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A box of assorted sweets

Chapter Text

Seiji took a deep breath, shivering a little in the cold. How had one drink turned to two, and that to so many he’d lost count? He wasn’t sure, but damn, those Kyotoites could drink. Taking the scenic route back to the hotel ought to clear his head a little.

But, oh, walking was difficult. Seiji stumbled and fell down. Hm, the view to the river was nice from there. He crawled to the edge of the river and stayed there. How peaceful. The reflection of the lights of the shops behind him made the water look friendly. Which was good; at this hour Seiji was the only one out at this part of the pathway.

He closed his eyes and took a few more deep breaths. The crisp air was good for him. He felt something slimy touch his leg suddenly, but when he looked, there was nothing there, although there was a noise coming from the water, as if something had fallen back into the river. How odd.

Seiji looked up. How odd, indeed. Along the bridge there was a procession of people in Japanese dress and masks? What on earth? He took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes, and looked again. No, the procession was still there. But not moving. And everyone was looking towards him. Why? He was the normal one.

“Go back to the house,” a man bellowed. “I’ll deal with this.”

Seiji could not make out their replies, but seconds later, almost everyone scurried along the bridge, hurried to the riverbank and then disappeared, perhaps running into one of the small side streets.

“Who dares cause trouble here?” the man continued in the same loud voice.

Seiji frowned. He wasn’t causing trouble. He was drunk and needing some fresh air. He was about to protest when he saw something breaking the surface of the water. No way was that a tentacle. No way. Seiji rubbed his eyes again.

In the time that took him, that one tentacle had become three, waving menacingly over the water. Seiji saw that one of them reached for the man, trying to grab him. Hell, real-life hentai! Seiji was drunker than he thought.

Instead of the tentacle catching the man, the man grabbed the aggressive tentacle and, with a shout, pulled it out of the water, threw it on the bridge and then started kicking it. “How dare you?”

Seiji got up and approached the bridge. He crouched behind a post and watched as the man hit the creature’s limbs with a scabbard in addition to kicking it. The creature resembled an octopus, and while its tentacles moved, trying to attack the man, the more they left its soft head vulnerable to attack.

A few moments later the creature fell limb. If a creature could look pathetic, then that was it. Seiji almost felt sorry for it.

“Playing dead won’t save you,” the man growled. He separated the tentacles with the scabbard, inspecting them as he did so. “Hm… So, this is your penis, huh?” he snorted as he grabbed one of them. “Is it detachable, like that of other cephalopods?”

The creature let out a piercing cry. Seiji did feel sorry for it.

The man didn’t. “You thought you could violate one of my own. Such action deserves punishment,” he said in a low voice as he tore out the tentacle and threw it back into the river.

The creature let out an even worse howl, sad and painful and miserable.

“You’ve violated enough people already, and you still hadn’t had your fill. Well, tonight you messed with the wrong crowd. It is time you got a taste of your own medicine,” the man continued as he pressed his hand inside the creature.

The creature howled again. It tried to defend itself, raising its tentacles and trying to wrap them around the man’s legs.

The man kicked it swiftly on the head. “I’ll break the rest of your teeth if you don’t stop.”

The tentacles dropped submissively to the ground. The creature let out a deep, mournful cry.

“I hope you’ve learned your lesson,” the man said as he lifted it up and tossed it back to the river. “Yuck,” he muttered, wiping his hand. “What a pain.” He crossed the bridge, passed Seiji without looking at him, and disappeared into the same side street as his companions.

Seiji blinked. That was the last time he mixed beer with tequila. Or with anything, for that matter.

&*&*

The doorman frowned for a second. “Dr Muraki? I thought….”

“What? That I was already at the bar?” He smiled. “No, that was my doppelgaenger.” There was only one person with whom people confused him, and he too moved in some of the same circles as Muraki. He handed a tip to the doorman. “Thank you for always being so attentive.” Next time the man wouldn’t confuse them again.

Muraki headed to the bar. “Ogata-sensei,” he smiled as he sat next to the man. “Nice suit.”

“Thanks. Yours is nice too.”

“Of course.”

They both grinned. Sharing the same taste and tailor meant that some of their suits were identical, but how they enjoyed the quirks of fate that brought them to the same place in the same clothes. “A glass of red,” Muraki told the barman. “Ogata-san, may I offer you something?”

“I’m good for now,” the man said, pointing at his still full glass.

“Maybe later, then.”

“Maybe. But only beer, please.”

“Why?”

“I fear I’ve grown too old for mixing drinks.”

Muraki snorted. “You are younger than me by two weeks. If you are old, then so am I.”

“Perhaps I am,” Ogata-san sighed. “I was in Kyoto last week for the annual summer camp,” he started.

As Ogata-san launched into retelling Muraki what he thought was an alcohol-induced hallucination, complete with masked samurai and hentai river monsters, Muraki started thinking that maybe it was time he visited Oriya. He had to hear this story from him too, after all. Or maybe….

&*&*

Seiji opened his eyes. The world was blurry, as it always was before he wore his glasses, but the ceiling was a blurry brown, not a blurry white, and the scents were different from those of his bedroom. And the bed was strange too, too hard. Seiji looked around. He wasn’t even in a bed; he was on a futon.

Ah, he thought that by not mixing drinks his life would be easier.

“Looking for these?” Muraki asked in a low, teasing voice, dangling his glasses in front of his face.

Seiji grabbed them and put them on. “Yes. Where am I? Why are you here? What happened?”

“Ah, ah, ah, so very curious!”

Seiji snorted. It wouldn’t do to glare at Muraki; he’d learned early on in their acquaintance that the man was nothing but an irreverent pest who loved annoying others. He lifted the sheet covering him, instead, and inspected himself. He was naked, but couldn’t find any traces of semen on him. If they had fucked, Muraki had cleaned him.

“Don’t worry, I didn’t do anything to you that you didn’t want,” Muraki grinned as he stood up, showing off his body to Seiji.

Seiji swallowed. He knew that the doctor was fit, but had no idea how fit he really was until that moment. Muraki was muscular everywhere, as if he’d trained every part of his body diligently and regularly. His skin was perfect too, with only one jagged scar on his stomach, a single imperfection as if to highlight how perfect the rest of him was. He didn’t like men, but, seeing him standing tall there in the sunlight, his pale skin radiant and inviting, his cock long and thick in its quiescent state, made Seiji think that he would make an exception for him. Or had he made an exception already?

“Don’t frown, it doesn’t suit you,” Muraki smiled as he pulled on a yukata without bothering with underwear. “These are for you,” he said pointing at the other yukata on the kimono stand and a pair of briefs on a small table next to it. “I’ll be right back.”

Seiji kept frowning as Muraki left. What the fuck? Where was he? What had happened? He stood up, dressed himself and went out.

A maid dressed in a striped brown kimono smiled at him politely. “Please, let me guide you to the breakfast room, Sensei.”

As if he had a choice. He followed her obediently along the corridor, paying attention to his surroundings. He was in a traditional Japanese house, quite large judging from how long they walked, with carefully maintained gardens, again in pure Japanese style.

“Here,” she said as she opened a door for him.

“Ogata-sensei,” Muraki grinned from his seat. “I would have brought you here myself.”

Seiji stepped into the room. It was as Japanese as the room he’d woken up, with beautiful wooden walls, thick, tatami mats on the floor, and furnished with just a large table. There was nothing that could distract the eye from the single scroll hanging behind Muraki or the vase with the two branches of grass.

“Please, have a seat,” Muraki’s companion told him. “Ogata-sensei, isn’t it? Mibu Oriya, pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Seiji sat in front of the third tray that was on the table. “Ogata Seiji, pleased to meet you.” He noticed the maid closing the door behind him. “Now, will someone explain to me what happened last night?”

Mibu glared at Muraki. “What is the meaning of this, Muraki? I thought….”

Muraki lifted his arms as if to show he meant no harm to anyone. “Oriya, you trust me so little?”

“Yes,” Mibu growled.

His voice sounded familiar somehow.

“Ogata-sensei told me a very amusing story yesterday at the bar. He thought it was a hallucination brought on by age and too much alcohol, and, since he and I are almost the same age, I couldn’t help but wanting to disabuse him of that notion.”

“Eh?” Seiji frowned again.

“What notion?” Mibu asked.

“Ogata-sensei told me that when he was here last week, he saw a tentacle monster trying to attack a party of masked people in Japanese dress.”

Mibu dropped his tea cup, looking shocked. “What?”

“The poor monster, though, hadn’t counted on meeting an even worse monster roaming this side of Kyoto.” Muraki grinned. “A samurai bent on delivering justice – although his way of doing that was unconventional, to say the least.”

Mibu paled. “Ogata-sensei, I apologise that you had to see that,” he whispered, bowing slightly.

“You mean,” Seiji said slowly, “that was no hallucination?”

“No,” Muraki laughed. “You were just unlucky to come across Oriya at night; all sorts of weird things happen to him after dark, apparently.”

“Muraki,” Mibu whined. “It’s not like I’m asking for them.”

“No, no.”

“So…” Seiji shook his head. “There really was a tentacle monster that came out of the river that night?”

“Yes.”

“And it wanted to attack you?”

“Yes, so I …” Mibu looked awkward. “Well… you saw what I did,” he said, running his hand through his hair, releasing some strands. Seiji was amazed to see how long it was.
Well… he supposed there were a lot of weird things on this earth, and he’d had some strange, red marks on his leg for days, as if he’d been stung by multiple bees. He’d thought it was some sort of allergy, but he supposed that the slimy thing he’d felt that night had been that monster’s tentacle. How lucky he was that the monster had changed its mind about attacking him. “Did you really fuck it?” Seiji blurted out.

Muraki let out a cackle.

Mibu turned red. “Technically, I fisted it,” he finally whispered.

Both he and Muraki started laughing. “I really felt sad for the poor thing,” Seiji admitted. “Especially when you cut off its penis.”

“It was detachable...” Mibu said, still looking all red. “Seriously, why are we talking about that?” he shouted, hitting Muraki. “As if you’ve never done weird things.”

“Nothing as weird as that.”

“And last night, did you do anything to me?” Seiji asked again.

“No,” Muraki smiled. “I just brought you here after you passed out at the bar, and put you to bed.”

“You brought me here from Tokyo and I didn’t realise a thing?” He didn’t think he’d drunk that much.

“You were very drunk.”

Mibu nodded. “Hence the Mibu-special-for-hangovers breakfast.”

“Ah, where has my youth gone?” Seiji sighed. “I could drink more than that once.” He looked at Muraki, imagining his perfect body underneath the yukata. If nothing had happened the night before, then maybe…. “And I could hit on people and remember it.”

Muraki chuckled. “What makes you say that?”

“I was naked this morning. I only get naked when I’m the shower or when I fuck. I’m fairly certain I wasn’t in the shower, ergo…”

“You did hit on me in the car, and then when I was trying to get you to sleep, but you passed out both times before I could give you an answer,” Muraki snorted, as if amused.

“And what is your answer?” Seiji stared at him.

“I’m clearly not needed,” Mibu shouted as he stood up, looking annoyed. “I’ll leave you two alone to finish… whatever you need to finish,” he said, still not moving.

Seiji studied Mibu. He too looked handsome, and he was staring at Muraki as if Muraki had betrayed him. He also glanced at Muraki, noticing how he looked at Mibu fondly. Ah, fuck. That’s how it was. There were some things he didn’t do, and one of them was making passes at people in relationships. “Ah, sorry, never mind.”

Muraki grabbed Mibu’s hand before he decided that he would leave them alone after all. “Sit down, you.” He pulled him down.

Seiji noticed the intimate form of ‘you’ Muraki used in his speech. “As I said, never mind.”

Muraki looked at him. “But, I do mind, Ogata-sensei.” He turned towards Mibu. “Oriya, would you mind if…” Muraki was rubbing Mibu’s wrist with his thumb.

“I’ll leave you alone,” Mibu said, looking resigned and trying to get up.

Muraki didn’t let go of Mibu’s wrist. “Oriya, you know I play around. What if we all played together this time? Would you like that? Ogata-sensei wouldn’t mind, would you?”

