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The Companion of My Heart

Chapter Text

Mrs. Uno, of Dunbriar Manor, worried, quite naturally, about her children. She’d two of them. Shoma, the oldest, impish and improbably stubborn, and Itsuki, the youngest, absorbed in books and fond of the outdoors and wandering. Both rather liked games too much. She fretted they may seem ill-bred. But her children dressed well for their station and had perfect manners and comportment. She and their governess, elegant Miss Higuchi, had seen to that. 

Still she despaired. Not so much for the youngest, for a bookish, albeit ambling, gentleman with a decent allowance could find a wife. It was the oldest which made her wake up at night and wander the halls of Dunbriar, pacing and muttering what was to be done , what was to be done , until Mr. Uno collected her back to bed, saying she was worrying too much. 

But the fact was Shoma was not like their sibling. No, Shoma felt they were both male and female in bearing. They were, one day, a handsome young dandy, in waist and tailcoats and necktie. The next they would transform into a beautiful girl, enjoying frocks and dresses and a coral necklace. They would often be seen in town on a summer’s day, carrying their parasol. 

“Good day M. Uno,” the townsfolk would say, for Shoma’s joint existence had long been accepted and become part of the fabric of life for those in Norbury. “M.” was simply Shoma’s honorific, no matter the occasion, just as their pronouns were “they” and “theirs”.

Mrs. Uno had at first rejected Shoma’s inclinations towards femaleness and maleness, saying it was a “folly”. She said it because she was afraid of men with shovels, for instance, coming after her child and beating them. She thought if she persuaded Shoma not to do this, they would stop, and be safe. It was through the coaxing of Mr. Uno that Mrs. Uno came to see that letting Shoma be their dual form was a good thing, however unusual. It made Shoma happier, and this in itself made Mrs. Uno happier to see her child smiling more.

Still, there was the question of marriage. Who would find the prospect of marrying a young gentleman and a young lady appealing? It seemed impossible. It seemed likely that Dunbriar would have no natural heirs through Shoma, and the estate would pass to one of Itsuki’s children. Which wasn’t bad , as her husband consoled her. What was bad, she always argued, was Shoma being left alone, without a companion. 

“My dear, all will be well,” Mr. Uno said. “Shoma is quite loveable no matter their guise.”

Her husband’s assurances allayed some of her fears, but, she decided the person who wed Shoma would have to be somewhat extraordinary.

Chapter Text

The chatter arrived before he did. Shoma heard it one fine day, as the wind rattled the willows by the vicarage and they entered the town square and the market therein. Their mother had sent them for aubergines, chard, garlic, and berries. Mrs. Uno was having  Cook attempt Western style meals again, which Shoma, Itsuki, and Mr. Uno all tacitly said nothing about. Their mother insisted, despite the fact everyone else would have preferred sashimi or yakiniku, or even miso soup. English food was so bland it made Shoma’s eyes water, and whenever guests visited they preferred Japanese food. 

The air hummed as Shoma wound their way through the market. People talked as usual, yes, but they were talking about a particular person. Shoma was so absorbed, listening to Miss Bourne say how he was the mysterious heir to the Orser Estate, come home at last, that they didn’t see her.

“Shoma! I’m right here!” 

“Oh! Apologies.” 

Shoma curtseyed to their friend, who curtseyed back. 

“I’m sorry, Kaori,” Shoma said. 

“You were listening to the gossip, weren’t you?”

“Yes.”

Their mother always told them not to listen to gossip. It was rude and uncouth. A genteel person did not involve themselves in such things. Fortunately, they had a friend like Kaori Sakamoto, who loved gossip, though, she was still very much a lady and Shoma would slap anyone who said otherwise. 

“His name is Javier Fernández,” Kaori said. “He’s supposed to arrive today at the Orser Estate. They say he’s very charming and handsome. All the ladies are in a tizzy, talking about marriage. It’s silly if you ask me. He’s probably ugly and has bad manners.”

“Hm,” Shoma responded. 

They’d gotten their fill of gossip and were very much focused on the mound of strawberries before them. Deep, almost blood red, the air around them sweet and sticky. Making sure Miss Bourne was not watching, Shoma picked one up and bit into it. Strawberries were their favorite, and summer strawberries, succulent and decadent, the best.

“Oh you’re not even listening,” Kaori said. 

“O’m wisning,” Shoma said around a strawberry. 

They swallowed. 

“Have a strawberry while Miss Bourne isn’t looking.”

“You are naughty Shoma, but that’s why I am so fond of you.”

They were stuffing strawberries covertly into their mouths when a ruckus arouse at the other end of the town square. A man on a giant, velvet black stallion reined the horse in, saying: “Woah.” He dismounted and lead the great animal.

He was polite, tipping his hat to the men and bowing to the ladies. He waited, smiling, and without a thread of impatience while old Mrs. Brown and her son crossed slowly in front of him. 

He was slender, but sturdy. Well dressed, in a green waistcoat and a matching brown tailcoat, his neck-cloth creamy and well fashioned. And he was handsome, with a square jaw and brown eyes the same color as Mr. Woodhouse’s honey. Shoma realized this with a bright blaze of panic as the man came towards them. Their mouth was still stuffed with strawberries, and they could feel a trickle oozing past their lips, most unladylike.

“Good day, ladies,” the man bowed to them and Kaori as he passed. 

“Wewllow,” Shoma managed, with a curtsey.

The man laughed, not unkindly. The sound was so sunny it made Shoma feel like lying down on the ground in a faint, if it weren’t for the fact they were dribbling on themselves and wanted to die of disgrace.

Shoma swallowed the stolen strawberries as the man left. They looked at their dress, lavender colored with a dark spray of flowers up the side, and wondered what lie they would tell their mother about the pink streak down the front.

“We’ll get it out,” Kaori said, taking her friend’s hand.

They exited the town market and square for Kaori’s house. All the while people were murmuring excitedly and wondering if that was the Orser heir.

Chapter Text

Of course Mrs. Uno decided to dispatch an invitation for afternoon tea to the newly arrived Mr. Fernández straight away. She did not want the neighbors to reach him first and make her appear unwelcoming. Hearing he was handsome, and charming, she decided not to send her husband with the invitation, but her eldest, Shoma, in masculine attire. It would not do for a young lady to call on a gentleman they did not know. 

Shoma hated it. They hated it because they knew their mother was matchmaking, and they felt particularly feminine that day. They wanted nothing more than to wear their soft green dress with the pale sleeves. It was striking, as all their dresses were, and they were sure they could render a better impression upon Mr. Fernández this time than they had with a drizzling mouthful of strawberries.

As it was, Shoma stomped down the lane around the back of their estate, and then through the woods, to the Orser Estate. Their Hessian boots chafed in the summer heat, and they sweated through their shirt and gold waistcoat, all the way through their navy tailcoat, until they were sticky and wiping perspiration from their face. The pit of their stomach was lead from worrying that Mr. Fernández would recognize them and they would be mortified, not just by dress, but by the possibility this handsome stranger would find them very queer indeed. Everything felt miserable and soggy as they approached Orser Manor. 

