The dark gray sky rumbled with signs of rain; many of the villagers of the town began making preparations for the welcome rains. Awai would know since her Mistress was the one to account for them. It’s foreboding mood didn’t help her any as it had been three days since she had caught her husband cheating on her in their home; with a human woman no less. It had been quite easy, but unusual nonetheless to annul the marriage. But having to go through such an ordeal, stung her inside. She hadn’t seen her former husband three weeks, since the incident, nor would she care to. Doing what all people do when faced with problems and depression, she went to a bar and drank.
Slithering across the mahogany floors of the barren establishment, the bartender was surprised to find such a normally pure creature entering his bar. “Welcome, Miss. What’ll it be?”
Mounting herself on a bar stool and wrapping her white scaled body around it’s legs, she calls for a saucer of sake.
He takes a lofty jug and pours her saucer, “Don’t really see many Shirohebi girls in here…”
“Not many Shirohebi have gone through what I have….”
The bartender nodded before heading around to the other side of the bar, seeing to more of his regulars; probably fearing any of Awai’s personal baggage. Not that she could blame him, she wouldn’t want to deal with herself either.
Everyday now started with a downcast gloom and tending to the ill-kept gardens of the Shrine. Many of her fellow maidens had came to her aid and tried their best to soothe and comfort her, but they didn’t know the great pain Awai felt inside. With all of her shortcomings and failures as a miko and a woman, she was sure that her Mistress Ryu would no longer desire her services.
She downed the rest of her sake and flagged for another. Why was the world so cruel?
. . .
Soon upon her second saucer, Awai hadn’t noticed a man sitting down a few seats over from her. His glass was now almost empty and his rugged appearance slacked like that of a drunkard. But Ken was nowhere near his limit, he still had his wits about him, albeit somewhat blurred. Although, he tried to forget as best he could, Ken couldn’t have a drink without feeling a sting of pain. Despite supposedly being the cure to all problems, his began with alcohol.
Trying to shake off his depression and drink more, it wasn’t any wonder that Ken ended up breaking the legs off the stool; sending him to the floor with a loud ‘thud’. There were too few people to arouse a good laugh and with surprising energy he rushed back up to his feet, looking to the bartender, “I…I will pay for that….sorry…”
The bartender could only smirk, “It’ll go on your tab, Ken.”
As he swaggered towards the other end of the bar, Ken didn’t see the careless white tail of a tipsy Shirohebi and tripped over it with another loud ‘thud’.
. . .
Awai had concealed her grin from the man who fell next to her, it was almost too comical to be true. However, unaware of her tail, he tripped and once more sounded a large thud. Too lit to offer aid, she could only blurt out laughing hysterically at the fallen man.
Kneeling on the floor, he shouted, “Watch where you put that thing you snaky bitch, I could’ve-!”
Before he could take back his words, Ken looked up to see what he thought was an angel. Her matte white kimono collided perfectly with her white hair and pearly white scales; the embroidered purple and blue sashed cuffs begetted her marvelous pinkish skin. Overall, this was indeed a very, very beautiful woman.
“Excuse me?” the snake girl’s eyes flashed.
He wavered, “I’m sorry, I-”
“You’re the stupid imbecile who couldn’t watch where he was going!”
“You got quite a vile tongue there rat-tail. Here I was gonna apologize and-” She cut him off.
“Oh spare me your pathetic apologies, you’re just a drunk! A stupid and volatile drunk!”
“At least I don’t have to be in everyone’s way!”
“Oh really? Too bad, because then you’d find some worthy attention, you fool!”
“And you can laugh your heart out at me then, you cheap shrine whore!”
At the last of his words, Awai felt her heart snap in two. Her facade now spent, she began to cry. She outright bawled, leaning on the counter as she wept, “Y-You….monster…I’m not like that…”
Ken felt his vile temper extinguish as she cried, putting his hand gently on her shoulder, “I’m sorry…I didn’t mean that…”
She wailed, “It’s just…not fair….”
Ken rubbed her shoulder, “I’m sorry….I didn’t mean to snap…I’ve been… I….can be very insensitive.”