Seiji shook his head. They were both handsome men. He wouldn’t mind playing with both of them. He was curious to see what Mibu hid under his yukata.

Mibu sighed. “If that’s what you want,” he told Muraki quietly.

Muraki nodded. “Yes, that’s one of the things I want.” He kissed Mibu.

Seiji found himself getting turned on. Muraki was so forceful, and Mibu was no wilting flower, despite his behavior moments earlier. The more Muraki kissed him the more he moaned, the more he touched Muraki, stripping his yukata off him. Seiji swallowed; wasn’t he also part of this game? He grabbed the edges of Muraki’s yukata and helped Mibu pull it off the man.

Muraki laughed. “Oriya, can you be a darling and bring me my briefcase from my room?”

Mibu glared at him. He pushed Muraki on the floor and ran out of the room.

Muraki spread his arms and winked at Seiji. “Now, why don’t You kiss me like you wanted to all night yesterday?”

Seiji climbed over Muraki, and started rubbing his clothed groin over Muraki’s. It was an incredible sensation, feeling flesh under a thin cotton barrier. Muraki felt so warm. He leaned down and started kissing him. Muraki tasted like tea and smoke and Seiji found the combination irresistible. He wanted more of it, and so he pushed his tongue as far as he could inside Muraki’s mouth, and then over his teeth, and his gums, exploring and discovering. The more he took, the more he wanted.

Muraki suddenly pinched Seiji’s nipples. Seiji yelped and pulled away. Muraki answered his frown with a gesture.

Mibu was by the door, looking at them. “You look good together.”

“I know,” Muraki smirked. “Seiji, Oriya doesn’t smoke cigarettes. Want to taste how Japanese tobacco tastes?”

Seiji didn’t have to be told twice. He stood up and grabbed Mibu, licking his lips for a moment, asking for permission. The moment Mibu opened his mouth, Seiji slipped his tongue inside. Muraki was right; it was a different flavour, sweeter and spicier than that of cigarettes.

He hugged Mibu, realizing his hair was longer than he’d imagined. He couldn’t help himself. He touched and touched it until he reached the ribbon that held it and then he untied it.

Muraki sighed behind them. “Mess up his hair, Ogata. He likes that.”

Ogata liked it too, playing with that heavy silk while his tongue explored a different kind of smoothness: the hard smoothness of teeth, the soft smoothness of gums, the pushy smoothness of tongue.

Mibu suddenly pushed him away. “Muraki,” he gasped. “I want to play with you too.”

No matter how lightly it had been said, Seiji knew it was a real complain. Muraki had been neglecting this lover of his. Stupid Muraki. Seiji pulled away and smirked at Muraki, challenging him.

“Ogata, I told you weird things happen around Oriya, right?”

Seiji nodded.

“If I show you weird things, do not be scared. They’re just tricks,” Muraki said in a low, seductive voice as he stood up.

“Just tricks,” Seiji repeated, feeling like something warm and fuzzy was being wrapped around him.

“Just tricks,” Muraki reassured him as he took his briefcase from Oriya and opened it. He took out a coil of rope. “Seiji, can you put aside the trays and turn the table upside down? Dear, may I?”

Mibu nodded, looking excited.

Seiji cleared the trays and then Mibu helped him turn the table around.

“I think we need one more thing,” Muraki said. “I’ll be right back.”

“Maybe you can eat some of your breakfast while Muraki gets whatever he wants to get,” Mibu told him gently.

Seiji smirked. Mibu was far too caring. “You love Muraki, don’t you?”

Mibu didn’t reply.

“I won’t take him from you,” he reassured him as he drank his cold miso soup. “I just want to have fun.”

Mibu smiled at him. “That is very kind of you, Ogata-sensei. But Muraki does as Muraki wants.”

Seiji smiled back. “And he wants you.”

“Ah. I think he just wants to have fun,” he sighed.

Before Seiji could say anything else Muraki opened the door carrying a futon with him. “Now we can start.” He folded it in two and dropped it on the back side of the table. “Oriya?”

Mibu lay down with a smile. “Sensei?”

Seiji watched fascinated as Muraki tied first one, then the other of Mibu’s arms to the table legs. Then he did the same with his legs. “One more thing,” Muraki said and parted Mibu’s yukata so that it revealed his groin. Mibu was wearing a fundoshi underneath. “This won’t do,” Muraki said and, sliding his hands, he untied it.

Seiji looked and looked. Mibu looked just as muscular as Muraki, if not more so. And just as big!

“Ogata’s story of the tentacle monster was inspiring,” Muraki said as he dropped a couple more coils of rope on Mibu’s body.

“Muraki? What are you planning?”

“Just tricks, my dear,” Muraki said.

Seiji didn’t know what kind of tricks these were, but they were good. The coils seems to break into segments and then transform into squirming, thick tentacles that latched on Mibu’s body.

“Oh,” Mibu gasped as they started moving.

“How does it feel?” Muraki smirked.

“Like each sucker is a pair of lips.” Mibu closed his eyes and let his head drop backwards. “It feels good,” he moaned.

Seiji watched as some tentacles wrapped themselves around his arms, some around his legs, some on his chest, all making him shiver with delight.

Muraki grabbed Seiji. “Oriya likes being kissed. Do you?”

Seiji attacked Muraki’s mouth in reply, sucking his tongue inside his mouth. Muraki gasped and let Seiji control the kiss. Suddenly, Seiji felt something slick and wet rubbing his hole. He moved away.

Muraki smiled at him. “I like to fuck. Do you?”

He’d never done it with a man, but, with this man, he was willing to try. He nodded.

“Good man,” Muraki moaned as he leaned for another kiss.

His finger didn’t stop moving in circles around Seiji, making him feel electrified. He wanted more, and so he pushed against it. A few moments later it was inside him, making him a little weird, but good at the same time. He kept pushing down, wanting more.

“You’re a natural,” Muraki said with admiration. His finger slid away, but a second later it was back, together with a friend. Muraki took his time again, stretching him.

“This is slow,” he said between kisses.

“Slow is good,” Mibu gasped. “Muraki is big.”

Seiji looked back. Mibu was staring at them. There were more tentacles now, and one of them had wrapped itself around his cock, while another circled his balls. It made Seiji’s mouth water watching him. It was a weird, but oddly exciting trick.

“Ah,” he moaned, feeling another finger breach him. “Am I ready now?”

Muraki stared at him. “No, but…”

“I don’t care,” Seiji said as he climbed over Muraki, took hold of his dick and steadied himself over it. “I want you to fuck me. Now.” He started sliding down, and it hurt. It really hurt.

“My good man,” Muraki whispered, licking the tears from the edge of his eyes.

“I want this,” Seiji insisted. He took a couple of deep breaths and lowered himself a little further. “I want you.”

Muraki kissed him and pressed him to him. Seiji closed his eyes and let himself feel the heat of the man, his clean, fresh smell, the strength and solidity of his thighs, the quietness of his breath, his heartbeat pulsing inside Seiji, his hot, silky length inside him that hurt, but also felt so good.

“Lift yourself a little, and then fall back down again,” Muraki whispered in his ear. “Like dancing. Do this for me.”

Seiji did. The slight friction ignited all his nerve endings and sent sparks of pleasure to the rest of his body. When he fell down, it felt even better. “You’re so big,” he moaned. “It hurts so good.”

Muraki laughed. His laughter made Seiji tingle; it was wicked and sexy and indulgent all at the same time.

Mibu moaned. “I’m…” he started and then made a gurgling sound.

Seiji looked back. One of the tentacles had slid inside his mouth, and was fucking him. Seiji could see it pushing its way inside Mibu’s throat. “Gods,” he gasped.

“There’s one more hole to fill,” Muraki laughed wickedly.

As Seiji watched another tentacle slid inside Mibu’s ass. If he weren’t tied, Mibu would have jumped up. As he was, he writhed helplessly, letting out broken moans. “He is sexy,” Seiji moaned as he finally took all of Muraki inside him. “You’re a lucky man, Muraki.”

Muraki snorted, but his gaze slid to Mibu, and it was full of tenderness.

Seiji sat up and slammed himself back on Muraki. Muraki was a lucky man, and so was Mibu, so he had to take advantage of this opportunity and enjoy himself. Seiji started bouncing on Muraki’s dick. Yes, he would enjoy himself as much as he could.

Muraki kissed him again. Licking the saliva off Seiji’s lips, he smiled. “Say, do you want to fuck Oriya, or are you happy being fucked only?”

Seiji felt his mouth go dry. He looked at Mibu. “May I fuck you, Mibu-san?”

Mibu started laughing. The tentacle slipped off his mouth. “You may, Sensei.”

As if hypnotized, Seiji felt Muraki lift him off him. He turned and stared where that tentacle disappeared inside Mibu’s body, and watched even more fascinated when Muraki grabbed it, threw it away, and that little hole fluttered open and close, as if it hated being empty.

“What are you waiting for?” Mibu asked, still smiling.

Muraki poured lube on Seiji’s dick with trembling fingers. Seiji stroked himself once and then slid inside Mibu. They both moaned. Mibu felt incredible around him, as tight, slippery, and silky as a glove, and so warm, so very warm. Seiji closed his eyes and started thrusting inside him.

A moment later he felt Muraki slide inside him again. He smiled. Gods, this was better than anything he’d ever done before with any lover. Trapped between these two, he felt lifted higher and higher, as if every move he made, every motion Muraki did, every answering movement by Mibu, everything made him feel more and more powerful. He felt like he was so full of energy he had to come, or he could break, and yet he couldn’t stop taking and being taken, thrusting and yielding, enjoying himself, oh, enjoying himself so much. So much he finally couldn’t hold back.

“Fuck, this feels so good,” he cried.

Muraki bit his shoulder. The pain pushed him over the edge and he came, shuddering and surrendering and collapsing over Mibu. Gods, Mibu also felt warm and solid and smelled so clean and fresh. Seiji didn’t want to move, not while his dick felt so tender inside him.

“Don’t be greedy,” Mibu whispered in his ear. “I want Muraki to come inside me too.”

Seiji reddened. He had been greedy. He pulled away from Mibu, shuddering again at the sensation of moving away from his tight heat, and then pushed Muraki off him. “Your lover wants you,” he said harshly, still feeling raw and tired after his orgasm. Where were the tentacles? There was none on Mibu.

Muraki bowed his head. “Thank you, Sensei.” He took Seiji’s place, thrusting with abandon inside Mibu. “Sensei, untie Oriya, please.”

Seiji obeyed. Muraki’s knots were easy, even for his unused fingers. The moment he released Mibu, the man surged up and hugged Muraki, kissing him hungrily.

Seiji thought of looking away for a second. Sex was not as intimate as that shared kiss, and yet – he was there to enjoy himself, wasn’t he? Two hot men kissing each other like they wanted to devour each other? It was hot. It was very hot, and Seiji felt his cock stirring again.

Mibu arched away from Muraki, squeezing his eyes shut, and Muraki held him more tightly. Seiji couldn’t help stroking himself. Two hot men coming together? It was the hottest thing he’d ever seen.

Then Mibu turned towards him, reached for Seiji and pulled him close for a kiss. Fuck that, this was the hottest thing.

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

Oriya pretends to be busy with his paperwork when the door opens. He lets Muraki do as he pleases, doesn’t he? Muraki’s footsteps are almost as soft as a cat’s yet he can hear him, approaching, slowing down, sitting behind him. Gods, he wants him.

Muraki pushes his hair away and kisses his nape. His lips are cold.

“You were out again,” Oriya tells him.

“Yes.” Another kiss. “Do you mind?”

“Why would I? Who am I to mind?”

Muraki lowers the collar of his kimono and kisses him again. “Indeed, who are you? No one. A shadow among shadows.” Muraki hugs him and his fingers are quick as they untie his obi. “Can I mark you for a little while? It won’t hurt,” he says as if to reassure him.

Nothing Muraki does ever hurts, but everything he says is painful. “You may,” he says, even though Muraki didn’t wait for his answer to lower his garments, and let them drop around his waist.

