The rehearsal dance ended. Genji and To no Chujo retired from the acclamation of the courtiers, Genji with his thoughts fixed on the lady beyond his reach and To no Chujo trailing his sleeves in a disconsolate manner.
“It went well, I believe,” Genji said when they reached the privacy of his palace rooms. He unfastened the ribbons of his hat and set it aside, then touched a hand to his topknot. “I don’t imagine the performance at Suzaku Palace will be any better.”
To no Chujo made no comment.
“What’s this? Nothing to say?” Genji dismissed the gentlemen who came to help change their clothes and turned to his friend in surprise.
“Why should I say anything?” To no Chujo said with annoyance. “Your skill in the dance is well known. You would not wish for my empty praise, I’m sure.”
Confused by such a response, Genji watched To no Chujo remove his hat and sash. The sleeves of the formal outer robe were coloured the deep blue of the ocean, with subsequent layers of lighter blue shading through to white. Genji’s own robes were of similar design with a different pattern of layering. To those fortunate enough to have seen the rehearsal, it had seemed as if To no Chujo danced the part of the restless swells of the sea far from the land, while Genji danced with the vigour and passion of the waves that crash upon the shore. The contrast between their roles came to Genji’s mind now as he looked at his friend.
“You sound as bitter as seaweed! Please do tell me what troubles you.”
To no Chujo sighed, knotting the sash around his hands. “You danced superbly this afternoon. I was nothing next to you. No, wait,” he continued, seeing that Genji was about to protest, “I don’t mind that. What bothers me is that you danced so beautifully today in a rehearsal, of all things! And then you say this was your best performance and can’t be bettered!”
Genji was really at a loss to understand his friend’s reasoning. “So?”
“So it’s clear to me that you danced today not to please His Majesty, but to find favour with a woman,” To no Chujo said. “Ordinarily I wouldn’t mind, but this dance is special and the occasion for it unique. I find it utterly distasteful that you chose to involve me in your schemes of seduction.”
For a moment Genji thought he was undone. He wondered if somehow he had revealed his hopeless love for Fujitsubo in the way he’d danced, or perhaps the looks he’d directed towards the imperial curtains had been too lingering. But then his mind cleared, and he recognised To no Chujo’s complaint for what it truly was. “You’re jealous!”
To no Chujo gave a disdainful sniff. “Indeed I am not.”
“You are.” Full of mischief, Genji reached out and seized the sash still twined around To no Chujo’s hands. He tugged hard on the silk, pulling his friend towards him. “Admit you’re jealous, and I promise next time I will dance badly and give you the opportunity to shine. Then the Emperor and all the court shall admire you instead of me.”
“That’s not what I want.” To no Chujo jerked up his hands, stretching the sash taut between them. He twisted his wrists, but instead of freeing him from the bite of the silken bond, the action seemed to make him even more of a prisoner.
Genji stared at the dark blue sash criss-crossing his friend’s flesh and felt a rush of desire. With it came new understanding. “It was not their admiration you wanted, but mine. Did you want me to dance for you and only for you?”
To no Chujo’s blush was most becoming, all the more so because it was tainted with anger. “Dancing is an intimate joy. Performing with you is a pleasure.”
“Dancing is akin to other, more private pursuits,” Genji said, and gave a sudden sharp tug on the sash. To no Chujo lost his balance and stumbled into Genji’s arms. It was terribly undignified, but Genji found the situation novel and arousing. He backed To no Chujo against the wall, and his friend, hands still bound, decided to resist.
“Ah, how delicious!” Genji clasped his friend tight. He preferred his women pliant and yielding and sometimes a little frightened. It was a pleasure to corner To no Chujo, who was aggressive and strong and not the least bit afraid. They struggled for a while, and when Genji thought he might lose the fight, he said, “You should really let me have my way.”
To no Chujo laughed. “Oh, that is too much! I should give in to you
The way ripples on the water
submit to an idling wind?
I don’t think so.”
“Come now, you can’t be that much of an innocent,” Genji chided. “My regard for you—”
“Is more fleeting than the morning dew on a summer’s day! I am not a fool... at least, not a fool over you.”
“We shall see about that,” muttered Genji, and he pulled To no Chujo down onto the floor. Anybody entering the room at that moment might be forgiven for thinking their play nothing more than a bout of impromptu wrestling, but very soon Genji gained the upper hand in their scuffle. His hair had come loose from its topknot and fell in a shining cascade over his shoulders. Truly, no one could resist such an appealing sight, and To no Chujo felt quite helpless.
Genji pounced, tearing at his friend’s blue robes. One of the seams gave way, and in retaliation To no Chujo ripped at Genji’s fine clothes. They fought and writhed, now in anger, now in desire, pushing their garments apart until they lay together, pressed hard against one another.
Straddling To no Chujo, Genji crushed him into the floor, using his body as a haven. Genji wanted to feast on him, lay him out and taste every inch of flesh. To no Chujo bucked against him, all straining eagerness and vitality. Silk whispered; brocade caught on places made sensitive by touch. Anger withdrew, sucked beneath the rising tide of passion, and a storm raged until the waves crashed blue and white and blue, spent upon the shore.
“Was that so very bad?” Genji asked afterwards.
“Of course not,” To no Chujo said, then he smiled and added, “Our clothes are sadly limp and crumpled, though. We will have to throw ourselves upon the mercy of our laundry servants if we are to perform again in such finery.”
Genji laughed at this but made no move to sit up or extricate himself from his friend’s embrace. Only when a servant tapped on the door did they disentangle, pulling their robes into place. Though their appearance lacked any kind of formality, the two young men still presented the very image of perfection, and all who saw them envied their ease of company.