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A box of assorted sweets

Chapter Text

Every now and then Oriya reminded himself what he liked about his work. First of all, it gave him an excuse to use his beloved swords. He could still remember the first time he’d seen them. It was a family gathering, and he was three. He’d run to Grandfather’s bedroom to hide because his annoying cousin Miya kept pulling his hair when he saw the most beautiful things he’d ever seen in his short life (and, as it turned out, the rest of it).

The scabbard and the silk cover of the hilt were pure black. They shone darkly, making the white diamonds with the bubbles seem even whiter and brighter. Oriya had been so fascinated by them. He’d thought they were pearls, but when he touched them they were rough, nothing like his mother’s pearls. There, in the middle of the hilt, there was something shining gold, and he’d stared at it for minutes, trying to make out the design. He remembered well how confused and curious he’d been about this golden thing that was hidden. Hidden things were interesting. But then he touched the scabbard and it was smoother than silk, and that was captivating too.

He had been about to pull the smallest of the swords from its scabbard when Grandfather found him. But Grandfather was kind, and good to him and, instead of scolding him, made him sit down, and showed him how he used the biggest of the swords. How the blade shone when Grandfather held it up. How it cut through the air with a sudden and melodious whoosh. How beautiful a curve it made when it slashed down.

Oriya had experienced the first poetic moment of his life – only he had no words for it back then. All he could do was stare as Grandfather moved effortlessly, bringing down imaginary enemies, making him feel safe. All he could do when Grandfather finished was laugh and ask him to do it again, and again, because it was So Wonderful. So Very Wonderful.

And when he went to the police station to get them registered under his name, how adult he felt – and how proud. The swords were his, only his, and even though he’d owned many things, none was as fine, as beautiful, as wonderful, as personal. He remembered well how humble he’d felt too. These were Grandfather’s before him, and now Oriya would continue Grandfather’s tradition, and would honour his memory by using them to protect what he loved. Exactly as Grandfather had done, and taught him.

His work also allowed him to pursue his hobbies – hobbies that his classmates had found weird and old-fashioned. Not that they were wrong in their assessment; he did like old-fashioned things. Always had. He’d been more interested in calligraphy than baseball, and preferred learning how to distinguish perfumes to playing arcade games.

Was that because Grandfather used to indulge him? He’d let Oriya stay in the living room when he hosted perfume guessing games, and he’d even let him sit on his lap and smell the various incenses. How many times had he been lulled to sleep by the enticing smells, hiding his face inside Grandfather’s kimono, where Grandfather’s natural scent and the perfumes created a sense of home he never had at home?

Was that because he wanted to show Father that he could be good in the things Father was good? Oriya had been nine when he was old enough to appreciate how powerful, bold, beautiful, and magnificent Father’s handwriting was. And Father did everything with such an economy of motion that it all looked perfect and effortless, but Oriya was no longer a child; he could appreciate how much Father must have practiced, and how talented Father was. Oriya had been nine when he’d cried himself to sleep for the first time, because he wanted to be like Father, but Father was so perfect. Father was this tall, impossible mountain; would he be able to conquer it?

Since then Oriya had been practicing and practicing, and he was still not certain if he was any closer to the goal of his nine-year-old self.

Work also allowed him to indulge in what otherwise would be his Very Guilty Pleasure: clothes. He loved clothes. He loved how each fabric had a different texture. In the winter he would caress sweaters made of different types of wool, teaching his fingers the difference between merino and cashmere and various blends thereof, and then couldn’t decide which kind of soft warmth he wanted. In the summer he would let linen and cotton slide through his fingers, and he couldn’t decide if he preferred cool or comfortable. But his favourites were the silks and the satins and the velvets, that left a smooth sensation on his fingertips like that of a lover’s skin, or a lover’s hair. Oh how he loved those.

Silks gleamed in the light, satins were like water, and velvets were as comforting as the darkness. If he concentrated he could even feel the colours with his fingertips, the dark ones rougher on his skin, the light ones gentle and teasing. He wanted to rub his face on them and perfume them and hear them rustle as he moved.

Soon, soon.

But which ones to choose? As if the multitude of colours and fabrics was not confusing enough, there also were decorated with so many embroideries, so many patterns. His beloved peonies, still seasonal. These delicate snowflakes that shimmered in the light? Perhaps pines? Pines such as these that provided the backdrop for flying cranes, the same flying cranes that sheltered his dreams?

He sighed. As usual, he couldn’t decide which he preferred. Which meant one thing. He closed his eyes, chose two in random, opened his eyes, decided they were right, and put them both on the counter.

“Only two this time, Mibu-sama?”

Oriya laughed. “No, I’m not done yet. But I did feel like wearing something new this week.”

Nakajima-san hid a smile behind her fan. This week only? Her expression seemed to say. And what about the week before?

“I’d also like to order some new clothes for the coming months.” He took out a small picture book and opened it. “Doesn’t this blue waterfall crashing on rocks look so refreshing? I especially like the gradation of the blue as it flows.”

Nakajima-san studied the picture. “We wouldn’t copy that.”

“No, I would never ask something so boring. But I would like something with a waterfall, rather than the usual flowing water pattern. And then, something with willows against a summer’s night sky?”

“That’s a bit old-fashioned.”

“So am I.”

Nakajima-san hid another smile. “Let me bring my notebook,” she said. “Please have a seat.”

Oriya smiled, and reached for the clothes that would soon be his. The velvet embroidered moon against the dark silk sky looked so cold. He would wear that tonight. Would his stupid customer dare try touching him after seeing this?

Chapter Text

When he was a child Muraki had wished he could be invisible. How he had wanted to be able to not be seen. How he had thought that his life would be easier. He smirked. What a child he’d been. How naïve.

This was better by far, he thought as he passed by Liu’s guards. They had no idea he was there, going about their business, thinking they were protecting their boss, while there he was, slithering towards him, a big snake going to kill a small one. Casting spells and yielding power was better than being invisible.

And killing was better than everything else. That was why he’d chosen to do this himself, instead of sending one of his puppets. There was something so wonderful in seeing someone die, the little spark of life fading in their eyes as he watched. Their death too provided him with pure, unadulterated power; his puppets had to take some for themselves in order to continue existing, and what went to him always felt tainted somehow.

He walked into Liu’s room, smiling. And froze. Liu was not alone. He’d known that, Tou had told him already that Liu was usually with one or both of his sons, but he hadn’t expected that Liu’s son would be this younger Oriya-look-alike.

“Here is your tea, Father,” Oriya’s younger doppelganger was saying, and he really was like him, with the same gentle eyes and the same solicitous hands, and he was even offering a cup of tea, just like him.

Muraki sighed. He’d thought he was no longer affected by human emotions, but there he was, not able to kill Oriya. Or this younger version of him. Or his father, for that would make Oriya’s younger version sad and that was the thing he found himself unable to do. Muraki turned back.

When he was back in his hotel he called Tou first and told him he was unable to do the little job he’d asked. Tou cursed and screamed at him, but Muraki ignored him. Tou could find another idiot to do his dirt work for him.

Then he was tempted to call Oriya and tell him he was restless and could he please sing to him? What a stupid thought. He had a long bath instead and then changed his flight from Tokyo to Osaka.

Oriya wouldn’t sing to him even if Muraki paid him his weight in gold, but at least he’d make him tea.

Chapter Text

Muraki finished the tea, feeling its buzz immediately. Trust Oriya to know to make his tea stronger once he’d heard that he’d just come back from a conference overseas. One day there would be no more shared teas between them, and the knowledge made his stomach ache. But that day wouldn’t be soon; he still had so much work to do before that.

“Why don’t we go to my room?” Muraki suggested. “I brought you some souvenirs from my trip to Copenhagen.”

“Fine.”

Muraki walked out first; he breathed deeply the fresh air and then smiled as he stepped up into the shaded corridor and walked up the stairs. There was a constant play of light and shadow in Kokakurou, an ever-changing one, and Muraki remembered wishing once to stay there longer so he could see how it changed with the seasons. How young had he been then? He smiled. “Your house is always so welcoming, Oriya.”

Oriya snorted behind him.

Muraki opened the door and waited until Oriya sat down. Formally. As if this was some play, or maybe a ceremony. He smiled, sat down, and pushed the two boxes towards Oriya.

Oriya stared at them.

Muraki smirked. “Don’t look so suspicious. It’s just souvenirs.”

Oriya kept staring at them with narrowed eyes.

“Fine.” Muraki opened the first one and took out the two tins. “This is Danish tobacco. This, they assured me, is very aromatic with hints of cinnamon and vanilla, while this is naturally fragrant with tones of bergamot and roses. You’ll need to cut it more finely for your pipe, but you can manage that much, right?”

Oriya glared at him. “Even your gifts make work for me. How troublesome.”

“They told me you just need to rub it between your fingers, or try leaving it to dry for an hour or so before rubbing it. Surely that’s not that much work?”

“Fine, thank you,” Oriya grumbled as he picked up the tin with the non-aromatic tobacco. He suddenly opened it, looked at it, and then took a deep breath. “Thank you,” he said again, this time smiling. “That was considerate of you,” he continued, crumbling a bit of tobacco and rolling it between his fingertips.

Muraki smiled. Ah, this idiot friend of his, always acting as if he would bring back an unsuitable of thoughtless gift. He let Oriya try the tobacco, watching him as he efficiently filled the pipe with it, even though it was still rather flaky compared to the finely cut kisami Oriya used, lit it, and then tried it with an expression of intense concentration. “Good?”

“Yes, very pleasant. Thank you.”

“And now for this we need plates and spoons.”

“I’ll bring them.” Oriya sat up and hurried out of his room.

Muraki stared at the ceiling. When had this place become home that he’d first come here rather than at his own house? It had meant prolonging his journey for another three hours, but – Oriya opened the door with a grin, carrying two small plates, and Muraki smiled back. Yes, it was worth traveling a few extra hours for this.

Oriya sat down formally again facing him. He pushed the second box with his fingertip. “Can I open it now?”

“Of course.”

Oriya meticulously removed the small piece of sticky tape that held the box closed. Then he opened it. And frowned. “What is that?”

“What does it look like?”

“Chocolate.” He looked at him. “I thought you’d bring me Danish pastries,” he said and he sounded a little disappointed.

“I did bring some, but,” Muraki grinned, “it was a very long trip and I ate them.” And, gods, they were good; no one did flaky pastry like the Danes.

Oriya hit him on the arm with his pipe.

“Why don’t you try these instead of hitting me?”

“Hm. What are they?” He picked them out of the box using the spoons and then handed one to Muraki before taking his own plate in his hands.

“They’re called ‘flødeboller’.”

“What?”

Muraki laughed. “Flødeboller. I know; it’s a tongue-twister of a name.” He wrote it down for Oriya to read. “They’re like ‘angel pies’ only not quite the same.”

“So they are similar, not like.”

“Yes, I stand corrected,” Muraki said, biting back a grin. “They have a marzipan base, and are filled with marshmallow, and covered with chocolate. I’d start with the base, as it is the sweetest part of the confection, but you can do whatever.” That’s what he did, turning the sweet on the side, and cutting it through with the spoon.

Oriya hit the top as if it were an egg, smiling as the chocolate cracked. He then started cracking the rest of it.

“It’s just marshmallow. Nothing else will come out no matter where you hit it.”

“I know,” he smiled looking at it, obviously quite amused by the way the white foam came out of the chocolate cracks.

Muraki hid another smile by taking a bite. The first time his hosts had explained to him that it was a typical Danish dessert, he’d had to try it. When he did, it immediately made him think of Oriya. All hard and solid on the outside, but once you broke through his shell, there was nothing but fluffy, sweet softness inside.

Oriya took a bite from the base, exactly as Muraki had suggested. “Sweet.”

“Good, right?”

“Too sweet,” he said. “But good.” He took another small bite and put the plate down. “I don’t think I can have more for now.”

“It will keep in the fridge.” He finished the sweet. As if he could have enough of it. He already regretted not getting a second box for himself. He glanced at the barely touched flødebolle on Oriya’s plate. What a waste; he calculated that Oriya would need three days to finish a single sweet, judging by the amount he’d already eaten. And he’d brought him a whole box.

Oriya pushed the box towards him. “Want another?”

“No, thank you,” he lied. He couldn’t eat Oriya’s souvenir gift.

“As you wish,” Oriya said. “We can have more after dinner, then.” He sat fully down, abandoning the formal sitting position, and sat with his legs crossed. “So, what can I do for you now?”

“Can’t I just visit you?”

“Yes, but how often do you do that? Well?”

Muraki bowed slightly. “There is a small something I would like to ask of you.”

“I’m listening.”

Ah, this idiot friend of his, Muraki smiled. So suspicious that Muraki only kept up their friendship because of what Oriya could do for him. Perhaps the flødebolle and Oriya were not exactly similar. His friend had something hard inside him, hidden under all that softness. “Can I stay for the weekend? It really was a long trip and I would like to rest a little before going back to work on Monday.”

Oriya stared at him and suddenly hit him. “You’re such an idiot if you have to ask that. Of course you can stay. I’ll let my staff know that.”

“Thank you.”

Oriya stood up. “And, please, do eat one more of these sugar bombs. Dinner won’t be served for a couple of hours.”

Muraki leaned back. Okay, maybe he was friends with Oriya because of what he did for him. Who else would let him have their souvenir gift?

Chapter Text

Feilong had decided he wanted some tea and he would get it himself, because he wasn’t that spoiled, damn it, when he heard a strange, almost cackling sound coming from Tao’s room. Then he heard a horrible scream. He opened the door, hand on his gun.

Tao shut his laptop and fell off his chair. “Fei-sama.”

“Tao. What was… that? That sound?”

Tao grinned and opened the laptop again. “I was watching these videos with foxes. They are so cute but they make such horrible noises. Please, listen, Fei-sama.”

The first video Tao showed him had two foxes fighting for a few moments and then facing off, the one holding off the other with his paws, and making this almost laughing sound. Feilong snorted. This was supposed to be violent, but at the same time it was funny.

“And the scream?”

“It’s the mating call of foxes.” Tao put the video on. “It’s horrible.”

Feilong nodded. Yes, and what was even more horrible was that there was no video accompanying the sound, just the picture of a cute red fox. A fox so cute it reminded him of his own Lord Fox back in Japan and made him start having a lot of thoughts that were inappropriate in front of Tao.

“I like foxes,” Tao continued blithely as he started watching the video of a cute wild fox that had grown so used to humans it allowed them to pet it. That too reminded Feilong of his fox; he too was elegant and not afraid of anything. He missed him.

“They are cute,” Tao said when the video of a pet fox started playing next. “Can we get a pet fox?”

“No.” He already had one fox in his life. He didn’t need a second.

“Maybe a cat?”

“No.”

Tao looked away from him as he started watching another fox video. This one of a white fox jumping in the snow as it was hunting for lemmings. Less than two minutes in the video Tao started laughing. Half a minute later Feilong joined him.

“Maybe we could get a cat,” he murmured. “Foxes belong to the wild, after all. One shouldn’t keep one as a pet.” Never mind what he’d done. His fox had come to Feilong on his own.

Tao hugged him. “Want to see a fox laughing, Fei-sama?”

&*&*

The next time Oriya visited him Feilong left a book with a marker next to his nightstand. Oriya didn’t disappoint him. He picked it up right after he put down his suitcase and kissed him. “What’s that?”

“Just something I’m reading these days. I found it… inspirational.”

Oriya sat down and started reading. “Hm….Oh… I think I can see what inspired you,” he laughed as he put the book down.

“Yes, greatly,” Feilong nodded, taking a box out of his wardrobe and throwing it at Oriya.

He caught in mid-air and opened it. “Oh.”

“Well?”

“I suppose you want to be Che.”

“Of course.”

“But the fox is younger than Che.”

“But you like cuddling.” Feilong sighed. Seriously, why couldn’t he have fallen for someone a little less… “I’m not suggesting we do anything perverted,” he smirked.

No, he knew that if he wanted to do anything remotely adventurous he’d have to wait until Oriya was rested and settled. Oriya was like a cat in that way; he always freaked out the first day away from home and Feilong had to wait patiently for him to get out of his mental hiding place.

Oriya smiled at him. “I’m being obnoxious again, right?”

At least Oriya had started to realise that. “You’re vanilla and I like to play. It’s okay.” The ‘I can wait’ was left unsaid.

“Sorry.” Oriya stood up, holding the box in his hand. “Now or later?”

“Eh?”

“Do you want to be Che now or later?”

Feilong grinned. “Now.” He jumped on the bed and closed his eyes. “So Che woke up in the middle of the night when he felt something next to him.”

“Something furry, like a cat, but larger.” Oriya slid next to him, and rubbed the top of his head against Feilong’s arm.

“Che looked and saw a fox.” Oriya had put on the mask, just as he wanted. How could he look cute instead of ridiculous like that, he had no idea. “That had drunk the last of his wine.” Feilong laughed. “What a drinking companion, Che said, and he pulled the fox closer to him and covered him with his blanket.” Feilong did exactly that.

Oriya sighed happily next to him, nuzzling him. “I might fall asleep here,” he whispered.

“It’s okay. Che and the fox slept after that. You can sleep, if you want.”

“I’d rather do other things.”

“Like?”

“At midnight the fox yawned and stretched.” Oriya did, and somehow ended up on top of Feilong and hugging him with all his limbs.

“You've slept well, Che laughed,” and Feilong laughed too, pushing the mask off Oriya’s face. “He found a gentle, handsome man lying next to him.”

Oriya moved away from him and knelt on the bed, bowing deeply at Feilong. “Thank you for not killing me, said the fox.”

