Bare feet against wooden flooring make little sound, yet Ryuuki still moved very slowly and quietly along the hallway that led to the archives. He wasn’t exactly sneaking, which would have been exceedingly odd behavior from the emperor within the Imperial Grounds. Old habits die hard, however, even after months of relative peace. Ryuuki had spent years practicing the fine art of remaining unobtrusive and there was the added embarrassment of possibly being caught in the governmental archives clad in nothing but his night robe.
Sometimes all it took was a flash of memory and suddenly the darkened passageways and courtyards still held the lurking figures of his elder brothers. He imagined sometimes, half asleep, that they were still here, watching and hating as they always had. It was small wonder that Ryuuki had difficulty sleeping.
Shuurei had only been gone for a few weeks and Ryuuki still couldn’t cure himself of wanting to see her. He’d taken to wandering at night, although this was the first time he’d ventured into the grounds beyond the palace proper – at least in his night robe. Fewer ghosts hid in the unfamiliar shadows and, long after the officials had gone home, the bustling offices became surprisingly peaceful. Still, Ryuuki’s drifting was confined to well-lighted paths and silent hallways and he was grateful for the willful blindness of the few guards who’d glimpsed him thus far.
It wasn’t that Ryuuki didn’t want to sleep, simply that it was harder to do so without the familiar voice or the sound of music. He could easily get someone else to tell him stories or play the ehru in the small hours of the night, but Ryuuki wasn’t ready to take that step quite yet. It would be easy to slip back into his previous habits to help him sleep but the thought of again sharing his bed with carefully selected junior officials, courtesy of Shou-Taishi, was mildly unsettling.
The old man was always up to something and after the chaos and intrigue surrounding Shuurei’s entrance and exit, Ryuuki wanted to feel in control of at least some part of his own life. Irony, he was discovering, meant ruling a vast empire and yet finding the details of your personal life to be almost completely outside your own control.
Not that this was anything new, sadly. His realization and acceptance of this state of affairs was what brought him to the archives seeking reassurance or, at the least, the comfort of familiar company. He’d spent many long hours in the soothing obscurity of the imperial archives, finding shelter from the venomous hatred which poisoned his every breath of air with the gentle, protective archivist.
There was a faint light still burning in the archives and it was with a sigh of pleased relief that Ryuuki padded between the shelves toward the table where Kou Shouka spent many of his evenings. It was with some surprise and no little disappointment that he recognized the figure rising from the small table – and it was not that of the master of the archives.
“Your Majesty!” Li Kouyuu stared at his emperor with something like shock. Admittedly, Ryuuki wasn’t the last person he would have expected to find in the Imperial Archives in the dead of night, but it was a relatively near thing.
“Kouyuu.” Ryuuki tried not to show his disappointment. He hesitated, frowning as he looked back and forth, as if expecting Shouka to appear from around one of the tall shelves. “… what are you doing here at this hour?” The question was somewhat ridiculous when spoken aloud and Ryuuki flushed even as he asked.
Kouyuu answered him anyway, looking down at the various scrolls and bound volumes stacked on the small table. “Getting caught up. Things have been... busy.”
An understatement of mammoth proportions and they both knew it. Kouyuu had been tutoring Shuurei and Ryuuki, helping Ryuuki with his presentations for the Imperial Council, keeping up his own workload as Kou Reishin’s assistant…. It was a wonder that he found time to eat and sleep.
Ryuuki looked more closely at the table, noting the remnants of a late meal and suffering a mild stab of jealousy. The meal had doubtlessly been provided by Shouka, which meant that it had come from Shuurei’s hands initially. Kouyuu had probably been giving her lessons before coming back to the palace, and Ryuuki felt a decided twinge of jealousy.
Blinking, Ryuuki jerked his attention back to Kouyuu. “We are sorry to be interrupting you,” he offered quickly, raising his hands. “We were looking for Kou Shouka.”
Kouyuu nodded, still looking at Ryuuki curiously. “He left the archives several hours ago.” He hesitated. “Can I help you with something?”