Garden beds, left fallow for years, sprouted bugle, wild strawberries which made their mouth water, pignut, stitchwort, and foxglove, as well as a few early, nodding nightshade. It was such an untidy mess Shoma could hear their mother tsking over the whole thing. But they thought it was lovely, in a wild way, and contrasted the solemn gold columns in front of the manor. Flocks of turquoise shuttered windows were flown open to catch the thin, sunny breeze. 

Shoma knocked on the front door and waited. 

The door burst open and a second sun, smiling and handsome, peered down at them. They instantly felt mortified and shy. Mortified for him, because he wore only his waistcoat and shirt, and didn’t have any servants to answer the door, and shy because Mr. Fernández was still impossibly handsome. Forgetting themselves, they curtsied. Mr. Fernández looked confused, then curtsied back. 

They stared at each other in awkward silence.

“I am sure it is some country custom for men to curtsey?” Mr. Fernández said.

“No, I --” Shoma muttered and bowed. 

Mr. Fernández bowed in return, though his eyebrows were raised. 

Shoma held their mother’s invitation out to Mr. Fernández, avoiding his gaze in case he recognized them.

“Oh, thank you,” Mr. Fernández said as he took the letter. 

He had such a beautiful, vibrant accent. 

“My mother, Mrs. Uno, requests your presence at Dunbriar Manor tomorrow, at three o’clock, for tea.”

“How splendid. I shall be there.”

Shoma looked at Mr. Fernández. He seemed not to recognize them as being the same person as that “young lady”. This stung, briefly, but it was also a relief. Shoma could start anew.

“I am sorry. I would invite you in, but the place is a mess,” Mr. Fernández said. “I have no servants with me and everything is covered in cloth.”

The next thing Shoma said surprised them. They were shy, quiet most of the time. But they felt a swell of boldness in their chest.

“Perhaps I could assist you in the coming weeks,” they said. 

“That is kind of you Mr. --”

“I apologize,” Shoma said. “I forgot to introduce myself. I am Mrs. Uno’s oldest, Shoma Uno.”

Shoma wasn’t sure why they did not introduce themselves as M. Uno. Perhaps because they did not desire to be rebuffed as “odd” or “strange” by Mr. Fernández. Which in and of itself was peculiar, since Shoma rarely cared about who was made uneasy by their sex.*

“We both forgot, I’m afraid,” Mr. Fernández laughed, a sound which allayed Shoma’s anxieties. 

“But I expect you know me. I am Mr. Javier Fernández, of the Orser Estate.”

They bowed again, smiling. They stood for a moment looking at one another and Shoma felt something they had not before. Like the sweet, spicy scent of dog roses as they blossomed at high summer. 

“We will look forward to receiving you tomorrow,” Shoma said. 

Usually when they said something like that it was a lie. 

“I look forward to being received!” Mr. Fernández said with a great deal of zeal. 

He seemed to be vibrating out of his waistcoat as he spoke. 

Shoma blushed. They felt it along their jaw. 

“I must go,” they fumbled before turning around, hoping that Mr. Fernández did not see their flush. 

Chapter Text

A letter, written in flowing Japanese, from Mrs. Uno, addressed to Aiko Saito of Netherfield Park:

My dearest sister,

It has not been extraordinarily busy. On the contrary, things have been rather usual. Mr. Uno continues his daily walks, and Itsuki, between wanderings, has already finished his reading list of 101 books, and must now compile a new list. They both send their regards. 

It is Shoma who has been most improved in the last few months. A stranger came to town, the heir of the Orser Estate, which is a great estate of vast fortune. His name is Mr. Javier Fern ández and he is quite handsome and charming and well mannered. He has been to the house a few times, once for tea and once for a lunch. Both times you could see his impeccable breeding, his kindness, his generosity of spirit. 

Shoma has been helping Mr. Fern ández put Orser Manor back together, inside and out. I would never have believed it if I had not seen it: Shoma setting out early in the morning to aid Mr. Fern ández. They sometimes call Mr. Fern ández “Javi”, as though they were fast friends indeed. And Shoma smiles so at the mention of Mr. Fern ández that I find my heart scampering. Don’t fall in love with him, Shoma, I want to warn them, thinking how Mr. Fern ández could so easily reject the masculine and the feminine aspects of them. 

For Shoma has only dressed as the male sex when calling upon, or receiving calls from, Mr. Fern ández. I fear they have not revealed the feminine portion of themselves yet, and the longer their acquaintance passes, the more I worry about Mr. Fern ández’s reaction.

But, as my rather relaxed husband has told me: there comes a time in a child’s life when a mother must loosen the reins. Miss Higuchi had uttered much the same before she departed, saying that Shoma and Itsuki were young adults, and her work as a governess was done. She would always be our friend, of course, but her services were not needed. 

I would have written to her for advice, but I believe that she would advise me thus: Shoma must make their own choices about their heart.

So I will try to allow Shoma the grace of believing in their best judgement. Even if Shoma still leaves their clothes thrown thither and hither in their bedroom, and they still slurp their soup, in addition to their ferocious tendency to fall asleep at random hours. And a stubbornness that not even I can match.

Still, Miss Higuchi would say: let them be. Let them find their way. But it is so terrifyingly difficult as a mother, I am sure you know.

It helps that Mr. Fern ández himself is such an upstanding gentleman, who would never take advantage of our dear Shoma in ways that cannot be suggested. 

I hope your garden is still thriving, dear sister, and the cherry blossoms are beautiful this spring. Please write to me soon, for I crave news.

Chapter Text

Mr. Fernández, or Javi, as Shoma called him, though they had known each other but a month and a half, had vanished, leaving Shoma to dig up the flowerbeds so they could transplant roses. Shoma was already rank with sweat, their clothes so soiled they wondered if their mother would mind. 

She had been very strange lately. When they came home after supper, she hadn’t chided them, but given them odd regard and sent for food from the kitchens. When they set out in the mornings for Javi’s, she was cheerful, and reminded them about their manners. Always their manners. But there was something off-putting about her, about how distant she was lately. It unsettled them. They were used to their mother nosing into every little part of their life. Now she had released them: why?

“Mother knows you’re sweet on Jaaaavi ,” Itsuki teased one afternoon, from behind his book. 

“I am not. We are just friends,” Shoma felt the heat along their jaw.

“Your blush never lies, sibling,” Itsuki turned a page idly. 

Shoma had glared. Itsuki was right, of course. They had regard for Javi, and they wondered about it as they yanked at the yarrow, which smelled stiff and weedy.