Muraki nuzzles his back. “The best paper can’t compare to your skin. Paper I can destroy or tear or discard, but this?” he asks as he places a series of kisses along his spine, “Never.”

Oriya snorts. “Is that what you told the women?” He knows how Muraki’s already been with his most expensive women, how he hasn’t slept with them but only painted their skin. Now it’s his turn, it seems.

His teeth scrape Oriya’s shoulder, making his shiver. “No. Why should I flatter them? They didn’t have your fine skin.”

He’s better than his whores, Muraki says, and he’s for free. Such bad business.

“You’d better strip,” Muraki says after another kiss. “I wouldn’t want to ruin your clothes by accident.” Again, he doesn’t wait for an answer; he starts untying the cord that keeps his kimono in place.

Oriya bats Muraki’s hands away. “I can undress myself, you know.”

“Maybe I want to do this,” Muraki whispers before he grabs him by the hair, pulling his head back and kissing him.

It’s difficult to stay still as Muraki plunders his mouth, but as he turns Muraki hugs and holds him still. It will be one of those nights, where Muraki demands his submission and Oriya will give it. Will it be one of those mornings too, where Oriya will feel used and worse than his women? They get paid for this. What does he get?

The moment he stops resisting, Muraki leaves him be and continues undressing him. At least he leaves him his underwear, but not without a comment. “Your suteteko matches your kimono. I’m impressed.”

“What did you expect? White? Or a fundoshi?”

“The latter, actually.” Muraki kisses his nape again and then stops touching him.

Oriya smiles. Suteteko are just as traditional. He hears Muraki move and then open his bag, taking something out but he doesn’t care what it is. Muraki promised not to hurt him and he trusts him.

“My handwriting is atrocious, I’ve been told,” Muraki says as he sits behind him one more time, putting down things.

“Just like that of most doctors.”

“Yes, but I’m not like them. I must practice writing.”

The touch of the brush is delicate and tickles but he doesn’t move. The ink is wet. He wants to wipe it off. “Surely you should practice on paper.”

“No, it’s on skin that I must practice.”

Oriya is scared to ask for what his friend needs this type of practice. He’ll wait, as always, for Muraki to tell him what he wants, when he wants. Knowing Muraki, he knows he won’t wait long.

“You don’t care,” Muraki tells him after a while. “Your girls kept asking me what I wanted to do.”

“They were trying to please you. Every man likes the sound of his voice.”

“I didn’t tell them anything.”

“I’m saying they were doing their job,” Oriya smiles.

“I’m not like your other customers.”

“You’re my friend. You’re not my customer.” And I’m not your whore, he wants to add but doesn’t.

“Ah, I’m special,” Muraki grins. “I’m very special, Oriya,” he says in a low tone. “My work is progressing well, and so do my studies.”

“Studies?”

“In magic. I summoned a demon the other night. I bound him for hours. He taught me things. Some things need to be written on skin to be effective. But a messy line here, a smudged character there, and it all goes to hell, sometimes literally.”

So, that’s what Muraki practices. Spells. He hopes they are for protection. He fears they will be for other things, things Oriya doesn’t approve of. Things Muraki will tell him later. “I see.”

“Of course you do. Hm, this is no good.”

“Let me see.”

Muraki takes a picture and shows it to him.

‘Pure of heart and therefore hungry,
All night long you have sung in vain –
Oh, this final broken indrawn breath,
Among the green indifferent trees!
Yes, I have gone like a piece of driftwood,
I have let my garden fill with weeds....
I bless you for your true advice,
To live as pure a life as yours.’

Is Muraki mocking him? His cruelty is boundless indeed. “Yes, this is bad. Next time, maybe start by drawing a grid?”

Muraki snorts. “Perhaps I will. Why don’t you show me what you can do, Master?”

Muraki unbuttons his shirt as Oriya moves. “No, don’t turn.”

“As you wish, Master.”

To hit or not to hit, that is always the question. With Muraki to hit is always the answer, so he does, using his pipe.

Muraki grins. “Well?”

Oriya stares at his canvas. Muraki skin is luminous and soft. But what answer should he give him?

‘Upon the ever changing
Summer leaves
Drips dew:
The only fit foundation for
The cicadas’ brief life.’

He takes a picture for Muraki when he is done.

“Ah, this is good. But then again, good calligraphy and good swordsmanship go together.”

Oriya hits him again, smiling. His penmanship is adequate, and so is his skill with the sword.

“I’d like to spend the night, but I’m afraid you’ll hit me if I ask,” Muraki says as he pretends to stand.

“Idiot. I’ll hit you if you leave.”

“Ah.” Muraki smiles. “My host is kind.”

Oriya throws him on the floor. He’s neither kind nor does he like being mocked. But he wants Muraki, so he will forgive him and tolerate him and wait for him.

And while Muraki sleeps, Oriya writes on his back.

Upon the eastern roads
All night I turn my gaze –
Tell him that,
O moonlight, sinking
Toward the mountains round the capital!

Muraki will probably wash the poem off while having a bath, without even noticing it. And then he'll take the eastern road without looking back, while Oriya will busy himself with paperwork and menus and accounts until the night comes. That is life.

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

Muraki knocked on Oriya’s door softly. “I’m back,” he said as he opened the door without waiting Oriya’s reply.

Oriya turned from his desk, expression carefully blank. He studied Muraki from top to bottom. “What is that?”

“What?” Muraki asked, pretending not to understand.

Oriya stared at him.

Muraki looked down at the coat held folded over his arm. Hm, yes, some tiny red drops were visible near the hem, exactly as he’d intended. He lifted the garment up, unfolding it for Oriya’s inspection. “This? A homage to Jackson Pollock,” he said, showing off the blood spatter.

Oriya snorted. “Obviously.” He scrunched his nose. “The longer you hold it, the more it stinks.”

Muraki waved it. “Will you take care of it, Oriya? For me?”

Oriya sprang up from his seated position, approached him swiftly and, grabbing the coat, walked out of the room.

Muraki smirked as he went towards the small cabinet where Oriya kept the tea caddies and the teapot. Oriya was such a loyal friend. He was a lucky man. Half-way through preparing the tea he smelled something burning. Muraki rushed out, following the smell until he found Oriya scowling over a metal container and stirring its contents with a long stick. “Are you crazy?”

“I’m taking care of it,” Oriya smiled at him sweetly.

“This is drawing attention.”

Oriya smirked.

“I thought you could wash it for me,” Muraki muttered.

Oriya hit him on the back of the head. “Next time you come to my home with another Jackson Pollock homage, you’ll wash your coat yourself.”

Muraki stared him. Hm… A challenge from Oriya. He liked it. “Well, since you know what you’re doing, I’m going to bed. Good night, dear.” He turned back, feeling Oriya glaring at him. He even started whistling. So, Oriya thought Muraki would wash his own coat next time? He had another thing coming.

&*&*

The following evening Muraki knocked on Oriya’s door softly. “I’m back,” he said as he opened the door without waiting Oriya’s reply.

Oriya turned to look at him.

Muraki grinned. “Look,” he said, unfolding his new coat and showing the new red design on it. “Another homage to Pollock.”

Oriya sprang up from his seated position, approached him swiftly and grabbed him by the arm, dragging him out of the room.

Muraki bit back a giggle, even as Oriya pulled him to the laundry room. “You know I’ve never washed a thing in my life.”

“It’s time you started.” Oriya filled a basin with water, threw the coat in, and then poured some bleach. “Start.”

Muraki looked at the sodden mess and the water that was turning rusty. “Eh?”

Oriya pushed Muraki closer to the basin.

“My hands are sensitive. I can’t wash this. It has bleach.”

“You should have thought of that before making your Pollock impression.”

“But, Oriya.”

Oriya threw a pair of gloves at him. “Start washing.”

Muraki wore them and started laughing. Oriya was not his best friend. He was his substitute mother.

Oriya smirked.

Muraki couldn’t help himself. He leaned next to Oriya and kissed him on the cheek. “Fine, fine. I’ll take care of this. Thank you for teaching me.”

Oriya hit him at the back of the head.

Yes, Oriya’s tough love reminded him of Mother. How lucky was he?

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.

Chapter Text

Muraki leaned against the wall, watching. Student parties were boring, but he had been invited, and it would be good for him to appear. One did not network by studying alone, after all. Appearing did not mean participating in everything, though. He stayed near the door, smiling vaguely at everyone.

Suddenly Tanaka grabbed his arm. “Muraki, don’t just stand there,” he said pulling him towards the other room.

“What are you doing?”

“We’re bobbing for apples. John taught us.”

Muraki snorted. That meddlesome, second-year exchange student. “What’s fun about that?”

“You’ll see, you’ll see.”

What he saw was two buckets with apples, each with a line of grinning students behind it. What he smelled was alcohol. “Pass,” he said.

“No,” Tanaka laughed and pushed him until he was second in line. “Now we’re even,” he shouted, and everyone but Muraki cheered.

“The game is simple,” John said in loud, accented Japanese, waving his arms around. Just how drunk was he? “You catch the apple with your mouth, and you pass it to the person behind you. If you drop the apple, both you and the person who dropped it have to have a shot, and you stand in line as you are as you start again. If the apple makes it to the last person in the line, everyone drinks a shot, and you move up one person in the line before starting again.”

Muraki let out a snort. “What the hell?”

“It’s a drinking game, what did you expect?” the person in front of him smiled. “You’re Muraki, right? Wish me luck,” he said with a wink before kneeling down. Crossing his arms behind his back, he bent into the bucket.

Muraki smirked. “Good luck.” The man looked good like that, and, damn, he looked even better when second later he stood up, face and hair wet, but with the apple held firmly between his perfectly formed teeth. His eyes were shining with amusement as he leaned close to Muraki. Muraki grinned, opened his mouth and bit the apple. It tasted of vodka. Nice, no one was going to go back to his room sober, it seemed.

“Don’t drop it,” the person in front of him shouted. “Go, go, go,” he started chanting, and everyone joined in, as Muraki passed the apple to Ito, Ito to Nakamura, Nakamura to Sato, Sato to Wada, and he to Ono.

Ono held up the apple victorious. “Drinks!”

John brought them a tray with shots glasses filled to the brim. “Bottoms up,” he said as he drank first. “Tanaka, let’s see how your team does.”

Muraki smiled as he took the glass and drank its contents in one gulp. Fuck, cheap vodka that burned his throat. “Can I leave my team now?”

The person next to him pushed him. “No. You’re stuck with me,” he laughed as Ono moved and took his place at the start of the queue.

“And who are you?”

“Mibu Oriya.”

“Ah.” He’d heard of him. Mr Work-hard-play-hard. He moved away. “I don’t care much for drinking games. There’s nothing elegant about them, especially when cheap vodka is involved.”

Mibu started laughing like a maniac. “I like you,” he gasped, grabbing Muraki by the shoulders. “You want elegance? I’ll give you that,” he grinned, dragging Muraki away.

“Ah, lucky Muraki,” Sato stage-whispered.

“Oh, shut up,” Mibu shouted. “Who wants to join me for an elegant drinking party?”

Muraki laughed as he saw everyone in the room follow Mibu.

“We’re moving the party at my favourite place,” Mibu shouted as he crossed the other room, inviting everyone. “You’ll see, Muraki, I can do elegant. But, first we’ll make a stop for more alcohol.”

That was the last thing that Muraki remembered from that night, but he was certain that Mibu had made good on his promise to give him an elegant party. The man was elegant, after all, and so was his bed.

Chapter Text

Oriya let his head fall on the book with a groan. Nothing made sense to him anymore. He should have had that fifth coffee, after all.

“Hey, Mibu?”

He looked up. Ono kicked him. “Library closes in thirty minutes.”

“I know.” He glanced at the stack of books before him, feeling like it had grown while he was writing down his essay.

“We’re going ghost-hunting. Want to join us?”

He let out another groan. “No, I’ll go home and study.” He wasn’t even half-way through his essay; how would he ever finish it by the deadline?

Ono waved. Seconds later Tanaka was next to them. “Scared, Mibu?”

“No,” he glared at them. “Just… I have to study.” He pointed at Muraki, who was bent over his own essay. “You know we do the same chemistry course, right? I won’t let him be top of the class.” He grinned.

