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Death's Shadow

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Something was wrong.

Fuyuki woke slowly, his brain forcing him grudgingly into consciousness. He waited, still as a rabbit, while his eyes adjusted. The lantern in the hall cast faint light into the room through the paper door, casting the room in a soft tan hue without really providing much in the way of illumination. The client beside him snored softly, one thick, meaty arm holding Fuyuki against the futon.

He heard bells. They were distant at first, so faint that he thought it was just ringing in his ears, but getting closer. They chimed softly in a regular pattern, low enough that they would have been inaudible during peak business hours but growing louder with each passing second. The light flickered, dropping the room into darkness for a moment. A new shadow appeared when the light returned, moving at a steady pace past the screen. The sound of the bells moved with it. The shadow was roughly human shaped, taller than normal with blurred edges, like the person, whoever it was, was just a shadow and nothing more. There were no footfalls – neither the heavy thud of their clients, the shuffling gait of the owner, or the soft steps of the maids.

The sound of the bells had woken him, he was certain, but the strangeness of this man was what had kept him from dismissing the sound and slipping back into sleep. Whoever this man was, his very demeanor screamed 'outsider'.

Fuyuki held perfectly still as the stranger passed, not daring to even breathe. Outsiders meant danger and he didn't want the stranger know that he had woken. He let out his breath in a soft sigh as soon as the shadow moved past Fuyuki's room. The sound of bells receded, and Fuyuki pictured the stranger turning the corner at the end of the hall.

Slowly, he slid out from under his client's arms and moved towards the edge of the futon, doing his best to not wake the man. He crawled across the floor towards the door, pausing halfway to pull on a discarded robe. The silken fabric slid over his shoulders, briefly irritating the scrapes on his back before settling around his thin frame. He belted it loosely as he knelt next to the door.

Cautiously, Fuyuki slid the screen open far enough to peek out into the hall. It was empty and quiet, exactly as it should be this late at night. He widened the opening and stuck his head out, glancing either way down the hall. All of the doors were shut. He couldn't hear the bells. For a brief second, he wondered if he'd dreamed it, but his dreams had never been that vivid nor were they usually that unnerving.

New customers weren't allowed on the premises this late. Only established patrons were granted the privilege of having a warm body to themselves all night, and even that came with a heavy cost. Daijin was working the gate tonight, and he was stricter than most of the guards, though that was only because it kept his work to a minimum. Whoever it was that he'd seen wandering the halls, they weren't supposed to be here.

The door slid aside with a soft hiss. He stepped out into the hallway, his bare feet making little sound against the wooden floor. The shadow had disappeared to the left and so that was the direction Fuyuki headed. He peeked cautiously around the corner but there was no one there. His feet made soft thuds as he padded along the hallway, moving slowly and trying to make as little sound as possible. Stealth had never been his forte as a child, but his years here had taught him to be quiet, to move from place to place with as little sound as possible and attract as little attention to himself as he could.

Logically, he knew he should turn back. If there was an outsider in the compound, it couldn't mean anything good. Sometimes the owner had men in to visit, investors or prospective clients, but that kind of business was handled during the day. He couldn't help but think that the stranger's purpose for being here was a bit nefarious. His very presence, just knowing that the man was in the building, set his nerves on edge. He shouldn't care. It wasn't his business. He shouldn't be creeping through the halls at night. If he woke one of the guests, the owner would be very displeased with him.

Curiosity carried him forward along the hallway. It ended at a crossroads. Fuyuki stared down the two branches, trying to figure out which way the man could have gone. He took a hesitant step to the left, then froze as a faint chime sounded to his right. He was certain that the stranger was about to step out into the hallway and catch him. There was no movement, and the sound didn't come again.

Fuyuki crept towards the sound. Halfway down the hall, one of the doors stood open a bare crack. That was Aki's room. Aki was one of the youngest among them and still new enough and young enough that he drew a fair share of clientele because of it. He was timid but nice, and Fuyuki enjoyed his company on the rare times they were offered any leisure.

He knelt as he neared the door and crept forward on his hands and knees until he could peek into the room. Aki was asleep on the futon. There was a large, rotund man partially covering him. The man's face was hidden by Aki's body but Fuyuki still recognized him easily enough. An involuntary shudder ran through him as he remembered the last time he'd had the 'pleasure' of the man's company. Another year and Aki would be old enough that the client would lose interest in him. If Aki's experience with the man was similar to what Fuyuki remembered, Aki would be counting the days until his birthday eagerly.

At first glance, everything seemed as it should. The client slept fitfully, but that was standard. He was a restless sleeper, prone to tossing and turning at night. Judging by the marks on Aki's exposed skin, it was obvious that he'd been with Aki for most of the evening.

Then, one of the shadows moved. Fuyuki barely stopped himself from jumping. He bit back a surprised gasp and held himself as still as possible as the shadow stretched forward towards Aki.

Fuyuki shivered again. Suddenly the hallway seemed colder than before. There was a man in the room with Aki and the client, his back to Fuyuki. He was tall, likely a foreigner, with dark hair and pale skin that shone dully in the faint light. The man reached up over his head, thin fingers closing in a space Fuyuki would have sworn was empty. Shadows rippled through the air like cloth, then were discarded in a heap on the floor. As they fell away, a long pole emerged, though it was hard to make out in the darkness. The black metal blended into the shadows. At first he thought it was just a strange sort of walking stick, maybe a staff, but then light glinted off something in the air that made him reconsider.

The man stepped closer to Aki. The fingers of both hands curled around the haft of the scythe. Fuyuki stared in fascinated horror as the weapon was raised, but he couldn't watch it fall. He squeezed his eyes shut and said a silent prayer for Aki. He imagined the blade falling, painting the sheets crimson with blood. There were no screams, just silence. He waited. When he opened his eyes again, he noticed three things. First, there was no blood. Both of the people lying on the futon were unhurt, at least as far as he could see. Second, Aki was still alive. He turned slightly in his sleep, rolling away from the client and moaning softly. He stayed asleep. Third, the stranger had turned and now stared directly at Fuyuki.

He was the kind of man that Fuyuki wished made up their clientele - handsome, if a bit pale, but a world better looking than most of the men that Fuyuki met. He had foreign features, a strong jaw, and bright blue eyes that focused on Fuyuki with a look of surprise.

The man took a step towards him.

Fuyuki scrambled backwards. He stumbled unsteadily to his feet and ran. Practice made him move quietly, even in his haste. He skidded around the corner as the door to Aki's room slid open. Bells chimed faintly. Fuyuki turned the corner again and half dove into his room. He paused inside the doorway, shoving down his initial instinct to slam the door shut behind him. He slid it mostly shut and then very gently closed it, making no sound. The bells were coming closer. Peeling off his robe, he shoved it under the cushion of a plush chair by the door, making certain none of it peeked out.

His client stirred as Fuyuki crawled back under the covers. He turned his face towards the client. Thankfully he seemed to still be asleep. The bells stopped outside of his door. Fuyuki arranged the long strands of his hair to obscure his face. He dropped his hand back under the covers as the door opened, shedding a thin shaft of light across his client's face. Fuyuki held very still and tried to breathe normally. Closing his eyes he prayed for the man to move on, to forget about him and leave.

Seconds passed. It felt like an eternity. His heart thundered, and he was certain that the stranger would be able to hear it. He felt like it was going to explode out of his chest.

Fuyuki didn't want to die.

Fabric rustled, and in his head Fuyuki pictured the man shifting on his feet. Minutes passed. He didn't dare move. The waiting was driving him mad. He wished the man would just go away, or do something, anything but this silence. He wanted to stand up, to admit what he'd seen, just so the man could kill him and it'd be over. Terror kept him still.

The door slid shut, trapping Fuyuki in the darkness. He waited. The man could be trying to trick him. Bells chimed, breaking the silence. They moved away, receding down the hall and then fading away entirely. He waited still, until long after the sound was gone.