She flicks him with her tail, “Just leave alone…it’s bad enough that my husband didn’t want… I don’t need you making it worse….”
As she bawled in her arms, she felt go fuzzy and dizzy. It’s not like he cared, not like anyone would care or understand. Such thoughts ceased as she felt a warmth surround her, covering her back and wrapping around her folded arms. The man had started to hug her.
Ken knew that this might make the situation worse, but upon hearing something similar to his own problem, he couldn’t help but hug her. She looked up from her arms, “Wha….What are you-”
“I might not look it, but I understand your pain…you can tell me, if you’d like…” He sits down in the bar stool next to her, keeping his hands on her shoulders. “You left….your husband?”
Awai sullenly told him her story, how she had arrived to her home to find her husband cheating on her with a younger, human woman. Despite his repentance and apologies, she couldn’t believe him anymore, and had been too heartbroken to be overcome by her jealousy and couldn’t bear to use her curse on him.
“And now, here I am….talking to a stranger who couldn’t comprehend my pain and-”
Ken interrupted, “You’re wrong. You girls act like we’re stone-cold throw away toys.” He looked at her with intensity, “Never once would you ever consider that we have feelings too. No we’re just weak little humans, aren’t we?”
Awai hadn’t anticipated such a reaction, nor had she thought she would ever say anything so insensitive. “I…I’m sorry…”
He waves her off, “It’s okay….sorry didn’t mean to get angry. Believe it or not you and I have the same…problems.”
She looks at him quizzically, “ What do you mean?”
Puffing a bit of hot air, Ken leans over to her, “Well, it’s…painful…but alright. Fair is fair.”
He strains to sit up straight and steel himself. “I-I had a wife.”
A brief silence before he continued, “My wife, Katori, was a Red Oni, and a heavy drinker like me. That was actually how we had met, incidentally finding each other at a local party and screwing pretty loud on the first night.”
Awai managed a small giggle and blush.
“Well that’s just how she was, direct and to the point. We dated for a while and married soon after, happy and drinking together at various parties and festivals.”
Ken clasped his hands together. “One day, during one our drunken escapades, I had drank too much and managed to pass out.” He shivered, “When I awoke… I found her with another man, both were still hammered and…she was calling out his name…another man’s name. I was so horrified….I just left….” Tears slowly rolled down his eyes.
Now it was Awai’s turn to comfort him. She slid her hands into him and hugged him. “I’m….I’m so sorry.”
He sniffles and returned her hug, wiping away the welling tears, “It’s….it’s okay now. She and I had since ….been divorced for almost half a year now….I haven’t heard anything from her since…it still hurts like hell though.”
Sitting back up straight, Ken looked at his empty glass, “Every time I take a drink, I always remember her….” He held it around his hand, “So, all I have to do is keep drinking until I don’t feel her anymore.”
Awai patted his back with a little bit of cheer back in her face, “Then that’s what we’ll do. We’ll drink to forget; drink until we cannot remember anymore!”
Ken managed a laugh, “I’ll second that, but if I may say so, you are wholly unlike the character of any Shirohebi.”
Awai blushed, “E-every now and then, one has to ‘cut loose’ as they say it?”
Flagging for more drinks, Ken and Awai toasted to each other and drank.
. . .
“No! I’m dead serious, that’s how he was!”
Awai was giggling non-stop, “I cannot believe it! That’s just too good to be real!”
Ken slapped the counter, “This drunken buffoon was buck nude, halfway off a balcony, and screaming for his beer that somehow, some way, made it on the roof! All we could here him say over and over again was ‘I’ll drink it if it’s the last thing I do!’ Good lord he was drunk!”
She was laughing so hard her eyes watered, “Okay fine! I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.”
He took a sip of sake and pokes her shoulder, “Your turn! Most funniest thing you’ve seen!”
For the uncounted hours they were there, Ken and Awai had gone through all the conversation rituals one could think of, from baby moments to places they want to travel.
For the first time in a long time, Awai felt free and cheerful again. She was relieved to have Ken with her tonight.
“Hmmm, I don’t know….Oh wait I’ve got it!”
“Lay it on me, sweet cheeks!”He watched as she blushed slightly and made a mental note to tease her with that.