Feilong sat up. “People think I’m mad for drinking.” He frowned. “That I’m dangerous too, and cold. But you, you can understand me.” He pulled Oriya to him. “If you trust me, be my companion. In drinking. And other things. Come back to bed and don’t be scared of me.”

“The fox agreed,” Oriya said softly, and hugged Feilong again, one leg sliding between Feilong’s.

Feilong closed his eyes. He felt Oriya caress his hair and smiled. “I think I’ll fall asleep like this.”

“That’s okay.”

“I thought you wanted to do other things.”

“They can wait.”

“As long as I don’t find you gone when I wake up, like Che did.”

Oriya chuckled. A few moments later Feilong felt Oriya’s hand sliding down his stomach. So, the fox couldn’t wait until later? He grinned. He could live with that. And reciprocate too.

Chapter Text

Kazutaka knew that he had to go to school, but he hated it. The previous year his class-mates had been horrible to him. They pushed him around, they hid his books, they even locked him in the toilet once. Who knew what this year would bring?

To his relief, the first week was more or less uneventful, with only the occasional shove to the wall. He could deal with that. And then, in the beginning of the second week, his class-mates seemed to find another target.

“Today we have a new class-mate,” Kimura-sensei said as the first hour started, gesturing to the brown-haired teen that followed him in the class. The collar of his uniform jacket was unbuttoned. “Please, introduce yourself.”

“I’m Mibu Oriya. Pleased to make your acquaintance. I…”

Takahashi, the class’ de facto ruler and the school’s acknowledged tyrant, started laughing. “You should learn Japanese first before coming here,” he shouted, cutting him off. His cronies started laughing with him.

Their new class-mate stared at Takahashi and then at Kimura-sensei, but the teacher was busy looking out of the window. “Take a seat, Mibu-kun.”

Mibu sat at the last row of desks, one empty desk separating him from Kazutaka. Kazutaka was tempted to tell him that his Kyoto dialect was not that difficult to understand, but he didn’t want to attract Takahashi’s attention. He stared down, focusing on his book.

When the bell rang for the break Takahashi went straight for the new student, together with his two ‘lieutenants’. “Hey, Kyoto,” he said, throwing down Mibu’s books and sitting on his desk, “we have a few rules in this school.”

Kazutaka made himself smaller. That’s how Takahashi had started bullying him.

“Really?”

“Yes, and the first one is ‘we only use proper Japanese.’” Takahashi pushed Mibu. “You either use that or you don’t speak at all.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

Mibu shrugged. “There are more rules?” he asked, still using Kyoto idioms.

“What did I just say?”

“Wasn’t paying much attention. What did you just say?”

From experience Kazutaka knew what was coming next. Only the bell saved Mibu from being punched. Takahashi returned to his seat, turning to glower at Mibu the moment he sat down.

Kazutaka knelt and helped Mibu pick up his books. “He will beat you. Don’t antagonize him.”

Mibu stared at Kazutaka as he moved his things to the desk next to Kazutaka’s. “Did he beat you? For what? Using difficult words?”

Kazutaka smiled despite himself.

“Muraki, what are you doing back there?” Ikeda-sensei shouted at him. “Return to your seat. And you, Mibu, you’ve just arrived and you’re already disrupting class?”

Mibu grinned.

“You want to get reprimanded on your first day as well as beaten up?” Kazutaka wrote down on a piece of paper and passed it to Mibu.

“Not really,” Mibu wrote below his question.

Kazutaka crumbled the paper and put it in his pocket. If Takahashi saw it he’d probably tell Mibu that he also had to learn how to write proper Japanese if he wanted to fit in their oh, so prestigious school. Kazutaka hadn’t seen such awkwardly written kanji in years.

When the second break started Takahashi strode over Mibu’s desk again. This time he was accompanied by all of his cronies.

Mibu grinned at him.

“You think you’re funny, Kyoto?”

“Not really. But you are.”

Takahashi threw Mibu’s books down again, put his hands on the desk and leaned over Mibu. “You really think this is funny.”

“It’s my first day here,” Mibu said softly. “I don’t want any trouble.”

“Well, too bad. Because I do.”

Mibu stood up. “What’s your problem?”

“This is my school, and what I say is law. If I say you must speak properly, you will.”

“I do speak properly.” Again using Kyoto expressions.

“Our school does not need country bumpkins like you.”

Mibu shrugged. “They accepted me, though.”

“But I haven’t.”

The bell rang again and Takahashi retreated.

“Stop antagonizing him,” Kazutaka wrote in another note.

“He started it.” Mibu wrote back.

“So what?” Kazutaka glared at Mibu. “I’ve been doing judo for ten years and I have yet to defeat him.”

Mibu frowned. “Why?” he wrote in his horrible script.

Kazutaka wrote simply, “Excuse me?”

“Ten years of judo and he beat you? Why did you let him?”

Kazutaka frowned.

“Mibu,” Ogawa-sensei shouted before he could write his answer. “Focus on your book, not your letters.”

“Yeees,” Mibu shouted back.

A few of their class-mates laughed. Takahashi glared at everyone, until the class was quiet again.

Kazutaka kept frowning in his book. Had he been letting Takahashi beat him all this time? But Takahashi was stronger, taller, and heavier than him, and he never attacked alone. He hadn’t been letting Takahashi bully him.

When the bell rang again for the third recess Takahashi stood up and turned towards Mibu. He glared and then started moving.

Mibu turned towards Kazutaka, ignoring Takahashi. “What’s your name?”

“Muraki Kazutaka, pleased to meet you.”

“Pleased to meet you too, Muraki. I’m looking forward to you showing me how things work around here. Please take care of me.”

Takahashi stopped in front of Mibu. Instead of pushing down Mibu’s books he raised his fist and swung at Mibu. Mibu stayed still until Takahashi’s fist was almost next to him. At that moment he turned towards him, moved forward, raised one hand to block Takahashi’s fist and the other to punch him on the face.

Takahashi fell on the desk behind him. “You fucker,” he shouted, shook himself and went for Mibu again. Mibu waited until Takahashi was next to him, and then swerved, punched him on the jaw, and threw himself at him, making Takahashi fall to the ground. Then he kicked him.

“If you’d let me finish my introduction earlier,” Mibu shouted, “I’d have told you that I was expelled from my previous school for bad behavior and that I really,” he kicked Takahashi again, “Really want to cause no problems here.” He grabbed the lapels of Takahashi’s jacket and lifted him up. “If they expel me from here as well because of you, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.” He dropped Takahashi down. “Understood?”

Takahashi managed a weak nod.

“Great.” Mibu frowned. “You,” he shouted pointing at Takahashi’s friends. “What are you doing standing there? You should take him to the nurse’s office.” They moved immediately after that, Sato giving his hand to Takahashi to help him up and Tanaka supporting him from behind.

The bell rang again. Mibu sat down, scratching the back of his head. “That was awkward,” he whispered.

Kazutaka smiled at him. “It was kind of cool.” Already he could sense the atmosphere in the class changing. When Takahashi came back, he would no longer be class leader or school tyrant. All that remained to be seen was whether Mibu would take his place or not.

“You think so?” Mibu smiled back.

He nodded.

As if to prove Muraki right, Tamura from the desk in front of him turned towards Mibu. “Yes, that was pretty cool. Where did you learn to fight like that? Kyoto?”

MIbu frowned. “Where else? Idiot.”

Kazutaka snorted. Mibu had muttered the last word using the Kyoto term again.

“You should have lunch with us,” Fukuda, Takahashi’s ‘lieutenant’, said.

“Yes,” Shibata, his other ‘lieutenant,’ agreed.

“I’ve already promised to join Muraki,” Mibu said.

Fukuda and Shibata turned to look at him. It was as if they saw him for the first time. “Then we’ll join you,” Fukuda said.

Before Mibu could answer them, Matsumoto-sensei opened the classroom door. “Mibu, to the principal’s office.”

“Yes,” he shrugged. “Can I call you for a witness that he started it?” he whispered to Kazutaka.

“It’s not a trial drama,” Kazutaka smiled.

“I don’t want to be expelled on my first day,” he complained.

“You won’t,” Kazutaka reassured him.

“Now, Mibu,” their teacher repeated.

“Yes, yes. Heard you the first time.”

Matsumoto-sensei shook his head, sighing. “Open your books on page fifty-three.”

Kazutaka did, with a smile. He suddenly found himself looking forward to the new school year. It was a strange feeling, but he liked it.

&*&*&

That summer break Kazutaka was invited at Oriya’s house for the first time. He suspected he’d been invited only because Oriya needed extra help with his homework but he didn’t mind. Oriya always needed extra help, and in exchange helped Muraki with his judo. He too could use some extra practice.

Besides, Oriya’s home was a traditional Japanese house, so different to his own that Kazutaka decided he’d invite Oriya to spend the end of the break at his home. He didn’t want to admit it, but he was impressed by the number of people living and working there. True, it was also a restaurant, not just a house, but still…. His house was bigger than Oriya’s yet they only had their butler Sakaki, a cook, and a maid – and of them, only Sakaki lived with them.

After he’d had a bath and changed into a yukata, Kazutaka joined Oriya in his room for some refreshing warabi mochi and iced tea. He was looking forward to the treat; Kyoto warabi mochi were supposed to be the best in Japan, and it was such a warm day.

When he walked in Oriya was lying on his back, eyes closed, fanning himself. “It’s too warm,” Oriya whined as soon as he opened the door.

“Perhaps you’d feel less warm if you moved your cat,” he smiled.

Oriya sat up, stunned, making the cat jump away from where she’d settled on his chest. “My cat,” Oriya said slowly, staring at Kazutaka.

“Yes,” he replied as he sat down. “Small, black, with a cute red ribbon instead of a collar. She’s yours, isn’t she? What’s her name?” He extended his hand, waiting for the cat to stop prowling and hoping she would come to him.

“Eh, well, I don’t know. She never told me.”

Kazutaka laughed. “If you say so. She is cute.” And she had finally decided to come sniff at his fingers. Kazutaka stayed still, so as not to scare her, but couldn’t resist wiggling his fingers when her soft, cold nose touched him.

“You can see my cat,” Oriya said, still looking shocked.

“Yes. Shouldn’t I?”

“No.”

Kazutaka frowned. “What are you talking about?”

“If I told you that there really are more things in heaven and earth than were dreamt of in Horatio’s philosophy, would you believe me?”

Kazutaka smiled. “Why not? I’m listening.”

Chapter Text

“Young Master?”

Oriya went quietly to the door. “Yes?”

“The Doctor is here to see you.”

“What?” his voice rose on its own. Muraki always visited him in the autumn. What had brought him here in the middle of winter?

His esteemed customer looked at him, and then turned to Sakurako, the maiko plying him with sake. “Hahaha, Oriya-kun’s special guest must be here.”

Oriya felt his cheeks and neck get warm. “Well….”

Sakurako looked up to Misaki, her geisha older sister. Misaki laughed. “Then we should let him go to him. Shouldn’t we, Sensei?”

Nishimura-sensei nodded. “Give me a hug before you go, you.”

Oriya grinned. If anyone else had told that to him that he’d have hit them on the head, esteemed customer or not. But Nishimura-sensei was one of his Grandfather’s friends who’d known him since he was three. Sensei had been asking for hugs since then and Oriya had never managed to deny him.

He hugged Sensei. “Thank you, Uncle.”

Nishimura-sensei looked at him fondly. Oriya wanted to hug him again so badly, so he did.

“Enjoy your time with your friend,” Nishimura-sensei told him.

“Thank you. Take good care of my Uncle, older sister Misaki.”

“I will.” She gestured and Sakurako poured some more sake for the Sensei.

Oriya sighed as he closed the door behind him. Even though Kokakurou’s doors had been always open for Sensei for years, Oriya wished there was something more he could do for him – especially this year. It had been such a bad year for Sensei, after all. First his wife died, and then his son refused to let him move in with them. Drinking seemed to be the only thing that made the old man happy these days, and that wasn’t healthy. If only he could distract him with something else…

“You’re thinking of work,” Muraki chided him. The table had already been set for him with food and sake, and Muraki had already started eating.

Oriya smiled. He needed to thank his staff for their excellent work. As for him, he hadn’t even realized when he’d walked up to Muraki’s room. If he were working for him, he’d reprimand him for his inattentiveness. “And what about you? What brings you here?”

“A symposium in Osaka. It finished this morning and I thought I could come over and say ‘hello.’”

“Ah. Thank you for your consideration.” He didn’t dare ask what Muraki had been doing all those hours between the end of the conference and his appearance at his doorstep.

Muraki snorted. “I also had a thought that I had to share.”

“What now?” he sighed as he sat down and poured some sake for Muraki.

“You know it’s Christmas Eve, right?”

“Yes, and? It’s just a day, Muraki.”

“Not for me.”

Oriya snorted. Muraki only remembered that he was Catholic when he wanted to shock a priest with his confession. He didn’t even feel guilt, for fuck’s sake. No; that was mean of him; of course Muraki felt guilt. For letting his mother die. For not killing Saki. For not helping Ukyou enough. But never for his victims, all those pour souls he’d destroyed in his quest for power and revenge. Never for them, he sighed.

“Do you remember the Christmas gospel?”

“Yes. Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable and the Magi brought them gifts.”

“And Herod was so scared of this newborn king that he ordered the slaughter of all the babies in the area of Bethlehem. Some churches believe they were in the thousands, but they were probably only six or maybe ten babies that were killed altogether.”

“Learn something new every day,” Oriya muttered and poured some sake for himself. He suspected he needed to be drunk for whatever Muraki’s thought was.

“These were the first Christian martyrs,” Muraki continued. “Innocent, baptized not in holy water, but in their own blood.”

Oriya started feeling a light pulsing pain at the side of his head. He didn’t like where this was going, so he drank some more.

“So, I thought, this Christmas eve, I should offer Christ, my Lord, the same gift. Six innocents, baptized in blood.”

Oriya stared at him. “Right,” he said slowly, not allowing himself to despair in front of Muraki. “So, that’s what you’ve been doing these last few hours.” Why was he still friends with him?

“No, that’s what I’ll do in the next few hours,” Muraki smiled, lifting his cup.

Oriya filled it. “Why can’t you do something fun or Christmas-y instead?”

“Like what?” Muraki asked him innocently.

Oriya suddenly leaned forward. Muraki did want to do something different, he just didn’t know what. Or else he wouldn’t have come to him before committing his … he forced himself not to shudder. “I know. Let’s bake a Christmas cake.”

Muraki started laughing. “Oriya, your baking skills are as good as mine. That is, non-existent.”

“You could help me finish wrapping the New Year’s gifts.”

“That’s boring.”

“We could decorate the house. We need to buy really tacky ornaments, but I saw some at the supermarket the other day." He started getting excited with the idea. It would be fun to 'vandalize' Kokakurou in a festive, non-traditional way. "We can go get them now; it’s open all hours. Then we can spend the rest of the night decorating, so that everyone will be…”

“Furious and shouting at us in the morning,” Muraki finished, grinning. “As amusing as it is when your staff abuses you, I’d rather they didn’t abuse me as well. No, I think I’ll stick to my original plan. Unless you have something truly different to suggest? Fun and seasonal?” Muraki kept staring at him with a teasing smile and curious eyes.

A drinking game? No, that was the norm for his house. Cards? No, Muraki cheated. Perhaps the only thing they hadn’t done? And if he were lucky Muraki would believe that it was just something fun, a game, and would not use his emotions to hurt him. Yeah, as if that could happen. As if Muraki didn’t know how Oriya felt.

He sighed. But this provided him with a good excuse to ask without feeling too stupid. If Muraki rejected him, he could pretend he didn’t care. And if Muraki didn’t reject him, he… He grinned. “I know. Christmas sex.”

Muraki smirked, but his eyes were shining.

“Some of my customers,” annoying perverts all of them, “have been requesting it these days,” ordering it like others would order take-away, and damn him for running this business, “and I know we have all sorts of things in the storeroom.” Damn him twice for finally accepting that they had shelves and shelves of toys and things that could be classified as torture implements and…. “And,” he smiled playfully, hiding his frustration with his work and with himself, “not all my girls are busy this evening.” Damn him thrice, he couldn’t ask.

Muraki looked disappointed for a second. “So, you’re offering me one of your girls,” he said, and even though he smiled, he sounded cold.

“We do have traditions here.” And he couldn’t deal with the possibility of Muraki outright rejecting him. He’d rather not know. Ever.

Muraki looked at him speculatively. Then he shook his head. “No, still not fun enough. You have to come up with something better.”

“What? Like me having Christmas sex with you?” Fuck, he said it. He poured some sake into their cups, pretending the task had his undivided attention - and not the embarrassment he felt warming the back of his neck.

“It would be different, at least,” Muraki said, snorting and looking at him as if he didn’t care much whether they did it or not.

“Hm.” Oriya looked away. Well, if Muraki didn’t care, then he didn’t care either.

Muraki stood up, grinning. “Fine, let’s have Christmas sex.” He pulled Oriya up. “Come on, let’s explore your storeroom.”

Oriya glared at him. “We can’t. We…”

“Yes, you have traditions here, but I like to break them.” Muraki pressed himself against Oriya. “I bet you want me to break them,” he whispered in his ear, and then sucked his earlobe.

The warm, wet sensation made him shiver. “I….” He started and couldn’t finish. He only knew that he wanted Muraki.

Muraki pulled away and took his hand. “Come on,” he laughed. “Let’s do something fun together.”

Later, much later, when Oriya was lying next to Muraki and sliding into sleep, he heard Muraki laugh again. Softly, as if he thought Oriya was already asleep, but he couldn’t contain his glee. “I knew I’d get you to think it was your idea to have sex with me. I’m such a wicked genius. Is that why you love me, Oriya?”

Oriya didn’t answer him. He was supposed to be asleep, after all. But he did smile. Yes, that was partly why he loved the idiot.