A heavy arm fell across Fuyuki's chest. He jumped, biting his lip hard enough to draw blood as he stopped himself from screaming. His client snored loudly and curled closer to Fuyuki, drawing Fuyuki towards him. He tensed, but the client didn't wake, blissfully unaware of everything that had happened.

Slowly, Fuyuki uncurled his body, stretching out next to his client. He lay awake for a long time, thinking about the bells.


Fuyuki missed breakfast the next morning thanks to his client's persistent attention as soon as he'd woke. It was nearly noon by the time the client finished. He kissed Fuyuki with bold familiarity as he left, murmuring promises to return again. It was a credit to Fuyuki's training that he held back a shudder.

As soon as the client was gone, Fuyuki pulled his robe out from under the chair and slipped it on. It was wrinkled, but he wasn't planning on going far. He crossed to the back wall, stepping behind a paper screen to the back door. It slid aside silently, oiled well enough that it could be opened and closed without a sound, allowing servants to slip through unnoticed. Fuyuki stepped down to the stone walkway. The stone was cold against his bare feet, but he barely noticed it.

There was only one other occupant in the bathing room whenever he walked in. Kiriya seemed to be asleep. He lounged in a corner with a towel over his face, not moving as Fuyuki dropped his robe in the laundry bin and washed himself off thoroughly, scrubbing off his client's touch as much as possible. The bath water was blissfully hot when he stepped in. He settled onto one of the benches opposite Kiriya, sliding down until his chin was submerged. The hot water helped alleviate some of his tension.

Exhaustion and hunger drove him from the water before too long. If he was going to fall asleep, he'd rather do so in his bed, and he needed lunch in his stomach before he could sleep, assuming he was given time to.

An assortment of plain-colored robed hung in a nook near the doorway. Fuyuki dried himself off and chose a black one, finding the color strangely fitting in honor of the night's visitor. Theories swirled in his head, but he ignored them. He wasn't much for superstition, though he'd heard enough of them from his grandmother when he was much younger. Still, practicality couldn't explain away shadows that moved, the scythe, or a man with no footsteps. A few names came to mind, none of them particularly good – Grim Reaper, Shinigami, Death....

His stomach growled and he put thoughts of the strange man out of his mind.

The servants' dining hall was unusually noisy when he approached, though the voices weren't overly loud. They all knew better than to let their voices carry into the public rooms where a client could overhear. He was distracted as he walked in, busy trying to pull his long, wet hair into some semblance of order, so it took a few minutes for the scene before him to fully register. Aki sat in the center of a large huddle of people, obviously distraught. Most of the older boys were around him, offering comfort.

Fuyuki tapped Shizuka on the shoulder, waiting until the boy looked up from his meal before speaking. "What happened?" His eyes never left Aki.

Shizuka shrugged. "No one knows," he said before scooping a large clump of rice into his mouth. "Aki's client died last night. Good riddance, I say. Doctor Hitsuga's looking at him now."

The blood drained from his face. Shizuka must have mistaken the look for shock because he patted Fuyuki lightly on the arm and shot him a sympathetic look.

"These things happen. I'm sure they'll clear Aki of fault."

Fuyuki nodded dumbly. He turned towards the kitchen, moving mechanically. One of the cooks handed him a plate. He barely noticed the sympathetic look she sent his way or what was on his plate. His appetite had fled, but he ate anyways.

Shizuka was older, but still relatively new to the House of Falling Leaves. He'd been here for four or five years, Fuyuki had been here for eleven. Client deaths were rare. Fuyuki could only remember two others. They never ended well. Four years ago, it had been quiet. Heart attack from over exertion, no one to miss him, no complaints. The client had disappeared overnight. Seven years ago... Fuyuki shuddered. He'd been a child then, still reeling from the horrible lifestyle he'd been shoved into. A client had died then too. Again, a natural death, but the client's family had involved themselves. They'd insisted that one of the boys had been responsible and railed at the owner until a culprit had been named. The owner had gathered them all in the courtyard and forced them to watch the boy being beaten. He could still hear the screams, echoing in the back of his mind.

"It'll be alright." Kiriya laid a hand on Fuyuki's shoulder. His skin was still warm from the bath. "Aki will be fine."

Fuyuki didn't look up from his plate. He'd barely eaten half of his food. It tasted like ash.

He should say something. The owner would be furious for months because of this. He hated it when anything went wrong. He'd be even angrier if the client had family. They could demand restitution, and the owner hated losing money. If word got out, there was a chance that they might temporarily lose business.

If he said something, the owner likely wouldn't believe him. He barely believed it himself. If he said something, the owner would think he was involved. Fuyuki had often expressed his hatred for that particular client. The man had been one of Fuyuki's first clients and he enjoyed making it hurt. He'd ben a cruel man. The world would be better off without him. Their lives would be better without him.

He didn't want to be punished. His best hope was to stay quiet and hope for the best. Aki would be fine. The owner liked him. A few tears and Aki would be forgiven, he hoped.


Work kept Fuyuki from thinking too much about the stranger. Days stretched into weeks, and little was heard about the client's death after that first morning. If Aki had been punished, it hadn't been public. Rumor held that Aki had warmed the owner's bed for a few nights. No one said how the client had died.

Occasionally Fuyuki would catch himself watching the gates through the windows in the common room, waiting for a dark-haired, handsome, pale foreigner to come request his services. The stranger never came and Fuyuki's days stretched on in a haze of spreading his legs for older men. One of his clients brought him a set of wind chimes as a gift. He hung it where there was the least chance of a breeze. His wardrobe reflected his mood, slowly shifting to hold more blacks and silvers and reds. He was told it looked good on him.

Summer blurred into Fall, Fall to Winter. Inside the complex walls, the only difference in the seasons was in how many blankets were left on the futons and how chilled their clients' skin was when they first came in. Instead of chilled wine, they served hot sake. The sex was always the same.

Out of all of Fuyuki's regular clients, his least favorite was a foreigner who went by the name of Castle. He had expensive tastes and a thing for long-haired beauties. Whenever Castle visited, he'd send notice at least a week in advance. Fuyuki's rooms were cleaned until they were spotless. Fuyuki wore his best kimono to meet Castle. The owner personally inspected him to make sure his skin was smooth and soft. The bustle of preparation only served to build an increasing sense of dread in Fuyuki's stomach.

Fuyuki pasted a smile on his face as the door slid open. He bowed deeply and waited, his head pressed to his hands on the floor until Castle stood over him. They had a routine. Castle laughed merrily, protesting the formality as he helped Fuyuki to his feet, but Fuyuki knew it was expected of him. Castle was the kind of man that got off on subservience and control. As soon as he was on his feet, Castle pulled him into a possessive kiss. He tasted like beer and cigarettes.

He sat on Castle's knees and exclaimed in feigned delight over the present Castle had brought him. The box was wrapped in gilded paper, equally ornate on the inside. Each of the six pieces of chocolate was nestled in a cup of golden tin. Castle hand-fed the first piece to Fuyuki, declining Fuyuki's offer to share. He played up the sensuality of it – moaning in pleasure at the taste, sucking lightly on Castle's fingers as they pushed a piece of chocolate into his mouth, growing bolder in his attentions with each one. The chocolate sank like a weight in his stomach. He prayed it wouldn't come back up later.

The box was set aside halfway through. Castle's hands slipped inside Fuyuki's kimono, sliding gently under the fold to caress bare skin. They kissed slowly. He didn't mind these languid moments, when Castle was nice and they were almost like lovers. In the beginning of their evening, Castle was always gentle, always eager in his exploration of Fuyuki's skin, like he wanted to memorize the feel of him before he went away for another month or two.

