It started with a sketch.
Koujaku looked at the image, the vague outlines of a design on a white sheet of paper, and he didn't know what to do with it. His father though, he seemed quite taken with it.
"Marvelous. You have such an eye for detail," he said, and he clapped a hand on Koujaku's shoulder. The touch was warm, familiar, in a way that made Koujaku bristle.
The artist seemed to notice Koujaku's reaction--it would have been strange if he hadn't, with the way his gaze was fixed on Koujaku. Even as he thanked Koujaku's father for the compliment, his eyes never left Koujaku.
"I believe this is the perfect design for your son."
His father's hand slipped further down his back and smoothed the fabric on his shoulder blade. "I can see it, right here.'
"Yes, and it would snake across the front," the artist said, his grin never once wavering.
Koujaku wanted to shrink away from both of them, but he remembered his mother's words: don't anger your father. So instead, he swallowed hard and asked, "Who is he?"
For the first time that night, his father's attention was fully on him. "This, my son, is Ryuuhou. He will give you the tattoo that will fully mark you as one of the family."
Koujaku felt his eyes widen and his chest tighten. "But I don't--"
His father's eyes narrowed. "This will happen, Koujaku." His tone belied the finality of the matter. Koujaku had no choice.
All the while, Ryuuhou smiled.
The sketch became a stencil. It was large, in several parts, and Koujaku could already see how it would spread across his entire body. He had to sit for those, had to let Ryuuhou measure him and run his hands across Koujaku's back.
"We'll put the outline on you tomorrow," Ryuuhou said, and somehow his smirk made it into his voice. His hand lingered on the back of Koujaku's neck.
"When this is done," Koujaku growled, "I never want to see you again."
That made Ryuuhou laugh, loud and mocking. "We'll see. We'll see."
Koujaku stripped his shirt off, his hands shaking the entire time. He tried to steady them, but no matter how slowly he forced himself to breathe, he couldn't keep his body calm.
Ryuuhou came up to him and wiped his skin with a moist cloth, spending what seemed like ages on his arm, his back, and-- and his face. Koujaku startled when the cloth touched his cheek, and he instinctively took a step back, but Ryuuhou's hand on his shoulder kept him in place.
"Not-- Not my face," he said, pleaded.
There was a brief moment where Ryuuhou's hand froze, and Koujaku thought that perhaps he could be reasoned with after all, but then Ryuuhou's smirk widened.
"Let's do that outline first." Ryuuhou pressed down on Koujaku's shoulders and forced him to lie on his back on the futon.
Koujaku was scared.
Ryuuhou brought a razor up to Koujaku cheek and gently scraped away the stray hairs. Koujaku kept his eyes open through it, told himself to watch and remember this.
"You have such lovely skin," Ryuuhou said as he wiped Koujaku's cheek again. He added some sort of slick fluid and rubbed it across the area, then pressed the stencil down.
The paper was clammy against his skin, and Koujaku couldn't remember which design it was that was now pressed against the side of his face. Ryuuhou grabbed his chin and forced him to turn, so that the entire design was exposed.
"Now we begin."
That first press of the needle made him jolt, and Ryuuhou tsk-ed at him. "Hold still, or the design won't be straight."
Koujaku realized that his breathing was coming in heavy pants. He grit his teeth, took a deep breath, and forced himself to not move. He could do this. He would put up with this entire process if it kept his mother safe.
The second puncture was no less painful, but Koujaku was prepared for it. And the third, the fourth, the fifth, until it all blurred together, until it was just a big mass of piercing sensations on his face. He closed his eyes and tried not to grimace--though it probably wouldn't have mattered, with Ryuuhou's palm against his cheek keeping him from moving.
"Ah, that looks gorgeous on you," Ryuuhou murmured, far closer to Koujaku's ear than he expected. His eyes shot open, and the first thing he saw was Ryuuhou's smirk.
"I think we can get the outline for the front done as well."
Koujaku wanted to see what his face looked like now, with this strange deformation, but he wasn't going to ask Ryuuhou for a mirror, so he only scowled.
"Oh, just as I thought! It conforms perfectly to your face." Ryuuhou leaned down, nuzzled Koujaku's hair, and instinct kicked in: Koujaku flung his arm out to push Ryuuhou away.
It would have been more satisfying if Ryuuhou hadn't simply wrapped his hand around Koujaku's wrist and kissed his palm. "Yes, I want to see the rest of this."
"What the fuck do you think you're doing, you pervert!" The wound on his face was heating up, making his eyes blur with tears, and his entire plan to stay calm was already flying out the window.
Ryuuhou set Koujaku's hand down and pinned the wrist to the futon. "I would advise you to keep your emotions in check. You never know what might happen, or who could get hurt."