“Hm, is that why? Well, Muraki said he’d join us.”

“What?”

Ono smiled. “No shouting in the library, Mibu.”

Oriya ran his hand through his hair. If Muraki were to join Ono and Tanaka, did that mean that he’d already finished with his essay? Or that he was so confident he could take time off studying? He closed his notebook. “Fine, I’ll join you,” he said. He was determined not to lose to Muraki. In anything. Even if that included going after ghosts.

Ghosts. He tried not to shudder. He hated ghosts.

&*&*

Oriya sighed. There was a reason he hated ghosts. They were noisy and annoying pests. He flicked one off him, and two took its place. It was just too annoying.

“And he told me that he didn’t even like me as a friend,” the ghost of the young woman continued telling him as if he cared about her failed love affair. “So, I decided to kill myself here, at this crossing,” she sighed. “It is romantic, isn’t it?”

He shook his head, trying to stop her from bothering him.

“You don’t think so?” she pulled his hair.

“You don’t look happy, MIbu,” Ono told him. “Are you scared?” he sing-songed.

“No,” he growled. “I’m annoyed.”

“You’re scared of ghosts. Mibu is scared of ghosts,” he continued before going closer to the Sagano mansion.

Muraki touched his arm.

“What?” he glared at him. Muraki was the only reason he was there.

“I know you’re not scared of them,” Muraki told him softly. He pushed a ghost away from Oriya’s cheek with the back of his palm.

“You can see them too?” Oriya whispered, surprised. He’d never met a person outside their household staff who could see them.

Muraki nodded. “They are pests, aren’t they?” He waited until Ono and Tanaka were looking away, and then he grabbed one with his fingertips and shook it for a couple of seconds before throwing it away. “I’ve never seen so many near a person, though.”

“They like me,” Oriya said gloomily. He hated it that they liked him. They bothered him with their stories, as if he could do anything about them.

Muraki smirked. “Perhaps they think you taste sweetly,” he said, and leaned in, stealing a kiss from Oriya. “I think so too.”

Oriya gasped. “Ono and Tanaka.”

“They’re busy looking for the ghost of the caretaker’s daughter on the eighth floor.”

Oriya glanced at them. They were both studying the building intensely. “Still…” This would never do; what if they saw them? Oriya was not allowed to like men – at least not where people might see. If Auntie heard of it, she’d lock him in his room and only let him out for exams. His carefree college life would be over.

“You’re thinking too much,” Muraki snorted. “I thought that after what happened two weeks ago, you wouldn’t mind,” he whispered. His expression turned curious. “Unless you changed your mind about us?”

“Us? What happened? What are you talking about?”

“Fine, if that’s what you want,” Muraki smirked.

Oriya hit Muraki with his elbow. “I will not discuss this in public,” he whispered. He pushed the pesky little ghosts that had gathered around him and were staring at him curiously. “When this is over,” he glared at the pests, “join me for a drink.”

Muraki smirked. “I knew you couldn’t resist me.”

Oriya pushed him away and went to join Ono and Tanaka. Muraki was as annoying as a ghost, damn him. Only… Oriya did like him. He felt himself grow hot, thinking that maybe that night they could continue what they started two weeks ago. Yes, he would really like that.

Chapter Text

Muraki took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. The moment he put them back on, he noticed Mibu glancing at him from across the study room. He smirked as he stood up and went to him.

“How’s your essay going?”

“Well.” Mibu stared at him. “How is yours?”

“Well.” Muraki leaned down. “I was going to take a small break. Want to join me?”

Mibu smiled. “I was about to take a coffee break. What coincidence.”

Muraki waited until Mibu was up. “Bathroom break first?” he whispered.

Mibu’s eyes shone. He didn’t reply but he did follow Muraki out of the study room.

He had a quick look when they were at the corridor. There was no one else there so, the moment Mibu was behind him, he grabbed him and pushed him inside the stall.
Mibu grinned. “Eager, are you?” he asked as Muraki closed the door. “But, I told you, we can’t be caught in public.”

“I didn’t see you walking away when you had the chance,” he snorted.

Mibu smirked. “Well… I like living dangerously,” he grinned. He grabbed Muraki by the lapels of his jacket and pulled him close to him. “You lured me here,” he whispered, nuzzling Muraki. “What should I do with you?”

Muraki closed his eyes, and rubbed his face against Mibu’s neck. Mibu looked relaxed and his skin was ridiculously soft, but when he held Muraki, there was no escaping him. Muraki had never met someone who could overpower him physically until he’d met Mibu. Nor had he met someone who could see spirits until Mibu. “Do whatever you want,” he said as seductively as he could, leaving his mouth half-opened and waiting to be kissed.

Mibu did not disappoint him. Gods. He was strong. Muraki sighed happily. Mibu was not like anyone else he’d ever met before. He liked him.

When Mibu unzipped his trousers and his hand, strong and certain, started stroking him in tandem with his plundering tongue Muraki let out a deeper moan. Oh, yes, he liked him indeed.

&*&*

“What would happen if we were caught?” Muraki whispered when they were back in the library, sharing the same desk and the same pile of books.

Mibu shook his head, refusing to answer him. “Are you not concerned? You also have a lot to lose. The last of the Muraki doctors…” he let his voice trail off.

Muraki looked up. “You know my family.”

“Who doesn’t?”

Muraki smirked. “Indeed. I will be worthy of them some day. But until then, I’m certain that my youthful indiscretions will be forgotten.”

Mibu snorted. “Believe me, nothing is ever forgotten. It’s merely pushed aside, until there is need for it to be used as a weapon.” He suddenly looked away. “Tell me, will you go to John’s party tonight?”

Muraki narrowed his eyes for a second. Mibu kept refusing to reply to him. Interesting. He’d find out the answers. Sooner, rather than later. “Maybe. Will you?”

“Maybe.”

Muraki smirked. Yes, definitely interesting. His smirk turned into a smile. He really liked Mibu; who would have thought?

&*&*

By the time Muraki arrived at John’s the party was in full swing.

“You can leave your coat at the bedroom,” John shouted at him over the music.

“Or not,” shouted a girl he hadn’t seen before. “The bedroom is … occupied,” she giggled.

Muraki snorted and weaved his way through the crowd. He opened the door, fumbling for the light switch at the side. The moment he turned the light on, there was a scream. Or maybe two. Muraki wasn’t sure if he hadn’t screamed at the same time as the girl. The bedroom was occupied, indeed; or rather, the bed.

“Muraki?” Mibu smirked, not stopping his shameless thrusting into the girl for one moment. “Come to join us?”

“No, no,” the girl giggled from under the blanket.

Muraki snorted. “Is she worth joining you?” Because, fucking hell, Mibu was worth it. Mibu had remained demurely dressed all three times they had exchanged hand-jobs. Had Muraki known what he was hiding, he’d have …. Fuck, he wasn’t sure what he would have done, but he was certain that it would have involved a bed, some ties, and a lot of take-away.

Mibu slapped her ass. “Are you?” he laughed.

“Fuck you,” she moaned. “No, fuck me. Keep fucking me, baby.” She wrapped her legs around Mibu’s waist, and crossed her ankles, trapping him.

Mibu slapped her again. “You liked that?” She giggled and he winked at Muraki. “I found myself a little pain slut.”

Muraki shook his head. He had to stop fantasizing about Mibu fucking him the way he fucked into her. “How drunk are you, Mibu?”

“As drunk as Miki,” he laughed, pulling the blanket away from her upper body and showing her to Muraki. “Miki, say ‘hi’ to my friend. Do you want him to join us?”

Miki hit Mibu on the arm. “You want him to join us. I want you to fuck me.” She grabbed his hair and pulled him down. “Kiss me, Oriya.”

Mibu let out a moan that Muraki hadn’t heard before. Muraki felt all the blood from his body rush to his dick, leaving him light-headed. He threw his coat on the floor, opened the door again, and fled out.

He needed a drink, but what he wanted, was Mibu. Shameless, handsome Mibu.

Chapter Text

Oriya stretched. He opened his eyes and looked up. “Hm.”

Muraki nuzzled him. “Good morning.”

“Good morning.” He smiled slowly. What was he doing in Muraki’s bed? When had he gone to Muraki’s flat? He looked at Muraki, since there was nothing else of interest to look at.

“I don’t want to move,” Muraki whispered, touching his chest lightly.

“Neither do I,” he admitted. He started caressing Muraki’s hair. It was so soft. His hair had fascinated Oriya from the first moment he’d seen him, and every chance he got to touch it was precious to him.

“Eventually we’ll have to,” Muraki said, kissing his neck.

“Later.” Ah, yes, he’d left the party to ‘see’ Muraki’s flat. There wasn’t much seeing, now that he remembered. He grinned slowly as he started running his fingers down Muraki’s spine. “Maybe after we…”

Muraki lifted his head and stared at him, smiling. “Maybe.” He climbed over him and took both their cocks in his hand, stroking them slowly.

“Maybe I had something else in mind.”

“Really?”

Oriya nodded. He sat up, pushing Muraki down as he moved.

Muraki laughed and spread his legs. “Was that what you had in mind?” He slid a finger inside him. “You fucked me well last night. I’m still pretty loose.”

Oriya grabbed the lube and a condom. He quickly put it on him and poured some of the liquid on his fingers. What was it about that man that Oriya found so attractive? It wasn’t just his beauty. “What is it about you?” he whispered. “I don’t fuck the same person twice, you know.”

“I’m truly flattered,” Muraki grinned. He grabbed Oriya’s hand and guided him to his hole. “Fuck me, again, Mibu.”

“Call me Oriya.”

“And you can call me Kazutaka.”

Oriya snorted. He’d think about it. Later. For now he had better things to do.

&*&*

Muraki nuzzled him. “I don’t want to move,” he murmured against his skin and then kissed him.

Oriya was about to say ‘me neither’ when his stomach grumbled. He grinned, embarrassed. “Maybe I should move.”

“Maybe,” Muraki smiled. “Hm… Breakfast in bed by the Young Master of Kokakurou. What will you make me, I wonder?”

Oriya laughed as he stood up. So Muraki had looked into his family as well. He grabbed his shirt and put it on.

“That’s mine.”

“Ah.” He started to remove it.

“No, it looks good on you,” Muraki smiled. “Well, what’s for breakfast?”

“Whatever can be delivered here,” he grinned. “Muraki, you have discovered my deepest, darkest secret,” Oriya said with a bow. “I can’t really cook.”

“Really?”

He nodded. “If I ever take over Kokakurou – and that’s a big if – I won’t cook for our customers.” His cooking skills were not up to Kokakurou’s standards. He smiled as he turned towards the living room. No, he’d probably.. no, he wouldn’t take over their fucking restaurant, and he wouldn’t think about it.

He heard Muraki follow him. “I can’t cook either.”

“No?”

“No. We have a cook.” Muraki hugged him before offering him the leaflets with the take-aways that were nearby. “I can’t even make decent coffee,” Muraki admitted. “My butler makes the best coffee in the world.”

“Ah,” Oriya exclaimed, grinning. “I can make coffee. But you’ll have to tell me how my coffee compares to your butler’s.”

“Will do,” Muraki laughed. “Seriously, you can’t cook a thing?”

“Well, I can cook a thing or two.” He turned around, grabbed Muraki and kissed him. “Fine, I’ll cook breakfast for you. But, in return…”

“Yes?”

He grinned. He really didn’t know what it was about Muraki that made him want to have more of him, but he did. His stomach protested again, stopping him.

Muraki knelt down and kissed his stomach. “This sounds impatient,” he whispered, nuzzling him.

Oriya felt his cock harden. “Well….”

Muraki winked at him. “You know what? I think I’ll start my breakfast with some liquid protein.” His mouth closed around Oriya’s dick. His eyes didn’t leave Oriya’s.

Oriya smiled as he started petting Muraki’s soft hair. “You know what? I’m happy to provide.”

Chapter Text

Muraki pushed the book he had been reading towards Oriya. “Here.”

“Thanks.” Oriya handed him the one he’d just finished.

