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He had loved her– Sasuke knew this sad truth– and he had loved her for as long as he knew how to love. She was the sun to his moon, the pull to his push, the one light shining in his life. She was as important to him as breathing, the sun that the earth of his life revolved around.

In the first life, their roles were reversed; ‘she’ was the crown prince of some kingdom long forgotten. ‘He’, meanwhile, was the caretaker who toiled away in the palace gardens, the girl buzzing around the flowers as a bee might, creating beautiful blooms for the nobles to enjoy.

They had been childhood friends. She had found him hiding under one of the camellia bushes, pouting and dirty and covered in bruises. Too many hits in swordplay, he’d told her. Her little six year old self had blinked at the absurdity of the crown prince hiding under a flower bush, his brilliant silk trousers covered in dirt and shredded petals. And then she’d laughed at him. His pout deepened. Come on, she pulled him out from under the shrub. I have a salve that can help the bruises. From that day forward, they were inseparable; everyday, without fail, he’d sneak out from practice (archery or swordplay or horseback riding) and come to visit her in the gardens; she would just shake her head at his recklessness and smile.

Days passed. Weeks. Months.  

She began looking forward to his daily visits; he was an excellent conversationalist and she was an excellent listener. And she stared off into the roses and hydrangeas, imagining a world where she was the daughter of a noble, too, and she could join him inside the imperial palace. And her heart sped up when he gave that adorably stupid grin, the one that spoke of mischief and pranks. And she couldn’t bring herself to meet his eyes, those eyes that could command her heart to do anything and make her feel like she owned the world. Memories bloomed in her little garden paradise: eating mooncakes at New Year’s; watching the fireworks during festival nights; sharing honey-sweetened persimmons for his birthday.

But of course, he was the crown prince, and already betrothed to another. When she heard the news, everything went numb. She should have expected it, after all. He was the crown prince, heir to an empire of thousands. She was heir to beautiful blossoms that would wilt before the year was over. Why? Why, of all the people that lived in the palace, had she chosen to prince to pin her secret hopes on, to pine over and carry a torch for?

A few weeks later, the petals came up. She stared at them in horror, the innocent bright pink petals lying in the palm of her hand. No, no no no no. It couldn’t be. But it was, she could feel the faint ticklish sensation at the back of her throat, and instantly knew what it was.

Fate was so cruel, indeed. Day after day, he talked about her and her only, the beautiful princess he was destined to marry. She saw how his face lit up in excitement and the lovestruck expression that crossed his face whenever he talked about her. Did you know, he asked her one day as she was pruning the gardenias, that she chopped off her hair and dressed like a boy to learn archery with her brothers? All she had done was nod blithely and continue her work; her throat was choked with the ticklish sensation. She still couldn’t look him in the eye, but this time for a different reason. Coughing quietly into her sleeve, she brushed off the butchered flowers that came up, shoving them deep inside the bush to hide them from the prince.

She ignored the streaks of blood that lined the outermost petals and thorns and the rawness aching in her throat.

Seasons passed, flowers germinated and bloomed and withered, and they were reborn into another life.

This time, he was the son of the local priest, adopted after being left at the steps of the iglesia; she was the only daughter of the wealthy marqués. She only knew him as the parish helper who led the church choir every Sunday at mass. But still, every week, without fail, she would come and visit the churchyard to see the Spanish roses and honeysuckle that climbed over the trellises. They’re so beautiful, she’d said one day, running her hands over the deep red and white blooms, did you grow these? He had only nodded, unable to speak his mind. That she was the more beautiful than any of the flowers in that garden.

Evenings after mass were spent strolling in the garden with her (her maid hung behind at a safe distance, hiding a knowing smile on her face) and aimlessly making conversation: about the revolution; about the expeditions set by His Majesty for the New World; about the booming trade in the west. And she was always his princesa, or his lady. Why don’t you ever refer to me by name? She asked him, giggling at his titles for her. You are too magnificent for me to treat you as anything other than a princess, he’d murmured back.

His father- ironically, everyone’s ‘Father’- caught him by the arm one day, murmuring a warning: Do not get too attached to her, my child. You are only inviting in your doom. He’d simply smiled and shaken his head. It’s not like that. But he couldn’t deny that he dreamt of her, of her musical laughter and her fiery passion for adventure and the blaze that flared under his skin when she said his name. She drew him like a moth to a flame, and he couldn’t help but be swept along in her passion.