That was the first clear threat Ryuuhou had voiced, but it was enough to make Koujaku freeze. He had to think of his mother. This was all for her.
He uncurled his hand and didn't say a word as Ryuuhou set down the second transfer, across his right chest and shoulder.
His entire shoulder was a mess of black lines, shifting every time he moved his arm. They were too bold to ever hide, and they extended far enough that they'd still be visible in short sleeved shirts.
Not that it mattered, since no matter what he did, his face would always be hideous.
His mother had tried to reassure him that he still looked the same, but he knew she was lying. It was getting harder and harder not to smash the mirror in the bathroom, and he didn't even know why it was angering him so much. It was just a tattoo. He'd already decided to accept it.
"Koujaku, darling, let me do your hair," his mother said, probably to distract him from the fresh ink on his skin. He winced as he moved to join her on the small sofa in the room, his right side still covered in bandages to stem the bleeding.
She smiled at him and patted his shoulder. It was her way of trying to calm him, but all it did was make him want to cry--which was stupid, but lately everything was setting him off. He forced himself to smile anyway, for her sake.
"I was going through some websites, and I think I found something good." She positioned herself directly across from him and showed him a tall bottle of something. Of hair gel.
"What's this for?"
His mother poured some of the gel into her hands, said, "Just wait," and reached out to run her fingers through her hair. She did this for several minutes pushing and rearranging, and when she pulled away half of his vision was obscured by hair.
"Now I can't see," he grumbled.
She held up a mirror for him, and even now he had to bite down on the instinct to knock it out of her hand; he averted his eyes.
On her insistence, he did, and his eyes widened at what he saw: his hair, obscuring most of the tattoo. Once again he felt tears welling up.
"It's not perfect, I know, and you can't go around with your hair like that all the time. But we could also put some concealer on it, or--"
Koujaku couldn't stop himself; he buried his head in her chest and started sobbing. "Thank you, thank you, thank you."
She stroked his hair and whispered soothing words to him, and Koujaku was so damn glad that she was there for him.
Just one more. Just one more. He had come this far, it would be so simple to just lie down and let Ryuuhou's hands press into his back, finish that hideous design. His father was expecting this of him. His mother would be safer if he didn't resist.
Yet the thought of Ryuuhou touching him was enough to make bile rise in his throat.
"No," Koujaku said.
Ryuuhou lifted his eyebrows, some of the smirk falling away. "No?"
"No! I don't want these tattoos, and I'm not going to let you put them on me anymore!" Koujaku planted his feet firmly on the floor and curled his hands into fists, ready to fight Ryuuhou off if necessary.
The ink was itching under his skin, burning bright and hot, fuzzing up his mind with that horrible sensation.
Ryuuhou looked at him, face devoid of emotion, and then simply left the room. Koujaku let himself sigh in relief, even though a part of him knew it couldn't be that easy. The shoji door was still open, and Koujaku watched Ryuuhou walking down the hall.
Until Ryuuhou slid the door to his father's chambers open, and at that point Koujaku realized he wouldn't be safe while he was still in the house.
Koujaku slid the door to the veranda open with more force than necessary, and he didn't look back as he ran across the property. The ground underneath him was slippery with mud, courtesy of the last few days of rain, but Koujaku didn't care. He kept running, until he reached the gate.
"Going somewhere, young master?" the guard asked.
Koujaku smiled. "Yeah, just going out to grab some things for my mother."
"In your house slippers?"
His breath hitched, and he dared to look down to his feet: the slippers and his pants were splashed with mud, undeniable proof that he hadn't used the main driveway to get there. "I'm just--"
The guard approached him and gripped Koujaku's shoulder firmly. "Boss says not to let you leave. Dunno what you did, young master, but I ain't disobeying him."
Koujaku growled and tried to throw the man off, but the man was probably twice his weight and trained to fight. "Let go! I'm not going back in!" He dug his heels in, but the guard only pulled harder.
The trip back was slow, until more of his father's men arrived and they all but carried him back to Ryuuhou's room. It seemed like the entire compound had gathered to watch; he could feel their stares on him, could hear their whispers. One of the men carrying him told him it'd be a lot easier if he didn't fight, as if Koujaku didn't know, as if Koujaku hadn't gone into the entire procedure thinking he could just bear it.
His father was in the room, his face livid with fury. "You were trying to run away?"
Koujaku tried to run out the door the moment they set him down, but somebody grabbed him and shoved him towards his father. "I don't want it! It hurts! Don't let him touch me again!"
His father punched him, right where the tattoo was on his face, sending him reeling backwards. "I will not have my son be some sniveling coward. You will lie down and let Ryuuhou finish the tattoo, or so help me, a tattoo needle will be the least of your worries."