They saw Javi out of the corner of their eye and their heart hastened. Like Shoma, Javi wore only an old waistcoat and white shirt, no neckcloth, for it was too hot for anything else as they worked. He carried and deposited a wicker table and chairs and then departed. Shoma looked after him. 

“Javi?” 

“I’ll be there presently,” he said, so cheerfully that Shoma was warmed inside.

They returned to yanking the yarrow when Javi returned, wide glass pitcher and a pair of glasses glinting in the afternoon sun. He set them on the table.

“Come, refresh yourself,” Javi gestured. “You are hot and have been working very hard on my account. You are flush.”

“Uhhh,” Shoma said, blush deepening.

“Maybe you should wear a hat?”

Shoma ignored the suggestion, and, casting their gloves aside, went and sat at the table, where Javi poured yellow liquid into a glass. 

“Lemonade. I made it myself,” Javi said proudly.

Shoma thanked him and greedily took a sip. Their whole body puckered and they struggled to swallow the mouthful they had taken.

“Well?” Javi asked anxiously.

“It is uhm . . .” 

What would Miss Higuchi tell him to say?

“It has a very particular flavor,” Shoma said with a straight face.

Javi’s own face fell and Shoma felt their heart fall with it. 

“It’s too strong, isn’t it? Be honest. I always want you to be honest.”

Shoma’s heart swelled at that. 

“It is rather strong,” they ventured.

“More water then,” Javi said. 

He seized the pitcher and bore off with it as though his heels were on fire, seeking the back garden and the well of the manor.

Shoma snorted, then covered their mouth, remembering what their mother had said about how a gentleman should comport themselves. However much a gentleman they could be. But their mother was not here. They were free. The sun golden, newly transported tulips bright red and yellow in their beds. And Javi so handsome as he came charging back, even with the smell of sweat wafting off him like chives. Shoma wanted to bury themselves in Javi’s body and they’d never had such a desire before. 

“There,” Javi poured a new glass after emptying the old one, most ungentlemanly-like. “Try that one.”

Shoma said thank you, and drank. They still wanted to spit it out, yet swallowed.

“It’s good,” Shoma managed. 

Javi beamed. 

They drank, and Shoma gritted their teeth against each glass for Javi’s sake. A fat bumblebee droned around.

“My brother loves bees,” Javi said. “He would appreciate this little creature.”

“Where is your brother?” Shoma tried not to grimace as they drank.

“He is in London, for now. But he’s coming here as soon as he can.”

“That’s nice,” Shoma braved another sip. 

“You don’t have to keep drinking on my account,” Javi laughed.

“Are my manners that poor?” 

Shoma felt deflated, as though they had failed their family, who had worked so hard to instill the finest of manners in them and Itsuki..

“No, your manners are excellent,” Javi said. “My lemonade is . . . not.”

They both laughed, as they often did in each other’s company.

“You must be honest with me though,” Shoma said through giggles.

Javi looked suddenly serious.

“My dear Shoma, I have always been honest with you.”

The words my dear Shoma reverberated through the air. 

Shoma knew what they would do next. They weren't sure it was becoming, but neither their mother, nor Miss Higuchi, were there to tell them otherwise. They stood and walked resolutely up to Javi, who made space between his thighs, so Shoma could lean in and kiss him. 

Shoma had only ever kissed Mr. Aliev. At that time, they had been garbed in a dress, wig sweeping their shoulders. During that brief kiss, Mr. Aliev had been a gentleman, his lips sealed and chaste. It had been quite dull. There had been a wall of -- politeness -- between them. They didn’t have regard for Mr. Aliev, except that they knew he was kind, and a good friend. They really just wanted to know what kissing was like. Everyone alluded to it, but the allusion only made it mysterious. Why would anyone want to kiss anyone? Much less be more . . . intimate than that? Kaori talked about kissing others, girls and boys, and she far preferred girls. But Shoma hadn’t known what they wanted. So they had kissed Mr. Aliev to find out. It had made them feel a little ashamed. One should never use another person, they heard their mother say. They’d broken it off politely enough, and asserted that their feelings for Mr. Aliev were that of friends only. Mr. Aliev had seemed crestfallen, but he’d nodded. They had not spoken since, which made Shoma sorrowful, though they knew they had been at fault.

Now things were different. There was not a wall, this freezing politeness, but a feeling like golden gossamer, strung from the heavens, melting away as they pressed their lips together. 

Shoma wasn’t sure they knew how to kiss, but they were going to try. 

Javi cupped their face in one hand and murmured, “Shoma, oh Shoma,” as though they had been the most cherished of friends for years. He hauled Shoma into his lap, ceased kissing them, and instead did something curious. He began to nibble, and suck, on Shoma’s jaw and neck. Shoma moaned, very unbecoming, but they didn’t care and no-one was there. 

Javi scraped his teeth against their throat and chuckled before wrapping his arms around Shoma and pitching them both to the earth. Shoma was heedless of the nettles which stung the back of their neck, or their hair tangled in ragwort. Javi was on top of them, kissing them, and they felt their organ burgeoning. Felt Javi thickening between their own thighs. 

Shoma wasn’t afraid. They didn’t care if this meant they were loose in the haft, or that Javi was. Their heart was in their throat. They wanted this so badly their toes curled as Javi undid the fall of their breeches and pulled them down, exposing their light cotton drawers. Tenderly, looking Shoma in the eye, Javi undid the ribbon of their drawers and pulled them down too, exposing Shoma, pink and bobbing, not unlike one of the newly planted tulips. Javi licked his lips and Shoma inhaled as Javi put his mouth to them. 

A burst of sensation, far better than having their hand on themselves. Shoma couldn’t even describe it, except to close their eyes and groan while Javi sucked and licked them. His throat was velvet around them and Shoma found themselves thrusting. Javi’s slick mouth pressed forwards to meet them until finally Shoma felt a shudder in the back of their spine, a white explosion, like flowers in sudden, burning bloom. Shoma cried out and was glad there wasn’t anyone for miles around. 

Javi wiped the corner of his mouth as Shoma slackened into the prickly grass and weeds.

“Good?” Javi asked.

Shoma could only nod, and then laugh.

The squeaky laugh which they thought distasteful, indicated they were incandescent with joy. And Javi looked at them with such keen fondness they did not feel embarrassed. 

“What?” Javi said, doing up Shoma’s drawers and breeches.

“I’ve never done that,” Shoma said

“Oh well, every young man needs an . . . education.”

Shoma was so ecstatic not even the “young man” part made them flinch. 

“No,” Shoma said as they stood, dusting themselves off. “I’ve never . . . had congress with anyone,” they said frankly, because what was the use of being coy at this point. 

Plus, they hoped it meant something to Javi, and that Javi wasn’t just a rake. 

Javi looked at Shoma as though he was seeing them for the first time. 

“I think you ought to go home,” Javi said, voice terse. 

Shoma felt their hopes shrivel. 

