For this one I took the prompt "First meeting" though I wanted to take it more as a "Many First meetings" which I hope is cleared as the story goes. I normally try to be vague about things, especially those which haven't been revealed in Iroha yet but I don't think many who read Iroha are reading this so I'll go ahead this time. Part of the story is set in Iroha's chapters 6, 9, the unreleased chapter 16 and time after chapter 16. It's full of heavy spoilers too.
Edit: It's unbeta'd, so beware of mistakes!
It’s not like Aki’s taken back by his beauty (but she is). It’s not like she finds him otherworldly and ethereal, almost as if he came out from a dream. It’s not like he’s delicate and mysterious, with that faint smile hiding many things she can’t even begin to imagine and those entrancing eyes that are both cold and distant yet somehow inviting. Perhaps it’s that faint golden glimmer, nostalgic like the moon in a starless sky. It’s definitely not his slender frame and antique outfit, the glimmer he seems to come from and the elegance he radiates, one she has never seen. She’s far from a romantic but she could have sworn she has just seen the personification of the moon, the god Tsukuyomi, right before her.
It’s hard to steady her heart, it’s hard to not fall to her knees. She truly has never seen someone like the person in front of her, someone so far away from what she has seen and lived, so distant that he is truly not from her world or this world. Aki can’t decide if he’s a king or a prince or a god. He feels so humane but at the same time he’s not and for someone who has lived on the low end of the world, who has always lived with filth and dread, grim and gray buildings and dark places everywhere, his colors shine even more.
She expects him to be like a gallant knight, perhaps, one who seems out of those old fairytales, one who is as pure as snow and radiant and noble as the sun. She can’t take her eyes off him, she can’t breathe as she waits eagerly for him to present himself, to lavish her ears with an elegant voice and velvety words.
“A ha ha ha,” the man in front of her laughs and she can feel all the world growing colder and breaking in front of her.
It’s his voice the first thing that gives away the veil, that things are not what they seem, waking from a dream, blinking twice to see the charm and illusion disappear, reality not meeting expectations and sour disappointment creeping.
“My name is Mikazuki Munechika. Well, I'm only one of the Tenka Goken, but I'm also said to be the most elegant. I was born near the end of the 11th century. I guess you can say I'm an old man. Ha ha ha!”
He keeps talking and the way he acts rips that previous impression to shreds, with how he lacks that supposed elegance his face implies. It’s how casually he dismisses his beauty, his ethereal form with such a crude joke about his age and how nonchalant he sounds. His voice is not elegant nor velvety, he doesn’t lavish his words with a soothing tone, he is playful and direct, not hiding his feelings behind a veil. He’s almost everything she didn’t expect.
It’s how almost teasing and devious he is, how he leans and touches her hair without any concern about the space between them, the thing he is doing right now, how dangerous (and not noble and pure) his voice and actions are when he requests, “Please take good care of me,” that increase her frustration. He is not the god she imagined, not the first impression he left and instead she’s full of conflicted feelings and betrayed expectations.
(But she can’t deny that he is very handsome and intriguing nonetheless.)
Mikazuki opens his eyes and the first thing he sees is her. It really clashes with the women he has seen before in the hundreds of years in the Ashikaga, Toyotomi and Tokugawa households. Her expression is harsh, though amusingly stuck in what seems to be embarrassed awestruck, but once he talks, it’s as if she’s built a barrier and her eyes have a dangerous glint. Her figure is taller than the women he has seen and the way she’s standing is not refined nor attempts to, it’s direct and forward, and the way she demands him to be quiet is brash and energetic. She doesn’t temper her words nor forces herself to sound gentler. Even her choice of clothes oozes roughness one which would have been unbecoming in any wealthy household. He could even say she has some boyish charm, the way she has stacked clothes over clothes and they hide her feminine frame and how her hairstyle shows no interest in her appearance.
She is wild, for the lack of a better word. A wild flower, one which seems to have bloomed unkempt as opposed to well-kept blossoms. It’s because of this that Mikazuki is interested and amused, knowing that such roughness might not be it all that she stands for, perhaps a tool instead of a true self. He is more intrigued by her eyes, with a faint defiance in them, some sharp piercing look which might hide something behind.