“Well, a few years ago the Shrine hosted the New Years festival. There was a bunch of attractions and events, but one in particular was this koi fishing pond where kids and adults could catch and release for prizes.”
She giggles to herself, “The pond and the bathing springs are linked together and one of the other mikos had swam out just a little too far. At the same time, a hot shot fisherman decided to cast his net to catch fish for the grand prize. It wasn’t until he pulled his net in he realized that he accidentally caught one of the priestess!”
Ken almost fell out of his chair, imagining a naked and distraught serpent girl ensnared in the fisherman’s net. “That must’ve been his greatest catch huh?!”
“Yep! It was almost like Fate though, because the rest of us learned that they became a couple here after that.” Awai fell a bit softer, “Me and my husband didn’t really have something like that for our first meeting…”
Ken felt the atmosphere between them become cold again. “How did you meet him?”
“Well,” she sighed, “he was a bricklayer who came to fix a few cracks along the building, I only ever saw him once or twice. But he suddenly came to me out of nowhere and confessed to me.” She gulped another bit of sake, “Looking back now, I probably shouldn’t have done it.”
She was greeted with a firm hug, “Don’t say that, sweet cheeks. Then I wouldn’t have you tonight.”
Ken had meant every word. Despite how flirty it sounded, he was really glad to have Awai with him tonight; it had been the first time in almost a year that he felt really happy talking to someone.
Awai blushed once more and nodded, “Yeah, you’re right…thank you Ken.”
“It’s what I’m here for, sweetie.” He smiled and perchance looked at the wall in front of them. A long mirror held the sight of the two together, and he could’ve sworn it felt like old times. Times where he had a wife.
Awai nervously twitched her tail beneath the bar stool. She couldn’t quite place her finger on it, but being next to Ken, made her feel everything was going to be alright. That sense of protection, made her feel warm inside, a small flame to warm her broken heart.
Ken pointed to the wall,“You know what…those are?”
Awai saw he was pointing at two wooden masks on the wall, each painted with a distressed and unusual face.“No, what are they?”
“They’re Noh masks and to drinkers, they have a hidden meaning behind them.”
Awai sipped the last of her fifth sake, “And what is this secretive meaning?” she said coyly.
Ken puffs his chest a bit,“Well….it is said that all people wear masks. And when one drinks and indulges in sake, their masks will slip and with that their true character revealed.”
Awai bats at his shoulder, “Is that so? Then this is the real you, huh?”
“Yup! And this,” he gently points at her shoulder, “is the real you.”
He slipped his hands over her shoulders and hugged her, “Sometimes people shouldn’t wear masks.” Ironically enough, it was his wife who told him that exact philosophy.
Awai hugged her arms around his sides and hugged back, “I think the real you suits you better Ken.” He couldn’t help but blush at that one, erupting a giggle from the playful Shirohebi.
“A few more drinks…Lady Awai?”
“Oh so proper of you. I would love to indulge in some more drinks with you, sir Ken.”
They laughed and sipped some more, almost oblivious to the hard knocking rain outside the bar door.
. . .
To escape the cruel rain, Ken had gotten a room for themselves at the inn down the way from the bar. Now finding themselves alone in the room, both become quiet and hesitant to look at one another. Awai knew she had too many drinks; slithered lazily into the room. She shivered with cold, her blood now like ice going through her veins.
With only one bed and enough sense in him to see her discomfort, Ken pressed her towards the bed, “ You…sleep there. I’ll take to the floor. You need to warm up.”
Her temperature wasn’t the only thing she was worried about, as her miko gown had become almost transparent in the pale moonlight. But now, seeing that the man who had shared the evening comforting her, was now going to sleep on the floor, Awai wouldn’t have it.
“N-No, you and I will share the bed. You’ll catch a cold.”
He rose to object, but he was too tired to argue. It was already apparent that Ken would give in to her every whim.
In a somewhat awkward fashion, they both turned away from each other and rid themselves of their soaked clothing, each now embarrassed to turn to face the other behind them. Although Awai was embarrassed, she couldn’t help but sneak a glance at the man behind her. His body was surprisingly lean, though not overly fit. There were tan lines around his ankles and shoulders and dimples in his back, which seemed hard as stone. His bleach-brown hair almost looked red by the dimmed light of the moon.