“But you still need help --”

“I can manage. I think the heat has quite exhausted you.”

“It has not,” Shoma snapped.

They glared at each other.

“That is most rude, Shoma.”

“You are rude, turning me away so.”

Shoma could not prevent the tears welling in their eyes. They felt like they had been sliced right open, the blade cold and sharp. 

Javi sighed but turned his back to them. 

“Please go home, Shoma.”

Shoma swallowed their spleen and ran all the way home, where they locked themselves in their room. 

Their mother fretted, but both Itsuki and Shoma’s father advised that Shoma be left alone while in this despairing mood.

Chapter Text

It was most unbecoming, Mrs. Uno thought, the way Shoma was haragning her again over the midsummer dinner party that evening. She tried to stay civil with Shoma as she directed servants. 

Firstly, Shoma’s behavior bespoke of bad manners. Secondly, Mrs. Uno worried most that she had let loose the reins too much and now her child had suffered, though why and how she did not know. Shoma would not say. They simply had stopped paying calls to the Orser Estate over the past two weeks, instead confining themselves to their bedroom and making or refitting dresses. They said nothing except that they didn’t want Mr. Fernández to come to the Uno’s traditional midsummer dinner party. 

“My dear,” Mrs. Uno said finally, using an endearment she seldom used even for her own children, “it would be impolite to uninvite Mr. Fernández at this last minute. He is of good standing and new to the neighborhood. It would reflect badly on us.”

“But I don’t want him here.”

“Don’t grind your teeth, it’s unbecoming.”

And when Shoma was flushed in frustration, she at last asked the question she had dreaded asking: 

“Why? Why do you not want him here?”

Mrs. Uno tried to ask the question delicately, aware that some slight had occurred between Shoma and Mr. Fernández.

Still, and yet again, Shoma’s mouth became a thin line and their dark eyes flashed with ire. But they would not say.

~ ~ ~

When Mr. Keiji Tanaka, an old friend and confidant of Shoma’s, arrived at Dunbriar later that afternoon, he was set upon almost instantly by Itsuki.

“Thank the heavens,” Itsuki said, seizing Keiji most discourteously by the sleeve. 

The younger Uno dragged Keiji, circumventing proper introductions to both his parents, up the stairs of their lofty, airy house, with the pale blue walls and white trim, to Shoma’s room.

Itsuki knocked on Shoma’s door rather coarsely.

“Open up.”

“No,” Shoma grumbled. 

“Keiji is here.”

“Hello Shoma!”

“They have been in the foulest mood these past few weeks.”

Shoma opened the door and glared at their sibling.

“I have not.”

“Have so. It’s all about that Jaaaaviiii --

Shoma raised their fist.

“I will strike you --”

“Shoma,” Keiji chided. 

Shoma deflated. Keiji took off his top hat and cleared his throat politely at the mess strewn across Shoma’s floor.

“I see you have been busy --”

“I don’t know what to wear, Keiji.” 

Shoma sat on the floor, most unceremoniously, amidst piles of their dresses. 

“Ah. Well,” Keiji eyed the dresses. “Are you sure it is not best to dress as a member of the male sex?”

“I don’t want to,” Shoma whined.

“You see what they are like? Incorrigible,” Itsuki said. 

“Well, are you sure you are not trying to alarm or discourage this Mr. Fernández fellow by dressing in your female attire?” Keiji queried.

“That’s what I’ve been saying ,” Itsuki threw up his arms.

“Perhaps,” Shoma jutted their chin. “Perhaps I just want to wear a dress and look pretty and it has nothing to do with that Mr. Fernández.”

“All right,” Keiji said after a moment. “I am not the finest expert in women’s fashion. You should have gone to Miss Sakamoto for that.”

“But she is not my finest friend.”

Keiji pursed his lips and Shoma understood that Keiji knew they were being overly flattering to make up for their petulance. 

Itsuki rolled his eyes and shut the door as he left.

“What dresses are you thinking of?”

“The blue and black one, certainly,” Shoma stood up, clutching a black dress with glinting midnight blue trimmings.

“It’s like a midsummer night, is it not?”

Keiji examined the dress.

Shoma felt nervous. Not about Keiji looking over their dress, but about -- Javi. Their mother had given a definitive no to uninviting him, and though she had given it repeatedly, this morning’s had sunk into their psyche at last. And now they would see Javi again, unless they feigned illness, which they did not plan to do. What they planned to do was to present themselves as Shoma -- their feminine self -- and either make Javi -- Mr. Fernández -- confounded, or find them undesirable, or, so desirable that he would be dejected by his rejection of Shoma. In short, it was a plan to set up Mr. Fernández’s bristles in some manner.

“I think it’s a fine dress, but it’s out of season, Shoma. You know that,” Keiji said finally. “What about that lavender one? Or the light blue?”

Shoma picked up one of the dresses in question. The top pale blue, plunging into navy skirts. It was like a summer moon peeking between soft clouds. 

“Yes, it is a fine dress,” Shoma said.

Pause.

“Tell me, do you still have regard for this Mr. Fernández?” Keiji asked. “I know you were quite fond of him. It was the talk of the town for a little while. Everyone said you would be married.”

“No!” 

Shoma turned away to scrub the tears from their eyes.

“Shoma, I don’t mean to upset you. But it is fine to feel regard for someone even if they have slighted you. If that is what happened.”

Shoma felt heavy, and burning with hurt, as those tears fell on their dress. 

“Can I tell you something?” they asked.

“You can tell me anything, my dear friend,” Keiji replied.

Shoma folded the dress, sweat prickling their brow. Would Keiji think them a doxy? Still, Shoma drew breath and found themselves saying the trembling words, saying what they had not spoken to anymore.

“I . . . uhm. Mr. Fernández was my first. The first person I had . . . congress with. A-after, I told him, and he turned me away. I am afraid I was a terrible . . . swain and he doesn’t like me because of that. Or perhaps I was too low and gave myself up to readily. I don’t know.”

“Shoma, dear Shoma,” Keiji laughed.

“What?” Shoma asked, bewildered.

“Have you spoken to Mr. Fernández since?”

“No.”

Shoma felt mutton-headed, thick and insipid as syrup. 

“I think that you should speak with Mr. Fernández about these matters, especially since it’s clear you still have regard for him.”

“But am I low? A doxy? Or a rake?” Shoma blurted. 

“Many people love before they marry,” Keiji winked. “It depends on what you believe is the correct course of action for you.”

Shoma felt something roll off their shoulders. 

Chapter Text

Despite the afternoon’s capers, which involved Itsuki attempting to curl Shoma’s hair with a tong, and burning off a decent amount, Shoma felt ready to see Mr. Fernández -- Javi? -- again. They tried not to think of that empty patch of hair, courtesy of bumbling Itsuki, and waited anxiously as the guests arrived. There was Mr. Brown of Waymouth Way, in good spirits as always, who brought a wheel of cheese as a gift; Miss Sakamoto chattering Shoma’s ear off; the amiable Mr. Reed and Mr. Howarth, who wanted Shoma to do turns in their dress, saying how marvelous they were; Miss Miyahara, elegant and reserved; Miss Higuchi, bright as a star; the polite Mr. Ge from down the lane, amongst others. But no Mr. Fernández.