They smiled at each other, and Muraki realized that he meant to smile. He was a big-picture kind of person, he’d realized during these first months of studying; Oriya was all about the details, so studying with him was good for Muraki. And vice-versa, apparently. “Have you decided on a topic for your religions essay?”

“No. Have you?”

“Yes. It will be something on the witchcraft and religion. Maybe on the Malleus Malleficarum?” He really wanted to read that book, and what better excuse than an essay?

Oriya nodded. “I wanted to do something on the development of the concept of Hell in Catholicism but I was told it was too ambitious.”

“Hm… maybe if you refined it? Why don’t you write on the origins of the concept of Purgatory? You know that even though there was a vague belief in it, it was only in the 11th century that it was introduced as a doctrine?”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“How do you know these things?” Oriya asked him admiringly.

“I’m a Catholic,” he smirked. And he’d been so very curious about what happened to the souls of the dead ever since… No, he wouldn’t think about it.

“Muraki?” Oriya asked him softly.

What had his expression revealed? “It’s nothing.”

“If you ever want to talk about it…”

God, Oriya looked so earnest in his concern. Only Sakaki had looked at him with such eyes. He glanced around them. Everyone was busy with their own affairs, and there as only another group of students sitting on the other side of the camphor tree, busy having lunch. He checked the clock on the tower. Two more hours until their next class. He closed his notebook. “Should we take a walk to the river?”

Oriya gathered his things quickly and then picked up the books.

Muraki tried to hide his snort. “I can carry them, Oriya. I’m not as frail as I look.”

“I know, but there’s more space in my bag,” Oriya said.

“If that’s what you want.” He didn’t know why he didn’t mind that Oriya did such small things that showed he cared; he sometimes found it amusing, sometimes a little irritating, but he never really minded.

“I do.”

Such conviction. “I’ll tell you at the river,” he said as they started walking. “Don’t ask me until then.”

Oriya nodded and stayed quiet as they walked. What should he tell him? He was making a big deal out of nothing, he was certain of it. He should have kept his mouth shut. He should have…

“Crossing light is red,” Oriya said, touching him lightly on the arm.

Ah, he really had made a friend, hadn’t he? Muraki smiled again. He didn’t know what to do with this feeling, but he liked it. He still didn’t know what to tell Oriya, though. How had he been so careless? But that was what having a friend was? Being careless and knowing that they would still accept you?

“We can cross now,” Oriya whispered.

“You’ll be a great mother someday,” Muraki snorted.

Oriya hit him, making him laugh. Yes, that was also having a friend.

&*&*

“I lost my parents when I was sixteen,” Muraki said the moment they sat down, looking at the river.

Oriya didn’t say anything. Didn’t even look at him, pretending that the calm waters were more fascinating than Muraki.

“First it was Father, and then it was Mother. I’ve…” Muraki paused. “It made me wonder about the state of their souls, especially since Mother was Catholic, but Father wasn’t.”

“They won’t be sharing the same lotus, then,” Oriya whispered.

Muraki glanced at him. “No, that’s for sure. Perhaps they’ll share the same hell,” he muttered darkly. His expression darkened too for a second, and then Muraki looked as calm and indifferent as ever.

Oriya tried not to sigh. Muraki had been about to open up to him, and then he’d changed his mind. Oriya would have to offer something in return. “I know what you mean.”

“Eh?”

“My mother died when I was little, but... My Father has strayed from the path of virtue a long time ago. I think…” He paused, waiting until Muraki leaned closer. “I think his behavior killed Mother.” He didn’t remember her much, but he remembered her sadness. Father hadn’t killed her, but he hadn’t done anything to stop her from wanting to die.

It felt weird saying it out loud to someone, but for some reason, saying it had made him feel lighter. What a weight he’d been carrying all these years.

Muraki’s eyes shone. “That’s what happened in my family too,” he said rapidly. “My Father… he made Mother miserable.”

They both sighed.

Muraki leaned back until he was lying down. “My Father,” he said so softly, that Oriya had to lie down as well and turn towards Muraki, “He was a sex addict. He kept having one affair after the other. Sometimes with his patients.”

Oriya nodded. “But he was too powerful to be struck out of the medical board for indecent behavior.”

“You do understand,” Muraki said, looking at him in wonder.

He nodded. He knew a lot about powerful fathers. “My Father also had affairs, and…” He shook his head. “I no longer bother to learn the names of his girlfriends anymore. He keeps changing them.”

“It sounds that your father never brought home a bastard,” Muraki whispered.

“Oh. Yours did?”

Muraki nodded. He closed his eyes. “He ruined my family, and I still hate him for it. I shouldn’t, but I do.”

“Do you need help?”

Muraki glanced at him.

“With your step-brother. I can beat him up for you.” He could even make him disappear, the way girls disappeared when they became too… inconvenient, but he didn’t want to do that.

Muraki grinned. “No need. He’s… incapacitated. That’s why I think that hating him makes little sense anymore, but I can’t stop.”

“Hate is a powerful emotion.” Oriya sighed. “I used to hate Father, but now I…”

“Yes?”

“I’m just annoyed at him, and a bit amused. I keep hearing of his affairs and feel so sorry for his girlfriends,” he grinned. Well, not really; he suspected that most of them were gold-diggers.

Muraki sat up. “I wish I could do that. I hate him.”

Oriya had never seen a person needing a hug so badly. “Maybe we should go back to your flat now,” he said.

“Why?”

Because you need a hug, and I can’t do it in public, he wanted to say. “Why not?”

“Seriously, you want to have sex now?” Muraki grinned.

Oriya shook his head. “No. I want to hug you,” he admitted. It was easier to say he wanted to have sex with Muraki. Sex was easy; hugging was difficult.

Muraki gave him a fond smile. “You can hug me in public, you idiot.”

“You’re the idiot,” he protested.

“You are.”

“No, you are.”

Muraki smiled. “One day, I’ll take you to meet the bastard,” he said as he stood up. “How about some coffee before class?”

He didn’t know why he felt disappointed at missing his chance to hug Muraki, but he did. “Sounds good.”

Muraki snorted. “You still want to hug me.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.”

Oriya huffed. “I don’t.”

Muraki stood still. “Do it. I dare you.”

Oriya started walking towards the nearest coffee shop. Muraki was such an idiot. An idiot with a family that was as fucked-up as his. Oriya liked him. He really liked him.

Chapter Text

“Seriously, Young Master. Do you intend to let everything your family preserved for generations go to ruin?”

Muraki smiled a little at the exasperation in Tami-san’s voice. He waited for a couple of seconds, but Oriya’s reply was too low. Smiling again, he walked up the stairs to his room as quietly as possible. It wouldn’t do to be caught eavesdropping either by Tami-san or Oriya.

Half-way through the steps he heard the door open. “As for you, my dear Doctor,” Tami-san shouted at him.

Muraki froze. He turned back, giving her his sweetest smile. “Yes?”

“Maybe you can talk some sense into the Young Master and explain to him that you are not the only customer of this House.”

Muraki swallowed hard. “I cannot influence Oriya, and you know that.”

“Tsk,” she muttered. “Go talk to him,” she ordered him, leaving the door to Oriya’s room open.

Reluctantly, Muraki walked down the stairs. “Sorry,” he said as he entered the room, grinning. “Tami-san can strike fear in the heart of men.” He closed the door behind him and sat down.

“Don’t I know it,” Oriya sighed.

“So, what is it this time? Your taking time off work to deal with me and my …” he smirked, “demands?”

“I can’t have favourites,” Oriya told him tiredly.

“Ah. But you do have them, don’t you?” Muraki asked flirtatiously. He leaned against the wall. “I like being your favourite, dear.”

Oriya snorted.

Muraki smiled again. “As your favourite, is there anything I can do for you, dear?”

Oriya looked away.

“From now on I should tell your maids never to tell you when I arrive.”

“You can do whatever you want,” Oriya told him, looking irritated.

So, that wasn’t an option Oriya liked. Muraki smiled again.

Oriya stood up slowly. “I have an idiot for a client and I must get ready for him.”

“All your clients are idiots,” Muraki smirked.

“He is more of an idiot than others, and…” Oriya sighed. “I’m making him wait for me, so I must make it worth his time.”

“So, you’ll be on your best behavior? Lucky client,” Muraki grinned. He wasn’t even lying; when Oriya wanted to be good, he was perfect.

Oriya crossed the room and knelt in front of Muraki. “If I…. No,” he said as he shifted backwards, and then stood up, checking his clothes on the kimono stand.

“If you what?”

“Nothing.”

“You want something of me,” Muraki said, delighted. “What is it? I will fulfil your every wish.”

Oriya made another soft sound, dismissing him.

“I mean it. I am in your debt, my friend. Let us not pretend I am not. What is it you want?”

Oriya turned to look at him. “I want to play with you.”

Muraki raised an eyebrow. It had been a long time since Oriya had asked that of him, and just as long since the last time Muraki had asked that of Oriya. Weren’t their late night trysts and whispered vows a thing of the past?

Oriya sighed. “I must give my idiot client exactly what his heart desires,” he whispered, “so he will spread the rumour that it is always worth waiting for me.”

“Ah. I understand.”

“You don’t,” Oriya said. “But if you agree….”

Muraki nodded.

Oriya took out a box from the wall closet and gave it to Muraki.

He opened it carefully. There was a mask on top of the thin rice paper, a mask of a young, pretty fox with red markings on its face. Muraki put it aside and pushed aside the paper. The first thing under the wrappings was a wig: chestnut brown hair that seemed to form an endless coil. “What is the meaning of this?”

Oriya’s look made him bite his lips. What did most of his idiot clients want of Oriya but Oriya himself? Muraki put the wig on. “Does it look good on me?”

“It does.”

He smiled. “Then, let us play tonight. You’ll give your idiot customer the performance of his lifetime.” And after the idiot had spread the rumours about how perfect a host Oriya was, so perfect that it was worth the wait, Muraki would deal with him. His playing time with Oriya was sacred.

&*&*

Muraki never expected that waiting behind the sliding doors would fill him with such anticipation. Face hidden behind the fox mask, hair hidden behind the wig, body hidden under Oriya’s clothes, kneeling, he had nothing to do but wait. For Oriya’s touches, his caresses, his whispers.

“Are you ready?” Oriya whispered to him suddenly, touching his arm lightly.

Muraki nodded.

A maid knelt in front of the doors and opened them quietly. Behind them there was another screen, and behind that Muraki could make out the figure of Oriya’s idiot client with two of Oriya’s women caressing him. He smirked. Just because he couldn’t recognize him didn’t mean that he wouldn’t find out who he was. That idiot was dead; he just didn’t know it yet.

He let out a chuckle. He was being so stupid. The first moment he could, he’d curse the idiot and that would be that. He just had to wait a little longer.

“Shhh,” Oriya chided him.

“The Young Master? And… Which one is the Young Master?” The idiot wondered aloud, sounding delighted.

“Perhaps he is one of them, perhaps he is not,” one of the women laughed. “Why not enjoy the performance, Sensei, without thinking about the performers?”

Oriya hugged Muraki from behind. His hand slid inside Muraki’s kimono. His fingers toyed with a nipple delicately. “After tonight, there will be nothing left of me. Will you shed a tear for me when I am gone?”

Muraki shivered. “Don’t be an idiot,” he said in the same quiet voice. “Now, do your job. I have things to do afterwards.”

“When you are right, you are right,” Oriya smiled against his skin and then lowered his kimono off his shoulders.

Muraki took a deep breath. This would reveal how his body was already tied with brilliant red rope in a tortoise shell pattern. Oriya had been less maudlin when he’d tied that, but maybe Muraki should have known that his friend was just pretending they were simply playing, just playing. Nothing else.

Why should he have been alerted that something was off? After all, they had played this game before. A long time ago. Why had he stopped playing with Oriya? He’d never trusted another being the way he trusted Oriya. Not even Ukyou, whom he loved, knew all of him the way Oriya did.

A light scent of honey came to Muraki seconds later, and then he felt the soft, heavy rope fall across his chest.