Chapter Text

Muraki knew that because the manager liked him, he could expect treats that were not advertised on Kokakurou’s menu. Like the fragile, pickled rose petals served together with sake at the start of the meal, or the refreshing persimmon sorbet between courses. Or, the creamy, rich chocolate served at the end of the meal in exquisitely decorated and delicate small cups that emphasized how luxurious this treat really was.

He put down the cup, smiling. Oriya was spoiling him. He’d bet that none of Kokakurou’s faithful customers ever got any of the delicacies that Muraki tasted every time he visited his friend. And what was he doing in return? He touched the little red stain on the edge of his white sleeve, a deliberate mistake and a sign of who he was. What good was a sign when no one saw it, though?

Muraki had made sure it was there in the hope of riling Oriya when his friend would see it, but when he returned to Kokakurou, Oriya was already at work. It was disappointing; Oriya’s maids never said anything even though they surely must have known or at least suspected what that stain was. They were far more polite than their master.

Sighing, he stood up and looked outside. It was a beautiful night and it made him want to go out again. Not to kill, just to relax elsewhere. Kokakurou’s energy was soothing, but to him it always felt a little too relaxing. It asked him to give up, to give in, to stop. It scared him that one day he’d surrender to it, and what would be left of him then?

On his way out he decided to use the main gate, and not the side gate everyone used. This way would take him in front of the dining rooms. This way the wind would carry the sounds of laughter and of the music of Oriya’s old-fashioned songs. That sound especially was so nostalgic.

They didn’t have traditional Japanese music at home; only classical Western music for them, the members of an elite family of elite doctors. Grandfather was the first to start their family collection; he had brought records from when he’d been studying medicine in Germany. His parents then continued the tradition. How many nights had he fallen asleep to Mozart, and how many days had he woken up to Wagner?

In college Oriya had introduced him to Japanese music, from stately court music to the songs of the people working at the land and sea. He also liked songs that were popular in their grandfathers' time. Muraki had learned more than he ever wanted to know about enka songs before the war. His favorites, though, were drinking songs, and at parties, when they were all very drunk, Oriya would play them for them.

Whenever he heard Oriya sing, he remembered those days when he was still Kazutaka. When Ukyou was still well, and Oriya was still free. He didn’t miss those days, but he remembered how easy life had been. How simple his dreams. How simple his pleasures. How had Kazutaka turned into Muraki and he hadn’t realized it was happening?

Muraki found himself at Sagano shrine without realizing how that had happened either. He sat down, stared at the moon, and relaxed. This was who he was; not that weak thing, that needy thing, that despicable thing. That thing that lived only in memories.

Would Ukyou and Oriya miss him when he died, or Kazutaka?

Chapter Text

Oriya knew people thought he could not tolerate alcohol anymore because he drank less and less but that was not the real reason he stayed away from drinking. Well, one of the reasons, anyway. No, the main reason was that he was a happy drunk when he got drunk and, what was worse, he liked to dance. To really old songs.

Not the songs he played for his damned customers; no, not exactly those. When he played for the stuffy old geezers he played them exactly as tradition dictated, not a note out of place. No, when he wanted to dance, he played them in his head as they had been performed in the fifties, with Latin and jazz influences that made them fluid and sharp. He sang them as they had been sang then, as if he were in a dark, smoke-filled lounge, and not his well-lit, smoke-free dining rooms. He let his voice be natural, instead of the low, almost gravely, old-fashioned, tone he used for his customers.

And then he danced the mambo on the corridor around the house, tracing the pillars with his fingertips as if they were his partners and… “Auntie, dance with me,” he shouted at Auntie the moment he saw her.

Auntie shook her head but let herself be pulled against him. She even danced with him – what a shame she hid how well she could dance most of the time. “Someone is in a good mood,” she smiled.

“Someone is drunk. Very drunk,” he giggled. Most nights he could cope with his customers, but for some reason, that night had been so difficult waiting until his customer had retired, so he could finish off the sake himself – and then have some more, and some more after that.

“Ah, why?” She asked as she kept following Oriya’s lead and they swirled across the corridor.

“Because if I’m not drunk I’ll burn the house down.”

Auntie stopped.

“Dance with me,” Oriya pleaded with her and grabbed her hand again. “Ah, those stupid perverts we keep having as customers. I can’t kill them, can I?”

Auntie pulled his ear. “No.”

Oriya grimaced. “Shame.” He laughed. “So I got drunk and now we have no trouble at all. No trouble at all, no trouble at all,” he sang as he led her along. “Ah, Tami-san.”

“The Young Master is drunk,” Auntie informed her.

Oriya let her go and went to Tami-san. “If you open the shoji doors,” he sang to her.

Tami-san hit his arm. “Go sleep it off.”

“I’m not drunk enough yet.” He knelt in front of Tami-san so he could look her in the eyes. “Why do you call my friends my ‘favourites’, Tami-san? And why can’t I have them?” Before she could answer him, he sprang up and continued dancing to his room. “I want to be so very drunk tonight,” he sang. So very drunk that he could forget who he was for a while.

How many months before Muraki came to visit him? He couldn’t stand all these people that he had to entertain and pretend he liked. He missed his friend.

Oriya pushed the door to his room open. “Soon the waves will calm down,” he sang as he danced around and opened the wall closet, throwing down the futon and the covers. “When he visits once. Oh, I’ve messed up the words, shura shura shura. Who cares? We have no trouble at all, no trouble at all.”

His pillow made for a lovely partner. Oriya danced back to the door, closed it a bit more carefully, and swirled around the room. “No trouble at all. Ah,” he sighed as he suddenly stopped and collapsed on his futon. “Okay, maybe I’m drunk enough,” he laughed as he closed his eyes. He didn’t feel like burning the house down anymore.

How many months before Muraki came to visit him?

Chapter Text

The shoji doors slid open, slightly, noiselessly, moonlight streaming through them. Silver, the colour of Muraki's hair, as soft and pale as Muraki's skin, deceptively fragile. Oriya sat up. He dared not look at the red moon. The garden reminded him of daguerreotypes, strange and old and fascinating at the same time. Just like Muraki. Damn it.

"I have no time to play with you," Oriya muttered to whatever ghost had decided to disturb him. He turned around, away from the garden. He'd never gained anything either from Muraki or the moonlight. Or even the ghosts that inhabited Kokakurou. He rubbed his cheek against his pillow and took a deep breath. How pathetic was it that he found his own scent comforting?

Suddenly, he was pushed down on his back. Whatever held him down had the form of a man, the energy of a spirit and the lack of scent particular to the dead. It was a man, but no one Oriya could recognize. A blank-faced ghost?

The ghost laughed. Oriya felt it in the back of his head, a pleasant, prickling sensation, like bubbles crashing and bursting against his skin. A ghost that laughed neither with malice or anxiety, just with amusement. He decided not to fight it and he relaxed a little.

The pleasant sensation spread from the back of his nape to the small of his back, rippling along his spine. Oriya shivered with it, arching his back, then falling back down. Scented bubbles in hot water, that’s what it reminded him of, that silvery, slippery laughter.

'You know the story of the woman loved by a carp?' the ghost asked him. Its voice was a raspy whisper and Oriya wasn't sure if he really heard it or imagined he did, or perhaps, simply knew what it said.

Not that it mattered. "The one with the stingy lover who wouldn't touch her with his hands? The one where the carp satisfied her instead?"

The ghost nodded. It sat by Oriya's feet and pulled away the cover. Oriya sat up, watching. 'The thing with carps,' the ghost continued, 'is that they only have mouths. Therefore,' it said, lifting Oriya's foot slightly, 'it could only kiss her. Like this,' it laughed, and demonstrated, kissing the tip of Oriya's big toe, then nipping it, then sliding its teeth along skin, and finally, gently sucking it.

Oriya had never realized exactly how sensitive an area his big toe was. As the ghost proceeded to kiss and nibble and suck each of his toes and then moved on to the inside of his foot, Oriya changed his mind. I have calluses, he wanted to say, but the ghost licked its way around them and over them and even bit them and Oriya found that he couldn't say a word.
When the ghost started kissing his ankles and the inside of his calves, Oriya changed his mind again. When the ghost licked the back of his knees, Oriya spread his legs willingly, and when it reached the inside of his thighs, Oriya had just had enough, and pushed its head where he really wanted it. The ghost didn't fight him.

And what this means? For me? For you? If you suck me now, does this mean, then.... And yet, the words wouldn't come to his mouth, too many bursting bubbles everywhere around him, and so much heat, wet, tight heat, his body couldn't contain it all. Oriya came with a gasp, hugging whatever was next to him. Even if it was a ghost, it was solid enough, with flesh firm and smooth and ageless, and its amusement at Oriya's needy reaction was laced with kindness and understanding.

'The thing with carps,' continued the ghost, and Oriya could feel that the ghost was speaking with its mouth full, he could feel the sharpness of teeth, and the swiping of a tongue, 'is that they only have mouths. But I'm not a carp. I am a dragon and we have more than that. Have you ever been loved by a dragon?'

For politeness' sake Oriya managed only a small snort. The ghost still looked like a man, no matter how it boasted it was not, but with his body fully satisfied for the first time in a long time, he decided it wasn't worth mentioning.

The ghost settled between Oriya's legs comfortably. 'We like friction,' it said, and its penis slid along Oriya's. It was painful, with his cock sensitive and spent, and yet, it wasn't. The ghost continued. 'We like testing,' it said with its mouth wrapped around two fingers, the same fingers that were next massaging him gently. 'We like teasing,' and teasing it did, sliding only just so inside him. "We like playing,' and it held Oriya as close as possible, kissing him as much as possible. His cock decided that it wasn't all that spent.

"Do you also like entering?" Oriya asked, as if he didn't know.

Perhaps he asked to hear the ghost laugh. 'We do,' it said, 'and we are possessive,' it said as it entered him.

And they were rough too. The pain made him hold on tightly, seek the ghost's flesh with teeth and nails and it laughed again, delight palpable and real along his spine and his neck and his thighs.

'Very possessive,' it went on, hands mirroring Oriya's, nails digging deeply, tearing rather than scratching.

Whatever. A ghost couldn't make any claims on him, however possessive it claimed to be. Except perhaps one ghost. He grabbed the ghost's hair, and rode each thrust. "I'm no woman," he whispered, biting until he could feel something like blood inside his mouth. "You can't possess me."

'Men can also be possessed.'

"Not in my world."

The ghost laughed. When it kissed Oriya, its laughter was thicker than blood. When it came, its laughter stopped, replaced by a long moan, as if it was wounded so badly, it could no longer scream. Its need matched Oriya's.

'And we're insatiable,' the ghost said lying down and pulling Oriya over it, spreading its legs wantonly.

Oriya obliged it.

&*&*

"And so the dawn appears," Oriya muttered, feeling sunlight over his closed eyelids. He didn't want to move, his whole body pleasantly loose. As if.... He turned around again, hiding his face in his pillow. What a dream. Wasn't he too old to be dreaming of ghost lovers? Wasn't he too attached to another, after all?

But, perhaps the moonlight had reminded him of him who was away for so long, so pale and soft and deceptive, that his mind had no option but to conjure him in dreams. And then his mind ran away with the idea and dragged him along. Damn it.

"Damn it."

"What? Having regrets already?" Muraki's voice too close, too low, too mellow. Oriya tried to twist around, but Muraki was there, solid, warm, holding him, kissing his shoulder.

"You're not real."

"I'm as real as your desire. Or you don't think desires can't take form in this place?"

Oriya kept his eyes closed. A lie, more than a dream, less than a fantasy. "Fuck you."

"Again? I'm a little sore at the moment, but if you want...." Oriya opened his eyes. Muraki smiled at him. He looked away, at the suitcase by the door. "My room was not ready when I came, so I said I'd stay in yours. Your maids didn't mind." Muraki smirked. "You didn't mind either."

He frowned. "So, last night...."

"Last night what?" Muraki let him go and sat by the edge of the futon. "Last night you wanted me," he said, uncharacteristically serious. "And I wanted you too. But now that you've seen me, do you still want me?"

"Muraki is Muraki." Even as a ghost, or a liar, or a dragon, or dead.

Muraki nodded. He stood up and offered Oriya a kimono. "Try to cover that bite mark. Your maids will talk."

Oriya snorted. Let them talk; they’d talk anyway.

Chapter Text

Muraki picked up another CD. He put it down quietly. It wasn’t what he was looking for. But then again, he wasn’t sure what he was looking for anymore. That profile. That hair. That straight back. He sighed.

Oriya smiled. “What’s wrong?”

“Romantic music.”

“What about it?”

Muraki picked up another record and showed it to Oriya. Saint-Saen’s First Cello Concerto. “It all sounds like going through an enchanting forest,” Muraki said as he studied it.

“Does it now? And what will one encounter in one’s walk, I wonder?”

Muraki blinked. Oriya couldn’t read his mind, or so he always said, and yet, he always seemed to ask the right questions. He smiled slowly. “Fairies?” He picked up another CD. Brahms’ Cello sonatas. “Or maybe monsters?”

“What an imagination,” Oriya mumbled.

“You disagree?”

“Brahms’ music sounds like something that should be the soundtrack of a Sherlock Holmes film, sad and humorous in equal measure, and always frightfully clever.”

Muraki grinned. Oriya never failed to amuse him. “What music would you have for your walk through an enchanted forest? And what would you meet? A tengu, perhaps? Or some other youkai?”

“I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about it.”

“Then, think about it now.”

“Hm…” Oriya looked at the rows of CDs, frowning a little. “Ah, yes. Yamada’s Dark Gate.”

“You are always so literal.”

“And you are imaginative enough for both of us.” Oriya huffed a little as he looked away from him.

Muraki sighed. Yes, he was, he’d always been the one whose fancy flew wildly and widely, never satisfied with what his senses revealed to him. How many years ago had Oriya first told him that? More than ten? Yet there he was again, letting his imagination get the better of him, letting a stranger’s face merge with that of his friend, and serve as a reminder of days gone by.

When was the last time he’d done something with Oriya other than impose on him and take advantage of him? And he still needed to rely on him, if he wanted his plan to have a chance of succeeding. He needed to rely on him if his plan failed too… Ukyou…

He picked up the Brahms Cello Sonatas again. Oriya had never told him what kind of creatures he expected to see in an enchanted forest, but by then Muraki knew. Oriya’s forest would be full of ghosts.

Would he become one of them?

Chapter Text

The snowflakes swirl in a fast motion, but they are too small and delicate. They melt the moment they hit the ground, and Oriya wishes they were bigger, fatter, heavier. That the snow would settle and cover everything, hide everything, the ugly and the beautiful, and make the world rest for a while.

He wishes, because that’s all he does. One could probably write a book about his impotence.

“Yes, that is exactly what I wanted to talk to you about.”

He turns away from the garden. He doesn’t recognize his visitor, but he can imagine who she is. That off-white kimono with the cherry flowers is quite the give-away, as if the fox mask is not enough. “Yes?”

“You will not bring this House to ruin with your behavior.”

Oriya doesn’t reply. He doesn’t like excusing himself.

“You will have an heir, married or not.”

As she approaches the room gets colder and colder, and Oriya realizes that he can’t move. He too is cold. When she pushes him down, he freezes completely. Mercifully, his mind freezes as well.

The rest takes place in a gap.

Oriya wakes up with disheveled clothes and a bitter taste in his mouth. That’s not the first weird dream he’s had at home, though, so he doesn’t think much of it.

&*&*

A few months later, almost a year, Oriya finds a baby under the cherry tree. It has light brown hair, light brown eyes, a tiny nose, a small mouth with full lips, ten fingers, ten toes, and when Oriya unties the blue fabric that covers it, he realizes it’s a ‘he’. He is perfect. Utterly, totally perfect and Oriya falls in love.

As he picks up his child – it is his, he knows it without knowing how – he wonders why he waited that long. This feels so right. The baby smiles at him and he smiles back. This love is so uncomplicated. He likes it.

“What has the Young Master done this time?” Tami-san asks the moment he opens the door to her office. “What have you done?” she screams, when she realizes what the bundle in his arms is.

“The question is, what has the House done to me,” he smiles and then freezes as he suddenly remembers that evening several months ago, how he’d frozen back then as well as… No, his mind refuses to remember, and that is just as well.

The baby reaches for his fingers. His grip is surprisingly strong and forces Oriya to the present. “I have a child,” he tells Tami-san, who looks as if she is about to have a heart attack. “Isn’t he perfect?”

Tami-san’s expression changes from one of anger to one of horror. “That’s not all he is, is it?”

Oriya shrugs. He doesn’t know what the other half of the child is: a ghost? A fox? A spirit? But he looks human and what’s human is his, and so he will protect him, and take care of him, and bring him up, because, rape or not, this child is his, this child is innocent, and he already loves him.

“Your Father will hear of this.”

“Of course he will.” Of course he will; nothing stays secret for long in his House.

“Meanwhile, we need to get him a birth certificate and get him registered. You are keeping him, right?”

“Of course.” He hugs the child closer, as if to protect him.

“Alright, well,” she sighs, “then it can’t be helped. Have you chosen a name for him yet?”

“No.” What name would be suitable for this one? “Ichiro?”

Tami-san hits him on the arm. “Don’t be stupid. Let me see him. Ah, he looks like you when you were a baby. How pretty he is. No, we’ll call the Old Master immediately to tell him the news. You wait. Or, not, better go to Sada-san and ask her to help you feed him. He must be hungry, poor baby. What are you still doing here?” She hits him again.

Oriya smiles as he looks at his son. Tami-san is right; he has no idea how to raise a child, but he will be better than his father. Ah, his father; had he felt like Oriya does now, staring down at this tiny thing that is his?