A long pause stretched between them as Ryuuki considered that, eyes falling on the work that Kouyuu had stayed so late into the night to finish. He wondered, for a moment, when the man slept. That thought sparked another and then a third. He glanced up to meet Kouyuu’s eyes. “We… yes.”
Kouyuu waited, but when no more words were forthcoming, asked, “What?”
“Allow us to keep you company.” Ryuuki gave him a smile, decision made. “We have difficulty sleeping, of late, and find company to be soothing.”
“So you came to the archives?” Understanding dawned for Kouyuu. “You didn’t come for something to read.”
Ryuuki shook his head. “Shouka has often kept us company when we were troubled… although not usually in the dead of night.” He hesitated, frowning slightly. “We will keep you company while you work. It is the least we can do.”
Especially as a previous attempt to lighten Kouyuu’s workload by removing some of his responsibilities to the Department of Administration had been met with iron opposition from both Kouyuu and Kou Reishin. That was a conversation Ryuuki hoped to never have again. Part of being emperor was knowing how to balance and control the more powerful nobles and Reishin was by far the most difficult of those.
“It’s not likely to be of much interest.” Kouyuu waited for Ryuuki to be seated before sitting down again himself. “Tonight it’s departmental budget requests. Are you sure…?”
Ryuuki nodded, reaching for one of the scrolls himself. “We merely require company, Kouyuu, not entertainment.” He gave Kouyuu a half-smile. “We appreciate that you are carrying out extra work on our behalf.”
Kouyuu, surprised, flushed. “I… thank you.”
There was no more conversation out of the emperor, who seemed perfectly content to skim various documents while Kouyuu worked. The quiet of the archives was almost companionable, broken only by the shifting of paper and the occasional soft sound of Kouyuu's note-taking. At this hour of the night, even the distant noise of the guards making their rounds was audible, if muted, and the presence of an other person turned various night sounds from something menacing into something pleasant and easily ignored.
Time passed and Kouyuu didn’t notice when his hand began moving more slowly and his yawns became more frequent. Eventually, Ryuuki glanced up from the scroll he’d been studying between his own yawns, to find Kouyuu sprawled out, fast asleep, across the opposite end of the table. As a soft snore made itself heard, Ryuuki was hard pressed not to laugh. There was no question of waking the slumbering scholar. Kouyuu needed whatever rest he could get.
Kou Shouka, well used to unannounced visitors at odd hours, be they palace officials or the emperor himself, kept a small bed neatly tucked in one of the rooms used for copying and restoration. The somewhat worn blanket off that same bed was whisked away from a slumbering Kouyuu, who nearly fell out of his chair as he forced himself awake.
A bright splash of sunlight was the first thing to make itself known and he winced, wondering somewhat wildly where he was and how he’d gotten there. “I… what?!” Half-sprawled against the table, finally registering his surroundings, Kouyuu looked up into the measuring gaze of Kou Reishin and flushed to the roots of his hair. “I….”
“You,” Reishin responded darkly, half-mocking, “did not return last night. I should have guessed you would decide to stay and work your way personally through a stack of drudgery which could have been easily delegated.” He scowled at Kouyuu, closed fan suddenly between them, its end nearly resting against the tip of Kouyuu’s nose. “There will be no more of this, Kouyuu, is that understood?”
Flushing even harder, feeling the sharp sting of embarrassment and humiliation, Kouyuu’s mouth opened, but nothing came out.
“A wise man can balance his life between work and leisure,” Resihin reproved him, removing his fan. “You aren’t a fool, are you, Kouyuu?”
“Chamberlain Kou?” The voice came from behind and Reishin turned to find Ryuuki, already dressed for his morning audience, smiling politely. He’d hoped to reach Kouyuu before Reishin discovered him missing, although he’d known that there was little chance of that. Reishin kept a very close eye on his son.
“Your majesty.” Reishin didn’t actually scowl, but the sharp angle of his eyebrows remained a perfectly adequate communication of his displeasure.
“In view of Kouyuu’s heavy workload and long hours, we should like to suggest a compromise.” Ryuuki’s smile, almost entirely free of guile, widened slightly. “Might we have a moment of your time?”