A new set of hands settled on his shoulders, and those were all too familiar.
"I'm afraid he's gotten himself a bit too dirty. I need a clean canvas." Ryuuhou's thumb rubbed circles into the back of his right shoulder, and even through the fabric of his kimono, his skin heated whenever Ryuuhou pressed against the tattoo.
"Then take him to the baths and wash him. His tattoo will be finished tonight."
He kicked and screamed as they dragged him to the bathroom, managed to land a few hits while they stripped him of his clothes. Everybody got thoroughly soaked as he resisted getting washed off. Two of the men had to hold him down while Ryuuhou scrubbed his back, the water stinging against his still raw skin.
"I would calm down before I apply the last one," Ryuuhou said, "or you won't enjoy the consequences."
He didn't know what that was supposed to mean, whether it was a threat against him or his mother, but then Ryuuhou traced the outline of the rose on his back and he had to scream in pain. Ryuuhou finished cleaning him off and ordered the men to carry him back, all while Koujaku was dry heaving, acid already climbing his throat.
His mother was in the room when they got back, her kimono loosely tied, as if she'd rushed to get there.
"What's the meaning of this?" she yelled, actually yelled, the first sign of anger Koujaku had seen since they'd come to this horrible place.
It made his own will to fight completely fall away, and he curled down as far as he could to keep his naked body hidden from her. He didn't want to cry in front of her, but his eyes started tearing anyway.
Ryuuhou looked at Koujaku's father first, then turned to his mother and said, "He was being slightly uncooperative, but I think he's done with his temper tantrum now."
His mother approached, and the two men holding him let her push them away. Koujaku immediately scrambled to get behind her, and he didn't care how that made him look.
"He's just a boy! There's no need to put him through this!" This was directed at his father, and Koujaku knew immediately that she had crossed a line.
His father grabbed his mother's wrist and jerked her away from Koujaku. "What I do with my son is none of your business, woman. I was kind enough to take you into my home, but do not think that gives you any power here, whore."
He flung her out, and Koujaku couldn't stop himself from sobbing at the sound of her back hitting the wall, at how she cried out in pain.
"If you value your mother at all, you will do as I say, and you will stop that infernal sniveling."
Koujaku nodded, though the sobs didn't stop, the shaking in his entire body refused to stop. His father slammed the door shut, and it was just him and Ryuuhou again, though he could hear his mother begging to his father, asking him to show Koujaku some mercy.
Ryuuhou ran his gloved hands all the way down the length of Koujaku's body. "It's growing so well," he said, yet another one of his cryptic statements that never made any sense to Koujaku.
Koujaku knew it would hurt less if he relaxed, but that was impossible. The needle on his skin was agonizing, far worse than even the first one on his face. His entire back seemed to be on fire, and blood must have been gushing out of him, with the amount of liquid that was dripping down his sides.
"You're so emotional, Koujaku. Truly, the best type of canvas," Ryuuhou said, and the sharp pinpricks that followed pierced even deeper into Koujaku's skin. "I would love to see you lose yourself to those emotions. To fear, to lust, to anger. Oh, it will be so glorious."
Nonsense words that Koujaku didn't even want to decipher. He concentrated instead on the sound of his mother's voice, sobbing his name, and he reminded himself how much he loved her, how hard she'd been fighting for him.
He didn't know how much time passed, but the burning on his back never receded. All the previous times, he'd ended up hitting a plateau, a point where he just didn't register the pain anymore. This time, every new intrusion felt like it was the first.
Ryuuhou took just one break, during which he forced Koujaku to drink and eat, and throughout it all his mother's sobs echoed in his ears. They would come in stops and starts, a reminder that she was still there.
When Ryuuhou placed his hands on Koujaku's back again, he said, "After this, we'll be finished, and you would be advised to control yourself."
The needled pierced his back, and Koujaku heard Ryuuhou chuckle. "Though it really will be more interesting if you don't listen to me."
Koujaku hated him. Hated Ryuuhou, hated his needles, hated the damn ink that was spreading under his skin, but most of all, he hated his father. If it weren't for his father, he and his mother would still be on Midorijima, and he'd be having fun with Aoba, he'd be eating Tae's doughnuts, he wouldn't be in agony, and his mother wouldn't be crying.
The next pass over his lower back wrenched another cry out of him.
Once he was through with this, he would make his father pay.
It all ended with the walls splattered in red, with his mother's tears, with his own blood streaming out of him, with Ryuuhou's inks seeping into the tatami mats.
He had the blade poised against his stomach, ready to add to the canvas with the rest of his body, when he remembered a splash of bright blue.