His grudge against his father suddenly feels like an old cloth that he no longer needs. “Tami-san, tell him to come here. I’d rather have him see the news. Don’t you think that would be better?”

Tami-san smiles; it’s the first time he’s seen her smile like that. “What an excellent idea. I’ll do that immediately.”

“Thank you. I’ll be with Sada-san.” This poor thing needs food. Poor thing; if it were simply a cut stem, he’d pot and nurture it. Now, he has no idea what to do. “I hope you’re human in this too,” he tells the baby. “If you’re like a ghost, needing only smoke, my staff will be worried. We don’t want that, do we?”

The baby blinks at him, and then he smiles.

Oriya smiles back. “We’ll figure it out.” They would, and his House would help, or else.

Chapter Text

“I’ll be in Kyoto for business in the next couple of days,” Asami had told Kita-san, the chef at the exclusive Asakusa restaurant he always had lunch. “I’ll be back on Friday, same time as always.”

“Kyoto? Then you must go see my brother.”

Asami had raised an eyebrow. He didn’t know Kita-san had a brother.

“He’s not my blood brother, but we studied under the same Master at Kyoto. I came here, and he stayed there.” Kita-san had laughed. “I’ll give him a call. Tomorrow and the day after, you said?”

“Yes, but I already have plans for Thursday.”

“Tomorrow it is, then.”

And that was how Asami found himself outside a traditional-looking restaurant in the heart of Gion. Two pretty women in striped blue kimono bowed deeply at the entrance. “Asami-sama, please follow me,” the older of the two said as she made a small gesture.

The place was much bigger than the Asakusa restaurant, with a beautifully maintained garden dominated by a big sakura tree that must have been quite old. The tree was in full bloom, and looked magnificent.

“Please,” the woman said as she knelt down to open the door to one of the dining rooms. It was relatively small, but he would be on his own. He was getting the VIP treatment exactly like he was used to. He ought to thank Kita-san for making the arrangement for him.

Asami sat down. The room had a view to another part of the garden. The green of the plants was very relaxing, but he already missed the sakura blossoms.

She poured some tea for him. “Please enjoy. The food will be served shortly.”

“Thank you.” He sipped as he waited. The tea was grassy green and sweet, exactly as good Sencha ought to be, and that gave him high hopes for the meal he was to have.

The moment he finished his tea, the door opened again. The same maid smiled at him. “Excuse me,” she said as she stepped into the room, brought the tray inside, knelt down again to close the door, and stood up again.

Asami smiled. This was the kind of service he got when he had private dinners at Tokyo. It made him feel respected and special.

The woman moved with the grace of a dancer. It was good to see people still keeping to traditions. She knelt and put the small tray on the table. “Please, enjoy,” she said again as she stood up. Up and down, it really was a dance she was performing.

The tofu was a creamy white under the yellow gold of the sea urchin. Asami took a spoonful. It was a delightful, buttery, salty (but not too salty) combination. Ah, Kita-san knew exactly what he was doing when he sent him here.

A good meal was one of life’s uncomplicated pleasures. For someone like him, who had to claw his way up from the gutter, to have such fancy food was more than that. It was a symbol of how far he’d come. His prize for making it at the top. His reminder to keep fighting to stay where he was.

When the door opened next a man stepped in together with the maid. Asami found himself staring. The man was younger than him, probably as tall as he was, and quite beautiful. Not as beautiful as Feilong, no, he doubted he’d ever find someone as beautiful as him, but he was pretty to look at, with long brown hair that framed a triangular face with regular and somewhat delicate features. As the man knelt in front of him to put down the tray, he noticed that he also had unusually light brown eyes that seemed to shine in the light.

“This is our hassun,” the man said. “Today we have sea bream….”

His voice was soft and pleasant. Asami let it wash over him as he studied the man further. He wore a dark brown kimono with peonies over a light-brown kimono that was rakishly open at the chest, revealing smooth, pale skin. Asami wanted to touch him; his skin looked that soft. His nipples would probably be small and delicate, perhaps a light brown, and it would be such fun to slide his finger across butter-soft skin to the small nubs and rub them to pebbled hardness.

There was a hint of redness near the collarbone and Asami looked up. The man looked away from him. He was still talking of the appetizers, but his neck and his cheeks were definitely flushed.

Asami smirked. If he had this one in his bed, he’d definitely tie him up. He’d use the black leather body harness on him. It was much faster than tying someone with ropes and the result was just as aesthetically pleasing. Especially when someone was so pale and prone to blushing as this man.

“Anyway, please enjoy,” the man said in a slightly higher tone, and then stood up. His steps were faster on the way out than on the way in, but that only made Asami notice that he had a small, cute ass. That ass would look so good glowing red after a good spanking session.

The man glared at him for a moment, then looked away as he knelt and closed the door with some force.

Asami laughed. He’d definitely bring a nice present to Kita-san on Friday.

&*&*

The meal was delightful, but not as delightful as that man. Asami found himself thinking of him each time the door slid open, and was disappointed as there was only the maid bringing a new tray with food. He hadn’t been so open in his appreciation of his form that he’d scared him, had he?

“I’d like to thank the chef,” he said when the last tray was taken away.

“Of course. Follow me.”

The maid led him to a clean and spacious kitchen area in the middle of an area set with tables. There were only a couple of people at that time, sitting at a corner, talking quietly to themselves. “Yanagi-san, Asami-sama.”

“Ah, you’re the customer Shin-chan told me about. How does our food compare to Shin-chan’s?”

“It’s as good as Kita-san’s.”

Yanagi-san laughed. “Only as good? We have to work harder then, you hear that, guys?”

“Yes,” the team inside the kitchen shouted.

Asami smiled. “Thank you for the excellent meal. It really was great.”

“But only as good as Shin-chan’s,” Yanagi said, mock-mournfully. “Ah, the Young Master will be disappointed to hear that.”

“The Young Master?”

Yanagi-san nodded. “Yes. The owner’s son and manager of the restaurant. Why don’t you call him, Kaede-san?”

The maid laughed, but left the room.

“I enjoyed the sashimi the most,” he said. “It was fantastic.”

Yanagi-san seemed to grow taller with the compliment, even though he only nodded. He suddenly looked behind Asami. “Young Master, this esteemed customer says my brother’s cooking is as good as mine.”

“Ah.”

Asami turned. The beautiful man had changed into a light-green kimono. The moment he realized who the esteemed customer was, he blushed faintly, reminding Asami of sakura blossoms.

“Thank you for your hospitality,” Asami said.

“Thank you for your patronage,” the man said, staying near the door.

Asami wouldn’t have it. He closed the distance between them. “The meal was exquisite. If I did not have other plans I would come again tonight and tomorrow.” He took out his card and offered it to the man. “If you are in Tokyo, I would like to take you to Kita-san’s establishment, so you can try his food and judge it for yourself.”

The man took the card and put it in his obi without checking it. “Thank you, Asami-sama.” He made a small gesture and took a step forward.

Asami smirked. He was being shown to the door, and he wasn’t sure if he would be welcome a second time to this restaurant. Well, there were other ways to approach someone…

&*&*

Dinner was going as well as could be expected. They were still far from closing the deal, but at least they seemed to agree that it was necessary to have one. And in between job talk, there was small talk.

“How did you find Kyoto in spring, Asami-san?” Tanaka-san asked him.

Asami smiled at him. He didn’t like the man, but, like everyone else in the room, he ran one of the largest groups in Kyoto, specializing in drug trafficking. Frankly, he didn’t understand how they managed to get anything done, divided as they were, but somehow they made it work. “Beautiful. In fact, I went for lunch at a restaurant where they had the most splendid sakura tree. If I had a garden, I would have asked for a cutting, so splendid it was.”

“Ah, which one?”

“Kokakurou. It’s at Gion.”

Mibu laughed. Asami didn’t like him either, but he too was a big player in the region, well-known for his brokering skills, as well as his women. “I’ll tell Oriya not to charge you, then.”

Oriya? Was that the manager’s name? And Mibu knew him? “No need for that. I was going to write it off as a business expense,” Asami said, not wanting to be in anyone’s debt.

“As you wish,” Mibu smiled. “How was Oriya?”

Asami frowned.

“My son. He manages the restaurant for me. I hope he treated you well.”

“Yes, he was an excellent host.”

“Good to know,” Mibu nodded.

Asami smiled. Fuck, there went his plan to have Kokakurou’s manager kidnapped and delivered to his bed. He couldn’t do that to the son of a brother, especially not on the eve of an agreement. Fuck. “I have to make a call,” he said, standing up. He hoped he wouldn’t be too late and that Kirishima hadn’t made a move yet.

“Of course.”

Asami went to the balcony. Kyoto looked beautiful from there; a thousand lights that brightened the dark. “Kirishima? Where are you?”

“At Gion.”

Asami froze. “Did you pick up the package I told you about?”

“Not yet. It’s still quite busy there, so I was going to wait a bit.”

“Good. You don’t have to pick it up anymore.”

“Really?”

“Yes. I’ve changed my mind.”

“Alright, Boss.”

God bless Kirishima and his unquestioning loyalty. Asami smiled. “Have a nice night, Kirishima.”

“You too, Boss.”

Asami sighed in relief. Now he could go back to negotiating, but, ah, he was disappointed. He had been looking forward to playing with the man. Well, one couldn’t have everything in life, could he?

&*&*

Four years later Asami found himself outside Kokakurou again. Only this time he wasn’t alone.

Akihito looked around strangely. “I’m not sure about this,” he said.

“Don’t worry, it’s not like the food is that much fancier than what you’ve had at parties at Sion.”

Akihito made a face. “So you say. I’d much rather we had ramen at the station.”

“Humour me,” Asami said as he grabbed Akihito’s arm and pulled him towards the entrance.

“Asami-sama,” one of the women told him as he bowed. “We are delighted to have you back.”

Asami smirked. What good liars they were. He had to call Mibu to get a table at the restaurant, after Kita-san had told him that he had been barred by the manager. He had scared that precious snowflake after all. The food was worth being in Mibu’s debt, though.

The woman led them to a private dining room.

Akihito sat in seiza, sulking and not talking to him until the maid brought the tea. The moment she was gone, he unfolded himself and sat cross-legged on the cushion. “You can sit formally if you like. I still vote for ramen.”

“You don’t have a vote in the matter. Not today, anyway.”

Akihito made a face. “Tomorrow I will choose where we’ll go, then.”

Asami laughed. “Of course.” He looked at Akihito, and how his expression turned triumphant. Akihito wasn’t the prettiest person he’d ever seen, nor was he that tall, or muscled, but Akihito was the first person to show him that what mattered was not how one looked on the outside, but rather how one was on the inside. And on the inside, Akihito was the brightest, prettiest, best person he’d ever met.

Akihito narrowed his eyes. “You…” he started and immediately stopped at the sound of the door opening.

The manager appeared together with the maid. “Asami-sama,” he said coldly. He still looked beautiful, even when his expression suggested that he wanted to throw Asami off the nearest bridge.

Asami grinned. He was totally not welcome, but the manager had to put up with him. He glanced at Akihito. How he had changed; four years ago he wouldn’t have thought twice about kidnapping someone who didn’t want him to have sex with him. Three years ago, he wouldn’t have thought twice of raping someone to show them who was in control. Yet, now, he couldn’t imagine betraying Akihito, nor could he imagine forcing him ever again. He didn’t feel shame or regret for the person he had been (how could he? he might as well ask to change the past), but he had changed, and he was glad he had.

“Your hair is longer than Feilong’s,” Akihito shouted excitedly when the manager knelt down to serve them.

The manager blinked. “Excuse me?”

“A friend. His hair is long up to here,” he pointed to the middle of his chest, “but yours is longer and just as glossy. Would you be willing to model it for me?”

Both Asami and the manager stared at Akihito. “Excuse me?” they said at the same time.

“A friend got me this job promoting a new shampoo but my model decided she’d rather go spend the week in the Bahamas with her boyfriend and the job is next week and…”

“Take a breath, Takaba,” Asami smiled.

“What a weird idea,” the manager said as he stood up, but he too smiled. “Takaba-san? You’re welcome here anytime. Asami-sama, you can be his plus one when he visits. Enjoy your meal.”

Asami waited until the door was closed. “You made another conquest, I think.”

“Eh?” Akihito blinked. “What are you talking about?”

“What is it about you that makes people open up to you?”

“I don’t understand.”

Akihito looked so confused that Asami couldn’t help leaning forward and kissing him briefly on the lips. “Never mind, then.” As long as he didn’t have to compete with Mibu junior over Akihito he wouldn’t mind.

Truly, Akihito was the best person he’d ever met. He kissed him again, making Akihito blush and lean against him, a warm, comforting presence that had the power to move him. Instead of saying ‘I love you,’ he hugged Akihito and kissed him again.

“I still get to choose where we eat tomorrow, though,” Akihito said the moment Asami let him.

"Yes. Yes, yes."

Chapter Text

The voices of so many people whispering sounded like the rustling of an old paper, or maybe the soft murmur of waves. Someone important must have been approaching. Then he saw them parting to let that person come into the room. Muraki stayed at the bar, even though he was curious to see who was making everyone in the room turn towards one direction. In fact, as if to show to everyone how much he didn’t care, he turned towards the barman and ordered another drink.

As if he didn’t care; from his new position he could watch everything from the mirror behind the man. The way the crowd was parting was like a scene from a film. Who had arrived? One of their Russian or Chinese business partners, perhaps? There were rumours of a young Triad leader whose ruthlessness was matched by his beauty. It would be interesting if that were the one.

He took a sip from his drink. That moment the person finally came in and Muraki chocked. “Fucking hell,” he coughed as he took out his handkerchief to wipe his mouth.

The barman gave him a sympathetic look. “That is something,” he said, eyes following Oriya’s progress.

And what a progress that was. Slow, ridiculously slow, and from the way his upper body swayed slightly forward, then back again, then forward, back again, and then took a step, only for the whole maddening process to start again, Muraki knew that he was replicating the figure eight with his steps. He snorted. “I think he’s going for historical accuracy.”

The barman nodded. “I’m too short to see. Can he actually walk on his own like that?”

Muraki was taller, but even so he had to sit on the bar stool so he could gain some height. “No, I can see someone next to him.” He finished his drink and pushed the glass towards the barman. “Thanks.”

“Enjoy the rest of the evening, Commander.”

Muraki grinned. He pushed his way towards Oriya. His smile widened when he saw the reason why the crowd had parted minutes before his friend’s entrance. Two women with fox masks were a few meters before Oriya, while two of the most charming children he had ever seen walked right before him. They were twins and their matching clothes only highlighted their resemblance. “At least he didn’t bring all of a tayu’s entourage,” he whispered.

The person next to him chuckled under a red oni mask. “Pity. That would have been even more impressive.”

“Don’t tell him that and give him more ideas,” Muraki muttered as he took another step forward.

Oriya stopped, and turned his head towards him. “So, which Tokugawa are you supposed to be?”

Muraki raised an eyebrow. Historical accuracy, indeed. Oriya had blackened his teeth. “Ieyasu, of course.”

Oriya snorted. “Of course.”

Muraki stood next to the man supporting Oriya. “May I?”

“Does that befit your station, my Lord?” Oriya teased him.

“I can do whatever I like.”

Oriya made a small gesture and the man took a step back. Muraki took his place. “I should stay close to you, because I think your father will need medical assistance when he sees you.”

“Good.” He grinned.

Muraki looked up at Oriya. It was strange, and he wasn’t sure he liked it. “I can’t believe you did it.”

“I look good, don’t I?”

“Well…”

“Eh?”

Muraki studied him. “You’re what now? Two meters tall? Add the white make-up and your black teeth, and instead of looking good enough to eat, you look like you could eat everyone.”

Oriya’s grin widened. “Good.”

Muraki laughed. “But you also look good enough to eat, if one can handle you.” The rich silks of his costume made Oriya’s skin look paler, as if made only to be sucked and bitten.

Oriya laughed as well.

“Who are the little ones?”

Oriya stopped. “My cousins. Nana, Nobu, come here, please?”

The children turned and ran towards Oriya. He let go of Muraki and knelt down to hug them. “Muraki, this is Nana. Muraki, this is Nobu.”

The two bowed at the same time. They were ever so cute in their bright red kimono with white flowers, and up close Muraki could see that they had the same fine features and large, brown eyes as Oriya. “I’m so pleased to meet you.”

Nana giggled. Nobu whispered something in Oriya’s ear, and he laughed again. He lifted Nobu easily in his arms and stepped off his shoes. Muraki noticed that his feet were bare.

“I want Uncle Oriya to hold me too,” Nana protested.

Nobu stuck his tongue out at her. “I got here first.”

Muraki knelt in front of Nana. “May I?”

Nana turned towards Oriya. When he nodded, she allowed Muraki to lift her up. “How did you persuade their father to let you borrow them?”

Oriya gave him a small smile, the one that meant that he had done something he shouldn’t have.

Muraki raised an eyebrow. “Naughty,” he whispered.

Nana lifted his cap. “You don’t look old. Why do you have white hair?”

“It’s not white. It’s very pale blond.”

“It’s pretty.” Nana studied him. She suddenly touched the side of his head, and petted him very delicately. “Soft too. Uncle Oriya, touch Muraki-san’s hair. It’s SO soft.”

“Yes, dear, you should touch it too,” Muraki grinned.

“Don’t you ‘dear’ me. You…”

Nobu put his hand on Oriya’s mouth. “No bad words, Uncle Oriya. Not when the children can hear,” he giggled.

Muraki bit back a grin.

“What is that?” Oriya’s father bellowed from the other side of the room. “Oriya.”

Oriya put down Nobu and turned around slowly. “My Lord,” he said, bowing deeply.

One of the women in fox mask was suddenly next to Muraki. She took Nobu’s hand.

