Day 4: Blooming
Koumei, shortly after his return to Rakushou, observed a couple of things:
– first, Kougyoku was always smiling;
– second, she was always smiling at flowers;
– and third, the palace staff were all up to something.
Or alternatively: Awkward Big Brother Koumei Trying to Big Brother.
This is a sequel or companion to Day 3 (Power Couple/Fairy Tale), but can also stand alone.
Again, this is set in canon, after the establishment of Fanfan Trading Company, and please pretend that there’s an extended downtime during the time they were working on it… before, y’know, Sinbad Spreads Fake News.
Kougyoku was smiling, Koumei noted.
It shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise, really. Kougyoku was always smiling these days, specially whenever she saw him. He appreciated the sentiment, that she was very happy to have at least one of her brothers back home with her. He also knew she must be happy that things appeared to be looking up. Getting the trading company up and running and actually bringing in some profit didn’t come without a struggle, but it was working nicely so far, so that was definitely something to be enthusiastic about.
But no, Kougyoku was smiling as she was reading a trade report , leaning easily against her desk, one hand propping her chin up while the other was absently twirling a single flower on her hand.
He stared for another minute, but his sister only kept reading and smiling, and he couldn’t find a reason to question it. Maybe the reports showed good numbers. He has yet to check those, so maybe it was that.
So Koumei went off to mind his own business. He had his own work to do, after all.
Kougyoku was smiling again, this time as she was writing what looked like executive letters.
Then she frowned and made a soft displeased noise. Koumei squinted through his mask (which was pretty useless, seeing as everyone knew who he was anyway), to see her worrying over the delicate flower chain wrapped around her wrist, and what looked like a dark stain in one of the tiny white flowers. She must have accidentally brushed the chain against her inkwell while working.
She carefully took the tainted flower from the chain, which held on impressively. Then, she resumed working, obviously more careful this time. The smile returned.
“Koumei-sama?” called Ka Koubun from his spot on the room. Koumei had forgotten the advisor was there. The man must have noticed his scrunched up face. “Is something the matter?”
Kougyoku had also looked up, expression concerned. “Koumei-nii-sama?”
Finally Koumei looked away, then yawned into his fan. “Nothing. I’m just feeling a bit sleepy.”
Kougyoku was smiling again . Not that Koumei didn’t like seeing his sister happy, but today she was also humming . Every now and then, she would look up from her task of signing and stamping official documents, eye the small bunch of flowers on the little vase on her desk, and smile.
Two or three years ago, it wouldn’t have piqued his curiosity. But right now, with the rest of their family either missing or in exile, he and Kougyoku were the only close family each other had, and Empress or not, Kougyoku was still his younger sister. He was determined to take care of her.
So he finally decided he would ask.
“Empress.” he said softly.
When Kougyoku looked at him, her smile was a wary one. “Koumei-nii-sama, please, there’s no need to be so formal…”
“Ah. Kougyoku.” he nodded, then when she only blinked up at him, he continued. “You seem very cheerful today.”
She blinked again. “You think so?”
“I simply noticed.”
“Oh. Well… it’s a nice day.” she shrugged, obviously at a loss on how else to respond.
They were family, yes. They’ve fought together side-by-side, yes. They would do anything for the other, yes.
But also, they never talked about things like these with each other.
It was awkward.
They knew the conversation wasn’t over yet, but they didn’t know how to continue, either.
Probably due to lack of anything else to do, Kougyoku absently brushed her fingers against one of the flowers in her desk.
Koumei went straight for the opening as soon as he saw it.
He said, “Those are nice flowers.”
On second thought, that was terrible . Truly and utterly terrible. Flowers on a desk were only natural, and Kougyoku had always liked pretty things, really, so why on Earth did Koumei think bringing them up would be a good idea? He didn’t know anything about flowers, he should have said something about pigeons instead-
But then Kougyoku brightened up. Oh . That worked ? It was the flowers , then? Something about them, at least?
“They are, aren’t they?” she asked, cheerful smile back in place. “Alibaba-chan gave them to me this morning!”