Finally, the clock on the downstairs mantel struck six pm. Mrs. Uno announced dinner and looked expectantly at Shoma. Dressed in feminine attire, Shoma was, after their mother, the highest ranked female in the house. Shoma disliked some of these formalities. Why couldn’t they just sit next to Keiji and Kaori, though they both were of lower standing? Nonetheless, Shoma obeyed their mother and lead the women into the dining room, where everyone was seated by station. Itsuki followed, the men behind, and then Mr. and Mrs. Uno claiming the ends.

“Isn’t this splendid,” Miss Miyahara said as they sat. 

She was always very proper, and her social graces could smooth over any awkward conversation.

Shoma glanced at the empty chair across from them. Itsuki rolled his eyes and Keiji tried not to laugh.

They had started the soup course (miso soup, thank goodness) when a servant entered, introducing a very harried looking Mr. Fernández. His neckcloth was a little flummoxed, his hair askew, and his trousers wrinkled in places, but Shoma dropped their spoon with a loud plunk . Mr. Fernández was simply that handsome, even if at odds, in a pale blue waistcoat and dark blue tailcoat which would easily have been the match of Shoma’s outfit. 

“My apologies for being late,” he said. “I found myself a little lost.”

“It is no trouble. You are new to the neighborhood and do not know the best paths to take. Next time I will send Mr. Uno to help you,” Mrs. Uno said.

“That would be most kind of you,” Mr. Fernández said. 

“We must introduce everyone, since you are new,” Mrs. Uno said. 

And so they went around, bowing and curtseying, a pit of dread in Shoma’s stomach growing larger and larger until they came to them. 

“This . . .” Mrs. Uno said, “is M. Uno, who you know.”

Shoma and Mrs. Uno’s hearts beat like a frightened rabbit’s, their mouths dry. Shoma for fear of exposure. Mrs. Uno for fear for her child. The awkward silence blossomed around the table.

“No matter how they dress, M. Uno always looks quite becoming,” Miss Miyahara said.

“Agreed,” said several voices.

“Shoma is a marvel,” Mr. Reed said.

“Shoma is an attractive looking person, to be sure,” Mr. Howarth said. 

Shoma bit their lip, trying not to blush too much.

“Thank you,” Shoma said, and couldn’t manage more modesty even with their mother looking on and frowning. 

It was true: Shoma knew they were striking, down to their chin and beauty marks and beautiful onyx eyes.

Now, Mr. Fernández sat down right across from them in the empty seat.

“I think M. Uno is most lovely,” Mr. Fernández said with a smile that made Shoma feel like an ember in the fire. 

They were most definitely blushing.

Chapter Text

The plum wine which Cook had made did not bloom on their tongue as usual. They were parched and noticed very much Mr. Fernández sitting right next to them on the couch, as Itsuki and Keiji and Miss Higuchi played word games on the parlor table. The servants had brought candles to illuminate the dinner party, currently plump on miso soup, rice, tender tonkatsu, and sweet, soft dorayaki, with green tea. Everyone had found the meal most agreeable, and congratulated Cook. And now there was a low reverberation through the air as the guests conversed.

Shoma had to speak with Mr. Fernández. It was most urgent, and they could not speak frankly in front of the dinner party. Shoma wondered what to do. They ruminated on the problem while Miss Higuchi coolly defeated Keiji and Itsuki at the word game once again. Shoma stumbled upon a solution. They were good at word games, but there were other games which they excelled at when pushed. Shoma liked having this power, but did not like to abuse it. 

Shoma gulped back the remainder of their plum wine and allowed the servant to refill their glass again and again. 

“Shoma dear, are you sure that amount of wine is prudent?” Mrs. Uno asked, sat in her plush armchair across from Shoma.

Shoma giggled.

“It’s . . . all . . . uhm . . . fine, mother,” they said, deliberately slurring. 

Mr. Fernández looked at them with concern.

Shoma drank more. And finally, when they felt it was enough, they pressed a wrist to their forehead and collapsed, right into Mr. Fernández’s lap.

“Oh . . . mother, I-I do believe you right.”

“Oh Shoma, this is most unusual. They are not like this.”

Mrs. Uno rose to examine her child, cralding Shoma’s face in her hands.

“I should say not,” Mr. Reed said. “Will they be well?”

“Rest, I think, will help,” Mr. Fernández said, gathering Shoma into his arms and standing. “Where is his -- her -- ?”

Shoma wanted to throttle Javi, briefly, over the his and her , though, how could he know if no one had informed him? 

“Their,” Mrs. Uno corrected briskly.

“Apologies. Their bedroom.”

“Upstairs, I will show you,” Mrs. Uno said. 

Shoma wanted to kick their mother, rather uncouthly, because the plan was ruined unless -- unless. 

Mrs. Uno lead them as Javi carried Shoma up the stairs to their bedroom, a charming lavender room with a fine oak desk set along one wall, a chest of clothes at the foot of the bed, an extensive wardrobe, a large mirror which glinted in the moonlight, a commode, and a nearly floor to ceiling window opposite the door, draped in fine, gauzy cloth. 

Shoma liked being carried by Javi. His wiry arms betrayed his strength, and they most enjoyed having their head cradled against Javi’s chest, and listening to his heart.

Mrs. Uno lit a candle while Javi pulled back the sheets and laid Shoma in bed.

“I have to take their dress off, otherwise it will become wrinkled.”

“I will leave you then,” Javi bowed.

“Mother,” Itsuki appeared in the doorway. “Mr. Brown is departing for the evening. He has to be up early, it seems. He ardently hopes M. Uno will recover quickly.”

“Of course, I must go down and bid him farewell, then I shall return,” Mrs. Uno declared, scuttling from the room.

Javi stood awkwardly for a moment, then began to take his leave. 

“Javi,” Shoma said, sitting up, heart pounding for they had mere minutes, even though Mr. Brown tended to jabber on. Pleasantly so, but nonetheless.

Javi snapped around to look at Shoma in the wan, wavering light. 

“Pretend to leave out the front door. Then go to the right and come in through the servant’s entrance, by the herb garden. Ascend the stairs and return to me, for I must speak with you.”

“Are you even boosey?” Javi asked, sounding amused. 

Shoma batted their eyelashes. Javi audibly inhaled. 

“No. Will you come?”

“It would be most unfitting of a gentleman.”

Shoma conveyed what they thought of Javi’s notion of a “gentleman” with a sarcastic stare.

“Can’t it wait? Can’t you call tomorrow?”