Muraki closed his eyes, letting Oriya tie his wrists. He had no idea what Oriya would do to him, and when Oriya lifted his arms next and tied them behind the back of his head to his arms, he was even more curious.

Soon, though, his curiosity stopped being so important. It was much better to close his eyes and simply feel. Oriya couldn’t kiss him behind the mask he wore, but he could touch him, and he did touch him. His fingers slid where the ropes would tie him, and the ropes slid against his skin in slow caresses, seducing him with scent and weight before making a present of his body.

Muraki was suspended, touched again on his arms, his chest, his thighs, the back of his knees, at random places but never where he really wanted Oriya to touch him, never on his cock or his balls or his ass. Knots pressed into his soft underbelly and where his thighs met his groin and his perineum, but never was the pressure enough to get him off. No, Oriya just teased and touched and moved and bound and played and played and played.

For a while, it was just them. It was like in the past, where he trusted Oriya with all of him, including his body. It was wonderful and he couldn’t wait for Oriya to lower him, and make him come. He so wanted to come.

By the time Oriya finally lowered him, wrapped him in a garment that smelled of sandalwood and chrysanthemum, gently arousing and soothing, and held him in his arms, Muraki was ready to fall asleep. And maybe come first. He still wanted to come.

“How wonderful,” an idiot exclaimed.

Muraki was jolted to sudden awareness of where he was, and why he was there. He glared at the idiot behind the screen, and would have cursed him at the spot, but Oriya still held him tightly against him. “He’s a pig,” he muttered.

“Are you sure I can’t buy the Young Master?” the idiot asked again. “He can tie me up. I don’t mind.”

“He really is a pig,” Muraki whispered. Feeling Oriya tremble, it was his turn to hold him by the wrists before he could move. “Let him be. Remember your plan?”

Oriya growled.

“We are here for Sensei,” both women said.

Muraki looked again. Sensei was no longer in his suit, nor were the women in their kimono. When had they started fucking? How did he miss it?

A maid closed the doors between the two rooms.

Muraki took off his mask. “I’d say that your plan worked,” he said with a smile he didn’t feel. That idiot would be dying before the sun rose. He would find a way to do it; he would. Muraki would give him a parting gift that would make Kurosaki’s curse feel like blessing. He took off Oriya’s mask next. Oriya glared at him. “Hey, it worked. I know it.”

“I think it backfired,” Oriya told him, exasperated. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms and as his sleeves rose they revealed his skin, raised, irritated and angry. Oriya had told him once that when he became stressed, his body acted up, but this was the first time seeing it.

Muraki kissed the hives. “Poor you, why did you do it?”

“Because he will also say that it is worth waiting for me, and letting me be whimsical. He will make others wait and hope for such a performance. And if they wait, they’ll stop complaining,” Oriya said, sounding a little like a put-upon child that had to go somewhere he didn’t want to.

Muraki pushed him down. “Why didn’t you focus on me?” he asked as he rubbed himself over Oriya. “I did. I forgot everything but you. I remembered everything about you. Everything I love.”

Oriya snorted.

Muraki kissed him, and licked his tightly drawn mouth until it opened for him. How sweet it was when it finally did. It tasted better than honey and better than wine. It was heady and spicy like his tobacco. “Maybe I should tie you now,” he whispered. “Remind you the beauty there is in surrender.”

“It’s ‘beauty in suffering’.”

Muraki smirked. “For others. You, I wouldn’t make suffer.”

Oriya looked at him strangely, in disbelief.

“You’re right,” Muraki said. “I have made you suffer. But not now. Not again. I promise.” He kissed him again. “Since you can’t be happy without me, I will torture you with my presence.”

“Idiot,” Oriya smiled. He reached between them, took Muraki’s cock in his hand and stroked him once.

Even that was too much for Muraki; he’d been on edge for far too long. Oriya’s touch sent the signal to his brain that he could come, and he did between one breath and the next, and then the world went black.

“I had better stamina as a teenager,” he laughed once he regained his senses, still dressed in Oriya’s perfumed garment, still trapped in Oriya’s arms, still feeling slow and lazy and at peace, the way he’d felt after killing someone who deserved it. “Can we stay here a while? I don’t want to move.”

“Of course.”

Muraki started caressing Oriya’s hair as he closed his eyes again. He’d missed this aspect of his friendship with Oriya, but from that moment, he’d never forget it. Oriya was his friend, and his brother, and his lover. Muraki would give all of him again.

&*&*

He didn’t know what alerted him to awareness. Perhaps it was the spirit of the House, perhaps a messenger from a god, but all Muraki knew was that one moment he was asleep, and the next something had pushed him into wakefulness, abrupt and dizzying. “Hm?” he muttered, reaching for Oriya.

He wasn’t there.

He reached for his glasses next, put them on and looked around.

Oriya was a darker shadow among the shadows, but the moonlight fell on the white piece of fabric he was trying to throw over one of the ceiling beams.

Muraki threw the covers off him, ran across the room and tackled Oriya, throwing him on the floor. “You’re not,” was all he managed before hitting him. “You can’t.”

“Why not?” Oriya screamed at him. “You tried.”

“I….”

“With Tsuzuki,” Oriya shouted. “A lovers’ murder-suicide, leaving me and Ukyou to mourn you as if we were your fucking widows. So, why can’t I?”

Muraki punched him. “Because You Can’t.”

“So everyone says, but why? What’s left of me? This House has even made a whore of me.”

Muraki didn’t tell him that last night’s performance had been Oriya’s stupid idea in the first place. He just hit him again, and again, wondering if Oriya would fight back. What if he didn’t? What if that House had really broken him? Then, maybe, it would be better to take him out of his misery. Yes, if Oriya didn’t fight back, Muraki would kill him himself. He hit Oriya again and…

Oriya blocked him, grabbed Muraki’s arm as he was trying to punch him again, and pushed him away. “You’re such a nuisance,” he growled as he put his leg between Muraki’s arm and torso, trapping his right arm and pinning him down, and grabbed him by the neck with his left hand. “I don’t want to hurt you, but I will if you try this again.”

Muraki grinned and relaxed. He wouldn’t have to kill Oriya. He’d just need to make sure Oriya didn’t harm himself.

Oriya let him go.

“Suicide is not the answer,” Muraki told him, hand going over his stomach wound.

Oriya glanced at it. “Really?”

Muraki shook his head. “We all do what we can in this dark world. Then we fail, and yet, we’re given a second chance.”

“What do you hope for, Muraki?”

“To find a cure for Ukyou. To be there for you. To restart my career as a doctor, or maybe in the black market.” He grinned.

Oriya chuckled. “I can help with the last one.”

“I know you can.”

“What do you hope for?”

“Death.”

Muraki hit him again.

“I should become like Bikuni. Renounce this world of sorrows. Pray. Hope for a better afterlife.”

Muraki stood up. He grabbed the white fabric from where it had fallen on the table. A scarf, what else? How traditional. “Don’t be an idiot,” he said. “You couldn’t be a good monk if you tried.”

“Hm?”

He dangled the scarf over Oriya. “Let me show you beauty in surrender, Oriya. I think you have forgotten how that works.”

Oriya looked at him strangely. “You’re not Muraki.”

Whatever was going on in Oriya’s mind? Living in that House of Spirits had made him weirder than usual. “Yes, I am.”

“But these are not your words.”

Muraki smirked. “I love tying people up, and I’ll use any excuse to achieve my goals. In this case, tying you up,” he winked.

Oriya smiled as he stood up. “Fine, then. Teach me, Sensei. After all, your surrender is always a thing of art. I know you will teach me well.”

Muraki nodded. He had to. He felt that the stakes had never been higher. “Where do you keep your ropes?”

Oriya picked up a lamp and guided him to the storeroom.

Muraki looked around. “This is your treasure house, is it not?” he asked, as if he couldn’t see the shelves with the precious vases, and those with the scrolls and those with the clothes, rows upon rows of things that had survived for generations next to cabinets and dressers and coffers.

Oriya nodded.

“Then I should tie you up here. You are your House’s most precious treasure, after all.”

“Muraki,” he snorted.

“It’s the truth. The Mibu heir, the famous Young Master. You are irreplaceable.”

“I’m but a human being.” He gestured around him. “These, these are unique.”

Muraki looked around as well. “Well, on second thought, if I tie you up here, your knees might not forgive me.” He picked up more than enough ropes and gestured towards the door. “Back to your room it is.”

Oriya led him back to the house. “You are in a weird mood.”

“My best friend tried to kill himself. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Hm, yet when you tried it, I had to be ok with your decision. I can smell a hypocrite.”

“I learned my lesson, and now I want you to learn one too.” Muraki closed the door behind them. “Leave the light on. And maybe light one more lamp.”

“You’re also very bossy.”

“Yes, because now I’m your Teacher. Master Mibu.”

Oriya snorted. “Now what?” he asked after lighting a couple of tall candles.

Muraki smiled. Candlelight would be more suggestive that that of the lamp behind its washi paper cover. Oriya had chosen well, but if Muraki praised him, Oriya would dismiss the compliment the way he always did. “Now, strip.”

Oriya looked at him shocked.

Muraki grinned. “Strip.”

“Why?”

“Because I want to see you naked.”

Oriya started taking off his layers one by one. When he looked up at Muraki, completely naked, he looked mostly curious and a little bit appalled. “Well?” he said, standing still, arms to the side and deceptively relaxed.

Muraki studied him. “If I told you that you are beautiful, you’d tell me you are you, and that you are not.”

“Correct,” Oriya grinned. “Muraki, YOU are beautiful. I am ordinary.”

Muraki took out his phone, set it on a base and started recording. “When we are finished, you will see for yourself that you are far from ordinary.”

“I know what I am. Flesh and blood and bones, as transient as everything else around us.”

You are annoyingly self-deprecating and you hide it behind your maudlin philosophy, he wanted to say. Instead he pushed Oriya down, smiling when he saw him fold himself in perfect seiza.

“Hands behind your back. Please.”

Oriya offered them. Yes, he submitted beautifully, but that did not mean he saw the beauty of submitting. Muraki kissed his nape, tracing the still raised skin with his tongue, and then pushed his hair aside so he could tie his arms behind his back comfortably.

When he was done, he untied Oriya’s hair and, pushing his fingers through it, made it fall in disarray over his back and shoulders. How le loved doing this. Oriya’s hair was beautiful. If he didn’t love it loose, he’d tie it with rope and use it to hold Oriya in place, but… no, loose was so much better. “Tomorrow, can I comb it?”

“Of course.”

Ukyou loved combing Oriya’s hair too. She’d told him once it was her second favourite thing to do with Oriya, her first being drinking. Holding that heavy mass in his hands made him understand why she liked it. It was better than silk, softer and smoother and… Muraki took a deep breath, and smelled faintly of white tea.

He kissed Oriya’s nape again. “You are gorgeous.” Picking up another length of rope, he made a loop, placed it on Oriya’s thigh and pulled through it the rest of the rope. He started tying the ankle to his thigh in neat lines, secured the knot, and proceeded tying the other leg. “There, now you’re both in seiza, and mine,” Muraki grinned.

He moved in front of Oriya and studied him. He knew that red rope suited him, but it was a good choice for Oriya too, with his pale skin. And the position had been a good one too; it didn’t make Oriya look submissive; no, it showed off his strength and his physique and his muscles. It made clear that this was Oriya’s choice; no one else’s. “God, you ARE gorgeous,” he whispered.

Oriya shook his head a little.

Muraki moved forward until their knees were touching. Then, grabbing Oriya’s hair, he pulled him to him, held him and kissed him. He so loved kissing Oriya. “I don’t know if I should blind fold you or not.” Not. Oriya’s eyes were so expressive, and whenever they looked at him, Muraki felt warm inside.

He nuzzled Oriya. “Look at me no matter what.”

“Okay.”

Oriya trusted him so much; it made Muraki ache inside. He started kissing his way down Oriya’s throat, sucking the delicate skin, scraping it with his teeth, and then licking it in apology. He wanted to mark it so that Oriya would know how wanted he was, and how desirable, and how much Muraki loved him. He hadn’t shown it enough, had he?