Muraki put down Nana, and the other woman picked her up. Muraki smiled as they led the children out of the other entrance.

Oriya’s father, dressed like a Meiji general, strode across the room until he stopped in front of Oriya. He stared at his son without speaking. And stared. And stared.

“I will go change,” Oriya said suddenly, making another bow.

His friend’s father frowned. “No,” he said after a while, with the same confused expression. “You look… impressive, I guess.”

“Thank you,” Oriya said with a blank expression.

Muraki blinked. They finally reconciled, didn’t they?

Oriya’s father nodded and turned towards his subordinates.

Oriya turned towards Muraki. “I need help getting out these. Will you help me?”

“Of course.” From the first moment he saw Oriya in the red kimono and black obi and uchikake, he wished he could undress him and take the place of the tiger that clawed its way on Oriya’s back. “So, you made up.”

Oriya nodded. “He’s getting older, Muraki, and I…who knows how much time I have.”

“You have plenty of time.”

Oriya smiled, that smile that said that he knew more than Muraki, but wouldn’t tell him.

“We’re all getting older,” Muraki agreed instead of pressing him. “Have you thought what you will wear next year?” he asked, changing the subject.

“Yes. I’ll come either as a tengu, or as myself.”

“Eh?”

“By now I’m quite The Character,” Oriya smiled. He nodded towards a corner of the room where a group of young men were dressed in traditional clothes. They all had long, dark hair, obviously wigs, swords tucked through their obi, and carried shamisen cases.

Muraki laughed. “Your fans, right?”

“I think so. And you?”

“Well…. I was thinking, maybe I should wear something that matches your costume next year.”

Oriya stopped. His expression was achingly hopeful. “You mean?”

“Yes, you idiot.” He smiled. “Who knows how much time we all have. Let’s live with honesty, wouldn’t you agree?”

“If my Father wasn’t watching, I would kiss you.”

“Yes, if he wasn’t watching I would kiss you too.”

When they started moving out of the room the crowd parted for them again. Behind them, the whispers started again. But Muraki didn’t care. What mattered was making it up to Oriya, and making up for all the time they had lost. So much time lost.

Chapter Text

“Let me look at you.”

Oriya kept his head lowered, feeling ridiculous. They had so many gorgeous women; he didn’t understand why Father couldn’t use one of them this evening. And this dress too. How stupid was that? He was not a woman, why did he have to dress like one? Or, rather, why had Father dressed him like one?

“Hm,” Father said. “Not bad. Not bad at all. Look at me, Oriya.”

Oriya did, reluctantly.

“Hm, yes, this is much better than I thought it would be. Red suits you.”

Oriya looked away from Father again. This was beyond ridiculous.

Father snorted. “Being bashful is not like you. Is it the clothes that make you so embarrassed?”

Oriya nodded. “And the make-up,” he mumbled. That was even more stupid. He wanted to lick the bloody lipstick off.

“Get used to it. Although, shyness is good; you can maintain that attitude.”

He sighed, glancing one more time at his reflection. He looked weird, too tall and flat-chested to make a passable woman, and yet, his features looked too feminine for a man under the make-up. He was neither fish nor fowl like this. What had Father been thinking?

Father checked him one more time and lowered his collar a little further. At least Father hadn’t put full on maiko make-up on him, and had spared him the forks at the back of his nape. Not that they would have been visible the way his hair was falling on his shoulders. “Follow me,” Father said, handing Oriya his shamisen.

As if he had a choice. He walked behind Father, looking down.

Hanako-chan, who gave Father a tray with a couple of sake bottles and a new cup, hid her smile as she bowed to them. How respectful the Young Master is, she thought with admiration. Such filial piety in this age. How surprising.

Oriya bowed back. He wasn’t sure what he was feeling, but it wasn’t respect. Probably embarrassment, perhaps even shame. He wanted to go to his room, take off the heavy clothes and make-up, and then go have a long, long bath. Being around Father always made him feel awkward, not knowing what was expected of him, and how he was supposed to act.

Father opened the door to one of the dining rooms. “Sensei,” he said with a smile to the old geezer sitting behind a table with a few plates and more than a few bottles of sake on. Strangely enough the man was all alone, without any of the girls or the maiko that were supposed to keep company to their customers.

“Ah, Mibu-san, what an honour. And is that…” Sensei looked pleasantly surprised.

Father waited until Oriya closed the door behind them. “Yes, this is my Oriya.”

“Ah, he’s as precious as his name,” the old geezer said licking his lips.

Father nodded. “He’s more precious than that.” He went close to the old man and whispered something in his ear, using a fan to hide his face.

The old man stared at Oriya again. “Really?”

Father nodded.

“And you would let me….?”

Father nodded again. He poured some wine from the bottle he’d brought. “Drink, sensei. Today is a day of celebration.”

The geezer turned towards Oriya again. “Yes, yes,” he grinned, expression unguarded and lustful.

Oriya shivered. What exactly had Father planned? Not for the first time, he wished he could hear Father’s thoughts. Then, he suddenly heard Sensei’s thoughts, and, not for the first time, he wished he could hear no thoughts at all. Sensei couldn’t stop staring at his legs, and kept imagining how it would feel to spread Oriya down on his opened kimono and part his thighs. How pale he would look against the red silk dress. Should he make Oriya bleed, and watch the white skin painted red?

He looked at Father, feeling rage burning through his face. They sold women, didn’t they? Not men, not teenagers, and especially not him.

Father winked at him. “Another drink, Sensei. Oriya, play us something fun. Something … racy.”

Oriya started plucking the shamisen. The ballad of Gion was a staple in their restaurant, so he started playing that. He hoped that the music would distract him from Sensei’s thoughts.

“Oriya is very talented, isn’t he?” Father said with a smirk. “Especially with his mouth,” he continued suggestively.

So much for music being a distraction. Oriya almost broke a string, so angry he felt. Was Father seriously, honestly, really pimping him out to Sensei? He would never, ever forgive him. Never. He glared at the instrument, since he couldn’t glare either at Sensei or Father.

“Mibu-san, you honestly…” Sensei said, shocked. “You do mean it.”

“A promise is a promise, Sensei. What better way to show you my appreciation for your support than to have you… “ Father paused, and Oriya heard him laugh softly, “initiate my precious son to the joys of sex?”

Oriya did break the string at that and looked up, glaring at them both.

Father kept grinning. “Don’t be so upset, Oriya. We both know where your preferences truly lie.”

No, you don’t, Oriya wanted to shout at him. He liked women. Women, not girls his age, not boys his age, nor older men, and definitely not men who were older than Father.

Father smirked. “Sensei will be a good teacher for you.”

Sensei’s thoughts of how he would fuck Oriya made him sick. He made to stand up, but Father commanded him to stay where he was with a sharp gesture. “Another drink, Sensei?”

Sensei gulped it down, and then the next cup that Father poured for him.

“Oriya, why don’t you pour the next one for Sensei?”

He walked up to Sensei and knelt beside him. “Sensei,” he said softly, training taking over. “Here.”

Sensei dared embrace him. Oriya shuddered. “I will take good care of you, Oriya,” he whispered in his ear as he patted his shoulder. Then he drank the contents of the cup in one go.

Oriya glanced at Father. He looked happy, the… Oriya bit back the swear word.

Sensei suddenly yawned. “Ah, maybe I’ve had too much.”

“One more,” Father insisted. “Oriya.”

Oriya poured more sake as instructed and gave it to Sensei with a smile he didn’t feel.

“Ah, if it’s from Oriya, how can I say no?” Sensei took the cup and drank.

It would have been quicker to pour the whole bottle down his throat and drown him with the wine. Oriya smiled at the idea.

Sensei patted his knee, as he leaned close again. “I will be kind, you’ll see.”

“Yes, thank you, Sensei,” he replied as he’d been taught, mechanically. Sensei’s idea of sex had not been kind at all. He looked at Father again. Was he really going to let this happen? And why did he stay and do as Father asked him? He was sixteen, damn it. He would be an adult soon.

Sensei started sliding down. Oriya froze as Sensei kept falling and falling until his head was on Oriya’s lap. “Ah, you are so warm, Oriya-chan.” He closed his eyes, still smiling.

Oriya made to move, but Father shook his head. “Be patient a little longer, Oriya,” he mouthed.

Oriya glared at him. “Why?” he mouthed back.

Father grinned and gestured for him to stay where he was.

Father had a way of making him feel impotent. All the time. Oriya glared at Sensei and kept glaring until he realized his breathing was getting slow, really slow. He looked at Father again. “Sensei,” he whispered. “There’s something wrong with him.”

“Good.”

“Eh?”

Father picked up the sake bottle and Sensei’s cup. “Sensei was becoming a problem in certain circles. It was either this or a bullet to the head. This was kinder, don’t you agree?”

Oriya felt his eyes open wide as he stared down at Sensei again. “He’s…”

“Dying, yes.” Father smiled at Oriya. “Did you really think I would let that lecher touch you? Oh, Oriya, you trust me so little.”

“Then, why all this?”

“If one is to be kind, one might as well do it well. Sensei may have slept with women, but that was not his true passion. So, I thought of indulging him this time. Send him off with on a happy note, not a whimper.”

Sensei took one more breath and then stilled. Oriya saw his spirit, a small, vaguely white thing with half-formed features resembling those of his human form. For a moment it clung to its body, then it turned towards Oriya, and then it flew upwards, as if caught in a tornado. Oriya watched it get flung outside the house walls, well beyond the Gion shrine, to the direction of Kiyomizu-dera.

“What was that?”

“The House is full of protective spells against all spirits, Oriya. It won’t allow a ghost to stay here.” He laughed again. “You could even kill a god here, and the House would keep you safe.” He patted the floor gently. “It is a good place to be, son.”

Oriya had had enough. He put Sensei’s body down gently and then stood up. “I hate you. I hate you so much,” he shouted at Father as he ran out of the room, Father’s laughter echoing behind him. He hated Father; he totally did.

Chapter Text

Muraki looked at the last dish on the table. This was the real reason he stayed at Kokakurou and not at one of the expensive hotels he used in other cities. The food. The food was utterly excellent, from the plain white rice to the mushrooms. And of course the omelet; no one made omelet like the Kokakurou chef, not even his own cook.

He stood up and looked outside at the garden. The leaves had not yet changed colour, but everyone was expecting them with great anticipation, considering the delicate dessert the colour of momiji leaves. What an event that would be; perhaps he should visit Kyoto again the following month and watch it burn.

The soft, hurried sound of footsteps underneath made Muraki frown. Oriya was supposed to be working all night that night, thus leaving Muraki alone to enjoy a meal without any disapproving stares, nagging, or, what was even worse, that never-ending concern. How did Oriya manage to act loving, stressed-out, and judgmental within the space of seconds was something Muraki could not understand – but hoped to replicate one day. It would be perfect for nurturing his interns into better doctors.

The door to Oriya’s room opened and closed. Muraki smiled. Perhaps Oriya had lied to him after all. He wouldn’t blame him if Oriya wanted to enjoy a meal without any depressive sighs, confessions to murder, and worse, confessions of Muraki’s failure to save one of his patients last week, and how that had made him feel worthless. But then the door opened and closed again, and the sound of footsteps started once more.

Muraki’s curiosity took over. He ran out of the room and down the stairs, pausing for a second to check the corridor. The person’s aura was still visible. A maid, not his friend. Even more curious, Muraki followed her.

She saw him as she knelt behind a closed door. Muraki smiled at her, and gestured not to mind him. She smiled back, nodding. How used were these maids to weird behaviours.

“Young Master,” she called gently as she opened the door. “Here,” she said as she moved in, carrying a long case with her.

Muraki raised an eyebrow. Whoever was inside, he had to be someone important if he could make Oriya switch instruments half-way through. Oriya was accommodating only when he couldn’t do otherwise.

When the maid walked out and closed the door to the dining room, Muraki crept closer and leaned back against the pillar, letting his eyes follow the path of the moonlight across the garden. It was a perfect night for calling spirits. Perhaps he shouldn’t linger here, but go out instead. He could feel his demons were thirsty; feeding them in Kyoto, a place of strong natural energy would be beneficial to them.

But then he heard a sudden high-pitched twang that reverberated for two seconds. It was followed by a low-pitched one, and then a sudden rapid succession of notes that gave way to slower, solemn sounds. This was a good night for this too, Oriya performing for his precious customers, his voice low, drawing out the syllables, and creating an intimate atmosphere.

Ah, it must have been someone very important to get Oriya to sing that song, Muraki grinned when he realized Oriya was singing Poppy Flowers. The song was appropriate for a brothel, a customer comparing his beauty of the night with the beautiful, fragile poppy flower first, and then asking her to be as unresisting like a doll. But, oh, how Oriya hated everything that reminded him what Kokakurou really was, a high-class brothel that still functioned as if they were in the 18th century.

Muraki didn’t understand why Oriya hated it so. Having Kokakurou meant having power. It meant being able to influence people, raise them up in the world or destroy them with one word. It meant protecting yourself and your friends. It meant…

He closed his eyes as Oriya sang of the otherworldly fragrance of the flowers. Muraki’s own family was influential and well-connected, but being under Oriya’s protection had helped him greatly. Evidence vanished, testimonies disappeared or were retracted, policemen looked the other way.
Having Kokakurou was good, and having its manager as a friend was one of the best things that had ever happened to Muraki. That Oriya was clever and with a spiritual strength that was equal to Muraki’s, though, was what made friendship with him irreplaceable.

Muraki looked at the moon again. It was a good night for feeding his demons, but his friend would also come out of that room like a hungry demon, and Muraki ought to tend to him. It was the least he could do to thank him for his hospitality.

He waited, and was prepared to wait even longer, but soon after the song finished (and, oh, how sensitively Oriya had sung it, his esteemed customer should have been pleased), the door opened, and Oriya came out, smiling politely to his customer as he closed the door.

Oriya’s expression fell the moment the door was shut, and then he let out a small scream as he looked away from the room. “Damn it, Muraki, you scared me.”

Muraki grinned. “Really?”

“I didn’t expect to see you there.”

“I got bored in my room, and curious as to why your maids were running up and down the corridor.”

“Ah.”

“Have you finished for tonight?”

“No. I only came out because I told him I would bring him some of our best sake.” Oriya grimaced.

“Couldn’t one of the maids do that?”

“I needed some air, Muraki. That pig,” Oriya shook his head. “The less said, the better,” he said as he started towards the kitchen.

“Does he hope to make you wilt under a shower of affection?” Muraki laughed, quoting from the song.

Oriya groaned.

“Or maybe that you will be like a lovely Nara doll?” That earned him a glare. “Hey, I know a lot about lovely dolls,” Muraki continued, ignoring it. “Maybe I should give him pointers.”

“Please, don’t,” Oriya sighed.

Muraki smirked. “I bet he doesn’t know that if he touches you here,” he said, suddenly reaching for Oriya’s nape and trailing his finger downwards, making Oriya freeze, “you stop resisting,” he whispered.

“That only works for you,” Oriya whispered back.

Muraki smiled. He tried to push Oriya towards the pillar, but Oriya stood still. “I want to kiss you,” he breathed, hugging him.

“Not here,” Oriya replied in the same hurried, low tone as he broke free from Muraki’s embrace.

“Where? When?”

“Your room. Later.”

Muraki pulled away from him. “When you are finished with the pig.”

Oriya nodded, looking miserable again. “What happens here every night; it bothers me. I put them in a good mood, and then send off to have sex with someone who doesn’t want them.” He shuddered. “It bothers me.”

Muraki hugged him, and this time Oriya didn’t slip away from him. “At least they don’t get to have sex with you. Wouldn’t that be worse?”

“Pimping is a greater sin than whoring,” Oriya said gloomily.

“You could whore yourself, then,” Muraki told him, annoyed at hearing the same bullshit again, and yet not meaning it. If anyone touched Oriya, he’d kill them – if Oriya didn’t kill them first.

Oriya punched him. “My customer is waiting,” he said as he moved away from Muraki.

Muraki grinned. “And what about me? Should I wait for you?”

Oriya stopped for a second. His shoulders slumped. “Yes,” he said so softly before walking away that Muraki thought he’d imagined it.

Muraki turned away as well. He needed to have a bath and prepare himself. The demon that would visit him later would be insatiable in his desire and grief. Muraki couldn’t wait to sate him. It would feel wonderful to grapple with such a beast.

But Muraki had been wrong. What felt even more wonderful than satisfying the miserable, frustrated demon of a friend, was watching him fall asleep beside him, finally calm. His peacefulness spread inside Muraki too, and relaxed him in a way that had little to do with the physical exhaustion of making love. If there was a storm inside him that raged and cursed, here was the rock that could resist it, here was the sea that would rise to meet it and then fall back calm and serene once more.

In the morning Muraki would go back to work, to the papers he had to read, the patients he had to save, the relatives he had to comfort. But for now, he could rest, and fall asleep, and know that, even though he was a monster and a beast, there was a place for him.

Chapter Text

As usual the news that Muraki was upstairs, waiting for him, left Oriya with a sense of excitement mixed with dread. Muraki was Muraki, and Oriya still loved him. Always loved him. And yet, what would Muraki tell him this time?

He climbed up the stairs and opened the door. Muraki was sitting formally on his knees, contemplating his teacup with a tiny frown. Oriya smiled, hiding his uneasiness. “Welcome home.”

Muraki looked up. The corners of his mouth turned slightly upwards. “Good to be back, Oriya.” He motioned towards him. “Come, I’ll make you tea this time.”

“Alright.” He sat down, facing Muraki. “Will you be staying long this time?”

Muraki looked up. His hands stilled, a teaspoon filled with leaves hovering between them. “You want to know until when I will burden you,” he said, smile unchanged.