She came to him one day with her eyes sparkling and euphoria etched into her face. She was to be married before the month was out, to a son of a rich aristocrat who was to leave for the New World soon.

He expressed his best wishes for her engagement, doggedly ignoring the pressure on his lungs. When she was safely out of sight he stumbled through the door of the iglesia, clawing at his throat. Dark red petals came up, splashing on the floor in a sticky mess of blood and bile. He sagged against the wall, his father rushing over to help him, holding him upright in concern. The sobs spilled out, unchecked, a tidal wave of grief and pain washing over everything. The thorns scratched his throat, his heart, his soul. He’d lost her again.

And then they were in another lifetime.

She was from a well-to-do nouveau riche family, the kind that had connections in the underworld and in Wall Street. He was the owner of a speakeasy that was fairly quiet, the kind that attracted unwanted attention from the city gangsters. She frequented the bar almost as much as any other flapper, drunk on spirits and life. He watched her blossom into a fine young woman, and nearly half the boys in the Big Apple were just as infatuated with her as he was. She was a mystery to others, and enigma to her friends, and a goddess to him. She was the living embodiment of freedom, sweeping along everyone with her into wild adventures. She came and went like a spring wind, the first breath of cool air, refreshing everyone who was fortunate enough to meet her.

He had dreams, dreams of marrying her and moving to the country (or maybe they could go overseas), of traveling the world. Dreams of raising children with her–they’d have her sparkling eyes and maybe his cautious personality–and they would grow up and run around the house and laugh and play together. Dreams of waking up every day to her face beside him on the pillow, peaceful and relaxed and he’d lean over and kiss her brow to wake her. And she would open her eyes and gaze at him and he would be overcome by such adoration that he couldn’t express it in any way other than I love you. I love you, my beautiful princess.

The accident took it all away from him.

The driver hadn’t been paying attention to the road and had skidded on the ice buildup on the corners. The vehicle spun wildly, crashing against some brownstone downtown. She had been standing at the crosswalk, waiting for the signal. The car had crushed her against the wall. The wounds were too severe; she was gone before the paramedics could arrive.

The glass he was wiping fell, shattering on the floor and breaking into a thousand knife-sharp pieces. His dreams blurred and faded before his eyes, replaced by visions of her, gashes littering her broken body as she lay there all alone. Someone directed him to a chair, had him sit down and down a glass of water. He couldn’t remember anything except her cheerful grin directed at him.

And he wept and wept and wept, salty tears running down his face and mingling with carnelian blood, staining the front of his suit. He didn’t care. He couldn’t care anymore. Not when his princess was gone. Again. After the bar was emptied and the last customer had stumbled out thoroughly inebriated, he sat back on the counter, head hung in his hands, numbness burrowing into his nerves and every inch of him. He moved automatically, finding the small tin containers hidden in the corner of the pantry. Rat poison.

C’mon! What’s the point of staying behind the counter all day long? She giggled and pulled him along the pier. Let’s go on an adventure!

His fingers poured the contents of the tin into the uncorked bottle on the bar table, shaking and deadened. He drained the bottle in one gulp. He would follow his princess ot the ends of the earth if he had to. He couldn’t lose her, not again, not this time.

And then they were in this life.

When he’d first seen her at the Honno-Ji monument he’d instantly known who she was. Memories crowded into his brain, ghostly glimpses of lifetimes past, and he’d gasped at the flood of emotion that overcame him. It’s you. You’ve come back to me, princess.

The wormhole had struck, before he could reach her, and he was ripped apart from her again. Four years. Four years he traveled the length and breadth of the country, searching, always on the lookout for any sign of his princess. Finally, finally, he found her at Honno-ji, still bright and beautiful amidst the smoke and ash and flames of the burning temple. He introduced himself to her, watching over her as she went to Azuchi and stayed with the Oda forces.

He couldn’t have predicted that she would try to escape, though.

She had almost made it out of Azuchi when she was caught and brought back. Nobunaga had her put under the charge of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Sasuke’s idol. He was nearly ecstatic. If anyone could help protect her, it was Ieyasu. Right? He saw as she followed Ieyasu around, with unfailing optimism, trying to get him to open up to her. She got archery lessons from him, and became increasingly closer to him.

Sasuke watched as Tokugawa Ieyasu fell in love with his princess.