He laughs more as she leaves because it’s unexpected and unfamiliar to have such a rough-looking person, yet seemingly a flustered maiden. But it’s the outlet of that emotion which seems the more intriguing of all, not because it gives away her inexperience but because it is proof that she is hiding something. He might be unable to choose, but so far all of his masters have been interesting and he’s looking forward to getting to know her more.
It’s when she’s back from the revision, from that hell in the capital, when she enters the room and finds Mikazuki reading that she realizes he’s quietly thoughtful. There was no need to wait, she hadn’t asked for anything yet there he is. Despite all of the horrible things, the teasing, jesting comments he makes, Mikazuki is a far more observant person than she had taken him for. She can tell it in his eyes, they are mysterious yet caring, in how he rests his hand on her shoulder that he is contemplative yet he has no need to say or to prove. He has long shown that nonchalant side of his yet he needs not to explain or rather, justify himself. He can truly go as his pace and it’s something she deeply admires, that unspoken honesty and straightforward feeling.
Despite how she feels at the moment, she can’t help but think that he is truly admirable.
Aki can tell he’s quick to realize that there is something wrong and he has this quiet way of showing his concern, not too obvious and not too distant, in how he follows her despite not being called but doesn’t demand any answer or explanation. Mikazuki isn’t judging nor portrays his views and shortcomings on others, he does show the wisdom of years in something as trivial as small talk.
He probably has realized she has been trying to avoid answering the natural questions after a long trip, that she doesn’t want to admit she has no friends to visit back in Tokyo and that her travel was a nightmare, one to bring the reality of her situation back and stronger. He doesn’t inquire further but she can tell from his eyes that he knows there is something, he has not been tricked in the slightest and that he is worried, but is understanding enough to not force her to answer.
“Master, are you alright?”
He asks and for a moment she wonders if she can trust the man in front of her, the most unexpected person who has been kind to her. Mikazuki is a non-judgmental person, but he is not a fool either. He is a smarter man than what the rest in the citadel take him for and she does feel this is the first time she’s seen this serious side of Mikazuki that has always been there. She was naive to think of him as a simply gallant and elegant knight, he is keener and wiser and unexpectedly more chivalrous and considerate. She envies his maturity, the one that lets him not be angry when things don’t go his way and how he simply accepts things as they are.
Mikazuki is really an admirable person and it’s the first time she’s seen that.
It’s how her eyes are like a broken mirror, one able to wipe that smile on his face. Aki’s taken a deep puff of that cigarette but she coughs immediately, like an amateur and not someone who has already been in that habit. He can see her eyes water but he knows that those tears are not from the smoke and they match the vivid emotions in her gaze she tries to bury.
Mikazuki has long learned that she keeps walls. She acts rough and is partially so, but he has seen as well that it is not that she’s such an abrasive person. It’s more that she has to develop that shell to push away others and be alone. However, she’s not good at it. Despite her distance, she tries her hardest to take care for every sword and works to ensure their well-being and happiness. It’s as if she secretly desires to bond with them but is too roundabout and too distant to do it directly. In a way, she’s straightforwardly indirect.
And now, it is his first time seeing her so vulnerable and fragile. Even her words, carefully spoken as if a third party is speaking on her behalf, borderline technical, try to detach her from what she feels but she’s already at her limit and decided to confess, perhaps thinking she should shatter the lie before it would hurt her more.
“I was accused and charged with first degree murder.” She has her eyes closed when she speaks these words and it almost looks like a briefing on their next strategy if it weren’t from how her hands tremble and crush the cigarette between her fingers and that faint, almost imperceptible crack in her voice. “Life sentence. I served my time in juvenile prison but was about to be transferred to the capital when I agreed to a deal to come here. That’s all there is to it.”
He can tell the anger and sorrow in her words, in how she stubs the cigarette with her feet as if trying to destroy her feelings.
“Did you do it?”
