Konzen was already running late when he came into the Bodhisattva's office; not that se noticed or cared. "And how is it going with our little friend?" Kanzeon Bosatsu asked, as though there was all the time in the world. Se leaned hir chin on hir hands. "No troubles?"
Konzen shrugged and gestured at the paperwork he'd delivered. "These need to be stamped by the end of the day."
The paperwork was ignored. "I hear you gave him a name."
What game was se playing? "He kept wanting one."
"Come here," se said, getting up from the desk. "I want to show you something."
There was no point in arguing, he'd learned from long experience. He followed hir out to the lotus pond.
"Look," se said.
Konzen looked between the blossoms and leaves, down past the trailing roots. Two people were walking together: a father and son, by the looks of things, holding hands. The boy had bright blond hair, and looked not much older than Goku. It must have been fall; the leaves showed bright colors, and the boy had a thick sweater. "Why are you showing me this?"
"Don't you wonder about the World Below?"
Konzen crossed his arms over his chest and tried to ignore the growing tension there. Is this supposed to move me?
"They look happy, don't they?"
"Perhaps at the moment."
"Still," the Bosatsu said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "They're alive, aren't they?"
"They're free," Konzen said, before he could think better of it.
Konzen passed Li Touten in the hallway a few days later, and the man's hate was so intense it was almost physical.
Konzen had never cared about court politics before; Li Touten's petty games were annoying, but Konzen's life had always been full of annoyances.
But now Li Touten stared at Goku with anger he didn't bother to veil, and he wasn't much more careful when he looked at Konzen. Li Touten's future, so carefully balanced on Nataku's tiny shoulders, was no longer assured, and nothing was more dangerous than a grasping autocrat whose hold on power was no longer sure.
On the surface, Konzen did nothing differently. But he began to listen more carefully to the rumors that always swirled around the Court. He couldn't keep Goku any closer -- that would be like trying to cage the wind -- but he could at least know what storms might be approaching.
And then, of course, he began listening -- really listening -- to Tenpou.
Tenpou's quarters were warm. Incense and cigarette smoke hung thick in the air.
Kenren had already been drinking; his face was flushed, his eyes bright. "C'mon in," he said. "Sake's good."
Konzen came in and carefully shut the door behind him. The two of them had no doubt discussed their approach in advance; Kenren wasn't the liar Tenpou was, which explained his intoxication. "How much do I have to drink before you try seducing me?" Konzen asked.
Kenren's mouth quirked. "I told you—" he said, and Konzen hadn't expected him to look so pleased. "—he'd see through it."
Konzen took the cup Kenren held out to him and sat, carefully arranging his robes so they wouldn't catch on the chair (the only unoccupied chair, Konzen noted, that had been cleared of its stack of books). "I'm still not sure what your goal is."
Tenpou turned and stubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray. "Sometimes there is no greater goal than what you see before you, Konzen."
Konzen sipped the sake; it was warm against his lips. "Not with you."
Tenpou's smile was wicked. "Perhaps Kenren has taught me to be more appreciative of simplicity."
Kenren snorted, saving Konzen the trouble.
Tenpou dropped onto the couch, bumping his shoulder against Kenren's; his tie was loose, the open neck of his shirt exposing his collarbones.
"You have to take your pleasures where you can find them," Kenren said, sliding his hand slowly onto Tenpou's thigh. "Guess that's simple enough."
Konzen had never focused much on the pleasures of the flesh. But of course, he'd never focused much on anything beyond the stack of paperwork on his desk.
"At the risk of sounding cynical," Tenpou said, "we don't need leverage over you. Our goals coincide."
"So this is just--" Konzen waved his hand.
"I assume even you look in the mirror from time to time," Tenpou continued, as if Konzen hadn't spoken. "And you're unlikely to ask us for anything we're unwilling, or unable, to give."
There had been rumors, from time to time, about the Dragon King of the West and his protectiveness toward the Marshal. Konzen knew better than to ask.
"So." Kenren slid his hand further up Tenpou's leg. "You in or out?" He pulled Tenpou's glasses off with his free hand, and tucked them carefully into Tenpou's pocket.
"In or out of what?" Konzen asked, the smile coming to his lips unbidden. He was already in things up to his neck, whether he liked it or not, after all.
Kenren rose and shrugged his jacket off, letting the heavy silk hit the floor. He was more fastidious than Tenpou -- who wasn't? -- but he certainly knew the value of a good gesture. "You know."
"I can't stay too long," Konzen answered.
"Of course," Tenpou said smoothly. He pulled his tie loose. "You have responsibilities."
"You talk too much," Kenren told him, and reached back to undo the chain that crossed his chest. He paused for a moment, watching Konzen's face. "You want me to keep it on?"
"Do what you want," Konzen snapped, too abruptly.
Kenren licked his lips and dropped his hands back by his sides. "On it is."
While Konzen had been watching Kenren, Tenpou had been pulling his shirt and tie off. He looked different without his glasses, though not more vulnerable. "Are you all right, Konzen?"
"We'd prefer you to be a bit more enthusiastic than that," Tenpou said, walking closer. He cupped Konzen's chin with his hand. "Do you think you might be able to manage it?"
Konzen reached out and grabbed the back of Tenpou's hair, pulling him in until he could feel the heat from Tenpou's chest. "It's possible," he said, and crushed their mouths together.
Konzen pulled his hair loose from its ponytail and wondered how many people had seen him walking out of Tenpou's chambers in the small hours. No matter how carefully he'd rearranged his clothes and hair, his actions would no doubt be the center of gossip tomorrow. To hell with it. Let them talk.
