He loved watching her sleep.
Naturally, he loved watching over her during her waking hours too (and frequently did so), but there was just something about her slumbering form, utterly oblivious to the world, that called out to him -- and hers was a call he never could ignore.
Not that he would ever want to.
So here he was once more, sitting at the edge of her bed just as he had countless nights past, keeping silent vigil over the girl who'd unwittingly held the key to his heart since long before they'd ever met. His eyes missed nothing as he observed her. Neither the slight twitching of her eyes signaling her entrance into the land of dreams nor the tiny speck of saliva that had gathered at the corner of her mouth escaped his notice. The gentle rise and fall of her chest and the soft whispering sound of her breathing were steady and hypnotic. Not for the first time, he found himself matching they rhythm of her breaths with his own, finding a small shred of peace in being able to share something -- even something so trivial as a breathing pattern -- with the one who seemed to be slipping farther and farther away from him each passing day...
He smiled, almost bitterly, as the girl curled up onto her side, her arms pulling at the bed-coverings so that she might hold them to her as one might hold a lover. No doubt it was Tamahome she embraced in her dreams... What wouldn't he give to be the one she desired to take into her warm and loving arms, even if only in a dream? What wouldn't he give to have those sheets tangled around her slender legs be the smooth silk of red and gold gracing his own royal bed? What wouldn't he give...?
"I am a fool," he muttered, full of self-loathing. He was the Emperor of Konan -- a position not to be taken lightly. He had obligations. He had an obligation to his people, who trusted him to protect them from harm and provide them with the means to live out their lives in relative peace. He had an obligation to his ministers, who had faith in his wisdom though he was far younger and more inexperienced than they. He had an obligation to his illustrious ancestors, who had been sacrificing themselves for the good of the empire for century upon century. He had an obligation to be a good Emperor.
What kind of man would disregard his all-important responsibilities just for a woman?
He would. Suzaku forgive him, he would turn his back on duty and forsake Konan in an instant if he thought for one moment that such actions might win the heart of the one who called herself Miaka.
Selfish. That's what he was -- selfish. For years, he had neglected his own wants and desires, playing the ever dignified and honorable (if a little vain) ruler all expected him to be, but suddenly it was becoming next to impossible to do what was expected of him. Suddenly, he'd found the one thing -- the one person -- he wanted to hang onto, never mind the consequences. The girl loved another, but a sinister voice inside of him whispered that it didn't matter. He was Emperor, was he not? It was certainly within his power to dispose of his competition and command the girl to make ready for the marriage bed...
A slight tug at his robes drew his attention from his dark musings, and he looked upon her tenderly when he saw that the girl had reached out in her sleep and now clutched his robe in a death grip.
So innocent. So pure.
No matter how he longed to have her -- to be able to claim her as his and his alone -- he know he would never be able to force his affections upon her. She would hate him, and he, in turn, would hate himself. It would kill him to cause her pain.
He sighed sadly, his fingers reaching out to brush his fingers against the softness of her cheek in a bittersweet caress. It was time to put an end to this madness. It was time to stop pining away for the love she couldn't give and he wouldn't take. It was time to let her rest in peace.
It was time to let her go.
Pain pierced him like a dagger to the heart in the face of this decision, but he braced himself against it, resolved to do what he should have done long ago: release her from any hold he might have had on her that she might be free to fully love and be loved by the man of her choice. So long as he continued to declare his undying love and devotion to her, she would always feel she had a certain commitment to him. For the sake of her happiness, he must give up his claim.
Gently, careful not to wake the maiden, he pried the fabric of his clothes free of her grasp. Hesitantly, he leaned down until he could feel the warmth of her breath against his face, his lips hovering just above hers, and whispered three simple words: “Goodbye, my love.” With that, he closed the distance between them, tasting the sweet ambrosia of her lips one last time in a kiss so soft and swift that it could hardly be considered a kiss at all. It was a kiss that would remain with him always.
And then he was on his feet and walking step by step toward and, finally, out of the room, unaware of the sleeping beauty’s tear-filled eyes watching as Prince Charming disappeared from sight as the door shut behind him.