He steps close to her, so close to touch as he looks at her in the eye. Her face had been frozen, buried in impassion, as if bracing herself for rejection and with eyes full of abandon but at the same time refusing to show any weakness and any sign of being hurt. Her will to remain impassive is so strong that his question takes a moment for her to reach, and she suddenly blinks, as if she hasn’t expected this retail.
“What…?” She blabs, eyes wide-open and incredulous.
“I don’t believe you did it, but I will ask. Did you kill that man?”
It’s in that moment that that stoic façade shatters in million pieces, gaze overcoming with so many emotions which flash in her eyes, tears welling up and being held back. Her lips, her voice tremble, as if she’s unable to find the words, those seemingly forgotten and unheard for years.
“I-I… I didn’t…”
She can’t finish her sentence before her hand covers her eyes and her voice drowns in her throat.
“I believe you.”
She looks at him, incredulous, piercing and intense gaze before her eyes are blurred with water. Aki looks so fragile, almost about to break. She shuts her eyes tightly to prevent herself for crying, stubborn to the end as if she believes she can’t shed any tears. This is his first time seeing the woman behind those walls, the lonely gentle Aki hiding under that tough exterior, the woman vowing to not cry as she drowns her tears, unwilling to express her sorrow and anger, and enduring it all by herself. She doesn’t move.
Mikazuki doesn’t need her to.
He embraces her gently, his long sleeves hiding her, shielding her from the world. “You’ve endured it far too long,” he whispers and he strokes her head. She is still for a second before her body shivers, needing a moment to take it all in, to process what is happening before burying her face on his chest, so small and broken, and her hands cling onto his clothes. She can’t see him right now, her tears fall nonstop and her sobs don’t let her speak. Mikazuki doesn’t say a word but looks at her with warm, understanding eyes and doesn’t let go of her. There is nothing to be said, Mikazuki gives no false promises of hope and he has already spoken the truth. Instead he continues to listen to her pain, to the unvoiced sorrow piled up for years as he holds her.
(There is one thing he wants to say, one that this confirmed revelation heightens his feelings and makes his heart ache but it’s not the time. He can only comfort her noble heart and he vows to protect her from the world.)
“I’m sorry,” she says, letting out a long sigh and she leans her head back to the wall. It’s one sign of comedic acceptance, as if she’s talking about a mistake that seems hilarious only because it has been filtered by time and change. Mikazuki turns to look up at her, head pleasantly resting on her lap and just arches his eyebrows in amusement. “Back when I met you, I thought you were like a fairytale prince. I actually got angry when you didn’t match my imagination.”
“A ha ha ha,” Mikazuki laughs with a devious smile. “I hear that often, my dearest Aki.”
She curls her lips and frowns. “I suppose I deserve that. Still…” She avoids looking at him directly but her cheeks flush faintly and Mikazuki looks even more intently. “I-I really like your honesty… And how you are always yourself… You might have had the burden and the title of the Tenka Goken, of the most beautiful sword in the world, but you’ve never let that define yourself.” Aki stops and rubs her arm awkwardly, cheeks now a deep crimson. “I projected my own expectations on you but you were always yourself. I love that about you… I mean, there are many things about you I love but…”
Mikazuki smiles warmly and sits up, only to move closer to her, so much that their faces are millimeters apart.
“If we are now confessing,” Mikazuki whispers and caresses her cheek softly, “I will say this. I have met thousands of people and I have seen the best and worst of humans. I have seen people being toyed by fate and their hearts being twisted by anger, sadness and hate. You have been mocked and tortured, humiliated and destroyed, yet you have clung on what you’ve believed in, you have refused to act in the same way you’ve been treated…” Mikazuki’s eyes shine brighter than the moon yet they aren’t cold, no, they are warm and affectionate, deeply devoted. “You’ve tried to make this place as best for us without asking for anything in return and I have to say, among the many things I love about you, your noble kind heart is the one I love the most.”
He touches her face, she’s frowning trying to hold back tears and he chuckles softly as he leans down and seals her lips in a kiss.