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--
One night on the near shore, some other god than she tempts fate, and her room is double-booked.

She forfeits the card key to the hotel clerk and turns to her lead.

“You’ll share with me, I hope?”

Kazuma raises an eyebrow.

 

 

--
With over a dozen shinki, they fill the elevator to capacity. In twos and threes, her regalia bow out and bid her good night as the lights flash, the numbers change, and they reach their respective floors. Finally, tired and limp, Kuraha teeters into the hall.

“Good night, my lady.”

It takes her a moment to realize that they’ve reached the top floor.

“Shall we?” Kazuma gestures, and she starts, as though waking from a dream. She sees the name on his hand and steps forward, suddenly clutching at his sleeve.

“Veena” he says, “the doors are closing.”

 

 

--
The room is dark. He enters first and fumbles for a light as she hovers by the door. “I apologize,” he says, at the sight of the narrow room. “They promised me the executive suite would be available.”

“No matter,” she says, shedding her coat and tie on the loveseat before stripping off her heels.

He frowns at the red marks on her feet and kneels to inspect, ghosting his thumb along a bruise.

“You’ve been hurting,” he observes, before she pries away his hands.

 

 

--
The length of the tub is barely half her height. Sighing, Kazuma runs her a bath, and waits until she’s behind the door to change.

An hour later, Bishamon emerges, flanked by a cloud of steam. Wrapped in patterned silk, she rubs a towel through her hair.

Seeing him seated at the desk, she crosses the room in two short strides and takes him by the hand.

“Come to bed,” she says, and Kazuma tenses, a blush spreading over his cheeks.

All at once, she can feel his eyes on her mouth, her neck, her skin…

He turns back to his book. “I’m fine here.”

 

 

--
Eyes closed, Bishamon can feel the weight of her shinki, past and present. Their words and deeds color the darkness, and their deaths are vivid.

Sometimes, she dreams of her sword, slicing through Kazuma’s flesh. She wonders how he can fret over a stray mark on her skin when she has opened him with a blade and seen the color of his blood.

“Veena, “ he murmurs, and she wakes, eyes damp and heavy as Kazuma thumbs tears from her cheek.

Outside, she can hear waves churning, the roll of the tide, breaking against the cliff face, saltwater flooding the beach.

She wipes at her face. The play of light across his lenses is distracting.

“You called for me.”

Bishamon props herself up against the headboard and sighs. “I was dreaming.”

She leans back and gathers her hair into a twist, draping it across one shoulder. A strand catches at a button on his cuff. He combs it open and lets the hair pass between his fingers.

“…Was it Tsuguha?”

“No,” she admits, although that wound is still raw.

She raises her hand. “From here, to there,” she says, tracing her index finger in a line across his shirt. “I cut you clean, and you were gone.”

He lowers his eyes. “If you’re referring to that night… It was nothing less than I deserved.”

The room goes quiet. Shifting, Kazuma begins to withdraw. She places a hand on his name.

“Stay.”

Hesitating, he sinks back onto the bed and searches her face.

She looks pained. Her smile is fake, the corners of her mouth run taut and stiff.

“Veena,” he says, pleading, “I’m right here.”

 

 

--
Reaching out, she lifts his glasses from his head.

His grass-cut eyes flicker as she cups his face, flecks of light, darting along the green. She feels for the pulse, beating steadily at the juncture of his throat, sliding her mouth against his as it speeds.

 

 

--
Pacing the length of the gift shop, Kazuma tries to put it out of his mind.

For the most part, the memories are hazy, drunken, diffused. Nevertheless, it’s the details that leave him spinning, choking on air, as he recalls the soft swell of her hips, rocking beneath his hands.

Repurcussions, Kazuma thinks, sobering himself, but his mind wanders… And that, he realizes is a consequence in itself. He is her hafuri, her guiding light. As her exemplar, he cannot afford to stray.

Skimming the aisles, Kazuma locates Bishamon. She’s stifling a laugh as Aiha stands on tip toe, stretching to fit a wide, straw hat on Kuraha’s crown.

Seeing him approach, Veena smiles.

Listing sideways, Kazuma knocks into a stand of postcards, sending printed cardstock flying across the room. Aiha and Kuraha stare in shock as he fumbles for his glasses, righting the mess with furious speed.

“K-Kazuma,” Kuraha starts, “are you well?”

Straightening, Kazuma punches his glasses up his nose.

“Well enough.” He looks to Bishamon. “Is everyone ready?”

She steps forward and straightens his tie. “Yugiha and Ryuuha went down to the wharf, but they’ll be back in a few minutes.”

“Good,” he says, nearly taking a step back when she smoothes the front of his shirt. “We should depart as soon as possible.”

Bishamon nods. “Kuraha, Aiha, please tell everyone to assemble their luggage. We’ll meet on the drive in fifteen minutes.”

After giving their assent, the two shinki depart, leaving them alone in the aisle.

Bishamon regards him with concern.

“Are you all right?”

Kazuma blinks in surprise.

She continues. “You were awfully quiet this morning.”

Eyes glazed, he remembers the sight of her back as she rose from the sheets, the muscles working beneath the skin. Hair strewn in every direction, she had leaned over and kissed him, only half-awake, breath lingering in his ear.

Flushing, Kazuma covers his face. “I’m sorry, Veena, you were saying something?”

Her eyes flash with amusement. She strokes his bangs back from his forehead, watching him flinch.

“Wow,” she says, “your face is red.”

“Veena,” he mutters, “don’t be a tease.”

She laughs, chiding him. “I’m barely touching you.”

Seeing his jaw tighten, she stops, grinning, and turns on her heel. Unexpectedly, Kazuma grabs her hand, reeling her in for a kiss.

 

 

--
Breathless and red, Bishamon clears her throat. “We should get back to the others.”

“…Right.”

He wipes a smear of lipstick from his chin.

They pat themselves down, adjusting hairs, righting collars, fixing glasses and shirts.

Composed, Bishamon sets off, and as if on cue, Kazuma falls into step beside her, the sound of their feet receding as they pass into the hall.