“I want to speak with you tonight,” Shoma pouted, and saw Javi at last buckle. 

“All right. How long should I wait?”

Shoma heard his mother’s footfalls on the steps, and so did Javi, for he stiffened.

“An hour. Then come back. If Mr. Brown has left, the other guests will begin to take their leave as well.”

Mrs. Uno entered the room.

“Why Mr. Fernández,” she exclaimed, “you are still here.”

“Mrs. Uno,” Javi bowed. “I thought it best M. Uno not be alone in their condition, in case they had need of something.”

“How very kind of you,” Mrs. Uno said, heart bursting with relief, for it seemed that Mr. Fernández did indeed accept their Shoma. 

Now if only they could overcome the rift which had occurred between them.

Javi bowed again and departed. Shoma feigned being foxed while their mother aided them in removing their dress and putting on a thin cotton chemise.

“There,” Shoma’s mother ruffled their curls. “You should not have drunk so much. Mr. Fernández will think you an elbow-crooker.”

Shoma mumbled and turned on their side. Mrs. Uno blew out the candle. Shoma waited until they heard their mother shut the door before turning back over. They relit the candle and anticipated. The clock downstairs, noisy as always, finally struck the hour and Shoma sat up, pacing relentlessly. And then they heard gentle footsteps, the door opening, and Javi right there, handsome in the candlelight, while Shoma was in nothing but their whispery chemise. 

“Hello,” Shoma said, tugging the thin string bow at their chest.

The chemise was light and soft, hemmed with lace at the bottom. The neck dipped low, and the shoulders were but slight. They readily slid off during sleep. 

“What did you want to talk about?” Javi whispered. “You know we are endangering both our reputations with my presence.”

His eyes remained focused on Shoma’s face in the pale light, but Shoma had certainly seen his gaze briefly wander over their body. 

Shoma settled on the edge of their bed. They gestured to the space next to them.

Javi sat, most reluctantly. 

“Javi?”

“Yes?”

“Uhm, why did you act the way you did when we . . . had congress?” Shoma asked, biting their lip hard enough to taste blood. 

They were nervous about Javi’s answer, but any answer was better than not knowing.

Javi paused.

“I was angry with myself. I never stopped to ask you if . . . It should have been special for you. It was low and crass. I didn’t . . . I didn’t want to make you feel cheap and I am afraid I did.”

“You didn’t,” Shoma said. “You made me feel good. It was not low or crass.”

“I am glad,” Javi seemed rather relieved. 

Pause.

“Had I known I would have courted you more before,” Javi said.

“You courted me well enough, in your way.”

“As a friend, not an admirer.”

“I don’t want to be courted properly right now anyways.”

Javi looked surprised. 

“You don’t?” he queried. 

Shoma shook their head. 

“I like what we had. It was friendship but . . . more. I do have regard for you,” they added hastily, so Javi would know. “But I’m not interested in courtship or -- marriage. Not right now.”

Shoma looked up at Javi, hopeful. They had spoken their heart, which was a rare thing indeed, and worried Javi would reject them. They took the lacy hem of their chemise and twisted and twisted it. 

“I am like you, I neither seek courtship nor marriage, but a companion,” Javi said. 

Shoma wanted, very much, to kiss him.

“So can we be friends again?” Shoma asked.

“Of course. I was not the one who stopped visits,” Javi reminded.

“I am sorry. But you could have called.”

“I did not want to cause you further injury. I waited for you to come to me because then it would be your choice.”

Shoma pondered this, and how much power Javi gave them. It was the exact opposite of his mother, who smothered them sometimes. They weren’t certain how they felt about it, much less how to respond.

“I must confess, I contemplated not coming tonight,” Javi said. “I thought of sending a missive that I was too ill to attend. I did not want to cause you further harm by my presence. But it would have been rude and untoward after giving my reply a fortnight in advance. That is why my appearance is so disarrayed and I arrived late. I prepared at the last minute.”

Something bloomed, like cherry blossoms, in their breast then. They could not name it, but it made them feel warm all over. 

“All is forgiven,” Shoma said. “Let us not speak of it again.”

“Yes,” Javi murmured.

He leaned in to kiss Shoma. 

“Be my companion,” Javi said, breath hot on Shoma’s lips.

Shoma nodded, wrapping their arms around Javi’s shoulders and returning the kiss.

Chapter Text

Shoma thought the kiss would end, but it did not, and Javi’s tongue drove into their mouth, as though he was penetrating them. It made Shoma blush, and pull away. 

“Is something wrong?” Javi whispered. 

Shoma wasn’t sure about being a suitable companion. They knew so little about lying with another person. Would Javi want that?

“Shoma,” Mrs. Uno called from the corridor. 

Javi bolted, and where he went Shoma had no idea. They blew out the candle and bundled back into bed, just before their bedroom door opened. They feigned sleep while Mrs. Uno tucked the blankets and felt their forehead and cheeks. Then she left, padding out and closing the door quietly behind her. 

“Javi?” Shoma said after a moment had elapsed.

There was a rustle from under the bed and Javi appeared on the other side, hair all the more askew. 

“I should go,” Javi said, circling the bed and heading for the door.

“Wait,” Shoma grabbed his arm. 

“What?” Javi sounded impatient.

This made Shoma hesitate, for their feelings had been slighted. They were already afraid of saying what they had to say without Javi being in a bad mood.

Javi sighed and sat on the edge of the bed.

“What is it, sweetling?” 

Javi stroked Shoma’s cheek as he spoke those words, and Shoma felt reassured.. 

“What if I am a poor . . . lover?”

“Oh Shoma,” Javi kissed their hand. “I will show you.”

“But don’t you want someone more experienced?”

“No, I want you ,” Javi said, sounding a little exasperated. 

And then: “May I be so impertinent as to ask you something?” 

Shoma nodded, fretting he would inquire after some lewd act they had no knowledge of.

“Why didn’t you tell me about the circumstances of your,” Javi gestured. “Sex?”

“I do not rightly know,” Shoma admitted. “My mother made me dispatch that first invite to you dressed in male garb, and I did not want you to disdain me. So I continued dressing as the male sex with you. I am sorry.”

“You’ve nothing to beg my pardon for,” Javi said. “It is your decision who to tell and when. For my part, I find you quite becoming no matter if you appear male or female. And if you want to be M. and they -- it’s easy enough to call you by what you desire.”

Those words emboldened Shoma. They surged up to meet him, kissing him wantonly, running fingers through his wild hair, pulling him down into bed, relishing the weight of him atop them. 

It was not a short kiss, and when at last they parted, Javi did not rise, nor creep towards the door. Javi began kissing and nipping the exposed parts of Shoma’s chest and then their neck. Shoma was in the midst of a moan when Javi stifled it with his hand. 

“We can’t be loud,” he said. 

Shoma nodded. His parents and Itsuki were down the corridor, but that made it all the more exciting.

