“Yaone, you’re always looking at heels when you drag us out shopping, but you never wear ‘em,” says Doku. She freezes for a moment. “Those ones are pretty, the ones you’ve got in your hand.”
She’s been eyeing them for the past ten minutes, with their four-inch heels. They’ve got a little bow on the front, and they’re royal blue—like her favorite dress. They’re too much for every day wear, but for something fun… just going out, with Doku and Kougaiji…
“They’re uncomfortable,” she says, finally, ducking her eyes down. She sets the shoes back on the shelf. “Besides, I need to wear shoes I can fight in.”
“You spend a lot of time in the castle, though,” says Doku. “If you want to, you should wear them. I’ll buy ‘em for you.” He gives her a half-smile.
She shakes her head.
Yaone has bought shoes with flat soles after the first month of working with Lord Kougaiji. It’s so strange—the way she wants to look up to this man in a literal sense as much as she looks up to him in the figurative sense. She wants to stand behind him—to not be noticed, to not detract from him. He should be the center of attention. She wishes she didn’t feel so—so unladylike next to him. She stands next to Dokugakuji, so she looks smaller. She dresses in leggings, without pants, and a tiny top, to make it as apparent as possible.
Lord Kougaiji and Doku blush when they sees her, all dressed up, which is what makes it worth it.
She is a woman, and there are some things that she likes about it, for all that it hasn’t done her any good to be one, and continues to be a thorn in her side every time she goes out. She’ll be as ladylike as she can, in the ways that she has.
“If you’re sure,” says Doku. “But… they’d look nice on you, y’know. If that’s why you’re not getting them.”
She turns bright red, and he holds up his hands.
“Sorry! You just really looked like you liked them, that’s all.”
“I—maybe,” says Yaone, picking them up again. “I do. I—do.”
He frowns, dark eyes searching her face for an answer.
“Birthday present?” he asks.
“Yes,” says Yaone, relieved. Then she’d have to wear them. “Yes, I’d love that, Dokugakuji.”
He buys the shoes, and she links her arms with his on the way home, leaning against his shoulder.
But she is not big enough in other ways.
Gyokumen Koushu, for instance, towers over her. It’s a long time before Yaone even sees her, in all her finery. She wears heels to make herself bigger, and Yaone thinks, oh.
Yaone wishes she was big enough to stand between Gyokumen Koushu and the people she’s hurting—the people who Yaone loves. The little princess believes her mother doesn’t love her, and Yaone wishes she could say otherwise—but Lirin is right. So Yaone kneels down to Lirin’s height to tell her, I love you, Lord Kougaiji loves you. And she holds her tight.
It isn’t the same. Gyokumen Koushu’s rejection of her daughter still towers over Yaone and Kougaiji’s best efforts, and Yaone still ducks her head when she is in the queen’s presence. She shrinks down, makes herself smaller. She isn’t enough. She’s so damn afraid of that woman.
Being too small is worse than being too big.
And then there is the Sanzo priest. Not Genjo Sanzo, though he is intimidating in his own way. Rather, when Yaone accompanies Lord Kougaiji on his journey to write the treaty, she is impressed by Sharak Sanzo.
Sharak Sanzo’s mountain home is stern, tall, and harsh—exactly, in fact, like the woman herself. Sharak makes herself taller than she is, throwing her shoulders back, though she slouches down when she’s bored. Sharak flips her long hair, narrows her lovely eyes, and takes up more space than Yaone could ever have dreamed of. She breathes out smoke from the cigarettes she always seems to pull out of her sleeves (it must be a Sanzo priest thing), wide mouth forming a tiny ‘o’, and Yaone can never take her eyes off the woman. How did she get those scars on her face? Would she talk about it if Yaone asked?
She’s tall, and loud, and bossy, and everything that Yaone is not—until Yaone sees her talking with Lirin, amused and gentle all at once.
Lirin can’t shut up about it later, which is why it’s the first thing on Yaone’s mind when she runs into Sharak in the halls later. It would be rude not to say hello. So she does.
“Ah, Yaone, right?” asks Sharak. “How are you and Princess Lirin finding your rooms?”
“It’s lovely here,” says Yaone. “I think Princess Lirin is enjoying herself, as well. She can’t stop talking about how cool you are.”
Sharak puts her hand on her hip.
“That’s a new one,” she says. “I don’t get that a lot. I’m flattered. I’m… really flattered. She’s a good kid.”
Yaone, even though she’s not at all a part of this, turns bright red.
“She would be happy to hear that from you,” manages Yaone.
Sharak smiles, and she is looking at Yaone and Yaone knows that if she were to talk now, she’d stammer.
“And you and Lord Kougaiji? How are you finding my fortress?”
“It’s—it’s lovely,” says Yaone.
“Thank you,” says Sharak. “I’m very proud of it.”
There’s a brief moment of silence, in which Yaone simultaneously admires the way that Sharak’s clothes drape around her figure, making her look even more impressive, and also panics because she’s run out of things to say.
“Ah, well,” says Yaone, “I’m sure you need to be going…”
“I do,” says Sharak, but she looks at Yaone. “It was nice talking to you, Yaone. See you around, I hope.”
“Yes,” says Yaone. “I would very much like that, Sharak Sanzo.”
And she practices throwing her shoulders back in the mirror that night.