Castle peeled Fuyuki's kimono off of him, letting it slip off to pool over Castle's lap and then shifting them until he could slide the fabric out from underneath Fuyuki. Castle's erection poked into his thighs but Castle made no move to undress himself and Fuyuki knew better than to try.

After several more languid kisses, Castle had Fuyuki stand briefly so that he could rearrange Fuyuki across his lap. He straddled Castle's thighs, his legs dangling from the arms of the chair. There was a discreet pot left out on the table next to them. Castle uncapped it and dipped his fingers inside with practiced familiarity. Three slick fingers pressed inside of Fuyuki at once, making him keen softly in pain as he was stretched too quickly. Castle was watching him intently. He smiled as Fuyuki's hands clenched against the shoulders of Castle's coat. His fingers worked slowly inside of Fuyuki, bobbing in and out, occasionally spreading wide and making Fuyuki gasp. Castle gave him time to get used to the thickness of his fingers, coating his insides liberally with oil.

"Good boy," Castle murmured. His teeth played along the rim of Fuyuki's ear, making him shiver and gasp. Castle knew exactly how to play him to get the reaction he wanted. They'd been meeting long enough that Castle knew which spots made him gasp and which made him moan. He knew how far he could push Fuyuki towards pain while still keeping Fuyuki tied up in pleasure. "Such a pretty boy."

Teeth bit down on his ear, thankfully not hard enough to draw blood. He cried out in pain and jerked backwards, involuntarily spearing himself on Castle's fingers.

Castle laughed and did it again. His smile turned wicked and he continued to push Fuyuki closer and closer towards the border where his pleasure turned sour.

"Who do you belong to?" Castle asked after a while. His voice was thick with lust. The time for gentleness was coming to a close.

Fuyuki lowered his gaze to hide the terror in his eyes and smoothed down the front of Castle's coat, erasing the wrinkles he'd put there. "You, master."

Castle's fingers withdrew. He wiped them on a handkerchief pulled from his pocket and discarded it with Fuyuki's clothes.

"Enough." A hard slap landed on Fuyuki's ass, signaling that he should stand.

He kept his eyes meekly down as he carefully crawled off of the chair. He stepped back just far enough to give Castle room to stand.

"On your knees."

Fuyuki dropped on the spot. He clasped his hands behind his back and opened his mouth wide. Castle stood in front of him, opening his pants and pulling out his straining erection. One hand guided his erection into Fuyuki's waiting mouth, the other closed in Fuyuki's hair and pulled his head forward. He held as still as he could, closing his eyes to help concentrate on breathing. Castle filled his mouth, pushing his way in until Fuyuki's nose touched flesh. He closed his mouth and did his best to suck and lick at the salty flesh that filled him.

Castle controlled their movements, keeping Fuyuki's head steady while he pushed his way down Fuyuki's throat. It hurt, much like everything did when Castle was involved. His hands pulled at Fuyuki's hair. His hips occasionally slammed too hard against Fuyuki's nose. Practice kept him from choking but it didn't help him breathe. Thankfully, it didn't take long for Castle to come. Seed shot down Fuyuki's throat and he did his best to swallow as much as he could, using his tongue to chase down any stray droplets. Castle hated it when he let his seed go to waste.

His jaw ached when Castle finally pulled out.

"You may touch me."

Carefully, Fuyuki licked away any remaining trace of seed from Castle's member before gently tucking him back into his pants. He schooled his expression into a polite mask before looking up.

"Did I please you, master?"

Castle's hand caressed the side of Fuyuki's face and he smiled down at him. "You did, my angel."

His thumb pressed against Fuyuki's lips, and he obediently took it into his mouth.

"I'd like you on your stomach."

The hand pulled away so that he could answer.

"Yes, master."

Fuyuki stood. He kept his gaze on the floor, purposely not looking at the array of items set out on the low table next to the futon. He crawled across the futon on his hands and knees and lay on top of the covers, legs spread, face in the pillow, hands gripping the mattress above his head in anticipation. Castle's footsteps echoed through the room. He moved closer and paused in front of the table. Silence stretched out as Castle contemplated his options.

All the items currently on the table were usually kept in a wooden chest hidden in the back corner of the room, buried away until Castle came to visit. There were cuffs and chains and spreader bars, ropes and cords, whips, paddles, riding crops, and flogs. Fuyuki had experienced every one of them, and he feared them as much as he feared Castle.

He heard Castle pick something up off of the table. The futon dipped between his legs as Castle dropped to his knees behind him. Firm leather trailed from Fuyuki's neck to the base of his spine. He shivered. Apparently Castle wanted to use the crop today.

The first hit came as a surprise. It always did. He bit down on the pillow to muffle his scream. Castle waited for him to relax before hitting him again. The crop rained down along his skin, blazing a methodical trail of blows up and down his back. Each scream made the next hit come harder, faster, exciting Castle with his pain.

Castle shifted backwards, moving his attention from Fuyuki's back to his ass and his thighs. Fuyuki screamed loudly and tore at the sheets as a particularly hard hit landed directly across his tailbone. His labored breaths turned to sobs. Tears made the pillowcase wet under his cheeks.

A hand grabbed Fuyuki by the hair and pulled, arching him backwards towards Castle. He whimpered as the movement tightened the welts on his back.

"Beg for me."

A sharp swat landed on one cheek, right next to Fuyuki's opening. He screamed and trembled in Castle's grasp.

"Please stop," he begged. His voice was hoarse from screaming. "No more. I'll be good. I promise. Please."

"Not good enough." Another swat landed on his other cheek, mirroring the location of the first.

"Please! Oh, gods, please stop. Please."

"Not good enough."

He felt Castle move, heard the crop being set down and another implement being picked up. It only took one hit to figure out what it was. Castle had switched to the flog. The thin strips of leather cracked as the hit his back, digging deeper into his flesh than the crop had. Where the crop stung, the flog bit. Castle hit him with it, again and again until his back burned in pain, reddened into one large welt. He kept going, hitting Fuyuki until his skin blistered and broke. The acrid smell of blood filled the air. He could feel it, trailing in thin rivulets down his back and burning whenever it touched one of the lash marks.

Castle pulled his head back again but he couldn't beg this time, he was too far gone for words. He sobbed uncontrollably, but that seemed to be the response Castle wanted. Castle released his hair and Fuyuki fell forward limply against the mattress, his whole body trembling with pain and terror.

"Such a good boy," Castle murmured his approval. His fingers caressed the marks he'd made, occasionally pressing down on one of the welts and laughing as it made Fuyuki's sobs hitch.

"Turn over."

It took him a few tries to get his legs to move. Shakily, he lifted himself off of the futon and rolled over onto his back. He cried out, arching away from the mattress as the fabric touched his raw skin. Castle's hands pushed him down until he lay flat, the touch of fabric against his back blazing a solid line of pain from thighs to shoulders. Castle was grinning at him, his pants bulging with hardness. He watched as Castle shifted away for a moment, unbuttoning his pants and letting his erection out into the air once more. He moved back into place and waited expectantly. Fuyuki's body screamed in protest as he lifted his legs, but he ignored the pain as much as he could. His body shook as he wrapped his legs around Castle's hips and stretched his arms above his head. He lay as still as he could with the occasional tremor of pain running through him and waited.

The manacles were in easy reach of the futon. Castle stretched over him to attach first one, then the other around Fuyuki's wrists, binding them tightly. He attached the manacles to a small length of chain set in the floor above Fuyuki's head. A small scream escaped Fuyuki's lips as Castle picked him up by the hips, fingers digging into reddened flesh. Castle lined up with ease and quickly shoved inside.