Javi paused to shrug off his coat and tailcoat, draping them over a chair, and kicked off his Hessian boots, before leaping back into bed, the hinges squeaking. Shoma put their finger to their mouth, as though they could silence the bed, and then they were kissing again. But this time Javi began to knead Shoma’s chest, as if they possessed breasts. Shoma shuddered pleasure. They had never thought to touch or be touched in such a manner.

“Good?” Javi whispered in their ear.

Shoma nodded.

“I thought you might like it, being the beautiful being you are.”

Shoma felt the blush prickling their jaw.

Javi leaned down and licked one of Shoma’s nipples through their chemise. Shoma bit their hand to restrain themselves from crying out. Javi began to suck one nipple and pinch the other, and then trade, all the while Shoma bucked beneath them, their arousal transparent.

“Turn around,” Javi said. “On your stomach.”

“You aren’t going to sodomize me --” Shoma objected, for they did not want that just yet.

“I am not going to sodomize you,” Javi said, placing a pillow beneath Shoma’s hips. “I have nothing to sodomize you with.”

Shoma wasn’t sure what that meant, and so was quiet. 

Javi lifted their chemise, exposing their backside. He bit into the flesh of one cheek, deep, hard enough to burn and make Shoma bite their pillow. 

“Now that will leave a mark,” Javi said rather smugly. 

Shoma shook. If they sat down, what would that feel like? Surely it would sting, and make them think of Javi.

“Have you bathed today?” Javi asked, caressing both of Shoma’s cheeks.

“Yes,” Shoma managed, for the touches made them pulse between their legs. 

“Good,” Javi purred. 

He parted their cheeks and Shoma felt the press of a finger against their orifice which shocked them numb. But all the more shocking was the press of Javi’s lips against that same orifice and then a slickness, a heat. His tongue, lavishing attention on that hole and Shoma felt both ashamed, for it was such a filthy thing to do, and elated, for it was perhaps not that filthy after all. Not if Javi did it. 

Javi licked and licked, and took Shoma in hand and began stroking them in time to his licks. Jolts of pleasure roiled through Shoma.

Then, Shoma felt Javi’s tongue teasing his entrance, swirling around, before ever so slowly entering them. Shoma was panting and sweating by then, their chemise sticking to their body. Javi moved deeper, and then, after waiting, began to thrust in and out.

Shoma couldn’t prevent the groan which issued forth. Nor the treacherous swell in their bowels.

“Javi,” they tried to warn, pushing his head away.

But it was too late. Despite Javi’s buried tongue, the emission came in a loud thhhhhhfffffpppp and a smell that fairly reeked.

Javi sat up, attempting not to cough.

“I’m so sorry,” Shoma said, their own desire forgotten, shrunken and gone.

“It’s fine, these things occur,” Javi said, taking deep breaths. 

Shoma leaned against him.

“I liked it,” they whispered. 

“Oh good. I seldom use my tongue in such a manner. Unless I like the person very much.”

Shoma smiled. 

“Would you like me to fellate you?” Javi said, kissing his throat. 

“No,” Shoma said. “I would like to fellate you.

“Oh,” Javi said, sounding quite breathless.

“Is that all right?”

“Of course. You would be most welcome to it.”

“I’ve never done such a thing.”

“I will tell you how,” Javi said.

Chapter Text

The night seemed to go too quickly for Shoma. For after they fellated Javi, but did not bring him completion, Javi took off his remaining clothes, and then Shoma’s chemise. He lay next to Shoma and they stroked one another, Shoma looking into Javi’s face, those eyes turned amber dark by moonlight. It was not long before they both found release. Javi cradled Shoma, one arm around them, and Shoma felt vertiginous and in high ropes all at once. They couldn’t sleep with the smell of Javi permeating the air, musky like leather. They couldn’t sleep knowing the things they had done, how Javi had pierced them with his tongue, or how Javi had tasted like salt from the sea-side. Or how Javi’s face looked as he completed: the way his brow wrinkled and his mouth parted, inhaling. They couldn’t. It was too much and not enough all at once.

The moonlight waned and morning light began to pour through the curtains, bright as butter. Javi was like an ivory statue laying upon his side, muscles rippling slowly as he breathed, the contentment smoothing his features so becoming. 

Shoma enjoyed watching Javi until they heard a door shut and their mother’s voice down the corridor. 

“Blimey!”* Shoma said, rather uncouthly.

They reached over and shook Javi with great vigor. 

“What, what, what,” Javi mumbled. “It’s too early.”

Then his eyes snapped open wide, and his face was wrought with terror. 

He and Shoma looked at one another with perfect understanding. If Javi was caught in Shoma’s room, then it would compromise both of their reputations most grievously.

“How do I get out of here, Shoma?” Javi whispered.

“I don’t know. Put your clothes on,” Shoma said, gathering their chemise from the floor.

A knock on the door.

Javi rolled under the bed and Shoma rolled back into bed, tucking the intercourse saturated sheets around them, over them, so only the very top of their head was visible. Oh good heavens those sheets were rank, and it would be a miracle if Shoma’s mother did not detect it. 

“Shoma,” Mrs. Uno entered, blue morning dress fluttering in her wake.

 She went to Shoma’s beside. 

“How is my half-sprung offspring this morning?”

“I do not feel well enough to venture downstairs for breakfast,” Shoma said, muffled through the sheets. 

Shoma dearly hoped to purchase time, of course, so they could find a resolution to the circumstances with Javi. 

“Well then, I shall let you rest,” Mrs. Uno kissed the top of Shoma’s head.

She paused, sniffing the air.

Shoma’s heart fluttered.

But then Mrs. Uno straightened and exited.

Javi exhaled from beneath the bed. Shoma threw the sheets off and traversed the width of the bed, where Javi was clambering out. 

“This is a most dire situation,” Shoma whispered, sitting upon the edge of the bed with Javi. 

Javi, half dressed, a thoroughly rakish look about him, with those chapped lips and wild hair, took Shoma’s hand and laced their fingers together.

“All will be well. No one will perish if we are discovered.”

“My mother might.”

Javi snorted, then covered his mouth as the noise echoed through the room.

Silence.

“Why can’t I simply depart through the servant’s entrance, as I did last night?”

“You would pass my family taking breakfast, and Cook, and half of the staff, most of whom were in bed when you entered last night. The rest were occupied with the guests.”

“Ah,” Javi said. “Can I wait until this evening?”

“Servants will be in my room for the sheets.”

“Surely I can hide beneath the bed?”

“Surely they are not so daft as to neglect their duties and check under the bed for shoes or the like.”

“What about your wardrobe?” Javi pointed. 

“You will suffocate, I should think.”

“Well then, what should be done, Shoma?”

Silence.

He squeezed Shoma’s hand and smiled. 

“Well, if exposed, we can marry --”

“No, I didn’t want to marry! And nor do you!”