“Very well.” Reishin glanced back at Kouyuu. “You will find breakfast and a change of clothes in your office. My assistant cannot be allowed to be seen looking as though he’d slept on a floor somewhere.”
Leaving Kouyuu to collect himself, Reishin followed Ryuuki through the tall shelves and out into the corridor. Before the Chamberlain could speak, Ryuuki held up a hand. “As you seem reluctant to release Kouyuu from his duties with your department and as Kouyuu himself has declared that he intends to remain faithful to both his position as your assistant… and ours,” Ryuuki’s smile sharpened slightly, as if to remind Reishin that, despite the other man’s position, he was still emperor, “perhaps arrangements should be made to allow for the occasional evening when he stays at his work too late.”
Reishin paused, fan snapping open to conceal his sudden frown. It wasn’t Kouyuu’s late hours that concerned him so much as his adopted son’s tendency to lose his way. Having Kouyuu wandering the streets late at night did nothing for Reishin’s peace of mind and, apparently, his feelings on the matter were not as much of a secret as he might like. “Such as?” he asked finally, giving Ryuuki a cold look.
“In the event of his staying too late to find his way home,” thus delicately skirting the matter of Kouyuu’s ability to become lost between his own office and that of the emperor, “he might be allowed to use one of the chambers normally allotted to visiting dignitaries.” Ryuuki folded his hands and inclined his head politely to Reishin. “In view of his exceptional service, We see no reason why Kouyuu should not take his rest here when the hour is late.”
Reishin’s eyes narrowed. Ryuuki was no fool, for all that he had delighted in playing the part of one for so long, and there was more to this than met the eye… but at the same time, it was a very generous solution to a problem which bothered Reishin far more than he would ever willingly admit. It was also a socially appropriate response – an associate of the emperor could and often did have their own quarters within the palace, for all that it was a custom that had not been observed since early in the reign of Ryuuki’s father.
Unable to immediately isolate the emperor’s ulterior motive, Reishin nodded slowly. “Very well. Kouyuu?”
Kouyuu, who had succeeded in putting himself in order and just stepped out of the archives, winced. Reishin’s back was to him, but somehow, the man had known he was there. That particular habit still unsettled him. “Sir?”
“Delegate the budget work.” Reishin’s tone brooked no argument, and he was still looking at Ryuuki as he spoke. “If, by chance, you again find yourself here in the small hours of the morning, you are to present yourself at the palace. They will find you an appropriate place to sleep.”
As Kouyuu searched frantically for words, unable to tell whether or not he’d incurred Reishin’s wrath or if his father’s obvious displeasure was aimed at the emperor, Ryuuki smiled at them both. “That small matter having been settled, We're afraid that we have an appointment.”
As the emperor departed, Reishin turned to look at Kouyuu, fan snapping closed and leaving his adopted son the sole target of his frown. “Delegate,” he repeated firmly, before turning on his heel and disappearing after the emperor.
“What,” Kouyuu inquired of the now empty hallway, “was that all about?”
Some two hours later, refreshed, re-dressed and fed, he asked the question again, this time to an audience.
“Any number of things, probably.” Ran Shuuei was amusing himself by re-stacking the reports on Kouyuu’s desk into a more aesthetically pleasing configuration, but he looked up at the question, momentarily distracted. “The most obvious would be that our youthful emperor and your domineering father are in complete accord as to the unsuitability of your wandering the streets alone in the small hours of the morning.”
Kouyuu flushed to the roots of his hair and turned a snarl on his friend. “I am perfectly capable - ”
“Of getting yourself set upon by a gang of armed men, beaten and robbed,” Shuuei interrupted him smoothly. He shook his head, smiling and perfectly relaxed where he was leaning against the edge of Kouyuu’s desk. “Kouyuu, brilliant you may be, but there is nothing to be gained by allowing you to lose yourself in the darker by-ways of the city alone.”
There was enough truth in that to leave Kouyuu without an immediate retort. Refusing to give ground, however, he chose another route of attack as he returned to his restless pacing. “So now I have my own chambers in the palace? There has to be more to it than that.”