A look of pure pleasure crossed Castle's face as he buried himself in Fuyuki, the whimper of pain he drove from Fuyuki's lips only increasing his pleasure. They stayed frozen like that for several minutes, the stillness of the room broken by Fuyuki's harsh sobs. Castle was watching him, his eyes intent, his lips curled into a smug smirk. He liked to watch Fuyuki's face whenever he fucked him. Tears rolled down Fuyuki's face, slowly stilling as his body relaxed into its new position. He used the brief pause to catch his breath, knowing that the night was far from over.

Castle's hips moved slowly at first, making Fuyuki whimper with every thrust. The angle Castle held him at made Fuyuki's back slide against the covers, scratching against the bleeding welts. Their pace gradually quickened, gaining more force as they went, driving Fuyuki harder and faster against the sheets until he was crying non-stop again. Castle's fingers dug into his hips hard enough that the bruises would stay for days, controlling their movements as he thrust in and out, over and over again. The chains rattled above Fuyuki's head, reminding him of bells.


Fuyuki bit his lip, trying to comply, but true silence was impossible. He hurt, so much, and he couldn't stop crying. Faint moans escaped his lips every few seconds.

"I told you to be quiet."

Castle grinned manically as his hand closed around Fuyuki's throat.


Fuyuki's protest was cut off as Castle's hand squeezed, cutting off Fuyuki's air supply. He panicked. He didn't like it when Castle did this, though that was the point. He tugged on the chains but Castle had secured them tightly. The metal dug into his wrists. He'd have marks there too. Castle was slamming into him, hard enough that Fuyuki would have had trouble walking tomorrow, even without all the welts.

Castle's hand didn't let go. Normally, when he did this, he'd squeeze long enough to make Fuyuki panic and then let go, let him get a breath of air, and then start again. It prolonged Fuyuki's torture that way, keeping him on the edge of breathlessness for hours until he finally passed out. But Castle's fingers weren't letting up. Fuyuki had a feeling that Castle wasn't going to let go this time.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the door open. If he had the breath to scream, he would have but Castle had denied him that. Lack of oxygen was starting to make the corners of the room blur. He didn't like the way Castle was grinning. He feebly kicked at Castle, trying to get the man off of him, but Castle just grabbed his ankle, twisting it painfully in his free hand.

The strange man approached slowly. He wore the same black robes as the last time Fuyuki had seen him. Even in the brightly lit room, shadows seemed to cling to him, obscuring part of his form and giving him a blurry outline, like his clothing was fading away at the edges. He was watching Fuyuki intently, and there was only one way Fuyuki could interpret that.

He was going to die. Castle was going to kill him and the god of death had come to collect him.

He must have passed out briefly. Fuyuki blinked and suddenly the man was standing behind Castle, scythe unsheathed. Belatedly, he realized that he could breathe slightly. Castle's hand was still around his throat but his fingers had relaxed somewhat. From the look on Castle's face, he'd just come inside of Fuyuki, pleasure making him ease up, just for a moment, before they continued. He wondered if he'd live to see what torment Castle had devised next.

"Help... me..." Fuyuki whispered, staring directly at the stranger.

Castle frowned. He turned, opening his mouth to speak, but not words came out. His eyes passed over the stranger without seeing him. The scythe descended. Crimson blood formed a wide arc along the opposite wall, droplets fanning across the wood floor. Castle toppled onto his side, his back to Fuyuki. Blood pooled below his head and spread out in an expanding pool.

He drew in breath to scream. A cool hand over his mouth cut him off.


The stranger's voice was soft and low. It had an almost instant calming effect on Fuyuki. He relaxed against his restraints and nodded.

With one hand, the stranger lifted Castle by the hair and pulled him off of Fuyuki, dropping him next to the low table. Fuyuki avoided looking at the smear of blood that Castle left on the floor. After he'd dropped Castle, the stranger reached down and grabbed Castle's shadow. It came away from the floor whenever the stranger pulled, hanging limply from his hand. He poured it from his palm into a jug slung around his shoulder. Fuyuki wondered how he'd missed seeing the jug earlier. It was large enough that it should be obvious but he found his vision sliding away from it, always settling on some other feature of the man. The stranger caped the jug and slid it back into obscurity in the folds of his robes.

"What... are... you?" Fuyuki croaked. His throat felt tight, making speaking both difficult and painful.

The stranger turned back to him and quirked an eyebrow. "Shinigami."

Fuyuki shivered. He remembered his grandmother telling him stories about the shinigami, the gods of death who wandered Japan, collecting souls. Was the shinigami going to kill him and take his shadow too?

The stranger crossed back to Fuyuki and knelt to undo the manacles around Fuyuki's wrists. He flinched as the man came close, but the shinigami was gentle as he pulled the metal away from Fuyuki's skin. His mind was starting to drift, a sign he'd long ago come to recognize as a warning that he was going to pass out shortly. He couldn't seem to stop shaking. His whole body hurt. Despite the pain, he was finding it incredibly difficult to stay awake. He whimpered as he felt one of the stranger's arms work its way under his knees, started to warn him but cut himself off as the man lifted him suddenly.

Fuyuki screamed. He felt fabric under his cheek, soaking up his tears. The man moved and Fuyuki was swallowed by darkness.


He woke to a strange sky above him. Clouds the color of dying embers filled the sky, leaving the world dimly lit. If there was anything beyond the clouds, he couldn't see it. All around them was a broken landscape of rust-colored rock and an occasional scraggly black tree. Fuyuki rested against one of those trees, though he had no recollection of how he'd gotten there.

It seemed like a tremendous effort to tear his eyes away from the far off sky and focus on the shinigami kneeling in front of him. He had Fuyuki's ankle in his hands. White bandages twined around his flesh, slowly covering the dark bruises Castle had left there. He was naked still, save for an assortment of bandages, though he didn't feel cold like he should.

The man glanced up at him, a frown sliding across his face. He reached up and ran his fingers across Fuyuki's brow.

"Go to sleep," the shinigami said, and Fuyuki did.


When Fuyuki next woke, he was lying on a futon in a small, traditionally styled room. The floor was covered in tatami mats, the walls a mix of wood and paper screens. One of the screen doors stood open to his right, revealing a covered wooden walkway and snow-capped mountains beyond. The sky was overcast. Aside from the futon, there was little else in the room – frames of pressed flowers on the walls and a small table in the corner with a wash basin and a vase of pink flowers.

Slowly, Fuyuki eased himself upright. He whimpered as his collection of injuries protested the movement, but he still managed to force himself to sit up. Standing was much harder. At some point he'd been dressed in a black yukata. Simple silver embroidery lined the hems in two straight lines, though that was the only decoration on the fabric. He momentarily balanced on his knees and tightened the cloth belt around his waist, securing the fabric more firmly around his body. Slowly, he placed his weight on his right foot. He trembled with effort, biting his lip to keep silent as he painfully raised himself onto both feet.

His effort turned out to be for naught. As soon as he put weight on his left foot, pain shot through him like a lance. He screamed and pitched forward, landing half on the futon, half on the floor.

The sound of running feet made him freeze. The door in the left wall slammed open and he stared at the surprised-looking woman who stood in the doorway. She wore a pale blue kimono, the fabric rolled up to her knees. It reminded him of the maids at the House of Falling Leaves. More footsteps approached at a more sedate pace and the woman was joined by two others, one much older and one much younger. The youngest of the trio seemed to be about Fuyuki's age, possibly younger.

"Ah," the old woman exclaimed, her face breaking into a wrinkled smile as she stepped into the room. "You woke up."

"I'm sorry," he apologized reflexively, not sure what he was apologizing for but his brain insisted that he must have inconvenienced them in some way worthy of apology. His voice rasped and he winced at the pain in his throat.

He blushed as he realized that the disarray of his limbs left his legs exposed. It hurt to move his left leg but he still tried, modesty demanding that he at least attempt to cover himself. He floundered. His limbs were shaking too much to be of any use.

"Lie still," the woman in the blue kimono said. She crossed the room in two quick strides and knelt next to Fuyuki.