Oriya stared at him. He missed Muraki so much; he needed to know for how long he would have him under his roof. But the idiot either never understood that, or pretended he didn’t. “Don’t be an idiot.”

Muraki made a small huff, smiling widening ever so slightly. He looked back at the teapot and finished adding the leaves. “Of the two of us, I wonder who is the bigger idiot.”

“Is that a real question?” Oriya was; there was no doubt about that. Muraki was who he was, but Oriya was supposed to know better.

“Perhaps it is. Perhaps it isn’t.”

Muraki was in a weird mood, but it would do no good to express his concern. Muraki would tell him what bothered him eventually.

“I was thinking of staying until the end of the week,” Muraki said as he poured the water. “But that will be up to you, in the end.”

“Up to me?”

Muraki nodded. The tea was done, and he carefully poured it in the two cups. “Try it.”

Oriya did. Muraki had added more leaves than usual and brewed it for a very short time, resulting in a drink with rich, intense flavour that seemed to match Muraki’s intensity. “This is excellent. Thank you, Muraki.”

Muraki smiled proudly. He stood up. “I brought you a gift,” he said, going to the corner where his suitcases were. Muraki wheeled the smaller of the two at the table. He started unzipping the uppermost compartment carefully, glancing at Oriya every now and then. Then he removed a small box.

“Is that a…”

“A picnic cooler, yes.”

“But…” Oriya frowned.

“Yes, we are not having a picnic. This was the easiest way to bring you my gift, you see.” He put the small, red container on the table. “I thought very hard about what to bring you,” Muraki said with a small smile. “But then I thought of what you’ve been wanting for so long, and so I brought it to you.” He opened the container slowly.

A piece of red shone under the ice. Muraki started removing it, revealing more and more of red, dark, raw meat red. A small, round, no irregular piece of meat that Muraki lifted carefully. It fit neatly in Muraki’s palms, and Muraki offered it to him with a small bow. “My heart. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

The heart seemed to move. Oriya looked up, and a dark, red stain started growing on Muraki’s chest.

His screams woke him up. Oriya looked around him, disoriented, still feeling sick and terrified. His room was unchanged, the moonlight cast a fragmented light through the window blinds, and the plants swayed lightly in the breeze.

Oriya closed his eyes and pulled the covers over his head. Just a nightmare. Just another weird nightmare.

The next morning he received a message from Muraki that he would be visiting; could Oriya make sure his room was free? Oriya read it and felt like he’d forgotten something important, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t remember.

Oh, well, if it were that important, he would remember at some point. If not, then it wasn’t important in the first place. Until that happened, he had to make sure everything was ready for Muraki’s arrival.

He had to prepare himself too. For how long would Muraki stay this time? Gods, he had missed him so much, even though Muraki was full of crazy, stupid ideas that he had to share with Oriya every time they met. Yet, he loved him. Why did he have to love him?

Chapter Text

The moon shone through the blinds. Oriya looked at the light; it reached Muraki’s feet, as if it did not dare come nearer to him.

“Even if you don’t share the same yearning, we both share the same moon,” Oriya whispered softly, misquoting a poem. He leaned over Muraki before kissing him on the forehead.

Muraki shrugged and rolled over, away from him.

“Even in your sleep you reject me,” Oriya sighed. Their intimacy would soon become a thing of the past, he was certain of it. Muraki’s caresses had been growing rarer and rarer every year. When Oriya kissed him, Muraki’s lips curved in a smirk. Even when he allowed Oriya to have him, he accepted with a bored, patient expression that had Oriya punching the floor so as not to punch Muraki.

Perhaps that would be for the best. Oriya was suffering enough as it was; perhaps if they stopped sharing the same bed, then his pain would lessen. He wouldn’t have to see how Muraki put up with him for the sake of their past love confessions and vows, the nights they had spent together when they were younger, the times that time itself had stopped for them.

But, as with so many things in his life, that would not be up to him. It would be up to Muraki to end whatever it was they were having, to stop coming into his room under the pretense of sharing dinner, to stop staying into his room as if their affair still meant something to him.

He sighed again.

Muraki turned again in his sleep, reaching for Oriya. In the pale light his half-opened eye shone like metal. “Lie down. I’m cold without you,” he mumbled, voice rough and low.

Oriya obeyed him. He always would, wouldn’t he?

&*&*

Feilong studied him from under his lashes, making Oriya feel self-conscious. “Is there something on my face?” he asked defensively.

Feilong chuckled. “No.” He pushed his empty plate aside and then stood up gracefully. “I brought you something. I was wondering when to give it to you, and now is as good a time as any.”

“What is it?”

“You’ll see,” he smiled as he left the room.

Oriya turned around and looked at the garden. In the moonlight it was a patchwork of black shadows and bright spots. Then a cloud must have started covering the moon, for the garden grew slowly darker. “Ah, even if we do not share the same,” he whispered.

“What?”

He turned around. Feilong stood at the entrance with a box in his hands. A wide, but not very tall box. “Nothing. Just a poem I remembered. Nothing at all.”

Feilong did not ask, even though his curiosity was great. He’d find the reference on his own. “Here,” he said as he put the box on the floor next to Oriya. “Open it.”

Oriya did. He slowly untied the ribbon that decorated the top, and Feilong started tapping his fingers on his thigh impatiently. He smiled, and, even more carefully, removed the paper wrapping around it.

Feilong snorted. “It’s not a bomb.”

“But it’s such a beautiful paper; it would be disrespectful to tear it.”

Feilong let out a small huff.

Finally, after Oriya had dragged the process as much as possible, he opened the box and then the delicate rice paper. “You shouldn’t have,” he said as the fabric was revealed, a lustrous, black velvet. He covered it again with the paper.

“Why don’t you take it out to see it better?”

Oriya obeyed him. He always would, wouldn’t he? He put the garment on the stand.

The uchikake was heavy and ending in a bright red hem, but its most distinctive feature was the silver-grey dragon that flew in a sinuous line between flame-like clouds.

“When you wear it, think of me.”

“I don’t need dragons to think of you. Thank you, this is beautiful.”

Feilong smiled, pleased. He sat down again, trailing his deceptively slender hand over his chest. “I can think of other ways you can thank me,” he whispered, slowly unbuttoning his shirt. “Can you?”

Oriya could. Feilong was not Muraki, but neither was he Asami. They would suffice.

&*&*

Damn his upbringing, damn his work, damn his loyalty. He’d rather be somewhere else, perhaps at the garden, perhaps at Tokyo, perhaps somewhere even further away that no one would ever bother him but instead he was at the dining room, sitting modestly by the door, smiling at his stupid customer as if he were the most important person in the world for him. “It’s always such a pleasure to see you, Sensei.”

Sensei smiled back. “The pleasure is all mine, Young Master.” He leaned forward, making Ayako, who was kneeling at his left to lose her balance and cling to him with a giggle. “After all the time we’ve known each other, do you think I can call you ‘Oriya’?”

Oriya’s smile stayed frozen. No, you bastard, he wanted to say, but that was not polite.

“Ah, you won’t answer me. Is that a ‘no’, then?”

From behind Sensei Airi lifted her fan to hide her grin. Ah, another idiot smitten with the manager. That would be fun to watch.

Oriya kept smiling. “A song, perhaps?”

“Yes, yes,” Sensei answered quickly. “But first, I have something for you. I hope you won’t mind.” He took out a small, narrow box and offered it towards Oriya.

Oriya gestured at Airi and she bowed, taking it from Sensei. Then she brought it over, not bothering to hide her amusement. “Please,” she said and she put it down in front of him. “Will you,” she whispered, but cut herself off before she could ask if Oriya would kick Sensei’s ass for his impertinence.

Oriya grinned. He probably would, depending on the gift. Hell, he would anyway; people were not supposed to bring him gifts, and especially not while he was working. “Thank you, Sensei,” he said far too brightly.

Airi took a step back and near the door. Ayako moved slightly away from their precious customer. Sensei stayed still, unconcerned.

What an idiot. Oriya opened the box slowly, removed the silk bag from inside, and took out the fan that was hidden there. He opened it. “Even if we don’t share the same,” someone had written on its surface, perhaps Sensei himself (the handwriting was hasty and bold and thoroughly inelegant).

“Really, Sensei?” Oriya grinned. He stood up, crossed the room and towered over Sensei. “I have to spell things out for you?” he suddenly shouted, grabbing Sensei’s tie and chocking him with it. Sensei’s eyes bulged comically as he struggled to loosen it and free himself. “Only women are available here. Only women.” Disgusted, Oriya let him go. Ah, he’d be in trouble anyway for his behavior, so why should he hold back? “Sensei is tired. Send him home.”

Sensei coughed as he crawled after Oriya. “No, please, Young Master. I only…” He coughed again as one of the chefs stared dragging him out of the room.

Ayako giggled. “The Young Master has such a temper.”

Oriya snorted.

“One day they will learn not to bother you,” Airi said soothingly. “Sake?”

Chapter Text

Oriya jerked awake, as if stung. Disoriented, he fell back and shut his eyes, but the prickly sensation persisted. So, it wasn’t a dream. Someone was there. Someone strong, insistent, and polite? Whoever it was, was at the edge of the garden, unmoving. Waiting for Oriya to come meet him or her, or watching him?

Ah, he wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep with them in the garden, would he? Oriya grabbed his short sword from next to his pillow, got up, and pulled the duvet with him, wrapping himself in it as he walked towards the corridor.

“I can sense you,” he grinned as he opened the doors and looked outside. He was about to call them out on their rudeness waking him up, when he finally saw his uninvited visitor. Ah. “You have grown, kid,” he said, genuinely pleased.

“I’m not a kid,” the blond god of death protested as he stepped forward. “And I haven’t grown either,” he mumbled, looking down for a second. “I’m dead, or have you forgotten?” he asked more loudly, staring at him again, challenging him to say something.

Even though the death god was annoyed, he harbored no malicious intents. In fact, Oriya mostly felt frustration and curiosity coming from him. Oriya nodded, still smiling. “Of course not. But we haven’t been introduced, so, how should I call you? Kid.”

The death god stepped onto the corridor, quiet as a cat. “I’m Kurosaki Hisoka.” He made a small bow.

“Pleased to meet you, Kurosaki-san.” Yes, the kid had grown. Obviously not in appearance, but his maturity was obvious to Oriya. “It’s too late for dinner and too early for breakfast. Would you like some tea?”

Kurosaki-san stared at him, trying to decide if Oriya’s offer meant something else. “No, thank you,” he finally said.

Pity, he would have liked some. He sat down, cross-legged and leaning back against the wall, a deliberate open and relaxed pose to make his visitor feel a bit more at ease, and waited for him to talk.

Kurosaki-san stayed standing. He looked past Oriya, inside his room. His gaze settled on Oriya’s single futon.

Oriya smirked. Whom did Kurosaki-san expect to find there? Surely not… “No,” he gasped. “You thought he and I…? Argh.”

Kurosaki-san flushed red and looked immediately away and towards the floor.

Oriya shuddered. “Gods, no.”

“Well,” Kurosaki-san mumbled, still embarrassed.

“Well,” Oriya managed, still shocked. That was even more monstrous than the monstrous rumours that had been spread about him and Ukyou. Muraki was his best friend, nothing else. Nothing but his dearest, crazy best friend without whom Oriya felt half-dead. Oh, he was protesting too much again, like when he was protesting about the rumours concerning Ukyou. “Well,” he said more softly. “Well.”

Kurosaki-san raised his eyes and stared at him. Did you not know you loved him?

“In any case, he’s…,” Oriya started, but it was too late.

Kurosaki-san’s thoughts had turned already towards his own experience of Muraki. There was a sakura tree casting its shadow on the young man, then just a boy. There was blood. There was Muraki.

Oriya felt himself gag, and only part of his body’s reaction was an echo of Kurosaki-san’s. He stood up before throwing up. “Let’s have some tea.”

Kurosaki-san took a step back. “I didn’t come here for the tea,” he said after a few deep breaths. His thoughts were still on Muraki, but his emotions were under some control.

“Then, what? Is this an official business?” he smiled. He wouldn’t mind dying at home, next to his garden.

“No, no,” Kurosaki-san replied hastily. He stared at him as he took yet another deep breath. He suddenly had no doubts about what he wanted to say, and what he would do. “I’m going to kill him. To protect my friend.”

“Why are you telling me this? You’ve made up your mind, and you know I can’t stop you.” You can, a small, treacherous voice told him. You can kill him now, under this sakura tree, and finish the job Muraki started under that other tree so many years ago. Cut him down, and the House will take care of him.

“Because you deserve to know the truth of his death, when you hear of it.” Kurosaki-san’s form started dissolving.

Oriya’s fingers tightened on the hilt of his sword. If he were to strike, this would be the time. it would take a fraction of a second. He could see the way he would need to move: throw back the comforter, remove the sword from its sheath, strike. One strike would be enough.

His ears started ringing. If he were to strike, he should do it now. Strike, and protect Muraki. Stay still, and allow one of Muraki’s victims his revenge. “Wait.”

Kurosaki-san’ body flickered. His eyes shone with annoyance as he solidified again. “What?”

“Kill him when he comes for you. Not like this.”

“What difference would that make?”

Oriya gulped down bile. “If you go after him now, even though you say it’s for protecting your friend, it will still be out of your need for revenge and you will fail. Now that Muraki failed to avenge himself, his hate is even stronger. You will not win against him. Not like this. But in self-defense, in defense of your home?”

Kurosaki-san studied him. “Hm,” he said as he started vanishing again.

Oriya covered his face with his hands. He’d bought Muraki some time, but how much? He went back to his room and called Muraki’s house.

Sakaki picked up after a few rings, and then, a long, long moment later, Muraki answered him. “What happened? Is your house on fire?”

“No, yours.”

“Eh?”

“That boy, Kurosaki, he’s coming for you.”

Muraki started laughing. “And you woke me up for that? Let him come. I’ll take care of him. Again. Good night, Oriya. You need your sleep more than I do.” Muraki hang up on him.

Oriya rubbed his eyes. Had he done enough? Had he done too little? Had he just given the idea to Muraki to go after Kurosaki? His right temple suddenly felt like someone was trying to push a small, short nail into it.

Why did he bother? He just wanted to be left alone. By the living, by the dead, by everyone.

Chapter Text

Seiji introduced Oriya to his teacher first, and then his wife. Akiko-san smiled kindly at him. “You are the first friend Ogata-kun brings at a game. You must also like Go very much.”

Oriya grinned. “No, not really. But I like Seiji, and he takes care of my fish, so… it’s the least I can do for him.”

Akiko-san looked at him knowingly. “I think I understand your feelings, Oriya-san.” She bowed a little as she presented him with her card. “If you ever want to talk about dealing with the men who like Go in your life, give me a call.”

Oriya blushed, knowing that he just confirmed all of Akiko-san’s suspicions about his and Seiji’s relationship. Oh well.

Akiko-san led him to the kitchen by the arm, where a dark-haired boy was just finishing a glass of orange juice. “This is my son, Akira. He is also a Go professional. This is Oriya-san, a friend of Ogata-kun’s. Akira will explain the game to you, should you need any help,” Akiko-san smiled.

Oriya bowed a little. “Pleased to meet you, Akira-kun. Please take care of me.” He grinned. “Though, to be honest, I will try not to bother you. I really am hopeless with go.”

“Then how did you meet Ogata-san?”

“He teaches my father, and… he’s been trying to help me keep my fish alive,” Oriya said with a smile. “Do you like fish, Akira-kun?”

“They are interesting,” Akira-kun replied.

Ah, so he didn’t get fish any more than Oriya understood Go. He grinned. “I promise to not ask any questions – unless something happens.”

“Akira, Akira,” a boy shouted from the other end of the house.

Akira-kun nodded. “Ah, there’s Hikaru. He’s also a Go Professional.”

Hikaru had bleached blond hair that was as brilliant as his smile when he walked into the room. Oriya froze when he saw him. There was something – no, someone – just as brilliant hovering next to Hikaru.

Akira made a face. “You should be more quiet, Hikaru.”

“Why? Your mother never scolds me, so why do you? And who are you?” he turned to Oriya.

“This is Oriya-san, a friend of Ogata-san’s.”

“Ogata has friends?” Hikaru raised both eyebrows. “Really?”

Oriya nodded. He reached for Hikaru’s shoulder and touched him lightly. “Apologies. You have something there,” he said, letting the spirit latch on to him. “I’ll go to the garden to have a smoke. Is that acceptable?” he asked Akira-kun.

“Yes, yes,” Hikaru replied, making Akira-kun roll his eyes upwards.

“Let’s go back to the study. The game will start soon. Oriya-san, you know the way, right?”

Akira-kun’s voice was polite. The boy would make a perfect host someday.

“Yes, yes,” he said distractedly, studying the small bright light.

“You can hear me? You can see me?” The spirit asked with anguish.

Oriya nodded. He closed the door that connected the living room to the garden, and sat down. “Who are you? And why are you attached to Hikaru-kun?”

“I’m Fujiwara no Sai, and I’m a Go Master. Until recently Hikaru could hear me, but then something happened and….” Fujiwara started telling Oriya one of the saddest stories of attachment to earthly passions he had ever heard. An attachment that had lasted over a thousand years. How incredibly sad it was.

“Would you like to see Touya-sensei’s game with me?” He cut off the ghost’s lament over missing playing Go, and why couldn’t Hikaru hear him anymore when he was right there? Why? Why? Why?

“Yes, yes, please. Can we go now? Can we go?” Fujiwara shouted excitedly.

Oriya went back to the study and sat behind Hikaru and Akira.

“It’s started,” Fujiwara said, suddenly focused on the board with the same single-mindedness Oriya was used to seeing on Seiji. “Look,” Fujiwara started explaining the moves already on the board.

