ordered our food and drinks and we sat for a while waiting for them to arrive. I busied myself with trying to identify the various canisters on the table. One was soy sauce and another, vinegar. There was a can of curry powder and one of black pepper that I got up my nose and made me sneeze. There was also a container of chopsticks, and toothpicks. I finally identified everything and sat back to find Takeo watching me amusedly.
"Is it all there?" He teased, and I stuck my tongue out at him. I was allowed to be neurotic when I wanted to!
The waitress brought us hot damp towels for our hands and shortly thereafter, the food arrived. Takeo was right, it looked and smelled delicious. The soy sauce ramen was salty and flavorful and had a lot of other things in with the noodles. Pork and bamboo and vegetables all swam around in the broth. The gyouza were also very delicious, fried on the outside and crispy brown. I ate all of it and sat back satisfied.
"That was really good." I said contentedly. Takeo smiled at me as he raised his bowl and slurped up the remainder of the tasty soup.
"In Japanese, we say oishikatta." Takeo said "It means 'It was delicious'."
"Oishikatta…" I tried the strange word out.
"Not bad." Takeo said appreciatively. "Before we eat a meal we say Itadakimasu and afterward we say Gochisou sama deshita."
I pulled out a pen and paper.
"Okay, say those again… Slower…"
After the bill was paid, we left the restaurant to a chorus of "Arigatou Gozaimashita!" and resumed our journey towards the Takahashi business building.
The building itself ended up being much more interesting than one might suspect. It was built out of dark grey marble with tinted glass windows proceeding upwards for a good 20 stories at least. A large fountain in front made the whole structure look very imposing, yet refreshing. I wondered how new it was, and if it had ever been anything else besides Takahashi headquarters. It was surrounded on all sides by other skyscrapers, many of them incredibly tall, and the entire plaza in front was filled with pedestrians, mostly businessmen, going about their business with a look of serious concentration on their faces. It was obvious we were standing in the commercial heart of this city. Takeo dropped me off on the sidewalk before driving the car around to the parking garage entrance to one side of the building. I stood for a second and then walked slowly towards the entrance of the building to wait for him.
There were so many people there! In addition to the multitudinous businessmen, clumps of younger people, my age, clustered around the various buildings, standing in circles talking or fiddling with their cell phones. Their clothes were all very interesting and many looked quite fashionable while others were a little more on the strange side. They didn't seem to have any particular reason for being there, except many carried expensive looking cameras. I wondered if they were some sort of photography club. I supposed this area might be a good place to take pictures, with so many interesting faces and buildings.
I saw Takeo approaching around the corner of the building and started to walk towards him when I realized that all the people clustered outside the building were starting to head in the same direction, many of them much faster than I. In a second, the crowd was a rushing throng, many people running straight towards my husband. I froze in my tracks, shocked as they swarmed around him- and flashbulbs began going off a hundred times each second. Were all these people… paparazzi? I was so confused. I stood stunned for a moment taking it all in. In the span of 20 seconds I saw three separate scuffles break out, knees and elbows flying as each member of the swarming mob fought to get close enough to Takeo to have a hope their frantically shouted questions would be answered. Through it all, Takeo seemed calm… when I could see him that was. I timidly made my way to the edge of the mob and stood helplessly, waiting for some cue as to what I should do.
"Takeo!" I finally shouted in a panicked voice. A nearby girl with long curly black hair in pigtails turned and shot me a death-glare. She coldly took in my foreign features and hissed at me, "How dare you speak to Takeo-sama like that?" She stalked towards me and jabbed a long manicured finger in my chest. "Who are you anyways?" she demanded in fluent English.
"My name is Ryan." I stammered. "What's your name?"
She tossed her head irritably and pursed her glossy lips in a prim line. "My name is Sayako Okada."
"What are you doing here, Sayako?" I asked politely. "Is Takeo… sama a friend of yours?"
She gave a light laugh. "Don't be ridiculous." She scoffed.
"Then why are you here?" I asked, confused.
She looked slightly embarrassed. "You really don't know what all the fuss is, do you?"
"Not really… Is it because he is a Lord?" I asked, taking a shot in the dark.
"He's more than that." Sayako gave a longing sigh. "He's the number one guy in all of Japan."
I couldn't really disagree, seen as he was definitely the best guy I had met so far in this country, but I was biased and her voice had a slight hint of crazy in it.
"What are you, his number one fan?" I said, a bit incredulously.
"That's right." Sayako snapped, distracted by the crowd surrounding us. She pulled a camera out of her bag and turned to find Takeo.
"Leave me alone." She said somewhat rudely. "You just don't get it. He's so far above you…"
I declined to mention that she was the one who had interrogated me and instead stepped back to watch her snap shot after shot of Takeo, who seemed to be unfazed by the microphones shoved in his face and the blinding photo-flashes. I didn't realize that he would receive so much attention, but then again, we had been pretty isolated out on the Takahashi grounds and having seen the Japanese enthusiasm for sumo and baseball, I wasn't too surprised that in this neo-feudal Japan, the heirs of the Great Houses had become celebrities in their own right. He certainly didn't seem to mind it too much, although he hardly seemed cooperative as he responded with terse, one-word replies.
I sighed and perched myself on a nearby wall while I waited for the crowd to disperse, though there didn't really seem to be any signs of that happening any time soon. After a while I just gave up and watched Sayako, in her high stilettos and short shorts, clicking away with an expression bordering ecstasy on her face. She jealously pushed and shoved fellow Takeo-enthusiasts aside in the race to the end of one roll of film after another. I watched her right up the point where Takeo sauntered over to me and tilted my head back and kissed me soundly, and it was with no small amount of guilty pleasure that I watched her eyes widen and her jaw drop as I kissed him back with all the energy I had, giving in to a small amount of frustration that had built up while being semi-ignored for the last few minutes. Takeo's tongue swept across my lower lip as he claimed my mouth greedily- irreverently ignoring all onlookers. His body pressed me against the wall and although it only lasted a few seconds the possessive message it sent was clear. I could have heard a pin drop as even the shutter-happy paparazzi stood in stunned silence.
If looks could kill, I would have been a thousand times impaled by the daggers Sayako's dark eyes shot at me as I pushed myself away from the wall and sauntered toward the Takahashi Corp. Building, Takeo's hand firmly on my hip.
"That should give them something to obsess over." Takeo said huskily into my ear with a wolfish grin, waving jauntily to the mass media as we disappeared behind the tinted glass doors of the lobby a second before the thunder of camera clicks resumed its formerly frantic pace. I got the feeling he had enjoyed putting on a show, and as for me, I had enjoyed putting this Sayako in her place. A part of me was worried though; I seemed to have gained two enemies in as many days. From the look of rage I had seen on that Japanese girl's face, I sincerely doubted she was going to give up her precious Takeo-sama without a fight…
End Chapter Eleven
"Nanmei sama desu ka?" – How many people?
"Futari desu." – Two people.
"Douzo, kochira e." – This way please.
"Arigatou Gozaimashita!" - Thank you very much (for your business)
TO EVERYONE who is asking about the Japanese… I usually rephrase in English what is said in Japanese immediately after. So chances are, if you see it in Japanese, the next/previous line is the same thing in English. In the cases where it's not, I place the translation in the author's notes at the bottom. And if all else fails, a great online dictionary is Jim Breen's WWWJDIC. (google it) Or you know, use context clues?
Don't forget to review!