Shuuei pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Had you considered a more personal motive?”
“Personal?” Kouyuu stared at him blankly, expression sliding rapidly toward one of unhappiness.
Well aware of the cause of that expression, Shuuei was quick to counter, “Of course, it would be unacceptable for you to reside elsewhere when you have a place with your family,” always a touchy subject around Kouyuu, “but I was thinking of the emperor.”
Surprised, Kouyuu let go of melancholy thoughts regarding his adopted father, and focused on Shuuei. “The emperor?” There was a moment’s pause. “… he said that he was in search of company.”
“It’s not surprising is it?” Shuuei moved another stack of documents and began carefully stacking scrolls along the edge of the desk. “Who has he to talk to, really? Aside from Kou Shouka, who he sees very seldom, you, me… now that Shuurei is gone and Seiran with her, he spends a great deal of time surrounded by other people. Older people, most of them officials of the court. In other words,” the look he directed up at Kouyuu was colored with amused understanding. “Alone.”
Kouyuu looked back at him, understanding blooming for a brief instant before being replaced by wariness. “Why me?”
Shuuei was engaged in the careful placement of the last scroll which would turn the contents of Kouyuu’s desk from a mere assortment of documents in need of review and approval into an almost scale replica of an Imperial outpost, so it was a minute or two before he responded. “Who could possibly be more suitable?”
“You mean because of my family connections.” Kouyuu’s voice was dark as he turned again to pacing.
“No.” Shuuei glanced up from his paper fort with a matching frown, jabbing a finger at Kouyuu’s hip as he stomped past. “I mean because of that.”
Kouyuu came to a surprised halt, glancing down at the heavy ornament he wore. The carefully carved iris moved gently on the corded belt he wore, settling as Kouyuu stilled. “Ah.”
Shuuei’s frown faded slightly. “’Ah’ indeed. He likes you, Kouyuu, but he also knows that he can trust you and that’s a combination he can’t find just anywhere.”
“What about you?” Kouyuu glanced down at the sword Shuuei wore, emblazoned with the same symbol. “Surely….”
“I’ve never,” Shuuei assured him, laughing, “been alone. It makes a difference, Kouyuu, and it’s one that our emperor is well aware of.”
“Mmm.” It made sense and, ironically, made Kouyuu feel better about the entire business. It was always easier when he could feel useful instead of merely a pawn. With a sigh, he glanced down at his desk, only to be confronted with neat stacks of documents representing buildings and his scrolls arranged as enclosure walls. “Shuuei!”
With a laugh, Shuuei beat a retreat a little too fast to be casual, leaving Kouyuu fuming after him.
Restoring his desk to order didn't take very long - a good thing, seeing how much Kouyuu had to accomplish over the rest of his day. Even arranging for Reishin's demanded delegation would take precious time. There weren't enough hours in the day as it was. By the time other officials were leaving their offices in search of dinner, Kouyuu’s desk was almost clear of documents – which left him with just the research to be certain that Ryuuki was ready to handle whatever might be brought up at the morning’s Imperial Court.
A smiling Shouka stopped by Kouyuu’s office to inform him that Shuurei was working that evening and would thus be unable to be at home for her lesson. Her apology apparently included a beautifully prepared dinner that Kouyuu accepted with pleasure and no little hunger. Absently working his way through the generous portions that Shuurei had sent, he poured over the various documents submitted for the next morning’s meeting… in one case literally as he overturned a cup of hot tea on the submission dealing with a change in the tax law.
Ryuuki found him there, muttering darkly under his breath and dabbing carefully at the document, attempting to salvage the message despite the mixed puddle of tea and ink that slowly formed as he tried to keep ahead of the flood. Saying nothing, the emperor sensibly moved the rest of the stack out of the way and left Kouyuu to his work.
By the time Kouyuu finished restoring the document to legibility, Ryuuki had sorted the remaining papers into two neat stacks, one far smaller than the other. Kouyuu registered his presence and the alteration of his paperwork with a slightly disbelieving blink. Deciding that it must be his nightwear that was causing Kouyuu’s slightly confused stare, Ryuuki tapped the larger of the two stacks.