Oriya let Fujiwara speak without paying any attention to him. A thousand-year-old spirit that still wanted to play Go. What would be the best way of dealing with it? “I know,” he suddenly said.

Akira and Hikaru turned towards him with twin glares. Thankfully neither Seiji nor Touya-sensei seemed to have been distracted.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. When the boys looked back at the game, Oriya smiled at Fujiwara. I’ll help you, desperate ghost. Just you wait.

&*&*

“Heian-kyo has changed a lot,” Fujiwara sighed when he approached Oriya in the garden. “I wouldn’t be able to find my way home, even if my home had been standing.” He sat down gracefully beside him. “Your friend, can he really help?”

“Yes.” If Muraki couldn’t help him, then no one else would.

Fujiwara sighed again. A moment later he stood up. “There’s something dark there,” he said, pointing towards the side entrance. “Something… ,” he shivered and grabbed Oriya, hiding behind him. “What is that? It’s scary.”

Oriya laughed. “That’s my friend.”

“Your friend is evil. And scary.”

Oriya shrugged. Muraki was all that, but he was still his friend.

Muraki bowed deeply when he saw him. “You summoned me, Master?”

Oriya huffed in annoyance. Fujiwara still trembled behind him. He stood up. “Come, I’ll make you tea.”

“Is that wise, Oriya-san?” Fujiwara whispered, clinging on like a limpet.

“Yes.”

Fujiwara cried all the way to the tea-room.

&*&*

“Let me get this straight,” Muraki said, smirking as he finished his tea. “You want me to either make a body for a thousand-year-old Go-playing ghost, or find a body for him.”

“Yes.”

“Hm.” He suddenly turned serious. “Are looks important to your ghost?”

Oriya looked at Fujiwara. “Yes, I think so.” Fujiwara nodded gratefully.

“Can you sketch him for me? You know I can’t see spirits that well.” He took out a notebook and a pen and handed them to Oriya.

Oriya studied Fujiwara. Moments later he started drawing him. “There.”

“Hm.” He looked up, not checking the drawing, frowning. “Are you sure you want to do this, Oriya?”

“Muraki,” he shouted. “He talks about Go. He makes me play Go. He makes me read Go kifu when he’s not playing. I can’t take it. I took him to Father, but Father can’t be haunted. Why?” he cried.

Muraki laughed. “He’s such a bothersome ghost, that’s what you’re saying. Should I send him on his way then?” He licked his lips. “Or eat him up? A thousand-year-old power…”

Fujiwara started crying in earnest again.

“No,” Oriya screamed, hitting Muraki on the head. “No,” he said more softly. “He’s a sad ghost, obsessed with one passion. You can understand that, surely.”

Muraki nodded, and his expression changed to one of wistfulness. “Yes, I can.” He started towards the exit. “Fine, as a favour from one obsessed person to another, I’ll help your ghost.”

“You will?” Fujiwara shouted. “Thank you, Muraki-sensei, thank you.”

Oriya grinned. “He can’t hear you. Not yet, anyway.”

&*&*

Muraki studied the drawing Oriya had made for him. His ghost had been pretty, and of course Oriya would want to preserve his beauty. Ah, Oriya. “The way I see it,” he said, glancing at the garden for a moment, “I can either put his soul in a dead body, or create a new body. The first would require finding a suitable donor – someone young, without a family, and then performing extensive plastic surgery to make the donor look like your ghost. Since you are fond of your ghost, I could perform the surgery on a live donor, and then … move the soul. That way he won’t feel any of the post-operation pain.”

Oriya grimaced. “You’re suggesting kidnapping someone, probably an orphan, torturing him, and then killing him.”

“Yes. Unless your ghost doesn’t care about looks.”

Oriya turned to his right, attentive. Then he looked back at Muraki. “The way he looks and Go are the only two things he’s known for a thousand years. To take one would be cruel, but acceptable, if there is no other option.”

Acceptable to Oriya’s ghost, perhaps, but Oriya would not be very happy when he heard how fresh the donor’s body would have to be for the soul to move there. He rubbed the top of his head. Oriya had a heavy hand. “If I were to make a body, I would need materials.”

“Like?”

“Bones, blood, cemetery soil. And there might be side-effects.” At Oriya’s frown he continued. “I don’t know how such a body might age. It might age quickly, or slowly.”

“Hm… perhaps you could use some form of spell to make it look the right age?”

“Perhaps. Or I could tie its life to someone else’s life-span. Your ghost would then age with that person, and then die with them.”

Oriya turned at the ghost again. “Fujiwara-san says that is also acceptable,” he relayed his answer to Muraki.

“In that case…” Muraki opened his notebook and started writing what he would need. “Can I trust you to find me some bones? It doesn’t even have to be a complete skeleton. Just something I can use as base.”

“Does the age matter? Of the deceased?”

“No, I just want bones.”

“Then…” Oriya sighed deeply. “I might have what you need right here.” He leaned forward. “There are bodies under the sakura tree. I’ll dig one up,” he murmured.

That sounded like an interesting story best left for a warm summer night. “Can I also use the soil from under your tree, then? That would be the best material, and it would be easier to work with, especially since it would already have traces of the bones.”

Oriya nodded.

“As for blood.” Muraki grinned. “I could give him some of mine.”

Oriya winced. He turned to the ghost and listened to it for some minutes. “You can use my blood,” he said when the ghost had finished talking. “We agree it would be for the best.”

Muraki snorted. Oriya was such a sucker for sob stories. His blood would work just as well as Muraki’s, though. “Alright.” He stood up. “I need to buy some more things. Should we reconvene at eleven? Will you have the bones by then?”

“Yes.” The ghost started saying something to Oriya, judging by the way he cocked his head to the side, listening.

Muraki shook his head. Yes, such a bothersome ghost Oriya wanted to help him with all his being. Literally.

&*&*

Fujiwara couldn’t stop touching himself. “I have a body, I have a body,” he kept shouting as he cried.

Muraki grinned. “He’s very loud. No wonder you wanted him to have a voice.”

“Yes, now he can bother other people.”

“What people?” Muraki asked. “Speaking of people, what shall we do about his age? Glamour or bond?”

“Can’t it wait for a bit? Maybe there will be no need for either, after all.”

Muraki frowned. Oriya was no sorcerer, but he could see energies. Was the energy he saw in Fujiwara the same as that of a normal human? Could it be that Muraki had managed to create the ultimate live body? Was he that good? “Alright. Fujiwara-san, if you notice anything weird, you will let me or Oriya know immediately.”

Fujiwara nodded, still crying. “I can play Go. With my own hands.”

Muraki smiled. Yes, that was one obsessed spirit. He didn’t know why, but he suddenly felt good that he had helped him. And Oriya – he looked proudly at Muraki. When was the last time that had happened? Muraki felt his heart swell with something unfamiliar. Was that what happiness felt like?

&*&*

Oriya grinned at Seiji. “I have a surprise for you,” he said.

Seiji followed him. “What is it?”

“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it? It’s at my room, so you’ll see it in a moment.”

Seiji nodded. Knowing Oriya it probably would be another tie, or maybe cufflinks, or maybe another fish.

He let Oriya open the door for him and stepped inside. The go board was already out, but this time there were no stones on its surface, even though Seiji had emailed the kifu he wanted to study the day before. There was a man dressed in a purple kimono seated formally at one side of the board, as if he were waiting for an opponent. A young man with hair as long as Oriya’s, and just as soft-looking.

“Sai,” Oriya said softly, “this is Seiji.”

Seiji gasped and couldn’t move. It couldn’t be The Sai, could it?

Sai turned, nodding at them slightly. He was breathtakingly beautiful, as pretty as a flower. No, this couldn’t be Sai.

“Seiji, this is Sai. We’re distant cousins and he’ll be staying with me for a while.” Oriya pushed Seiji inside. “He’s good at Go, but…”

“But?”

“Sai had an accident and couldn’t play for a couple of years. Please, be gentle with him.”

Seiji ignored Oriya. Sai was smiling at him patiently, waiting for him. He sat down and picked up a handful of white stones. “The older person does nigiri,” he said.

Sai giggled, making Seiji smile. Could this really be Sai? One way to find out.

Chapter Text

Feilong grinned as Oriya lay down next to him. He waited until Oriya shifted, and placed his head on Feilong’s thigh, and then indulged in one of his favourite pastimes: running his fingers through Oriya’s hair. That always made him feel like he had a pet, a feline one with a thick, soft fur.

“I can’t believe that you eat more than we do on New Year’s,” Oriya whispered, closing his eyes. “I’m about to go into a food coma. Do what you want with me, I’m officially useless.”

“Luckiy for you, I’m also quite full. I’m happy like this.”

“That was a lot of food,” Oriya continued, his voice full of wonder. “There was a lot of food last night, but today was even worse.”

“I hope this doesn’t mean that you won’t spend another Chinese New Year with me.”

“No, no. it just means that next time I’ll try to pace myself better. But, oh, the chicken. And the dumplings. And the fish.” He rubbed his stomach. “It was all so good.”

“Don’t forget the spring rolls.”

“You bought them from my favourite dim sum place at central Kowloon, right? Thank you.”

Feilong smiled. It was so easy to please Oriya; all he had to do was get him good street food and he was happy. “Since we’re in a lazy mood, I thought we’d watch a film. Unless you prefer to listen to music?”

“No, a film is good.”

Feilong found the remote. “I thought we should watch A New Year’s Coin. It’s an old film, but you’ll like it.” Not to mention that he’d always watched it with his father, and then with Tao, at some point during the New Year celebrations. Time to share another of his traditions with his lover.

Oriya took Feilong’s hands in his and started caressing them. “Feilong?” he asked after a while later.

“Yes?”

“Please, promise me there’ll be no dinner tonight.”

“I can’t,” he laughed. “Tao,” he shouted. “The film is about to start.”

Tao rushed into the room. His arms were full with numerous unhealthy snacks and he bounced on the sofa as he sat down.

Oriya groaned. “Tao is trying to kill me.”

“But I brought Oriya-sama’s favourite snacks.”

“Exactly.”

Feilong laughed again. “Oriya-sama says he ate too much.”

Tao’s eyes widened comically. “No. But Oriya-sama has a bottomless pit for a stomach.” He blushed. “Did I just say that?”

Feilong bit his lips at Oriya’s glare. “I take care of my diet back home,” he complained.

“Because you’re not allowed junk food there, you mean,” Feilong said, still trying to stop himself from grinning.

Oriya glared at him.

“Anyway,” Feilong continued, “tonight we’re invited at Hsu’s.”

“Who?”

“He’s another Mountain Lord. I have to go and play nice, as he’s always been neutral, so…”

“You’re trying to make him an ally?”

“Or just make sure he stays as he is.”

“Must I join you? I’m not feeling that well after all that food.”

Feilong bit back a snort. Not feeling well did not keep Oriya from eyeing Tao’s snacks like he wanted nothing but to grab some of them and eat them all at once. Maybe Tao really was trying to kill Oriya. “Yes, you must,” he said patiently.

“And be on my best behavior?”

“Yes. So, no insulting people when they can’t drink as much as you. No challenging other bored gang members into duels. And definitely no poker games. Honestly, handling the casino that you won at cards last year is enough for me.”

“So, am I supposed to just sit there and look pretty?”

“Yes.”

Oriya made a face.

“I don’t make any trouble for you when I’m in Japan, do I?” Feilong looked away at Oriya’s glare. “Well, apart from that incident with the Russians. But I was doing Asami a favour.”

“You also blew up a nightclub outside Osaka.”

“It was a drug making facility. In my turf.”

“And that boat you sunk off Ishigaki?”

Feilong shrugged. “Kind of the same?”

Oriya kept glaring.

“Fine, you can play poker, if you want. Just don’t annoy people.”

“Hm.” Oriya turned his attention to the screen. “Hm,” he said a few minutes later. “What happened here? Tao, can you explain the plot for me?”

As Tao started telling Oriya what he had missed, Feilong continued playing with Oriya’s hair. Just because he wanted to safeguard his interests in Japan did not mean that he was being troublesome, did it? Ah, well, compromise was at the heart of every successful relationship. Oriya could make a bit of trouble this year too -- as long as he did not win another casino; he really didn’t want any extra hassle.

Chapter Text

Feilong leaned back, feeling like he could finally relax now that he was finally alone with Oriya. “That was…”

“Did you not like them?” Oriya sounded more curious than concerned.

Feilong smiled. It had taken him a while to realise that the more Oriya sounded like he didn’t care, the more worried he was . This time, he was worried about Feilong’s opinion of his friends. “It was wonderful. The dance reminded me of Tai Chi, actually. Same kind of ritualized movements that have to be performed with utter precision.”

“Ichifuku-neesan will be very happy to hear that. She is great, isn’t she?”

“Yes.” He drank some sake. “She must really like you to take a break from her busy schedule to come dance for us.”

Oriya laughed. “She did me no favours. I paid her, as well as Kiku-neesan, Saya-chan, and Himeko-chan. No one mixes business with pleasure in Gion.”

“You play music for me, though.”

“No, I play music when you are around. There’s a difference.”

Feilong grinned. Yeah, right. “So, should I pay you to entertain me, then?”

Oriya almost broke his cup as he put it down. “I didn’t say that, either,” he said, glaring at him.

“You…” he started saying.

A soft voice from outside interrupted him. “Young Master?” The door opened, and one of the older maids peeked into the room. “Young Master, the Secretary is being troublesome.”

Oriya sighed. “That idiot.” He stood up. “Our discussion is not over,” he said as he hurried out of the room.

Feilong filled his cup again. “Yes, whatever you say, darling,” he grinned. He filled his cup and drank again. Oriya was good at lying to himself. He did play music for Feilong. Now all Feilong had to do, was get him to admit it.

He looked outside. The moonlight painted part of the garden silver. How easy it was to forget time there, cast off his worries, and be whoever he wanted to be. Sometimes he was worried about that. Sometimes he was glad. This was one of those times. He took his cup and the bottle and went to sit at the porch, where the garden provided him with a soft, peaceful soundtrack of rustling leaves, murmuring water and the thump of the bamboo water clock.

‘Why don’t you have fish in your pond?’ was what he wanted to ask when he heard the door to the dining room slide open and glanced back to see Oriya come in, looking annoyed. What came out of his mouth was, “If you are a geisha, why don’t you wear make-up?”

Oriya blinked. Watching how easily his irritation at his customer turned at amusement at Feilong’s comment was worth the slight embarrassment Feilong felt at having blurted out something so indiscreet. “I’m a man. And, even if I weren’t, I still wouldn’t, as I’m not the main attraction.”

Feilong snorted.

“It’s true. Jikata usually don’t wear make-up, unless they are quite young. Which I’m also not.”

Jikata? Ah, yes, the term for geisha musicians, Feilong remembered. Something to do with earth and sitting down to play. He snorted again. “Well, I disagree with that as well. Say, would you wear some for me?"

“Make-up?”

“Yes. You don’t have to go all ghost on me; but maybe some lipstick and eyeliner? And that tempting red on the corners of the eyes?”

Oriya grinned. “And wear a woman’s kimono too, while I’m at it?”

Feilong shrugged. “If you want.” Not that he cared much about that; no, what he wanted was to see Oriya in some make-up.

Oriya smiled. “I’ll think about it.”

“Please, do,” he smiled back.

Oriya suddenly sighed. “I love you so.”

Feilong felt himself blushing. “You keep saying that and one day I’ll believe it.”

“If you still don’t believe me, then I’m not saying it enough,” Oriya said as he closed the distance between them and pushed Feilong to the floor. “Let me at least show it to you.”

Feilong grinned, looking forward to Oriya’s demonstration. So far he had not been disappointed by the man’s displays of attraction. Or affection, or love, or whatever Oriya wanted to call them.

&*&*

When Feilong woke up he saw Oriya putting on white make-up. He blinked, decided he was having a weird dream, closed his eyes, turned around, and went back to sleep. When he woke up again, Oriya was staring down at him, face all white and expression blank.

“You look like a ghost,” he said, once he recovered from the shock. Or a fox.

Oriya nodded.

“I still like the red, though, and the black.” Feilong pulled him down.

“You’ll destroy all my hard work.”

“I wanted to mess you up, not to admire you,” Feilong smirked. “Now, let me kiss you.”

“So not a hidden marsh,” Oriya laughed, and made no other protests.

Feilong smiled. He wouldn’t call this ‘love’, but he would agree with it being ‘passion.’

Chapter Text

Oriya stood still. Even though he was definitely an adult, his father still made him feel like a child. It was a matter of presence. Feilong stood just as still beside him. He hadn’t seemed ready for meeting his father, and, seeing them together, he could hardly blame Feilong. His father was frowning slightly, smoking calmly and staring at them, instead of speaking. “Hm,” he finally said.

“Hm?”

“So, that’s your wife.”

Feilong glared at the floor. Then he nodded. “Yes,” he said softly.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” his father told Feilong. “Oriya?”

“Yes, Father. This is my wife.”

“Hm.”

Feilong’s hands clenched into fists. Oriya dared caress Feilong’s palm. His father hit him with the pipe. “You may leave us,” he said, pushing Oriya’s hand away from Feilong’s and then hitting Feilong’s palm. “Make us tea.”

Feilong glared at Oriya. Then he bowed. “Of course.” He rose gracefully, despite this being his first time in a kimono, and left the room as fast as he could. Oriya suspected they’d be lucky if Feilong didn’t burn the house down as he boiled water.

“Hm,” his father said again.

“Hm,” Oriya said as well.

“Chinese, huh?”

“Yes.”

“Hm.” He filled his pipe again. “At least she’s pretty. And tall. That’s good.” He lit his pipe. “But, I don’t approve of her.”