Awai couldn’t help but feel an all-too-familiar feeling pulse through her. No! I can’t think about that! I cannot think that way, he is only a friend! She chasted herself and finished removing her miko gown and bow, putting her into her skimpy under gown; slithering into the bed with a biting lip.
For once, Ken was glad for his high tolerance. If he hadn’t had it, he may have been either on the floor of the bar passed out, or making a mistake of angering the lovely Shirohebi once again. Now that it came to the bed, he was sure that lying on the floor and sleeping was okay. However, he did not expect her to say that they both would share the bed.
He fronted carelessness, but inside, Ken was a nervous wreck. Oh god! Me and her sleeping in the same bed… in an inn…in nothing but our underwear….why do I feel so guilty about this! He flinched and bit his lip. No it is not like that! She and I are only here to sleep, not sleep together!
As he slipped out of his clothes and down to his trousers, his curiosity finally got the better of him. Ken meagerly stole a glance to the woman behind him. Her back and skin white and pure like snow, tinted slightly blue by that of the window. Likewise, her hair and scales gleamed like pearls and her hidden red eyes gave a small glow off onto her cheek.
Cursing himself for daring to look, he winced and lumbered to his side of the bed, her slithering to her own side, and got comfortable. Deep down inside, Ken knew he was glad to have found his way into this situation. Almost like he was with…No. He and Katori were long since finished. It is time to move on.
But that feeling was still there, the feeling of someone with him in the bed. Someone he can say he cared about.
As they both huddled into the embrace of the bed, their backs touch, sparring Ken to scoot back to the edge of the bed, “Sorry I…”
She didn’t stir. He sighed, she must went out as she hit the pillow.
. . .
Awai couldn’t sleep. Not with the warmth of the Ken behind her tempting her every thought. She hadn’t even known the man for a day, and was beginning to feel her female urges get the better of her. Her tail writhed and shivered. She was too cold. She wanted warmth. That familiar and fulfilling warmth. A man’s….
Ken couldn’t sleep. The beautiful and angelic lady behind him kept his mind astir. So achingly close and so hard it was to not reach over and-! He shook his mind away from that train of thought. He wouldn’t dare. Not from a woman so fresh from pain. But his lower manhood thought otherwise.
As he finally wrested away his manly desires and tried to sleep, Ken felt a sudden grip and force bite down on his legs.
Springing up, he threw the covers to find a large band of white flesh wrapped around his legs. Awai’s tail.
Awai couldn’t hide it anymore, her body needed to be warmed.
Ken looked over to the blushing embarrassed Shirohebi, “Ah….your tail is…”
His heart pounded; so did hers. Finally summoning up the what little strength she had left, Awai rolled over and wrapped her arm around his.
Every bit of blood surged in Ken. How could I do this? No….the better question is, why would a man cheat on such a beautiful woman like this?
Her body wanted his touch. Awai knew she needed it. That warmth, that warmth of….a man again. “Sorry, but I-” Her voice was swept away by his lips.
In a flash, he had struck his hand around to the back of her head and kissed her plush white lips. Her eyes wide and astounded, but nor could she deny it anymore.
Her snake body wrapped all around his waist and chest, Awai’s hands sank their way into his. Rolling over top of him, she was released from his lips, trailed by a small sliver of saliva.
Locked together by her thick tail, together in unison they say, “I can’t be alone anymore.”
. . .
The morning sun caused a rude awakening for the pair wrapped under white sheets and the thick band of the Shirohebi’s tail. When the sun hit Awai’s eyes, it was the beginning of a whole new kind of morning. Finding herself in bed and with Ken, she suddenly flew from the bed in shock; jarring Ken out of sleep and onto the floor with her.
“Ouch! Son of a-” Ken looked up to be greeted with Awai’s horrified expression. “Are you….?”
She sank her face into her palms, “What…what have I done…?” Tears rolled down from her face, “Oh gods above, what have I done! Oh gods! I am not any better than my husband!”