He couldn't hide his flinches as she touched him, or the whimpers of pain as she helped him lie back on the futon. His back exploded in pain as the futon pressed against the welts on his back. He barely choked back a scream, his vision going blurry for a brief minute. The woman seemed to sense his distress. She helped him roll onto his stomach. The movement hurt, but he found it much more comfortable lying on his stomach instead.

"Shh," the woman murmured in an attempt to soothe him. "You're safe now."

"Am I dead?"

The woman looked shocked, but the old lady just chuckled.

"No, no. Hurt, yes, but far from dead."

Tension drained from Fuyuki's body and he let himself relax against the futon. He wasn't sure why the shinigami hadn't killed him, but he wasn't going to question his luck. His body was urging him back into sleep but his mind was too active for that, curious about where he was and why he was with the three women.

"Who are you?" He asked.

The old woman smiled at him as she settled onto the floor near Fuyuki's head. Her voice was gravely, reminding him of the brush of sandpaper on wood. "I'm Sagamiya Shouko. This is my house. This," she gestured to the woman in the blue kimono, "is my daughter, Mitsuko, and my granddaughter, Miyuko." The young woman smiled timidly at him from the hallway. She'd yet to take a step into the room. "My son-in-law, Hakuto, is away right now, but he should return in a day or two." She paused for a short moment and seemed to contemplate the wooden walls around them. "Also, there are Chiya and Ayami, but you will meet them later." Her grin widened. "We're all friends of Shin-san."

The name didn't seem familiar. "Shin-san?"

"Your friend, the Shinigami."

His eyes widened in startlement. The shinigami – Shin – must have left him here. He wanted to protest that the shinigami wasn't his friend, that they'd only just met, but he didn't want them to take that as a sign to throw him out. "Is that his name? Shin?"

Shouko chuckled. "I think not. It's what I have always called him, and he has never corrected it."

"Where is he?" He wanted to see Shin again, partially to thank him and partially to have something familiar near. His nerves were still going haywire. He felt panicked, trapped by his inability to move, and he wanted the shinigami near in case someone tried to hurt him again.

"Not here," Shouko said. "He has gone wherever it is that shinigami go." Mitsuko's face twisted briefly in unease as Shouko spoke, before returning to a pleasant, if muted, smile.

"Will he be back?"

"Who knows. He stops in from time to time, but I think the hours pass differently for him."

"Oh." He couldn't hide the disappointment in his voice, though it seemed to only make the women smile more.

"Rest now," Shouko said. "Recover your strength. He'll return soon enough."

The women bid him polite goodbyes and left him to sleep. His thoughts drifted to the House of Falling Leaves, and what the owner would think when he found Castle dead and Fuyuki gone. It took a while before he could sleep.


There was a wind chime hanging outside of his room. He could hear it, every so often, letting out a faint peal of bells that tugged at his memory. They'd left the outer door partially open to let in the breeze. The wind was slightly cold but not unpleasantly so. It felt good against his too warm skin. He wondered if he had a fever. That happened often after Castle visited. He'd be useless for days but the money Castle paid more than made up for the loss of business.

Memories of the House of Falling Leaves blended into the present and he wondered when the next client would come.

Fuyuki drifted in and out of consciousness. He lost track of time. Sometimes it was dark, sometimes light. The three women came and went, but more often than not he was alone. Most often he saw the mother as she helped him eat and brought him to the toilet. Movement hurt and he dreaded the times when the mother came and made him move, even if his body needed it. All he wanted to do was sleep until the pain faded away.

He woke at one point to darkness and the feeling of fingers threading through his hair. Fuyuki shifted his head, turning towards the body attached to the hand. His eyes didn't quite want to focus. He was mostly certain that it was a man, dressed in black clothing, and that was enough for him to hazard a guess.


The hand stilled but didn't move away.

He closed his eyes and relaxed against the futon. He moved one of his hands, sliding it from beneath the covers to lightly grip the shinigami's robe.


The hand started to move again, slowly carding through his hair. "I will."

He slept, feeling safe and protected for the first time in days.


Mitsuko's arm was a solid weight around his waist as they moved through the house. He was getting better at walking, though his left ankle still refused to support his weight. His body felt stiff after days in bed but at least his fever had cleared the night after Shin had visited him, making him wonder if the shinigami had actually been there at all. Shouko hadn't said anything about the shinigami visiting. She had been insistent that he start to move around more, saying that it was good for his body.

He'd been invited down to dinner in the main hall. So far, Mitsuko or Shouko had brought him all of his meals. This was his first opportunity to leave the room they'd given him and also to meet the other members of the household. Shouko's family had been nothing but kind to him so far, which only made him feel slightly guilty as dread filled him at the prospect of meeting others. Shouko had taken everything – from Fuyuki's injuries to his arrival via shinigami – in quiet stride, never asking him how he'd been injured or why he'd been brought here. She just accepted him as someone the shinigami wanted her to look after, and that had been enough.

Mitsuko seemed to follow her mother in complacency, though her attitude was more brusque and business-like. She reminded Fuyuki of the head of the household at the House of Falling Leaves, more interested in seeing that the boys' inevitable injuries were treated and dealing with any crisis in a calm manner, solving any issues with a stern voice and steady hands. Mitsuko was the one that helped Fuyuki bathe and changed his bandages. She had brought him cold compresses when his fever had been at its worst and stopped in frequently to wring out the cloth on his forehead and dip it in water when it was dry. She'd seen all of him and he'd long given up on embarrassment when he was naked in front of her.

The two older women hadn't asked questions, but he doubted that the others would refrain themselves similarly.

He heard voices long before they approached the dining room, growing louder as they neared. They sounded happy. Mostly female voices, with one male chiming in sparingly. Fuyuki winced every time the man spoke. He was fairly certain Mitsuko noticed but he couldn't stop himself. Each step closer reminded him how much he didn't belong here.

Conversation stilled as they stepped through the open doorway. Fuyuki briefly looked at the crowd surrounding the dinner table before dropping his gaze and keeping it fixed on the floor. Aside from the three women he'd met earlier, there was another pair of women – Chiya and Ayami, though he wasn't sure which was which. Both were young, close to Miyuko's age. They smiled at him and seemed quite cheerful. The only other male he presumed to be Hakuto, Mitsuko's husband. He was an older man, late into his middle ages with a thick frame and graying hair. Fuyuki was quite happy when Mitsuko took the seat between Fuyuki and her husband. He needed the buffer, though it didn't do much to still his nerves.

"I'm Chiya," the short-haired girl on his other side said as soon as he sat down. "Shouko said your name is Fuyuki, right?"

He nodded and returned her smile briefly before returning his gaze to the table in front of him. There was a bowl of rice already in front of him and Mitsuko had taken his plate, loading it with meat and vegetables from the bowls in the center of the table.

"Where are you from?"

Shouko made a shushing noise from the other end of the table, causing Chiya to pout in the old woman's direction.


They were all staring at him. He could feel their gazes on him. He tilted his head, causing his hair to fall forward like a curtain, cutting them off from his sight.

"I lived in Nagoya before that," he added. Shouko's house was in Hokkaido, though they'd yet to mention exactly where and he hadn't asked. He was glad for the distance, since it put him a long way away from the House of Falling Leaves.

He glanced over and was surprised to find Chiya beaming at him.

"I've always wanted to go to Tokyo. Is it nice there? I hear they have really great shopping."

Fuyuki's hands were shaking as he picked up his chopsticks. He wanted to ask Mitsuko to take him back to his room but that would have been rude. The rice fell off of his chopsticks the first time he tried to eat. Mitsuko had turned to talk to her husband, asking him about shipping and receipts. Fuyuki ignored their conversation. Miyuko and Ayami slowly returned to the conversation they'd been having just before Fuyuki walked in, talking about colors and patterns. He vaguely remembered Shouko mentioning that her family made clothing.