The small nipple over Oriya’s heart was his next stop. Muraki kissed it again and again, even though it hardened seconds after Muraki trapped it between his lips and licked it. He kept playing with it, even though moments after it had turned into stone under his tongue, Oriya started breathing heavily. When he bit it, Oriya let out a broken moan, and when he moved to the next, it was as if he’d broken something in Oriya altogether, and his gasps and sighs wouldn’t stop.

It was almost like when they had first become lovers. Oriya had been so responsive back then, but once Oriya had returned to Kyoto after his graduation Muraki stopped visiting often. After that he’d played with Oriya less and less, and every time he did, Oriya grew more and more quiet, until, the last night they had spent together, he’d hardly made a sound. He supposed Oriya’s silence was not all his fault, but he too had been responsible for it and – god, how could he have lived without Oriya’s little sounds of ecstasy? The sounds that Muraki caused? Those happy sounds that accompanied his frantic heartbeat and his trembling body?

He’d been such an idiot. Such an idiot.

“Kazu…” Oriya gasped, the way he hadn’t gasped his name in years.

Muraki surged up and kissed him. How could he have forgotten how that felt? That sense of peace when Oriya, his dearest, called him by his given name? Those rare moments when Oriya did not hide behind friendship, and told Muraki he loved him?

He reached between them and started stroking Oriya’s erect cock. It felt so beautiful in his hands, so warm, so full of life, so soft and strong at the same time, so… Oriya. He loved it so much. He loved his friend so much.

“If you ever dare die on me, I’ll bring you back and hang you by the balls,” Muraki growled, biting Oriya’s lower lip until he drew blood.

Oriya’s whole body shook. Muraki felt his hot sperm on his fingers, and then heard his laughter. He hid his face against Oriya’s shoulder and bit him again. “Idiot.”

“You’re the idiot,” Oriya told him when he stopped trembling.

“You are.”

“You are.”

Muraki started laughing. “We both are.”

“So, no more trying to go after death gods?”

“No. No more trying to go to Meifu before your time?”

“No.”

“Good.” Muraki rubbed the tip of his nose against Oriya’s. “Good.” He started untying Oriya’s right leg. “Next time, can I tie you against a beam? And maybe suspend you by the hair?”

Oriya narrowed his eyes.

“Fine, fine, I can just pull your hair,” he grinned, pulling it a little and dragging Oriya close to him for another kiss.

Oriya kicked him gently.

Muraki laughed as he started untying the left leg. “Don’t kick me, please.”

Oriya started stretching his leg. “I might, if you deserve it.”

“So mean.” He moved behind Oriya and started untying his arms.

“Of course.”

He kissed Oriya’s shoulder when he was done. “Be right back,” he said.

“Eh?”

Muraki ran to Oriya’s medicine cabinet and found an aloe vera cream. “This will be good for your hives too,” he grinned. “Lie down.”

“Eh?”

He showed him the cream. “Massage time. More healing rather than sensual but it seems to me that you might need it.” Oriya’s skin was almost as delicate as his.

Oriya lay down, staring at him. “I… thank you.”

Muraki made a dismissive gesture. It was the least he could do, especially now that he remembered what he had to live for. Who knew, maybe one day he and Ukyou could share this intimacy too. Wouldn’t that be good? “So, do you want to see our film?”

Chapter Text

Oriya hated himself and his body. Even though he had finally reconciled with the idea that he’d serve his House for ever and ever and ever, and that he’d never be free of it, his mind still got unsettled and his body still reacted to his stress. Would he ever be free of these minor nuisances? Would he never grow used to his idiot customers and their demands and wishes? What a pain his body was.

Muraki grinned at him the moment he opened the door of his room. “How scary. I hope you don’t show that face to your customers.”

He couldn’t muster the energy to glare at him. “Hm,” he just said. “What are you doing here?”

“Visiting you. Isn’t it obvious?”

“No.”

“How mean you are to me,” Muraki pretended to complain, bringing his hands in front of his heart. “How your words are hurting me.”

How dramatic. Oriya chuckled. “Have they fed you or should I call for food?”

“I’ve been fed,” Muraki smiled. “You can close the door.”

Oriya did.

“I’ve made you tea,” Muraki continued, twisting around and bringing forward a tray with two cups and a teapot.

“What an honor,” he said as he sat down, trying not to grimace. Who knew, perhaps Muraki had become better at tea making. Or perhaps Muraki would poison him with the bitterness of his brew. Who knew?

“Well, I got it from one of the maids, so I guess one of your Chefs made it, but, look I can serve it well,” Muraki smiled as he poured the tea.

“Indeed, you can,” Oriya smiled. “Thank you.”

“I can serve you well in other ways,” Muraki smirked as Oriya took his first sip.

He almost dropped the cup. “What?”

Muraki drank a little. Then he leaned forward and kissed him.

The moment Oriya’s lips opened, Muraki let the tea spill from his mouth into Oriya’s. Oriya swallowed it hungrily. Tea mixed with Muraki tasted better.

“You liked that?” Muraki asked before taking another gulp.

Oriya opened his mouth in invitation.

Muraki shared his drink again. “You look like you need a massage,” he told Oriya after the kiss. “Take off your clothes and lie down.”

Oriya smirked. “Muraki, if you want to have sex with me, you can just say it.”

“Oh, I will,” Muraki smiled, leaning forward again and licking Oriya’s neck. “But you do look like you could use a massage, and I want to give you one. After that, we can have sex.”

Oriya started laughing. Muraki was just… Muraki. Sounding so rational and business-like even when he talked of sex. “Ah, fine,” he said as he went out. “There’s oil in the medicine cabinet,” he told Muraki before closing the door behind him.

Muraki smirked the moment he saw him carrying the plastic sheet and the towels. “Someone’s into watersports.”

“Two things, you idiot. Wooden floors and tatami mats. There’s no way I’m cleaning them if you make a mess.” Oriya smiled at him. “Unless you’ll pay the cleaning bill?”

Muraki shuddered theatrically. “You’d make me pay if I made a mistake?”

Oriya glared at him.

“Of course you would,” Muraki grinned. “So, if you’re not into watersports, who is?”

“Muraki,” he growled, annoyed.

“What? It’s an honest question.”

“Assuming that someone here was into that,” Oriya replied as he prepared the bed over the plastic sheet, and wondering why he was the one doing that, when Muraki had promised him a massage, “why would I tell you? My business is all about discretion.” Idiot.

“But I’m your oldest, best friend,” Muraki wheedled. “Please? Pretty please?”

Oriya snorted. As if he would betray any sordid details about his customers to Muraki. Satisfied with his preparations he started taking off his clothes. “Maybe you should undress too, just to be certain that you won’t ruin your clothes by accident.”

“Oriya,” Muraki said, looking amused and shaking his head. “If you want to have sex with me, you can just say it.”

Oriya ignored him. If they had sex, it would be Muraki’s decision; it always was. He lay down, crossed his arms in front of his face, and let his head rest on his arm. “This is relaxing,” he said, even before Muraki had done anything. Just lying down after work felt so good.

There was a soft sound as Muraki took off the stopper from the bottle. “Comfortable?”

“Yes.”

Muraki chuckled. “Good. Ah,” he sighed as he suddenly touched him with certain, strong hands. “This feels so good,” he whispered as he started massaging his shoulders.

“Hm?”

“Your skin. I love touching it.”

Muraki’s tone raised Oriya’s hackles. “Is that so?” he asked as if he didn’t care.

“Yes. If I had learned calligraphy on such a canvas, my writing would have been better. Much better.”

Was Muraki asking Oriya to let him write on him? He could forget it. Who knew what perverted things he’d do, or worse, if he’d use him for spell practice. He closed his eyes with a sigh. “Keep doing what you’re doing. It feels good.”

It did; Muraki knew to apply just enough pressure to relax him, and with his eyes closed, and his body attuned to Muraki’s touch, he could pretend that Muraki was caressing him, and maybe even loving him a little. Ah. What a sad thing he was.

“Hey, Oriya?” Muraki said as he started massaging his lower back. “I’m trying to get some extra funding for my research project and… It would be really good if I did get it. I can hire two doctoral students and a technician to add to my team and….”

Oriya opened his eyes. Pretending time was over. “And?”

“Can I host a party here? It will be for the Head of the Committee and a couple of people from the Ministry, so a party of four in total.”

“When? Can you get my diary so I’ll make a note of it? It’s in the left drawer of my desk.”

Muraki ran, making Oriya chuckle. “You want that funding that badly, huh?”

“Well, it would be useful,” he said as he approached Oriya and then gave him his diary and a pen. Muraki’s own pen. Oriya was vaguely touched.

“Okay, when?”

“Monday.”

“What?” He turned around, staring at Muraki in shock. “Monday? I don’t…”

“Surely there must be a room for a small party available, right?” Muraki smirked, as if Oriya was being the unreasonable one.

What would be the point of even huffing in annoyance? Muraki couldn’t get it. Ah, Oriya had spoiled him. He opened his diary again and checked. “Well… There is one room available,” he said.

“Great. Which one? The one with the pines, I hope. I love that painting.”

“The one with the fake doors,” Oriya said, and this time he couldn’t hide his annoyance. He hated it when they used that room. If the customers using it had no idea which room they were in, they became curious about the set of doors on the wall. And when they knew where they were…

“Eh?”

“The one where we, erm, played a few months ago.”

Muraki’s eyes shone. Yes, that was their reaction; they expected… playing, sometimes with Oriya in the starring role. Fuckers.

“Oriya, your skin is turning red.”

A second later he started feeling an itch at the back of his neck and his arms. Fuck his body. Fuck his life.

Muraki studied him with interest for a few moments. “Hm. Where are your pills?” he asked as he stood up. “Medicine cabinet?”

“Yes. Thank you.”

“You should see a doctor about your allergy.”

“I have. She suggested anti-anxiety medication before being in stressful situations. Since it’s work that stresses me out, I said no.” Antihistamine pills made him slow enough already.

“Of course.” Muraki handed him a pill and a glass of water. “So, about my party on Monday. Do you think you might also be able to show up? Just for a song or two?”

Oriya glared at him. “Muraki, you should have asked that six months ago. I’m fully booked on Monday.” He didn’t even have to check his diary to know that.

“But you’re always late, everyone says so. You can come between your engagements and your next customer will be none the wiser.”

Oriya knew he was giving Muraki the stink eye but he couldn’t be bothered. “Fine, I’ll see what I can do,” he finally muttered, disgusted at himself. He scratched his arm a little.

“Thank you,” Muraki said brightly.

“Since we’re at it,” he sighed, “Do you want anything else after the food?”

“Eh?” Muraki looked at him stupidly for a moment. “Ah,” he smiled. “You mean….”

“Yes, if you need another type of entertainment.” He really hated himself.

“Well, it would be a shame not to take advantage of all the delights your establishment can offer,” Muraki said, smile turning slyer and slyer as he spoke.

“Fine, I’ll deal with that too.” He suddenly hit Muraki on the chest. “And you’re not allowed to kill the girl I’ll choose for you.”

Muraki pushed him down. “Who said I’ll need a girl when there’s you?” he asked, climbing over him and trapping him with the weight of his body and his legs.

“I’m not for sale.”

Muraki nuzzled him. “But you’re on offer when I’m here.”

The idiot had no idea how insulting he was, did he? Oriya glared at him. “Only because I….” He looked away. He was about to say it to Muraki. What the fuck was wrong with him? He closed his eyes, even more disgusted at himself than before.

“Because you…?” Muraki grinned as he rubbed his whole body against Oriya’s. “Let…” Muraki kissed his forehead. “Me,” he kissed his left eyelid. “Guess,” he whispered after kissing the tip of his nose. “You.” He kissed his left cheek. “Love.” He kissed his right cheek. “Me,” he kissed him over his closed lips. “Did I guess right, Oriya?” he asked playfully, licking his earlobe and reaching between them to play with his nipples.

Oriya shrugged.

Muraki caught the lobe and sucked it hard. “I’ll tell you a secret,” he then whispered. “If you tell me if I guessed right. Did I, Oriya?”