He sprang to comfort her and was met with a flurry of slapping hands, “Stop! I…I did…I betrayed my….I sank as low as…my cheating husband…”
She cries bunched up into the corner of the bed. Sitting in a mess of sheets, Ken struggled inside with his tormented heart, how it is that he couldn’t have stopped himself from doing this to her. From hurting her…
It was a long and silent while, save for Awai’s wailing, before Ken placed his hand to her shivering tail. It jerked backward but he kept a hold of it, calmy soothing his palm over her scales, “I am sorry….
He crept a little closer, offering his hand, “Hearing you now….I realize that I am just as guilty as my wife….”
Slowly, she accepted his hand, trembling as she does so, “I…I am so sorry I-”
Awai felt her stomach lurch , “But….?”
“But…I do not want to be like my wife….nor do I want you to think you’re the same as your husband…”
She unfurls her snake tail, “Wha…What do you mean?”
Ken stands and reaches to pull her up, which she slowly obliges. Lifting back up to her height, facing Ken now with such closeness, Awai almost stumbled backwards only to be caught by his hands.
“I don’t want to treat you like a passer by in the night, not nothing but a careless whisper….not like my wife had treated me and that man. You…you’ve given me peace of mind…and made me happy, something I haven’t felt in a really long time…”
Awai was entranced in his grasp, locked together by some invisible force. Something held her there, something in his eyes…
“I know that we did not meet under the best of circumstances…that there wasn’t a confession or…a moment that knocks you dead off your feet, but….I love you Awai.”
She could not hold back her tears as her voice quivered, “N…no…I…”
A small trail of a tears went from his eye, “Whether it be unrequited…I love you Awai…I am just gardener and a drunkard…you are a beauty that is out from my grasp, but to the Gods above and below…I love you Awai…”
Her mind was shattered in emotion. Her pain just seemed to seep out and away from her, his arms held her tightly and his deep hazel eyes boring into her very soul. She was scared and afraid.
“You…you don’t know what…” She couldn’t finish. The sudden kiss on her lips held her shut and her lips seemed to respond and move against her will.
Ken chastely kissed her soft lips, slowly pulling back and away, dabbing and kissing all over her goddess lips. “I’m sorry…but I love you… I love you…I love you.” He said it each time he touched her lips.
There was validity in his words; Awai knew it. He responded in kind, pressing her hands against his chest so she could speak, tears still welled in her eyes. “You…promise…”
“Promise me…you won’t leave…I can’t bare it again…don’t leave me…”
“It would take all the armies of the world to separate me from you, Awai.” Ken pulled her closer in his embrace and whispered in her ears, “and even then, they would fail.”
Coiling her snake body around them once more, Awai sank into his chest and kisses it, “Then…I’ll hold you to it…my love…”
. . .
Two months later, the Shrine hosted the New Years festival once again, this time without the koi fishing attraction. Ken and Awai both made plans to go, but Ken was stuck having to finish his work in a province opposite of the Shrine, and Awai was enlisted in preparations and work during the festival.
By the time it had become midnight, Awai stood alone in the crowds of people waiting for the new year to begin. She knew that Ken had a reasonable excuse and that it was impossible for him to have made it all the way here, but she felt saddened nonetheless.
“Things happen, right?” She muttered to herself.
Then, like a bolt of lightning, her hand was gripped and pulled away, dragging Awai along with it. “Hey!”
“Just follow me!”
She was still recovering from the abruptness of her capture and did not realize that they had arrived at the top of the mound beside the Shrine, the tallest hill in the pastures surrounding it.
She whirled her captor around, “Just what do you think you’re-!”
She stopped in mid sentence. It was Ken. “What? A man can’t be whimsical and romantic?”
She smiled brightly and lunged at the man, squeezed him hard in her full body hug, “Oh! Ken! How did you get here!? I thought you were busy!?”
“I was…just ran all the way here…” He managed to wheeze out. Awai then feel how sweaty and wet he was, from head to toe. She pulled back and pressed her face against him, “You ran all the way here?”
He kissed her lips, “I told you. I won’t ever leave you.”
And right at that moment, as if Fate demanded it, they kissed; the fireworks flew, the celebration of a new year started.