"What's your favorite place in Tokyo?" Chiya asked him suddenly. "Where did you like to go?"

He dropped his chopsticks. Mitsuko half-turned to watch him out of the corner of her eye and he mumbled an apology as he picked the utensils up from his lap. They rattled against each other. Fuyuki set the chopsticks down hastily and changed the cup of rice in his hands with a glass of water. He barely managed to get the cup to his lips without spilling the liquid all over himself. He took a long swallow to avoid answering the question.

"Come on, tell me. What's Tokyo like? I've never been to a big city."

"Chiya!" Shouko admonished, her words overlapping Fuyuki's answer.

"I don't know. I've never seen the city."

Fuyuki flushed as Chiya whipped her head around to gawk at him. He shuddered slightly, feeling the few tiny remnants of his appetite flee.

"But you lived there!"

He forced a smile on his face. He felt like he was going to be sick. Shouko was giving him a way out, an excuse to stop talking but his mouth kept moving on his own. "I haven't been outside since I was seven."

The other conversations at the table died. Fuyuki seemed to have that effect. He turned to smile at Mitsuko. "If you don't mind, could you please help me back to my room? I'm not feeling well."

"Of course." Mitsuko started to rise but her husband stopped her with a hand on her arm.

"Wait. I'll do it."

Fuyuki felt the blood drain from his face as fear washed over him. It was irrational, he knew, but he couldn't stop himself. He slid back from the table, trying to put distance between himself and the other man.

"No." He couldn't hide his shaking. The front of his kimono had fallen loose and he quickly pulled his legs in, rearranging the cloth to hide his skin.

Hakuto froze mid-kneel. He exchanged a quick glance with his wife before settling back. "Okay."

Mitsuko's hand brushed Hakuto's arm as she stood. She smiled at him as she crossed the short distance to help him to his feet. Once more he felt the eyes in the room following him. He kept his head down, thankful that his long hair hid his face as they limped out of the room.

When they were halfway to Fuyuki's room, Mitsuko spoke. "I'm sorry – for Hakuto and Chiya. They didn't mean to upset you."

He couldn't look at her. "I know." It didn't make him any less afraid. The sheer thought of being touched by a man, by someone other than Shin, terrified him. He knew Hakuto was likely a good guy, but he'd met a lot of men who'd seemed nice at first only to hurt him. He was terrified that maybe that was something in him, something that made men want to hurt him. He couldn't stand it if Hakuto turned out that way too.

Mitsuko spoke again when they reached his room. "Do you want me to bring up some food for you?"

He shook his head.

Mitsuko helped him to bed without a word. He settled down on his stomach, knowing that sleep would be a long time in coming. Mitsuko tucked the blankets around him, then moved around the room, dousing the lights and sliding the outer door partially shut. He listened to her move around the room. The sounds of the house were growing familiar, like a strange lullaby that set him at ease.

He heard her slide the door open to leave.


She paused. He closed his eyes.

"I'm sorry," he said. His voice shook but he forced himself to continue. He wanted them to understand, but at the same time he was afraid of what they would think of him. He trusted Mitsuko with the truth. He owed her that much. "I... I can't help how I react, but... I know your husband didn't mean any harm. When... when I was a child..." He choked on the words. Swallowing around the lump in his throat, he forced himself to keep talking, even as tears welled. " my uncle sold me. I was taken to the house in Tokyo and... there were men..."

"I understand." She cut him off. "I've seen those kinds of wounds before."

He muffled his sob into the pillow. They knew. They had known. Shame welled up inside of him, bringing a fresh wave of tears.

"It's not your fault."

Fuyuki froze. He was certain he hadn't heard her right.

"Call me if you need anything."

The door slid shut, leaving him alone with the darkness. He stared at the door for a long time afterwards, his mind too active for sleep.


His dreams turned strange that night. He imagined he was back in the bleak, desolate landscape, lost, wandering all alone. Sometimes he'd come by one of the blackened trees and one of the women would be there, sitting in the branches. Shouko spoke to him in riddles that made no sense. Mitsuko sang to him, but it always sounded so sad. Miyuko and Chiya chattered at him, asking questions about where he'd been and what he'd done, growing bolder each time he didn't answer until they were asking him pointed questions about the kinds of things he'd been forced to do at the House of Falling Leaves. He ran once they started to ask details about his clients.

It seemed like he was running forever, stumbling over the unchanging landscape. His leg hurt, but he kept going, moving forward despite the pain. His foot hit a rock and he stumbled. Suddenly the featureless plain gave way to a steep slope and he fell, hitting his legs and shoulders against the jagged rocks. His head bounced against a rock as he hit the bottom, leaving him stunned, in a sprawling heap at the base of the slope.

Footsteps echoed along the rock and he turned his head slowly to watch Hakuto approached. The man was unfastening his pants, a wicked leer stretched across his face. He tried to move away but his head was still fuzzy, his limbs wouldn't respond.

"Wake up."

The barren landscape disappeared, resolving into his dark bedroom. He shot upright and then hissed in pain as his back burned. Two arms caught him before he could fall and he found his head pillowed against chilled fabric. His hand clenched in the material and he shifted closer, his breathing still heavy from the panic of the dream. He guessed that his head was somewhere near the vicinity of Shin's shoulder. It was too dark to make out details but he thought he saw the thick column of Shin's throat in front of him.

They stayed like that for several minutes, neither moving, neither speaking, until Fuyuki's breathing calmed. He felt safe. That was a strange feeling for him, unfamiliar. He hadn't remembered feeling like that since he was a child, living with his grandmother and his uncle's family. Experience had shown him that that sort of safety was just an illusion. It could be snatched away at any time.

He didn't want Shin to be taken away from him.

"I'm not afraid of you," he whispered and curled against Shin's body, seeking comfort in their closeness.

"You should be."

He nodded against Shin's shoulder. "I know, but I'm not. I always thought death would be a release. I thought that dying was the only way I was going to get out of that place. At times I even begged for death, because it meant I wouldn't hurt anymore."

A hand settled on his lower back. It didn't move to caress him, didn't offer any comfort beyond the solidity of its presence, but that was enough for him.

"I was afraid when I first saw you. I wasn't ready to die, but I think I should have. I don't belong here."

A slight weight pressed against the top of his head as he was pulled closer. Two arms circled him, holding him in place in Shin's lap. Shin's voice sounded from directly above him. "You don't like it here?"

"I do. They're very nice." He paused, trying to think of a way to describe his unease. "But I'm afraid of them. I don't know... I'm not used to life outside. I don't belong with a normal family. It's all foreign to me, and I think..." His voice cracked and he tightened his hand against Shin's shirt. "I think I should have died. It would have been better that way."

One of Shin's hands moved to card through his hair. Fuyuki turned his head, tilting back until he was mostly certain that he was looking up into Shin's face.

"Will you take me with you?"

He didn't give Shin time to respond. Fuyuki shifted slightly, placing one hand on Shin's shoulder for balance and then pushing up. His lips found Shin's lips. He kissed him, softly, chastely. It was the first time he'd voluntarily kissed another man.

Shin moved, unceremoniously dumping Fuyuki from his lap and back onto the futon. Fuyuki scrambled upright, ignoring the pain and looking around for Shin. Everything was shadow.


There was no answer.

"Shin, I'm sorry."

The wind chimes rang softly as a breeze blew into the room. He knew he was alone again.

Fuyuki let himself fall back to bed and cursed himself. He had a feeling he'd just messed everything up, and he didn't know if he'd ever get a chance to fix it.


"You seem troubled."

Fuyuki paused outside of Shouko's doorway. Mitsuko had suggested days ago that he try walking along the covered porch outside. He hadn't managed to get very far at first, but his leg was getting better. The railing helped, giving him something to support his weight as he walked.

