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Tea Series

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Rensai leaned close, whispered to her, then touched a kiss to her ear.

"I know, I know, go on." Jimaya waved him off. He smiled as he got to his feet, bowed to Omare and Yujin, then followed the valet from the pagoda. Her breath followed him across the lily pond.

"The myriad demands of Chief Engineer, hm?" Yujin mused playfully.

Jimaya nodded and pretended to notice her tea for the first time, hoping to steer conversation elsewhere before Omare could gripe about Rensai's appointment again. She sipped. "Oh. Did you use the––"

"Oh, Jimaya." Yujin laced her fingers under her chin and propped her elbows on the table to peer across at her. "Look at you. You're glowing."

Jimaya's flush deepened. "No I'm not."

"Yes you are. Omare, look at her, wouldn't you agree she––"

"This tea is very good," Omare announced gracelessly. Yujin rolled her eyes.

"You two are impossible. The three of you, come to think of it. All cut from the same cloth."

Omare's jaw dropped in outrage but the two women looked at him, then one another, and shared a hidden smile. Jimaya was ever appreciative of Yujin's solidarity.

"Don't know what you're talking about," Omare was grumbling irritably as he seized another hard boiled egg with a vengeance.

"Right, because Rensai has never been known to be stubborn."

"Or willfully ignorant," Jimaya added lightly. She and Yujin met eyes again and dissolved into giggles as Omare glared at the pair of them.

"I'm shocked at how willingly the pair of you let go of the past," he said with as much haughty authority as he could summon up. "It's an impressive feat, considering how much there is to set aside."

"And I'm shocked at how willingly you dismiss my feelings," Jimaya returned more coolly. "If you still hate him that much, then I will take meals alone with him instead of with you."

"I like having him here." Yujin swept to her defense before Jimaya's threat had time to do too much harm, and Jimaya's tension gave way to gratitude for her friend. "He keeps things interesting, and he's so much milder here than he was at home. You've worked some kind of magic on him, Jimaya."

"Of course he's milder," Omare began heatedly, "he doesn't have the resources to––"

"Have you tried this yet?" Yujin dunked a dumpling into a powerful chili sauce and stuffed it into Omare's mouth. "It's from home. Careful, it's spicy."

Omare's muffled protest was overtaken by coughs and Yujin pretended to look confused, patting him on the back and asking if he was all right. Jimaya smiled to herself, first for Yujin's help and second at the pleasant warmth she felt at the thought of having some hand in softening Rensai.

She flicked a glance back across the bridge that led back inside the palace. He wasn't that different. She couldn't reasonably take too much credit. He just responded well to a clear goal, and she supposed his new one was––

Omare was reassuring Yujin that he was fine, but really, how did she keep forgetting that he didn't care for spicy food? Jimaya didn't take much notice as she swallowed and returned to her breakfast. Rensai's parting words were still humming at the back of her mind.

"Do you know what I would do for you?"

He asked it often. Usually in bed, usually while propped up on an elbow and looking at her as though he'd never seen anything like her before in his life. As though she were some marvel he never expected to see again. He'd smile, lean close, and punctuate the answer with kisses.

"Anything. Anything. Anything."