It was all a setup, anyway. Not even one, individual con; instead, he was trapped in a nesting box, each box smaller and more delicate, every situation more fraught. The Bosatsu wanted something from him, Tenpou something else; Li Touten was playing another, still darker game.
And the simplest need, the tiny figure kept in the center box, was curled in Konzen's bed snoring, instead of on the mattress in the corner where he belonged.
Konzen sighed and undressed, shaking the scents of tobacco, sandalwood, and sex from his clothing. He'd need a bath tomorrow. Goku was no doubt overdue for one, anyway.
Goku turned over as he pulled the blanket back. "Konzen," he said, blinking dumbly, already braced against Konzen's reaction. His eyes threw back the candlelight. "I had a nightmare, and you were gone, and--"
"Just don't snore," Konzen said, getting in bed.
The tension drained from Goku's body. "Okay."
Konzen closed his eyes. Goku felt warm at his back.
"Go to sleep, Monkey."
Goku's sleep was normally restful. Reassuring, because he couldn't get into any trouble when he was sleeping.
It wasn't reassuring at all this time.
"There's still no word," Tenpou said, pacing the path Kenren had cleared on his office floor, his cigarette dangling from the edge of his mouth.
Konzen pursed his lips and stroked Goku's head again; he was still unconscious, and Konzen wanted to keep him close. "Did you really expect there to be? Do you think it'll be something other than 'no'?"
Tenpou blew smoke out through his nostrils. "I suppose not. I hoped...."
Konzen shook his head. "No," he said. "You know what they're like. It was always going to come to this."
"I suppose you're right." Tenpou fished in his pockets. "And of course, I'm almost out of cigarettes. I know there's a pack around here somewhere...."
He wandered off. Konzen tried to make Goku more comfortable on the couch. He'd never had any interest in smoking, but it might have been nice to have something to do.
"Want a drink?" Kenren called over from his spot at Tenpou's desk. "There's half a bottle of Shaoxing wine left in one of the drawers here."
"This isn't the time to get drunk."
Kenren chuckled. "You can get drunk on a couple of swallows of wine? Lucky man."
"Yeah, I'm being an asshole," Kenren said, fishing in the desk. "But it'll take the edge off." He grinned with pleasure as his fingers closed on the bottle. "Now if only we had some crab."
Konzen took the bottle when Kenren offered it. "Take your pleasures where you can get them. That's what you said, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Kenren grinned. He leaned down and pressed his lips to Konzen's forehead. "We've got to plan shit out," he said, his hand brushing against Konzen's hair. "They'll probably invade at dawn."
"I don't know if we'll make it out."
Konzen closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the couch. "I know."
"You better take the kid into the next room. Let him sleep. This is gonna take a while."
Konzen nodded and gathered Goku into his arms. His chains were maddeningly heavy.
"Tenpou'll probably check on you later," Kenren said.
Konzen knew he would. "Just make sure he's quiet when he comes in."
There was something very satisfying about grabbing Li Touten by the hair; Konzen hoped it hurt like hell. Even that bastard wasn't stupid enough to try anything, not with all hell broken loose and a sword at his neck. Not with his monsters running around.
Kenren and Tenpou were already gone; he knew it, somehow, a loss he didn't have the time or emotion to indulge. But Goku was still there, still alive. The gate was there. The light.
Yeah, I was bored. All that time.
Li Touten shouted behind them. Orders, outrage, something. That didn't matter any more.
All that mattered was already with him. "Can you run, Goku?"
He could feel the wind coming through the door; it was cold, fresh, alive.
How had he lived without this for so long? How could watching one boy run make his heart feel this way? Was this what Kanzeon Bosatsu had wanted? Was this what se'd wanted him to feel?
The gate rattled around them, closing, and Konzen ran harder.
Jiroushin finally found Kanzeon Bosatsu at hir lotus pond. "Oh, you're here," se said, hir smile familiar and warm. "I want you to see something."
He looked down between the tangle of roots and saw a girl with light blonde hair, picking up rocks and throwing them into a river as though they'd personally insulted her. She was frowning, in a way that felt distinctly familiar.
"Shhh," se said, putting a finger mischievously to hir lips. "Don't tell."
Of course, Jiroushin thought. "And this young lady--"
"She's about to be engaged to a man she's never met. You can guess how happy she is about that."
Jiroushin couldn't imagine Konzen Douji engaged to anyone. "I suppose I can."
"She's planning on committing suicide," the Bosatsu continued cheerfully. Se raised hir finger for emphasis. "But: she's also about to meet her affianced."
"Will this change her mind, then?"
The Bosatsu's smile was wicked. "I'm not sure. She may decide to kill her fiance instead."
Jiroushin smiled; se'd clearly found more than one of the rebels in hir search. "I see."
"It's going to be fun to watch," se said.
Jiroushin couldn't help but enjoy hir delight. "Should I bring you something to eat, then?"
"Oooh, yes," se said. "Perhaps some wine, too."
"Of course, Bosatsu."
"You'll join me?" It wasn't really a question.
"Of course." He paused. "Bosatsu--"
"The boy's sentence--"
"I know," se said, hir face growing more serious. "It's been a very long time, hasn't it? But it's not time yet. Another lifetime or so. Even we can't say more than that."
"But I know one thing."
Se lit a cigarette and looked down into the water. "My nephew," se said. "He'll be the one to reach for Goku, this time."