He turned to stare out over the countryside. Shouko's house was located on the outskirts of the village. There was a dirt road that wound down the hill, and all around them an expanse of harvested fields. The mountains stood tall in the distance, like stoic sentinels keeping watch over the valley.

"Is something wrong?"

He glanced over at the old woman. She was smart, and obviously more familiar with Shin than he was. With a sigh, Fuyuki turned, leaning his weight against the railing.

"I'm afraid that I might have upset Shin."

Shouko chuckled. "That is a very difficult thing to do."

He felt his face flush as he remembered the kiss. "And yet, I'm pretty sure I managed it."

"And how is that so?"

His blush deepened and he found he couldn't look at the old woman and speak at the same time. "I kissed him."

"Ah." She didn't sound surprised. "I did that once too, many years ago."

Fuyuki's head shot up. He clicked his jaw shut, trying hard not to gawk and failing.

Shouko just laughed. "It's not that surprising. I was young once, and he's very handsome. He didn't feel the same, but he was polite. He will respect your feelings. You shouldn't worry."

He sighed and stared down at the wooden floor. "I can't help myself."

"Your problem is that you are idle. Come in."

He glanced curiously at the old woman. She smiled back and stood, moving to pull a small trunk out from against the wall. Fuyuki hobbled unsteadily across the porch and into the room, half falling to the floor opposite where Shouko had been sitting.

"Has anyone mentioned what we do here?"

He shook his head. All he knew was that it involved clothing.

She smiled and opened the trunk, pulling out a few small scraps of cloth. She placed them in front of him and then pulled out a small box from the trunk, opening it to reveal a set of thick needles and thread.

"We embroider," she said. "You shall learn."

She handed him a threaded needle before he could protest. He stared at it, slightly curious about how his attempt would turn out. He'd never sewn anything before, never even held a needle in his hand, but he wanted to try. He doubted he would ever be good enough to actually make anything worth selling but the thought of trying, of actually attempting to work like a normal person, made him inexplicably happy.

"You start like this," she said, and showed him how to push the needle through the thread, making a small stitch in the fabric.

He listened to the woman talk and forgot about shinigami for a short while.



He turned away from the wash basin and froze, staring at the man who'd appeared rather suddenly in his bedroom.


The shinigami was watching him from near the doorway. He leaned against the wall as if he'd been there for hours, but Fuyuki knew the man hadn't been there a minute ago.

"You're better?"

He nodded slowly. "Mostly. My ankle's not fully healed but I can walk on it for a little bit." He waited a moment but Shin seemed to have finished talking for now. "I'm sorry," he blurted. "For kissing you. I shouldn't have."

The shinigami frowned slightly and pushed away from the wall. Fuyuki's gaze followed the edge of his clothing, fascinated by the way the edges blurred into shadow.

"Why not?"

He looked up at the shinigami, startled. "I... because you didn't want me to."

"Ah. You think I didn't want your kiss?"

Fuyuki shifted nervously and stood. He tossed the towel he'd been using to wash his face aside and glanced over at the shinigami. The man's face was blank, hiding any trace of emotion.

"Did... did you want me to kiss you?"

The shinigami's head tilted slightly. He continued to stare at Fuyuki. "I thought you were afraid."

Fuyuki frowned. "I said I wasn't afraid of you."

"Of men. Of what they have done to you."

He felt his face flush and shifted on his feet. His eyes fixated on one of the frames on the wall. "Not if it's you. You... you saved me, and I thought... I thought it would be okay if you hurt me."

"I don't want to hurt you."

"I don't want to be hurt."

He could hear Shin moving and he knew that the shinigami was making himself heard on purpose. He'd seen Shin move without a sound before. It was somewhat comforting. He kept his eyes on the wall as Shin moved closer. Soft fingers turned his head until he was looking up at the shinigami.

"I don't want to hurt you," Shin repeated. Then, Shin kissed him.

It was different from most of the kisses Fuyuki had received in his life. Shin's lips pressed against his softly, a barely there pressure that pulled away after a moment. When it returned, Fuyuki was ready. He opened his mouth, letting Shin inside. He felt a brief thrill of victory as Shin's tongue slowly slid against his own. Hands settled on his hips, not holding but just resting there.

He knew what Shin was doing. The shinigami was being gentle with him, keeping his touch light enough that Fuyuki could pull away if he wanted to.

He didn't want to.

His arms wrapped around the shinigami's neck as he stepped closer, encouraging Shin to strengthen their touch. Instead, Shin pulled away. He chuckled slightly as Fuyuki's mouth trailed his, briefly chasing after their lost kiss.

"I don't want to do anything that makes you uncomfortable."

That was probably one of the nicest things anyone had ever said to him. Fuyuki closed his eyes and let his head rest against Shin's chest. He wasn't sure where to go from here. He only knew one way of handling men, only one way of binding them to him and keeping them coming back. The thought crossed his mind and he examined the emotions attached. He wasn't afraid of being with Shin. It would be okay, if it meant that the shinigami would come back.

"You won't," Fuyuki answered and shifted to pull Shin into a deep kiss.

He dropped one hand to the tie around his kimono and unbelted it with one hand. He shrugged out of the fabric, smiling slightly as Shin's hands rested in the small of his naked back.

Fuyuki moved backwards, maneuvering until they were over the futon and then pulling Shin down with him. The shinigami settled between his legs, a solid weight that secured him to the floor, making him feel safe. His back hurt slightly where it pressed again the floor but he ignored it as he slid a hand inside of the shinigami's pants.

He was almost surprised when his hands found hard evidence of the shinigami's pleasure. He'd almost convinced himself that the shinigami didn't want him, that he didn't feel anything when he kissed Fuyuki. Those worries evaporated as he wrapped his fingers around the shinigami's erection. He felt human, hot and heavy in Fuyuki's hand. It was something familiar and yet altogether not at the same time.

The shinigami shifted, sliding his pants down until Fuyuki's hand was free of the fabric. He smiled into their kiss and lifted his legs, hooking his ankles over the backs of the shinigami's thighs.

He jumped when a hand circled his own erection. Usually, clients didn't touch him, not unless they were fucking him at the same time, and they only rarely bothered with that. He found he didn't mind when Shin touched him. It felt good, getting better by the minute as Shin's fingers lazily played with his flesh, teasing him until he was writhing and gasping into Shin's mouth. His other hand moved over Fuyuki's body, trailing up his sides, teasing over his nipples and then sliding back down, circling his hip until it could slip around behind him.

A cool finger slid inside of him and that was all it took to make Fuyuki come. He cried out softly, moaning as the noise of his release was swallowed by Shin's insistent mouth. His legs slipped to fall flat on the floor.

Belatedly, he realized that Shin was still hard in his hand. He blushed and started to move his hand again but Shin stopped him. One of the shinigami's hands closed over Fuyuki's and together they stroked along Shin's erection, sliding along the engorged flesh until Shin finally came, his seed spilling like cool water over Fuyuki's hand.

"Thank you," the shinigami said as he pulled away.

Fuyuki moaned slightly and tried to grab at the shinigami's clothing, but his hand fell through empty air. Shin moved away, returning after a moment with a wet cloth that he used to wipe the spilled seed off of Fuyuki's chest and genitals. The covers were pulled up to Fuyuki's chin and he tried to protest but no words would come out.

"Sleep," Shin crooned softly. "I'll be back."

Fuyuki curled around his pillow and let himself fall asleep.


This is what normal life is like, Fuyuki thought to himself as he followed Chiya and Miyuko though the streets of the small village. He stayed close to the girls but his eyes wandered, taking in all of the strange shops and the myriad of people who bustled around the marketplace. A man brushed too close and Fuyuki was proud of himself for not instantly pulling away. These were normal people, simple farmers for the most part. They weren't interested in him or what he'd once done.