“You could have saved yourself a great deal of effort by going over these with us,” he pointed out, smiling just a little. “We’re already prepared for all of these.”
Snapping back to the business at hand, Kouyuu shook his head and pointed at the shorter stack. “And those?”
“Those you would have had to spend precious time explaining to us in the morning anyway,” Ryuuki admitted. “It would save time to do it now, however.”
“Now?” Kouyuu glanced again at Ryuuki’s nightclothes.
“It’s far past the hour when Reishin would expect you home,” Ryuuki pointed out dryly. He gathered the shorter stack of papers. “We will show you where you’ll be staying for the night and then you can discuss these with us before retiring.”
Kouyuu had the strong feeling that he’d lost a battle somewhere, moreover, one he’d been unaware of fighting. Possessing no good reason to protest, especially as he could imagine Reishin’s reaction if he were caught sneaking in after their conversation this morning, Kouyuu nodded and sighed. Holding Kou Kijin’s now somewhat bedraggled submission between thumb and forefinger, he rose, giving Ryuuki a half-bow. “After you, your majesty.”
“You can call us by our name,” Ryuuki told him, smiling just a little.
Hesitating, Kouyuu gave him a questioning look.
“We have more need of friends,” an ironic use of the word, considering that the emperor wasn’t truly supposed to have friends, “than of associates.” He reached out, catching at the heavy ornament that Kouyuu wore and looking at the carefully carved iris. “Friends,” he said softly, long fingers closing over the flower, “are far more difficult to come by.”
Something fragile hung in the air for the briefest of moments as Ryuuki looked down at his closed hand, and Kouyuu found himself holding his breath, wondering somewhat wildly if he’d known what he was getting into when he’d accepted the emperor’s flower. “Maj… Ryuuki, I….”
Ryuuki released his hold, rising easily to his feet. “Thank you.” Without another word or glance, he exited the office, leaving a confused Kouyuu to follow in his wake.
There was no denying that the accommodations available in the Imperial Palace were exceedingly beautiful and comfortable. Kouyuu found himself woken by a soft-voiced servant who had brought him breakfast and a clean set of clothes – obviously obtained from Reishin’s household either by messenger or prior arrangement. It was a strange and almost distracting contrast to the small, cluttered room that he called his own at the house of Kou Reishin.
Kouyuu found himself in his office early, making certain that the last of the tea incident from the night before was properly cleaned away. He didn’t see Reishin pass, pausing to be certain that Kouyuu looked rested and fed. Head down over a new stack of reports, he missed Shouka’s brief, identical pause in his doorway. It wasn’t until a hand set itself directly in the middle of his report that he realized someone had come into his office and he didn’t have to look up to see who.
“Not content with building paper fortresses and encampments, you seem determined to make it impossible for me to work.” Kouyuu glared up at Shuuei. “You obviously don’t have enough to do, compared to the rest of us.”
“My time is in high demand,” Shuuei protested with a smile. “Rumor has it that you spent the night here – again. Dare I hope that it was in a proper bed and not face-down in your own ink?”
Kouyuu looked away, shifting uncomfortably. “It’s… too much,” he finally admitted, refusing to meet Shuuei’s eyes. “All the luxury and the servants….”
Shueei frowned for a moment. “I know that you prefer to do things for yourself, Kouyuu, but I have to agree with everyone else that you’re pushing yourself too hard. The occasional night in a warm bed with a good meal to begin your day is no more than the work you are doing is worth.”
It also kept Kouyuu from getting lost in the city streets if he tried to go home on his own and that argument alone had been enough to convince everyone else. Shuuei was well-acquainted with Kouyuu’s stubborn streak, however, and knew that neither argument would be sufficient. “You still tutor Shuurei three nights a week.” Seiran made certain that Kouyuu found his way home on those nights. “You spend two days a week at home.” Usually still finding a way to work, or with Shuuei himself – who, again, would see to it that Kouyuu got home safely. “That leaves two nights a week when you usually end up asleep over a desk or table somewhere here… and there’s no shame in sleeping in an actual bed.”