Well. That was… something. “He did?”
“He does his morning training in the garden.” Kougyoku continued. “And he always brings something back for me. It’s very nice of him, don’t you think?”
Koumei resisted the urge to point out that, technically speaking, Alibaba was offering her flowers from her garden. He’s been giving her flowers that she already owned…
But Kougyoku seemed pleased. Besides, it’s the thought that counts. Or something like that.
“Yes,” he finally said. “It’s very nice of him.”
That was a less awkward stopping point in the conversation, and Koumei was relieved when Kougyoku simply beamed at him again before returning to work.
The next day, Koumei came in just in time to see Kougyoku carefully replacing the flowers in her desk with new ones. She greeted him a good morning and he greeted her back.
“More flowers today?” he asked, feigning nonchalance.
She smiled the bright smile he was getting used to by now. “Oh, yes! Alibaba-chan gave them to me just now.”
“My Lady, they’re not even the good ones, they’re a bunch of wildflowers at best.” Ka Koubun interjected, his face unimpressed.
Kougyoku pouted, hunched protectively over the little vase. “Hush, Ka Koubun! My dear friend gave these to me, and they’re pretty enough! I know we have fancier flowers in our garden, and I think they ought to stay there. It would be a waste to let them wilt here! Picking little wildflowers do no harm, though, and they’re adorable.”
Koumei would have to agree to that. Besides, fancy flowers in a desk meant for working was just overkill. The tiny and simple ones were alright. “And where is our Prime Minister now?” he asked.
“He left to get cleaned up, my lord. He came from his daily sword exercises.” Ka Koubun answered. “We are going down to inspect the renovated storage facilities today, if I’m not mistaken.”
Koumei nodded, sitting on his chair and picking up some documents for reading.
Kougyoku was humming as she organized the documents on her own desk, usual smile in place.
It was a nice sight, Koumei decided. And if a bunch of wildflowers in a tiny vase on her desk was the secret to that, he was glad for them.
After a few moments, Alibaba arrived, looking cleaned up. “Good morning, everyone! So, are we ready to go?”
Koumei nodded, and just as he was standing up and patting down his robes, he heard Kougyoku complain, “Ka Koubun, am I really not allowed to go? I want to see the facilities too…”
Ka Koubun’s lips were drawn to a stern line. “Empress, it is simply not wise for you to go. We’ll be crossing the fields, it might be cramped and full of workers and civilians, we can only bring a limited number of guards-”
Kougyoku looked down sadly. “I wouldn’t mind so much. I want to see our workers and to personally tell them they’ve been doing a good job…”
And then, Alibaba, because he was Alibaba Saluja, savior of the downtrodden, turned towards Koumei. “It’s a good idea, though, right? The people would love to see their beloved Empress who cares about them and values their hard work.”
Kougyoku, because she was Ren Kougyoku, sincere and caring leader of her recovering nation, perked up at the prospect. “You think they would?”
Koumei watched as Alibaba faced the aforementioned beloved Empress and exclaim, “Of course they would! Who wouldn’t love to see you?”
So Kougyoku hid her pout behind her sleeves and then stared up at her advisor and aide with big, teary, imploring eyes- “Ka Koubun, please?”
Koumei had to take a step back when all three of them looked to him for the final say.
He sighed, avoiding their gazes and waving his fan dismissively. “It should be fine if she goes. Our men are trustworthy. Kougyoku can handle herself, and all three of us would be with her. Besides, I do think it would boost morale.”
Ka Koubun sighed in defeat, Alibaba beamed, Kougyoku beamed back – and at this point, Koumei decided he would rather stare at the sun than at the latter two.
“Alright then, let’s surprise our workers!” Alibaba said excitedly.
Ka Koubun led the way, followed by Alibaba who offered his arm to the young Empress. Koumei trailed after the two, looking on as Kougyoku looped her arm around her friend’s while they walked together.