He had visited her after two months (he woke up that morning with a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach) and set out to Mikawa immediately. Sneaking into the castle grounds had been easy. He’d looked up into the windows of the castle-

-to see Ieyasu kissing her. Pain seared through his lungs. Sharp, hacking coughs came from him. He doubled over in the tree, nearly falling out. Bloody cherry petals spilled past his lips. Sasuke stared at them in horror, head spinning dizzyingly. No. Not again. I have to see her.

The thought spurred him forward and he neatly infiltrated the castle. Entering her room, he waited there quietly for her to come back. Iron bands tightened around his chest.

She came in, and her face lit up at the sight of him. The question burned on his tongue.

Are you in love with Ieyasu?

Her blush was all the confirmation he needed. He bid her a good day and quietly left the castle, riding back to Echigo, her flushed face still on his mind.

When he stumbled in through the doors of Kasugayama Castle, Yuki looked up from his lunch. Sasuke where were- whoa, what’s wrong? Sasuke staggered past him, out into the garden, collapsing on the grass. His head was still spinning; he felt so light. Like his soul might burst from his body and float away Everything was muffled, like he was underwater. Colors and shadows shifted around him, blurring and breaking apart. My princess….

The first wave of petals scratched his throat, bruised and shredded. His lungs heaved, searching desperately for air. His chest burned, the lack of oxygen making him feel lightheaded. He choked on the leaves and flowers that came up, clawing at his throat. Tears spilled, trickling down his cheeks, hot and furious amidst the pain.

He fell.

Yuki shouted his name, rushing over to holding him upright by the shoulders.

“She lo-loves some- someone else-” He choked out. Yukimura rubbed his back, unable to do anything to soothe his friend. The cherry blossoms came up in another wave,  filling up his throat and mouth with petals and leaves and blood. He spat them out weakly, blood dribbling down his chin; Sasuke’s vision grew hazy. Vaguely, he was aware of being lifted and carried inside, cleaned up, examined by a doctor. Being told that he couldn’t be saved, that it was too late and the disease had been left untreated far too long. It didn’t matter, though. His princess was- in someone else’s arms- happy where she was.

Sasuke could rest.

He lay there on the futon, weak breaths rasping in and out of his lungs. Darkness crept at the edges of his vision. Before the exhaustion overtook him, a flicker of a memory came back to him, like an old film reel.

“Of all days to be stuck on gate duty,” Sasuke grumbled to himself. It was freezing out here, and he hadn’t thought to bring an extra jacket to wear over the wool blazer. He rubbed his palms together to get some semblance of warmth into his fingers. The warning bell rang out over the school grounds, signalling that there were only five minutes left to get to class. Might as well close the gate now and go back inside, he thought to himself. No point in staying out here and freezing my ass off. But apparently the Great Almighty had other plans for him that day.

“Wait up!” His head jerked up; a girl wearing the second year uniform and blazer was running full speed towards the gates. She tumbled over the strip of metal the gates swung on, crashing into Sasuke and sending them both to the ground. Her books landed on the cobblestones; she wasn’t so lucky. “Oh my gosh! I am so, SO sorry!” She gasped and sat back up. He sat up and groaned, rubbing his head where it had hit the stones. She put an arm on his shoulder.

“Are you okay?” Sasuke glanced up into her face peering at him in concern. She’s extraordinarily pretty. He quashed that thought. She smells like cinnamon and apples. He quashed that thought too. He didn’t have time to be getting doe-eyed over a second-year girl. He nodded quickly, not trusting his voice to work properly. She broke out into a relieved smile.

“Oh thank goodness!” His heart thumped erratically against his ribcage; he told it to calm down. The relieved smile slipped off her face as she realized exactly where she was. “I’m gonna be late!” She set about gathering up all her fallen books. He helped her, fingers accidentally brushing hers as he handed her a rather heavy textbook on calculus; electricity sparked where he’d touched her. Sasuke stared at his hand. I’m dreaming. He blinked back into the present and stood up, brushing himself off.

The strange girl yelled a hasty “Thanks!” over her shoulder and turned to leave. On instinct, he reached out and grabbed her shoulder. She twisted to look at him; internally he cursed himself. “Um- name?” He winced. Really? That’s the best you could do, Sasuke? The awkwardness hung thick in the air.

The girl blinked, then grinned in understanding. His heart skipped another beat. Normally he didn’t think this much about girls, but…… She really was beautiful; he swallowed hard.

“My name is Mai.”