“Not if it’s your own bed,” Kouyuu muttered, giving him a dark look.
Shuuei took it as a compliment and merely smiled smugly. “The sleep you find in another’s bed can often be sweeter than that of your own.”
Kouyuu groaned and smacked at the hand still resting on his papers. Shuuei removed it hurriedly, still smiling. “Go away,” he demanded. “Some of us have work to do.”
“Some of us do,” Shuuei agreed easily. “For instance, you are now five minutes late for your meeting with the emperor.”
Flushed, somewhat out of breath, and clutching an entire armful of scrolls and other documents, Kouyuu skidded into his meeting a mere seven minutes late, thanks to Shuuei’s insistence on accompanying him. Shuuei noted, not for the first time, that Kouyuu took far fewer wrong turns when in haste. Smothering a smile, he followed Kouyuu into his meeting.
Two weeks later, Kouyuu was almost accustomed to his new routine. Every three to four nights, he’d look up from his work just as he was beginning to yawn and find that he was no longer alone. Ryuuki would arrive silently, keeping himself entertained by reading whatever was in the closest stack of papers until Kouyuu noticed him.
The ritual was a pleasant one, gathering up whatever papers they would have discussed in the morning and sharing a drink in Kouyuu’s borrowed chambers while they went over the details.
“… you sit up,” Shuuei demanded one morning, “discussing work?” He gave Kouyuu a look of disappointed amazement.
Kouyuu growled at him darkly. “What else?”
Shuuei seated himself on the edge of Kouyuu’s desk and spread his arms. “Women. The beauty of the garden, the latest outrageous fashions, political intrigue….” His voice trailed off as he eyed Kouyuu thoughtfully. “Come to think of it, I don’t think you’ve ever gossiped in your life. You do know how to have a companionable conversation, don’t you?”
Growling, Kouyuu rose from his chair, scattering documents. Shuuei, sensibly, withdrew.
Ryuuki was the next person to have his morning enlivened by Ran Shuuei, but he took the intrusion with far more grace. “He is most comfortable discussing work,” was his polite response to Shuuei’s pointed question.
“… so you sit up, talking about the ramifications of the state of the local roadways?” Shueei gave him a skeptical look. “You are the same emperor who conned his lovely consort into telling him bedtime stories simply for the sake of company and ended up regularly sharing a bed.”
The flush that spread across Ryuuki’s face was telling, although whether it was embarrassment at Shuuei’s bold statement or anger at being teased was hard to tell. “We… I… that….”
Shuuei held up both hands. “My apologies, your majesty… but if you’re attempting to con your way into Kouyuu’s bed, crop statistics and their effects on the system of taxation are not the way to do it.”
Ryuuki’s face fell. “We’re… not.” At Shuuei’s disbelieving look, he waved his arms. “Not really.”
Sympathy and a certain understanding colored Shuuei’s expression as he reached out to tug at Ryuuki’s bangs. “You miss her… and it’s twice as lonely now that she’s gone.”
With a miserable sigh, Ryuuki nodded.
“The honorable Kou Reishin will have heart failure if he discovers that you’re interested in his son,” Shuuei warned him. “Which will probably be rapidly followed by your heart failure.”
Ryuuki nodded again, although a shift in his expression said that he was not about to go down without a fight. “What do you think we should do?”
Given the emperor’s rather dismal track record when it came to people he actually cared about, Shuuei was somewhat relieved to be actually consulted before things went any further. “I think you should try something new and different,” he told Ryuuki baldly. “Honesty.”
“Honesty,” Ryuuki echoed, looking uncertain.
“He’ll respond better than you think.”
Four days later, just as Kouyuu’s eyes were starting to become heavy, he looked up to find Ryuuki looking steadily back. By now accustomed to the emperor’s silent, nighttime arrival, he didn’t actually jump. “Ryuuki.” It still felt odd to address him so freely, but Ryuuki had insisted, gently, until it had become a habit. He still rose to his feet, however, respect and protocol demanding it, despite friendship.
