Many thanks to Mary-senpei for the historical poke that really got this chapter going for me!

Outside Looking In: Au Ying
by Laura Bryannan

I am a foolish, foolish woman. Harboring a schoolgirl crush at my age! And on a Japanese man, no less. Me, of all people, falling for someone from that country.

Now, granted, the Chinese community in Ryukyu has taken Sensei to their hearts. When we see a good tool, we don't hesitate to use it. If we hadn't, I would never have become so intrigued by him. The stories began almost from the moment he and Wakana-kun arrived.

Wei-san sees me once a week for rheumatism treatment, and one day he was full of news. Two boys moved in next door, he told me. They were practicing sword training in their backyard every evening—obviously unaware of how dangerous it was to do such a thing in occupied Ryukyu—and Wei-san said he'd spent some time watching and getting to know them.

“Even though they're Japanese, they're respectful and polite,” he said. “And the older one is probably the most skilled swordsman I have ever met. He could be useful to us.” Wei-san is a wise old man and committed to our cause, so I took him at his word.

Over the months I began to hear about Wakana-san from other sources. I knew Wei-san had begun to train with him, but clearly others were as well. He was welcoming anyone who showed up and was, by all accounts, a remarkable teacher. Soon he was no longer Wakana-san but Sensei, and I promptly forgot his real name. I see so many people every day, I am very bad with names. In any event, from all reports he was tall, firm but quiet-spoken, and very handsome. No one knew anything more, not even Wei-san, who had attempted to wheedle such privacies out of him several times only to be politely denied.

The boy he lived with, Fukashi-kun, was even more of a mystery, for he kept to himself and didn't socialize outside of his job at Soong-san's teashop. But Soong-san said he was a hard worker and actually seemed to get along with Kanna-san, the cook, which amazed everyone to no end. There were whispers that Sensei and Fukashi-kun lived in traditional Japanese man-loving fashion, but the rumors were never confirmed. I always found the idea a little disgusting, but since I didn't know either of them it honestly didn't matter to me one way or the other.

Our community was grateful to Sensei and his front yard dojo. Those of us working behind the scenes began pulling strings, making bribes, doing what it took to allow the training to continue. The corrupt Japanese bureaucrats and military officers in charge of Ryukyu were mostly in the pockets of a few city factions, the Chinese merchants being the most powerful. There was benefit to the counter-insurgency to have an able sensei training those willing, and so that training continued, in spite of the laws against it.

I heard so many good things about Senesi over the months, I began to form a picture of him in my mind. Wei-san called him a boy, but Wei-san called every man more than a decade younger than him a boy, so I suppose that's why I began to think of Sensei as a fatherly-type of man. People kept describing his qualities in such a way, and so I imagined him like my late husband, who was nine years older than me and someone I always looked up to.

What a surprise then, when I discovered that the fatherly man who was always described with words such as wise, strong, patient and skilled, was actually this...boy! He took me out to lunch soon after I made the realization and I just couldn't believe it. This beautiful young man living with the wild one and the girl was Sensei! Sensei, who I had imagined to be a stately older gentleman, most certainly was not. I had already half fallen in love with the idea of him in my mind, but once I made the connection I was overcome with desire.

I spent that luncheon reviewing everything in light of the my new awareness. I had come to their home a few weeks earlier to treat Mugen-san for the yellow sickness, but had no idea who they were at the time. I had only been to Wei-san's home a few times, so I didn't make that connection. I stepped inside and became instantly mystified. Wakana-san is so breathtakingly beautiful, it was a little startling to speak with him. And then there was the girl dressed as a boy. Wakana-san introduced her with a boy's name as well, so I had no idea what the situation was there.

But the lover, Mugen-san, was very ill. He was fortunate I've found that particular disease profitable to treat, and so I always stock the herb, as expensive as it is to acquire. In a port city like Ryukyu, with most of it's traffic coming and going further south, there was always call for the remedy. I couldn't figure out the relationship between the Wakanas and Mugen-san. The girl seemed very proprietary, hovering over me during that first visit, eying me suspiciously. Perhaps she was his lover. I honestly couldn't tell. Wakana-san seemed very concerned about Mugen-san as well, more than as a comrade might, so it was all very fascinating.

I found myself making house calls to the Wakana residence more often than was necessary, just to have a chance to speak with Wakana-san. He was quite knowledgeable about traditional Chinese healing methodology, which surprised me. His questions were intelligent and thoughtful, and I always enjoyed talking shop with him. I found myself overlooking his ethnicity more and more. He was just so handsome, so kind, and the spectacles he wore were quite charming. I was forever imagining what he might look like without him. His obvious concern for his companions was wonderful to see as well. He was a true gentle man, and I found that very alluring.

One evening I was exiting their home and bumped into Wei-san going into his, and I was so surprised. A little germ of awareness came into being...Wei-san lived next door to Sensei. Sensei, who's uncouth, obnoxious lover turned up only recently. My heart started beating faster, and then Wei-san confirmed it.

“Ah Ying-san,” he called, and I walked over to him. “How is Mugen-kun doing? Do you have any good news for Sensei?” Oh my goodness! The beautiful man I couldn't stop thinking about was Sensei! The wise fatherly Sensei I was in love with in my mind was this beautiful man! The two realities crashed inside me with so much force, I had trouble responding to him.

“Oh yes, Mugen-san is recovering,” I mumbled, bowing crazily, and than I practically ran home to sit and figure things out. That Sensei turned up just a few days later to invite me to lunch just made things worse. Did it mean something? Was he possibly interested in me? Why would he ask me to lunch unless it was a hint of some kind? I was so excited, I could barely contain myself, and I don't know how I managed to eat one bite of food.

And it's been just terrible ever since. I'm like a woman obsessed. Now that I know that Wakana-san is Sensei, I've been able to make a little more sense of the situation he is in. He publically announced he was with the man Mugen on the day he arrived. Of course, I found this information supremely depressing. It is clearly true, I've seen the physical evidence. They are most definitely lovers.

But the matter of the girl remains and, of course, gives me hope. It appears I am the only one who knows she's not a boy. She seems to have fooled everyone I speak to about her, although I cannot understand how. It seems so obvious to me. I have no reason to betray her secret, but it certainly makes one wonder. From all appearances, she seems to be in love with Sensei and cares deeply for the beastly one. Sensei appears to care for her as well, so perhaps he is not a man who loves only men.

to be continued