“Father, we’re already married.”

“I don’t care.” His father stared at the garden. “Her hips are too narrow. She’ll never manage to give birth to your sons.”

Oriya bit his lips. If Feilong ever gave birth to his sons, then something would be very wrong with the world. Or Muraki would be to blame, in which case, again, something would be very wrong with the world. And Muraki would die a death most horrid. “We’re married,” he said again.

“So? You married her out of love? What have I been teaching you all these years?”

“You married Mother out of love.”

“Leave your Mother out of this.” His father emptied the ashes on Oriya. “Besides, she had nice, wide hips. And her breasts were full.”

“Father. This is Mother you’re talking about.”

His father grinned. “Your Mother was my Wife.”

Oriya put his hands over his ears. “I don’t want to hear this. No.”

Feilong stirred beside him. “What’s wrong?”

Oriya blinked. He took a couple of deep breaths. “Nothing. Just a bad dream.”

“Ah.” Feilong hugged him. “Care to tell me about it?”

“It’s really stupid. It’s…” He grinned. “I introduced you to my father and he didn’t approve of you. Said your hips were not good for having children.”

Feilong elbowed him. “You had me dress as a woman? Pervert.”

“Maybe.”

“And what did I do?”

“Nothing. He made you make us tea.”

Feilong snorted. “What? I was both dressed and acting as a woman?” He pushed Oriya on his back. “And I didn’t kill the bastard for saying that?”

“I’m certain you were thinking about it.”

“Good. Because I’m not the woman in this relationship.”

Oriya snorted.

“Shut up. Tonight doesn’t count.”

“Or last night. Or….”

Feilong pressed both his elbows on Oriya’s ribs. “I’ll show you who’s the woman here.”

“You can try.”

And Feilong certainly did.

Chapter Text

It took some time before Tao realized that Oriya was neither the wicked step-mother, nor the evil dragon. He was not the fairy god-mother either; if anything, he was Beast without Beauty. A hurt, lonely Beast, and Feilong was not his Beauty.

Even after he and Fei-sama broke up (drifted apart was more correct, or maybe given up on pretending they had a viable relationship), Tao kept in contact with him. Partly because Oriya had a lot of random things to teach him, and they were all worth learning. From green tea and yoghurt face masks to old German songs, and from tricks for memorizing poems to secret self-defense techniques.

But he also kept in touch because he felt sorry for Oriya. The man had an ability to fuck up his life that Tao could not believe possible, from not reconciling with his Father while he still lived, and then feeling guilty about it, to breaking up with Fei-sama instead of making more of an effort soon after that. In his place, Tao would have made every effort to stay with Fei-sama. But the most spectacular way Oriya had managed to fuck up his life was when he got involved with one of Dr Muraki’s strange, dark, nefarious plots.

Tao wondered if Dr Muraki was Oriya’s Beauty, and that was why Oriya got involved with whatever Dr Muraki was doing. Because, no matter how much Fei-sama investigated, no matter how many people he bribed, no matter how much pressure Asami put on Dr Muraki’s acquaintances and Oriya’s associates, they never found out details of either what Dr Muraki was doing, or how Oriya died.

All they knew was the Doctor was somehow involved. Tao strongly suspected that this meant that the Doctor had killed Oriya, because Dr Muraki looked so stricken and guilty at Oriya’s funeral, as if he were responsible for his death. But he couldn’t voice his suspicions, not when they were seated right behind the Doctor and his wife, and Oriya looked so peaceful in his coffin.

Tao had never felt sorrier for Oriya in the five years of their acquaintance than at that moment. What kind of life had he had, that in death he looked happier than in life? He decided that this would be Oriya’s last lesson to him: to live in such a way that he’d be happy in life, not in death. To have no regrets. To take what he wanted. To cherish what he loved.

Tao glanced at Fei-sama next to him, looking so collected and impassive that to Tao it was clear that he was in deep thought, maybe even sorrow. After all Oriya, regardless of his peculiarities, had the ability to make Fei-sama smile. The two years they’d been lovers had been the two years Fei-sama had smiled most often.

Well, Tao was not Oriya, but he too could make Fei-sama smile. And he loved him; he loved Fei-sama more than anything else. In a month, when he became officially an adult, he would finally show it to him. He wouldn’t let Oriya’s final lesson go to waste.

Chapter Text

Feilong smiled happily. “You have proper winters here.”

“And you don’t.” Oriya rubbed his socked feet against Feilong’s. "I love that about Hong Kong."

“Yes, the temperature is much higher, but,” Feilong slid next to Oriya and hugged him, “but this is so cozy. Sitting with you, using a kotatsu, watching the light snow fall down.”

“Being all wrapped like mummies,” Oriya laughed.

“Cozy,” Feilong grinned. He made a show of wrapping the thick, padded kimono around him. “I like it.”

“Do you? I can turn on the underfloor heating, if you want.”

“Maybe later. You use that at the dining rooms as well, right?”

“The customers like it.”

“But you like traditional things.”

“Yes.” Oriya slid away from him and stood up. “Which reminds me.” He left the room noiselessly.

Feilong leaned against the table and looked outside again. The snowfall was too light still to cover the garden, but it looked so pretty as the wind made it dance between the plants and around the cherry tree. Yes, leaving Hong Kong’s fifteen degrees to come to Kyoto’s two was a bit of a shock, but this view was worth it.

His father would have appreciated it. He liked works of art, and this garden was as carefully made and maintained as one. Looking at it gave one a sense of peace. Even in the winter it was green and calming. So different from Father’s garden.

His father’s garden had had so many flowers, especially roses. Father had loved roses. Their fragrant was overwhelming in late spring and summer. Feilong kept paying a gardener but hadn’t been to Father’s house since Father had passed away. Perhaps he ought to go see how the garden was; was it still as Father had left it?

Father would probably have liked Oriya too. Unlike others, he had no prejudice against the Japanese people in general, and Father would have approved of Oriya, with his old-fashioned sense of honour and his respect for tradition. He could imagine the three of them sipping tea here, watching the snow gently fall down.

Although he didn’t know what his father would think of him using a kimono. Feilong himself had been surprised at how he liked wearing one. But maybe he liked it because it was Oriya’s. Ah, when Oriya next visited him, he’d dress him up in traditional Chinese clothing. It would probably suit him.

He heard the door slide open. “Do you think it will keep snowing? It would be great to see your garden under a white winter blanket.”

“I think so. It’s already coming down faster, see?”

“You are so lucky to have proper winters.” Yes, the snow did fall faster, and he could see it covering lightly the leaves of the plants outside. “How wonderful it is. We get snow so rarely in Hong Kong.” He started filling his pipe. “Yes, I like winter.”

Oriya chuckled.

Out of the corner of his eye Feilong watched him as he knelt and put down a tray on the table. That made him turn. “That’s not Japanese,” he said, studying the two cups and the pot. The smell of chocolate made him smile. That was not Japanese either.

“No.”

It wasn’t Chinese either. He picked up one of the cups and studied it. A red Ming dragon flew gracefully against the pure white background. He looked underneath at the two crossed swords. “Meissen?”

“Yes. Muraki was at a conference in Dresden and this was his souvenir gift. He said I was to share it with you.”

Feilong smiled. “How appropriate. Did you know that at first the Triads were secret societies trying to overthrow the Qing Dynasty and restore the Ming?”

Oriya smiled back. “What if they had been successful? Would China be an empire still?”

He put down the cup. “Perhaps. Or maybe not. The early twentieth century was a time of change. Who knows what might have happened.”

Oriya started pouring. The scent of the thick drink was even stronger and Feilong took a deep breath. “I expected more tea.”

“But chocolate is perfect for a winter day, don’t you think? I can make some tea, if you want.”

“No, this is fine.” He took another deep breath. It smelled like good chocolate, but what else would it be in this place of indulgence? He tried it. Warm, rich, and silky smooth, it was perfect. “Yes, this is fine.”

Oriya smiled at him. “I’m so glad you came to visit me.”

Feilong pulled him close and kissed him. He tasted of sweet, slightly fruity smoke, and Feilong could imagine him using his pipe as he prepared the drink. “I like your tobacco. It goes well with chocolate.”

“I should give you some as souvenir gift. A friend makes a special blend for me.”

“That would be nice.” Feilong took another sip and looked outside again. The snow kept drifting downwards, settling slowly on the green leaves. The chocolate was warming him nicely, and he started feeling warmth underneath him as well. Ah, Oriya had turned on the heating for him after all. “Why don’t you hug me?”

“I can?”

Feilong nodded.

A moment later Oriya shifted and settled behind him, embracing him and resting his head on Feilong’s shoulder. His body was warm and Feilong leaned back. “What is so fascinating about the garden?”

“The snow.”

Oriya laughed.

Feilong smiled. He didn’t feel like the leader of Baishe anymore. All his worries seemed to have drifted away with the snow, and he felt relaxed and calm, warm and content. Somehow, he knew that when he returned to Hong Kong this would be his most precious memory.

“Satisfy a man’s basic needs for food, warmth, and shelter and a man is content. Give him something extra, and a man is happy,” Oriya whispered.

Sometimes it was as if Oriya could read his mind. “What something extra will you give me to make me happy, then?”

Oriya pushed his hair aside; his fingers were warm and tender as he did that. His lips, when he kissed his nape, were softer still. “Guess,” he murmured against his skin.

Feilong closed his eyes, smiling. Ah, it seemed like soon he’d have an even better memory to take back with him.

Chapter Text

“Wake up.”

Feilong made a soft sound and turned away from the noise.

“Please.”

“Hm?” He reached for the lamp on the nightstand and half-opened his eyes when he couldn’t find it. He scanned the room, and awareness of where he was made him fully awake. This was not his bed. This was not his home. This was not one of his men, calling him. He sat up, shocked. How comfortable did he feel at this place, that should have been still strange to him, to sleep so deeply?

Oriya threw a heavy kimono on him. “Get up,” he insisted, offering his hand to help him up.

Feilong pushed him away and stood up on his own. He did not throw down the kimono, though. Instead he wrapped himself in it, delighting in the softness of the fabric and the thickness of the padding. “What is it?”

Oriya turned Feilong towards the shoji doors that faced the garden and opened them. “Look, look.” He sounded so excited that Feilong smiled.

Feilong stepped out into the corridor and looked. He smiled again. The moonlight fell on the snow-covered plants and made the ice crystals shine. It was like a scene from a fairy tale.

Oriya sighed happily as he folded himself to the floor and started filling his pipe. Feilong sat down next to him. It really was a beautiful sight. Almost as beautiful as the falling snow. “Give me,” he said once Oriya took a puff.

Oriya passed him his pipe. The mouthpiece was slightly moist, and Feilong licked it before smoking. Did this count as an indirect kiss? And why should he be satisfied with that when he could kiss Oriya properly? He half-twisted his body and kissed him. He tasted like his tobacco blend at first, sweet and grassy at the same time.

“Not where they can see us,” Oriya protested when Feilong let him go.

Feilong smirked. “Your fault; you shouldn’t have woken me up and brought me here.” He kissed him again. Oriya sighed, but didn’t push him away. Feilong pulled him closer. “You are so warm,” he marveled and slid his hands inside Oriya’s garments.

“And you’re cold,” Oriya laughed when Feilong’s hands touched his chest. He put his hands over Feilong’s. “Why didn’t you turn the heating on?”

“I thought I did.” Feilong looked towards the garden. “I hope the snow lasts. Or at least that it snows tomorrow as well. Did you notice the snow over the frozen pond? It looks so deceptively soft and fluffy.”

Oriya nodded. “So white too in this light. Almost like silver.” He made a soft sound, and Feilong turned to see him smile. “There is a scene in the Tale of Genji where a group of aristocrats goes into such a garden, and they play music. Do you play any instruments, by any chance?”

Feilong shook his head. The Japanese had noblemen but they had Confucian scholar-poets. “Moonlight before my bed. Frost on the ground. I lift my head and see the moon.”

“You pine for home?”

Feilong grinned. “I’m just surprised at how at ease I feel here.”

“I’m glad you do,” Oriya said softly.

Feilong smiled. “Look at those clouds coming. Might it snow again later?”

Oriya shrugged. He stood up. “Should we go warm the covers and the pillows, while waiting for the snow to fall?”

Feilong followed him. Who knew; perhaps the snow would be so heavy as to make bamboo crack; what kind of sound would it make?

Chapter Text

Oriya half-expected what he would find when he returned back home from his business meeting, but still, the sight made him stop and stare. Feilong was in the garden, of course he was. At least he was dressed for the weather, in a dark grey heavy coat that he’d accessorized with a grey scarf and a matching thick, knit hat, as well as gloves. His boots did not look appropriate, though, but rather thin. He sighed.

“It’s snowing, it’s snowing,” Feilong lowered his scarf and shouted when he saw him, pointing upwards.

Oriya laughed. “Come inside.”

“No, it’s snowing.” Feilong opened his arms and turned his head up. “It’s so cold. So refreshing.”

Oriya slid open the glass doors that separated the corridor from the garden. It was cold, and big, fat, fluffy snowflakes were coming down gently. Feilong stood still, smiling in the garden, watching them. His nose and cheeks were red, but the snow that had settled on his hair and eyelashes made him look otherworldly, and always beautiful, oh, how beautiful. “Come inside,” he said again, softly, as if his voice would shatter this vision before him.

Feilong turned away from him. The hat only covered the top of his head, and the rest of his hair was damp, falling in a straight black river down his back. The muted light was reflected on a million droplets and made it shine.

“You’ll catch a cold.”

“It’s so wonderful.”

“It’s wonderful from behind the glass doors too.”

“I know, but this is more invigorating.”

“If you come inside now, I’ll make you tea.”

Feilong turned towards him again, smirking. “Not that tempting an offer. Give me something that makes me happy,” he winked.

Goodness gracious, there was a sheen of dampness on his eyebrows and eyelashes too, and with red cheeks and lips he looked so pure and untouched. It made his breath stop for a moment. “Okay, I will. Will you come inside now?”

“You’re so easy,” Feilong laughed. “I like it.”

The wind picked up, bringing more snowflakes with it. These were smaller, but they fell down faster, and there were more of them. It looked like a snowstorm was on the way. Feilong really would catch a cold if he stayed out. “Please, come inside now.”

Feilong took a step forward. The snow crumbled under his feet with a soft sound. He looked down with a slightly puzzled expression. Then he made another small step. “Did you hear that?”

“What?”

“That crunching sound. There’s more snow now than it was when I came out into the garden.” Feilong laughed as he walked noisily in a circle. “We’re missing so much in Hong Kong. This is so much fun.”

“How old are you, again?”

Feilong stuck his tongue out at him. Then he licked his lips. “Cold. I like it.”

“I can see that.”

Feilong scrunched his nose. Then he sniffed. “Okay, that’s not good,” he said, reaching inside his pockets.

Oriya sighed again. He so wanted to tell him to come inside, but he didn’t want to sound like nagging. “I’ll start the tea,” he said as he turned around, leaving the doors open.

“You said you’d give me something else,” Feilong shouted.

“Tea first,” he shouted back.

Feilong laughed.

Oh, it was so nice to step on the heated floor. He stretched his toes in delight. So very nice. He took off his gloves, threw his coat and scarf on the stand and went straight to the hibachi. The pot was filled with water on the side, ready for him to use. Ah, how thoughtful everyone was. He really was spoilt, and he often took things for granted.

He started heating the water, and then put a few teaspoons of leaves into the teapot. Every now and then he was tempted to buy a kettle, but this was a ritual-like process that … He smiled. He didn’t like lying to himself. This process did not take his mind off anything.

He looked back. Feilong was still in the garden, looking up, grinning, and getting snowed on the top of his head and his shoulders. He bit his lips so as not to shout at him to come inside, please.

Maybe he should buy a kettle, after all.

The moment he started filling the teapot with water he heard Feilong come inside. He smiled, listening to the sounds of him taking off his layers. Such a warm sound. He poured the tea in two cups, put them on the tray, and turned. “Tea is ready.”

Feilong was wiping his nose with a handkerchief. “Good. I think I want some, after all.” He went to the kotatsu, and sat down, facing the garden. “This is nice too.”

Oriya bit back the ‘Glad you agree’ that was on the tip of his tongue. Instead, he put down the tray and went to fetch a couple of towels. Feilong really wanted to catch a cold, it seemed. His hair was wet and loose down his back, with only a sweater between them and his skin.

“Ah, this is so pleasant,” Feilong sighed, putting down his cup. “Can I have some more, please?”

“Have mine.” He sat down behind Feilong and started patting his hair dry with the towel.

Feilong chuckled. “Mother hen,” he muttered, picking up the second cup.

Oriya glared at him even though Feilong couldn’t see it.

“You are spoiling me,” Feilong said after drinking.

“I want you to be well. And stay that way.”

“Hm.” He twisted, smirked when he saw the second towel and picked it up. He wrapped his hair with a few, efficient moves that made Oriya smile. Then he moulded himself against Oriya. “You are as warm as the kotatsu,” he grinned, nuzzling him and demanding a kiss.

Feilong’s face was cold but Oriya obliged him. His lips were cold too, but his tongue was not. He tasted of green tea. Lovely.

A moment later Feilong slipped his hands inside Oriya’s kimono and he yelped, breaking the kiss. “Your hands are cold.”

“You’ll warm them up,” Feilong said as he hugged him.

Feilong’s hands were like two frozen slabs on his back that wouldn’t stop moving. Oriya shivered.

“You did promise me something other than tea,” Feilong reminded him in a suggestive tone, lowering his eyelashes and licking his lips.

“That I did.”

“Then give it to me,” he said as he pulled Oriya down.

What an insatiable, sensual creature Feilong could be when he felt safe. What a delight he was. And his hands were not that cold anymore.