He kept repeating that to himself, over and over again, but he couldn't help but feel a little unnerved as they walked further into town. There were so many strangers here, so many unknowns.

The girls were talking softly, repeating for possibly the fifth time since they'd started to walk to the village what all they wanted to buy and the people they wanted to meet up with. Fuyuki had grown somewhat used to the girls' chatter, glad that they left him out of it for the most part. He had a feeling that Shouko had scolded Chiya after Fuyuki's first night at dinner because the young woman had yet to ask him about his past.

A shiver suddenly ran up Fuyuki's spine. Someone was watching him. He glanced around nervously but didn't see anyone that particularly stood out.

"Fuyuki, we're going to step inside for a minute. We'll be right back."

"What?" Fuyuki turned to look at the girls. He'd been lost in thought, and had barely noticed when they'd stopped next to a small house.

Miyuko smiled at him. "We're just going to pop in for a minute and say hi. You'll be fine on your own, won't you?"

He swallowed down his initial reply and nodded. He refused to act like a child that needed supervision. Nothing was going to happen to him up here. He was safe.

Chiya and Miyuko smiled at him and then disappeared into the house. Fuyuki shifted on his feet and turned slightly to examine the area. There was a small stand of fruit next door and he wandered over to it, looking but not touching.

"I haven't seen you around here before."

Fuyuki jumped as a man spoke behind him. He turned, offering an uneasy smile and forcing himself not to back away. "I... I live with Shouko." He waved vaguely in the direction that they'd come from.

"Is that so?" The man smiled at him in a way that made him nervous. A hand settled on Fuyuki's arm, reminding him of the way his clients used to touch him. He started to pull away but the hand on his arm tightened. The man leaned forward, still smiling, and whispered in Fuyuki's ear. "Castle's friends have been looking for you."

Fuyuki felt his world fall apart.


It was dark and cold. Fuyuki wasn't sure where he'd been taken. The stranger in the market place had brought him to a train and from there it had been a flash of unfamiliar landscape. More men met them when the train stopped again and Fuyuki found himself shuffled from one hard grip to two as men flanked him on either side. They wrapped a cloth around his eyes and tied his hands behind his back. The cloth was gone now, but the rope remained biting into his flesh and rubbing his skin raw every time he moved.

He hurt, though that was to be expected when Castle was involved. He'd hoped he'd avoided any more such pain after the man's death, but his friends seemed just as cruel.

He'd been brought to a strange house. The men there had asked him questions. They hadn't liked his answers. Fists had been replaced by feet, then belts and boards. He didn't know what they were looking for but he answered honestly, knowing they wouldn't believe him when he said that a shinigami had killed Castle.

From the first time he'd met Castle, he'd known that the man had been involved in something unsavory and these men, his former associates, were further proof of that. They knew where Fuyuki had come from. He'd been forced to his knees the first night he'd been brought here. Another form of interrogation, they'd called it, but there wasn't anything more he could tell them.

He was sore. His memory was starting to blur. He couldn't remember how long it'd been since they'd tossed him down into the cold, dark room. The walls and floor were stone. There was nothing down here, just blank walls and a short set of stone stairs that led up to the metal door. He was starting to hate the sound of the key scraping in the lock, signaling that they were about to drag him out to ask him more questions. He hated the sound of the door slamming shut more.

The silence was starting to get to him. He was hungry. They had yet to give him any food. He was certain at least a handful of days had passed since he'd been dragged from the marketplace, but he had no way of knowing for sure. His sense of time was limited to being stuck in the stone cell or being pressed down into the carpet up above.

He thought he might be getting sick, but he wasn't certain. He almost wished he was.

He hoped Shin came for him when he died.

The door creaked open. Fuyuki turned his head away, moaning as bright light momentarily blinded him. Hands grabbed him around the arms, dragging him up the stairs. His feet bounced off each step. He was fairly certain that at least one of his legs was broken.

They moved down a now-familiar hall and into the usual room. All of the furniture had been pushed against the walls. His captors let him go in the center of the room. He fell to his knees. A hand in his hair kept him from pitching forward.


It took Fuyuki a moment to focus on the speaker. This man was new. He had blonde hair and a thick, round belly. He wore a brown suit with a red shirt. His shoes glinted faintly.

"You're the prostitute that killed Castle."

He shook his head as much as the hand in his hair would allow. "No."

"Ah. Then who did?"

"Shin." He'd told them this before but they didn't believe him. He doubted this new man would either.

The man smiled slightly and looked between the two men flanking Fuyuki. "Ah, yes, the man who doesn't exist. You said he was what... Death? Do you honestly expect us to believe that Castle, our dear boy Castle, was killed by a ghost?"

He whimpered, knowing from experience what was about to come. The new man fell into the same patterns as all of Fuyuki's previous interrogators. A hand struck him across the face, sending him reeling into the man on his right.

"Tell me."

"I don't know."

He tensed as the hand struck him again. He spat blood onto the carpet. The man sighed.

"I was hoping to avoid this, you know. This was always more of Castle's game."

The man signaled with his hand and Fuyuki was let go. He fell face first onto the carpet, too weak to try and run. He knew he wouldn't have gotten far, even if he had been able. The man crossed the room to the desk and pulled a coil of leather from one of the drawers. Fuyuki whimpered and closed his eyes. His tears were soaked up by the carpet.

"Please. No."

His begging had as little effect on this man as it had on the last. He screamed as the whip bit into his flesh, tracing blazing lines of pain down his back and over his arms. It cracked in the air, giving him brief warning before it landed on his flesh. All he could do was scream.

"How did you kill him?" The man asked.

Fuyuki answered in between sob. "Shin... It was Shin... Please... Please stop."

He felt welts reopen on his back as the whip raised new ones, making him bleed once more. He lost count of how many times the man hit him. His questions stopped making sense. Fuyuki sobbed, lost in the pain.

"I give up. You can have him, boys."

He was grateful enough when the whip was taken away that he didn't particularly care as one of his body guards spread his legs. Hands grabbed his hips, pulling him up to his knees. He had a second's warning before he was entered roughly, without preparation or lube. Another scream tore from his throat, more tears joining the rest soaking into the carpet.

At times like this he forced himself to remember Shin. He placed his memories of the shinigami on top of the present, drowning out the harsh slap of skin on skin in favor of remembering the gentle way Shin had touched him. The memory of kindness was all he had left. At least these men were quick. It didn't take long before the first was grunting and spilling his speed inside of him. The second always went smoother. Fuyuki was already loosened up, if painfully, and the seed from the first acted as a little bit of lubricant. He whimpered as his face rubbed harshly against the carpet as he was jostled back and forward in time with the man's thrusts.

He was grabbed by the arms again when the men were done, too worn out to do anything beyond hang limply from their grasp. The door to his cell screeched open. He hit his head on the floor as they tossed him in and everything faded to darkness.


He woke up to the sound of bells. It was still dark, but he could hear something moving in the darkness. He wasn't alone.

A hand settled against his cheek. He was too tired to do anything but moan as the fingers pressed against raw skin.


He knew that voice. He smiled and let his face press against the hand.

"Can you hear me?"

He shifted his head up and down, the movement barely more than a fraction but it was the best he could manage.

"Good." Fingers ran through his hair. The gentleness of the touch made him ache. "It's time to let go."

Fuyuki looked up into the darkness. Slowly, features emerged. He saw blue eyes above a gentle smile. Shin's face slowly emerged from the darkness. He seemed to be glowing slightly. After a moment, Shin stepped back. He held out his hand towards Fuyuki.

He'd be alright, he realized suddenly. Shin was here. He was safe now. The pain that had been his constant companion the last few days disappeared and he smiled up at the shinigami. Shin would make everything better. Slowly, Fuyuki stood and took Shin's hand.

The sound of bells filled the small cell as they left.