A thought was clawing at the back of Koumei’s head as he watched them. Something… something he was forgetting, or missing-
They were well on their way to the palace courtyard when he noticed Kougyoku tip-toe slightly to whisper something to Alibaba’s ear, and then the two started laughing between themselves-
“Ah.” he blurted out, as the pieces clicked into place. The other three looked towards him, but he covered up by yawning. It was only half-faked.
They proceeded on their short trek towards the horses they would be riding.
Koumei decided that he would have to talk to the Empress- no, to his sister… and her friend , very soon.
A day after that very successful visit to the new storage facilities that managed to raise quite a lot of morale among their workers, Koumei got into trouble with one of the servant girls.
Alright, trouble was an overstatement. He really just didn’t know how to talk to people. Therefore a servant girl who was trying to chat him up and who asked the most random of questions was a truly horrific problem in his book.
He really needed to get to the Empress’ study, there was work to be done, but the girl had stopped right by the doorway and started talking to him.
It took a full ten minutes for the girl to run out of things to say, ending up with ‘ Maybe wait just a tiny bit more before entering???’ and for him to successfully request her to ‘ Please let me through, I have to do things, work things, inside that room???’ .
She finally let him pass and he entered the familiar chamber, only to find Alibaba and Kougyoku both hunched over the Empress’ desk, going through a document together.
Okay. This was… normal, by his standards. So why was the servant girl telling him to wait and-
‘Ah.’ came his realization. It made sense, somehow, and explained a couple of things.
A few days after that, he found two royal secretaries, four maids and a guard all pressed against each other and a wall, all of them visibly concentrating on listening to… well, to something or someone on the other side of the wall.
“What’re they saying?” whispered one.
“Something… something about… a dragon? A dragon mother? Flying? I’m not sure-” answered another one.
Koumei cleared his throat.
All of them scrambled off in a flurry of embarrassed and heartfelt (but still hushed) apologies, leaving him to round the corner to see-
Alibaba perched on a balcony railing, talking animatedly, and Kougyoku standing beside him, thoroughly entertained at his tale.
‘Ah.’ Koumei thought.
Now that was just obvious.
When one afternoon, Koumei overheard the two royal gardeners starting a bet on when the grand imperial wedding would be held, he decided enough was enough.
Wait, that sounded too aggressive.
To be more accurate, Koumei decided to resign to his fate.
He braced himself as he stood outside the door to the Empress’s study, looking towards the high palace ceilings and sighing.
‘Why me?’ he asked, to whoever or whatever divine entity must be responsible for this.
When he entered, Alibaba and Kougyoku were having afternoon tea, both engrossed in their own paperwork over their respective desks.
They looked up at him and both greeted him pleasantly.
Koumei sighed. Again.
‘Kouen-nii-sama, my brother, my King, I love and respect you and I would do anything you asked, but WHY THIS? You should be the one doing this, not me.’
But Kouen was not around, and Koumei just had to be strong .
‘If this fails, the door is right behind me, and a jump from that window leads to a fish pond that would catch my fall. I’ve become a competent runner in my years in exile and have become used to fish. I can do this.’
“Koumei-nii-sama, are you alright?” Kougyoku asked, her innocent eyes blinking curiously.
Best get to the point, then, Koumei thought.
“Are you two reinstating the engagement? Everyone seems to think so.”
Alibaba spit out his tea. Thankfully away from precious paperwork.
Kougyoku blinked again. “What engagement?”
“The one between the two of you. The arranged marriage.”
“W-What? Me and Alibaba-” Kougyoku gaped this time, almost spilling her tea. “There is no such thing!”
Koumei took this in, then eyed Alibaba, who was trying to put his cup of tea away properly at least. “You haven’t told her.”
Kougyoku turned towards the blonde across the room too. “Alibaba-chan, what is Koumei-nii-sama talking about?”
“U-Uh… it was… two years ago? And it was on Kouen’s orders-”
She looked properly scandalized. “I’ve been engaged for two years and I didn’t know?!”