Oriya let his head drop to the side, asking Muraki to nuzzle his neck. “Yes,” he muttered. His chest hurt; revealing vulnerability to Muraki was asking to be mocked at best.

Muraki kissed his mouth. Oriya tightened his lips, until Muraki sighed and kissed his neck instead. “Well, you deserve the secret, then,” he said in a low, low voice. “I love you too.”

“What?” Oriya shouted as he sat up and pushed Muraki away from him. “What?”

Muraki started laughing. “I said, I love you too. What? Did you think I keep you alive because you cover for me? You idiot. Although…. You do cover for me. I appreciate that too, you know.”

Oriya hit him. Then he pulled him close again. “I know, but right now, I don’t want to know that. Tell me you love me. Please?” His neediness was showing, but he didn’t care.

Muraki smiled. “I love you. And now I’ll do more than tell you. I’ll show you.”

Oriya parted his lips. Muraki deserved a kiss – and more – in return for his secret.

&*&*

Muraki loosened his tie and closed his eyes. With the guests he was trying to butter up together with Oriya’s girls, he could finally relax. The funding would be his, he was certain of it.

The door opened oh so quietly. Muraki smiled and lay back.

“Happy?” Oriya asked him softly.

“Yes.” He opened his eyes. “Thank you for appearing, my dear. I appreciate it.” His guests had appreciated it even more; the Ministry Secretary in particular had been delighted.

Oriya snorted, half-amused.

Muraki sprang up and pushed Oriya against the fake wall. His friend tensed, but Muraki knew how to fix that. “Let me thank you properly, love.”

Oriya relaxed instantly at the address. Muraki hid his smirk in Oriya’s neck, and then started kissing him there, tracing the raised skin with his tongue. If he had known that all it took to make Oriya completely pliant to his wishes was to call him ‘love’, he would have done it a lot sooner. Although, Oriya always did what he wanted, didn’t he? “How is your French, my dear?”

“Eh? Not good...”

Muraki didn’t let him finish. “Cet amour,” he started and, with one hand, he slid one of the doors open, then holding Oriya close, as if they were dancing, led him into the room. “Si violent, si fragile, si tendre, si désespéré,” he whispered on his skin, pushing the transparent fabric screen with his hand.

“This love, so violent, so fragile, so tender, so desperate?” Oriya smirked.

Muraki bit him. “Yes. Cet amour, beau comme le jour et mauvais comme le temps, quand le temps est mauvais,” he continued, still unable to go past the fabric.

Oriya laughed. “This love, lovely like the day?”

“Beautiful like the day and bad like the weather, when the weather is bad. Seriously, is this a trap?” How had he managed to get both of them wrapped within the curtain?

“Tell me about this love, Muraki,” Oriya chuckled as he started twirling them.

“Cet amour si vrai, cet amour si beau, si heureux, si joyeux,” he continued, letting Oriya guide them to freedom, “et si dérisoire, tremblant de peur comme un enfant dans le noir.”

Oriya stopped and stared at him. “So true, so beautiful, so happy, so joyful, so… full of derision? Pitiful?”

Muraki nodded. “Trembling in fear like a child in the dark. And so certain of himself, like a man calm in the middle of the night.” They were free, and in front of the second set of doors.

Oriya opened them. “This love?” He stepped inside, looking around the room.

“Cet amour,” Muraki said as he grabbed Oriya’s hand, and pulled him close for a kiss, waiting until Oriya parted his lips and he could slip his tongue inside, finding sake and tea and tobacco. “Qui faisait peur aux autres,” he continued as he pushed Oriya against the stury wooden beam at the middle. Oriya’s hands stayed obediently at his sides. He started caressing him over his clothes. “Qui les faisait parler,” his breast was so hard under the silk, “qui les faisait blémir” he slid his hands under the fabric, “cet amour guetté,” ah, there it was that tiny nipple, “parce que nous le guettions.” He pinched it, making Oriya gasp. “This love that was frightful,” he did it again, “that made people talk” and again, “that made people,” and then he started rubbing the other one too, “that made people pale, this watchful love, because we looked out for it.”

“Muraki,” Oriya moaned. He raised his hand to touch Muraki and then dropped it again.

“it gets better,” he smiled. “Traqué,” he started tugging at Oriya’s hair, “blessé,” and tugging, “piétiné, achevé, nié, oublié,” until all the strands were falling over Oriya’s chest. “This stalked, hurt, trampled, finished, denied, forgotten love. Because we had stalked it, hurt it, trampled it, finished it, denied it, forgotten it. Parce que nous l'avons traqué, blesse, piétiné, achevé, nié, oublié,” he almost chanted as he combed through it with his fingers, watching Oriya close his eyes and smile in bliss. “Cet amour tout entier, si vivant encore, this whole love, still living love, this fully bright love,” he said, smiling, as he smoothed them over and over, “et tout ensoleillé, C'est le tien. It’s yours.” He kissed him on the lips, pulled away before they parted. “C'est le mien. It’s mine.” Another brief, soft kiss. “Can I tie you, love?”

Oriya offered him his hands.

Muraki smiled. “Celui qui a été,” he murmured as he took Oriya’s hair in his hand and pulled it through one of the iron hooks that were on the beam. “Cette chose toujours nouvelle, Et qui n'a pas change,” he continued as he looped the hair twice. “Aussi vraie qu'une plante,” he kissed Oriya’s forehead, “aussi tremblante qu'un oiseau,” and his eyelids, “aussi chaude aussi vivante que l'été,” and his mouth, his sweet, sweet mouth that made Muraki want to share wine-flavoured kisses with him, “This that has been, this thing that’s always new,” he nuzzled Oriya’s neck, “this that hasn’t changed,” he kissed each little raised mark, wondering what words they spelled, “as real as a plant, as trembling as a bird, as hot and lively as summer,” he whispered, untying Oriya’s obi and pulling away to look at his work.

“And?” Oriya asked, as solid and sturdy as the beam behind him, held up not by his hair, but by his strength, still dressed, still flushed, still delicious, always delicious.

Muraki played with the obi, straightening it. “Nous pouvons tous les deux aller et revenir,” he said as he stepped behind and, taking Oriya’s hands, tied them with the fabric. “Nous pouvons oublier,” he said, kissing Oriya’s palms, “et puis nous rendormir,” turning his hands so he could kiss them on the back, “nous réveiller souffrir, vieillir,” he started sucking on his fingers. The calluses felt rough on his tongue, the rest of him so soft. “Nous endormir encore,” he kept sucking, “rêver à la mort,” another kiss on his palms. And another. Oriya was watching him when he looked up. “Nous éveiller sourire et rire,” he said, smiling and kissing him on the mouth once more, “et rajeunir.”

“We can together come and go, we can forget, then we sleep, awake suffering, getting old. We sleep some more, dream of death, wake up, smiling and laughing, and be young again,” Oriya whispered, looking at him with so much tenderness.

Muraki nodded. “Notre amour reste là,” he said, moulding his upper body against Oriya’s. “Têtu comme une bourrique,” he smiled, letting his forehead tap Oriya’s, “vivant comme le désir,” he whispered, pressing his lower body against his friend’s and letting him feel that he was hard, and feeling Oriya’s hardness with his own, “cruel comme la mémoire, bête comme les regrets.” He simply rubbed himself against Oriya as he continued, and touched his face. Gently, always gently. “Tendre comme le souvenir, froid comme le marbre, beau comme le jour, fragile comme un enfant.” He stopped and lowered his head, hearing Oriya’s pulse, feeling Oriya’s pulse, strong, persistent, beautiful. “Our love is there. Stubborn like a mule, lively like desire, cruel like memory, stupid like regrets. Tender as remembrance, cold like marble, beautiful like the day, fragile like a child.” He looked up, and saw Oriya’s soft smile. “Il nous regarde en souriant,” he smiled back. “Et il nous parle sans rien dire. He looks at us smiling, and talks to us without speaking.”

Muraki slid down, until his head was resting against Oriya’s knees. He stayed there for a few moments, feeling the energy of the House flow throw Oriya, making a pillar out of him, a pillar of quiet strength and endurance.

“Et moi j'écoute en tremblant,” he whispered, sliding his hand upwards until he could touch Oriya, that hot, pulsing, silken soft centre of his. “Et je crie,” he said, raising his voice, “Je crie pour toi,” he continued, closing his hand into a fist around him, “Je crie pour moi,” he said, looking up, to see Oriya staring at him with desire. “Je te supplie, je te supplie, je te supplie,” he gasped stroking his friend, “pour toi pour moi et pour tous ceux qui s'aiment, et qui se sont aimés,” he continued faster, “qui je lui crie, pour toi pour moi et pour tous les autres, que je ne connais pas. Reste là, là où tu es, là où tu étais autrefois. Reste là.”

Oriya closed his eyes.

Muraki sat up and kissed the pearly drop on the tip of Oriya’s cock. “Ne bouge pas,” he whispered, and took him in his mouth once, still stroking. He slid slowly out. “Ne t'en va pas,” he said, and did it again, enjoying the sight of Oriya biting his lips as if in pain. “Nous qui sommes aimés,” and again he did it, this time also playing with his balls, and teasing them. “Nous t'avons oublié,” and again he repeated his actions, feeling Oriya’s pulse under his tongue beat erratically, his balls tighten under Muraki’s gentle touch. “Toi ne nous oublie pas,” he said and Oriya’s come fell on his still open mouth. Muraki licked it, liking it despite the bitterness. It was Oriya’s. How could he not?

“That was,” Oriya whispered, opening his eyes and looking down at him dazed.

“Good?” Muraki stood up. “Nous n'avions que toi sur la terre,” he whispered as he started unhooking Oriya’s hair, being careful not to pull harshly. “Ne nous laisse pas devenir froids,” he said when he finished, “beaucoup plus loin toujours, et n'importe où. Donne-nous signe de vie,” he continued as he started untying Oriya’s hands. “Beaucoup plus tard au coin d'un bois, dans la forêt de la mémoire.” He let the obi fall down, and then turned to face Oriya again and hugged him. “Surgis soudain, tends-nous la main, et sauve-nous,” he whispered.

Oriya hugged him back. “You idiot,” he sighed.

Muraki smiled. Only for Oriya was ‘idiot’ an endearment, and Muraki had picked up his bad habit. “Your idiot.”

“Yes.”

“Save me,” Muraki whispered in Oriya’s ear. He was plagued by dreams again, red blood against white petals, red mist against a pale moon. “I’m still me, but I don’t want to be. Save me.”

Oriya hugged him more tightly.

Muraki closed his eyes as Oriya slid down, dragging him with him. And I listen trembling, and I cry, I cry for you, I cry for me, and I beg you, for you, for me, and for all those who love and those who are loved, yes, I cry, for you for me and for all the others I don’t know. Stay there. There where you are, there where you were before. Stay there, don’t move, don’t go. We who are loved, we forgot you. Do not forget us, we only have you on this earth, don’t let us grow cold, always so far away, regadless of place. Give us a sign of life, much later in the corner of a forest, in the forest of memory. Appear suddenly, give us your hand, and save us.

“I will save you,” Oriya whispered against his skin. “I love you.”

Muraki didn’t know why, but he believed him. He always believed him. Oriya would save him. And if not, he’d love him. He’d always love him.

&*&*

Oriya felt Muraki stir beside him. He waited a few more minutes with his eyes closed, until Muraki’s breathing changed, and he was awake. “Hey,” he whispered.

“Hey.” Muraki opened his eyes and smiled at him. It was such a lazy, peaceful smile.

“That poem you told me last night. Who wrote it?”

“Jacques Prevert. You liked it?”

Oriya nodded. Listening to it had made him see his relationship to his House, not just to Muraki and Ukyou, in a new light. He was the one to wait, but that was not a bad thing. Without him, they would have no home. Without him his House would be a rotten place. They needed him to be strong, and push away his childish thoughts of freedom, of love, of happiness. This was his world, these were his loves, and they needed him.

Muraki caressed his face, pushing his hair back. “Tonight, could you tie me up? Hold me down and stop me? Or I….”

Oriya leaned closer and kissed him. Muraki didn’t have to say anything else. Oriya would be there for him, any way he could, any way Muraki wanted.