“Kouyuu….” Ryuuki hesitated for a moment before continuing, approaching his friend. “We… we enjoy your company.”
Kouyuu blinked at him, somewhat nonplussed. “I… thank you?”
Ryuuki shook his head, biting his lip as he wavered before pushing onward. “You are our friend and we trust you.”
Deciding that this sounded ominous, Kouyuu remained silent, waiting.
“We’ve been very lonely and your company has been welcome.” Ryuuki took a deep breath and decided that he’d done enough beating around the bush. “We love Shuurei... but we’re also lonely and you….” He reached forward, cradling Kouyuu’s face in his hands, “We would rather spend our nights with you.”
Whatever response Kouyuu might have produced was forestalled by a slow, needy kiss. Ryuuki wanted this, needed it in a way that he could not possibly put into words. Neglected, resented, maltreated and, most of all, alone, Ryuuki took comfort where he could find it. Shuurei’s introduction into his life had given him someone who cared about him, someone who saw him as a real person, and it had suddenly opened a much wider, brighter world – one that he clung to with surprising strength.
Kouyuu wasn’t Shuurei and they both knew it, but Ryuuki would not be able to find comfort now in the arms of obedient underlings or even in his sparsely populated harem. Ryuuki had re-discovered genuine affection, had it re-enforced by Shouka, Shuurei and Seiran, and it was like an addictive drug. What he wanted now was something far more difficult to find than a willing body and a warm embrace, and Kouyuu…?
Flushing a deep red, Kouyuu held very still, hands rising to snatch at Ryuuki’s wrists and hesitating. There was no real response to Ryuuki’s kiss and, when the emperor pulled away, Kouyuu would not meet his eyes.
“We would make certain it was pleasant.” Ryuuki’s voice was soft, not cajoling or pleading, but simply making his case. Kouyuu’s face was still between his hands, Kouyuu’s fingers still locked around Ryuuki’s wrists and that was not an entirely negative sign. “It is far easier for us to sleep when we’re not alone – and we would prefer to sleep with you.”
“I’m not stupid.” Kouyuu still refused to meet Ryuuki’s eyes. “You’re asking me… because there is no one else.” He released Ryuuki’s wrists and took a step away. “And if there were, you wouldn’t be asking me.”
Ryuuki stepped after him, one hand dropping to Kouyuu’s hip and catching at the corded tie that was knotted there. Sliding the long end of it through his fingers, Ryuuki’s fingers eventually met the iris ornament. Cradling it in his hand, he looked down at it, long hair falling to conceal his expression. “There is no one else,” he agreed softly, fingers gently skimming the edges of the flower. “But if there were, we would still want it to be you.”
Kouyuu stared at him, uneasy and uncertain.
“You don’t love us.” The words were still soft as Ryuuki looked at the iris beneath his fingers. “We don’t love you.” He looked up to catch Kouyuu’s eyes and startled a dazed nod out of the other man. “We trust you,” with the faintest stress on the word as Ryuuki let the iris fall, “and that is far more precious.”
“Trust,” and Kouyuu’s voice was bitter.
Ryuuki gave him a crooked smile. “You understand what it is to be alone, Kouyuu, and… we’re tired of being alone.”
They stared at each other for what seemed a very long time before Kouyuu looked away. “I… don’t know what you’re asking for.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Ryuuki reached out again, this time letting his fingers skim Kouyuu’s cheekbone. “We will make certain it is pleasant.”
Honesty was easier than Ryuuki had expected and knowing that Kouyuu understood loneliness and heartache, made it easier still. It felt like manipulation and perhaps it was. Ryuuki couldn’t bring himself to regret it. If this made him feel better, surely it would help Kouyuu as well.
“I… yes.” It sounded like defeat, even to Ryuuki’s ears.
Drawing Kouyuu into a second, slow kiss, Ryuuki decided to ignore the faint twinge of his conscience. Kouyuu's hands rose to tangle somewhat hesitantly in long, pale hair and Ryuuki felt himself begin to relax. They both needed this, even if Kouyuu didn’t know how much, and in the morning everything would be better.