A pause from all parties involved. After a bit of consideration, Alibaba said, “I died , though, so technically-”
Kougyoku looked even more horrified somehow. “My fiancee died and I didn’t know! And-” she stopped, then turned to Koumei. “E-Everyone seems to think so? Who’s-… Who’s everyone?”
“Everyone in the palace.” Koumei answered absently, fingers twitching, analyzing his exit strategy because Kougyoku didn’t know and Alibaba had all but brushed the fact aside so what the hell has been going on, really? Then for good measure, he added, “Including me.”
This time both of them looked at him, alarmed.
“Why?” they both asked.
They do make a great pair, Koumei could see that now.
Why indeed? The flowers? The easy affectionate gestures? The blindingly bright smiling at each other? The casual intimacy? Late night walks together? The loud declarations of how much they adore each other? The acting like they have been married for years when they’ve only been reunited a month ago?
He didn’t want to say all of those, because from the way both of them were blushing bright red, they might just be the ones who would think it worth it to jump out the window and into the fish pond if he enumerated the facts.
Alibaba could do what he wanted, for all Koumei cared, but he would not risk his sister jumping off a window.
So Koumei settled with, “Haven’t you been openly courting her?” towards Alibaba, then for Kougyoku, “-and haven’t you been entertaining his propositions?”
They both shrugged cluelessly.
And now, instead of Kouen, Koumei wished for Kouha . Kouha would have grabbed the two of them and shake them back and forth until they got the point.
Even Judal. Judal would have gotten the job done, one way or another.
Was it too late to convince the two clueless idiots in front of him to visit his two brothers in the island so they could do the talking?
Koumei tried again, “Kougyoku, you were angry-”
Kougyoku shook her head quickly. “I’m not angry, just surprised and concerned-”
“-you were concerned at the fact that you didn’t know, but not the fact that it was Alibaba.”
She fell silent and hid behind her sleeves.
“Alibaba, you accepted the offer, didn’t you? More or less? And you knew the engagement would be with Kougyoku?”
“I… I guess I kinda did.” Alibaba said, looking away as well.
“Congratulations, it is the belief of the whole palace staff that you are engaged again . I did not know who spread the word, or even how they knew , but you two were providing solid proof. Now I know for a fact that the gardeners have a bet going on about the wedding date, and the handmaidens and seamstresses have been suspiciously looking through fancy fabrics and embroidery as of late, and I even heard some guards talking about the celebratory feast.”
“Wait, wait.” Alibaba gaped. “Are you telling me they’ve been preparing already?”
“I wouldn’t say ‘preparing’, but they’re all very enthusiastic over the prospect.”
He watched as the two looked towards each other, then back at their respective paperwork again.
Was that his cue? Koumei didn’t care. It had been one of the most awkward moments of his life – he was out .
“So,” he started, with the best tone of finality he could summon. “I would leave you two to discuss. Empress. Prime Minister.”
A full week later, Koumei passed by the gardens to see Alibaba sitting by a patch of wildflowers, brows furrowed in deep concentration.
“Prime Minister.” he greeted simply.
“Lord Strategist.” came the curt response.
He crouched down beside the young man, who he now saw was making something out of the tiniest wildflowers he had ever seen.
A simple, delicate flower chain too small to be a bracelet, but just the right size to be a-
Koumei took a deep breath, silently uttered a prayer again (‘O blessed rukh, grant me strength for this man beside me is an idiot.’) and then he raised his fan and hit Kou Empire Prime Minister Alibaba Saluja on the back of his head.
Alibaba yelped, looking at him in dismay. “Ow! What was that for?!”
Koumei only stood up and started walking away.
He simply said, “Come, I’ll show you where to get an actual ring.”
Koumei did not sign up for this cliche romantic shenanigans, guys. Give him war instead, he’s good at that.
Also can we just… pretend that rings are somehow involved in the Kou Empire wedding traditions or something. I had to
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR ALL THE POSITIVE FEEDBACK YOU GUYS HAVE BEEN GIVING THIS FIC/SERIES. I AM FLOORED. These are my first attempts to write Alikou, and actually finish a ship week, and your comments mean the whole world to me.