“But when it comes to defending your reputation, sometimes certain decisions must be made.”

Shoma looked at Javi, at his lashes like dark mouthwings beating in the morning light. 

“You’re saying you would marry to protect my reputation?” Shoma asked, tongue thick.

“Yes.”

Javi caressed the snaggled curls framing Shoma’s face.

Shoma didn’t know what to feel. On one hand, they felt rapturous that Javi would hold them in such high regard. On the other, they did not want to be wed, and neither did Javi. They had both made their feelings on that matter exceedingly clear. 

Shoma tucked their knees under their chin and rocked back and forth. There seemed to be little else they could do --

Shoma sprang up, yanking the curtains from the window.

As they had suspected. Only Itsuki was in the back garden, occupying a bench while reading, perhaps before one of his habitual meanders. The dark green hedges grew quite thick, winding around and passing under Shoma’s window. 

“You can go out the window,” Shoma said. 

Javi moved to the lip of the windowsill, and even then appeared to be bracing, as though he would take a tumble without his will. 

“It’s two stories up,” he said.

“But you can land in the hedges. They will cushion your fall.”

“The younger Mr. Uno will see.”

“He will keep our secret. Or I will trounce him.”

“So genteel.”

Shoma jutted their chin, feeling a surge of something aggressive. If they were not already in a poor spot indeed, they might have contemplated jumping into Javi’s arms and kissing him. 

“No,” Javi put his hands up. “I would rather be wed.”

“It’s two stories!”

“Exactly!”

“You object to the height?” Shoma asked, most incredulous.. 

“Yes! I dislike heights!”

Shoma stifled a laugh. 

“It’s not funny,” Javi grumbled. 

“If you jump out the window I will fellate you next time we meet.”

Javi stiffened.

“You would do that anyways.”

“But imagine my kiss swollen lips around your member.”

Javi made a face and for a moment Shoma worried they had overstepped their bounds. 

“Very well. I will go out the window. Since it rescues us both from disrepute and a rushed marriage.”

“And you will receive fellatio.”

Javi sighed. 

“This too. You are a downy one for not having had congress before, aren’t you? Where-ever did you conceive of such an image as you did just now?”

Shoma batted their eyelashes. They had practiced many times in the mirror and knew they looked most pleasing when they did. 

“Sard,”** Javi swore, the word crass and exciting.

He seized the front of Shoma’s chemise and kissed them most ardently.

When finally they ceased in order to breathe, Javi said: “Now open this window.”

Shoma did so and Javi put on his top-hat. He stood on the ledge, swaying back and forth. 

“Here we go,” he kept saying, “here we go.”

But Shoma recognized his indecision and knew Javi would not jump out the window, even with the promise of fellatio awaiting in the future. So Shoma did a most impertinent thing and shoved Javi.

Javi yelped as he sailed out the window. Shoma heard a rustling thud and then a groan. Itsuki stared, bewildered at this strange man who had so suddenly manifested. Then he looked up to Shoma’s window, where Shoma stood, morning air blowing through their chemise. Itsuki laughed, covering his face with his book. 

Javi grunted as he dropped from the bushes and finally rose, brushing himself off, though even Shoma could see twigs caught in his hair and jacket, which made them giggle. Javi looked up at Shoma and glowered before walking into the garden. As he passed Itsuki, he tipped his hat, as though nothing untoward had occurred.

Shoma watched as their lover -- companion -- strode away from the garden, up the grassy knoll, and into the trees.

 

Chapter Text

Late summer drenched the countryside, saturated with sunshine like honey drizzling from the sky. Every color of wildflower which could be imagined blossomed, and the strawberries ripened to bursting, so they dribbled down Shoma’s chin when they took breakfast in the mornings. All the while, Mrs. Uno watched her eldest child with a mixture of elation and anxiety.

Almost every day now they rose earlier than everyone in the household, dressed sharply in either a waistcoat, neckcloth, tailcoat, breeches, and boots, or else fished out their finest dresses, spencer coats, and gloves, with their winsome little parasol and lavender ribboned hat. Either way, once they finished breakfast in a haste, they struck out for Orser Manor to call on Mr. Fernández. 

The one objection Mrs. Uno could discover was when Shoma dressed in their feminine garb. Then she would remind Shoma it was not proper for a lady to call on a gentleman alone. Still Shoma went. 

They claimed Mr. Fernández needed help with the grounds of the estate, or that he merely needed conversation and companionship. This last word they said with the slightest of smirks. Nothing untoward happened, of course. Mr. Fernández was a gentleman. 

Sometimes Mr. Fernández called on them during the day and it was clear by his manners he was a fine man indeed: the way he treated Mr. and Mrs. Uno with difference, they way he did not exclude Itsuki, but cheerfully asked him to join in their conversation or games, and how he was never so much as terse with a servant. In Norbury, no one had anything but kind things to say about Mr. Fernández. He once helped the blacksmith, Miss Tuktamysheva, extract her cart from some very precarious mud one rainy afternoon, and if Miss Tuktamysheva had not mentioned it to Mr. Brown, no one would have even known. For Mr. Fernández did not seek congratulations for merely doing the right thing. 

When Shoma returned from their visits, they would not speak of Mr. Fernández beyond saying he was well, and the estate grounds were coming along fetchingly. The rest of the day and into the evening Shoma would be corky: fidgeting at games with Itsuki, biting their nails and lips excessively, giggling at any small thing. Sometimes Mrs. Uno would catch Shoma in a reverie, their dark eyes distant as they traced their flush lips with a finger. Other times, Shoma would stop in the middle of playing the pianoforte, as if lost. And still other times they shut themselves in their room, and it was perfectly clear by the number of occasions the servants took sheets down what was transpiring. 

Shoma was rosy, smelling of April and May, their whole body vibrating with it. Mr. Uno did not see it, but Mrs. Uno knew. She was happy for Shoma of course, but her heart writhed in fear. For what if this Mr. Fernández injured Shoma? At night she lay in bed, thinking: tomorrow, I will keep Shoma home. 

But every time she saw Shoma’s smile in the mornings, radiant and unrestrained, every time she saw them leaving the house looking so splendid, their entire being brimful of cheer, well. 

Even her heart, which clung to her children, could not deny Shoma this joy.

~ ~ ~

Javi was not at the house when Shoma called, so Shoma decided to go for a turn about the lake of the Orser Estate before trying again. Sometimes it happened that Javi was gone, into town or on some errand. Once, agonizingly, he had been absent a fortnight. Shoma had pouted so, and sulked at Kaori’s and then Keiji’s. They were such good friends that they did not grow impatient with Shoma’s moodiness, did not even query after it. Instead they made Shoma laugh, and almost forget. Almost. 

When Javi returned, saying he had been visiting his brother in London, all was instantly forgiven, and Shoma practically sprinted into his arms when they saw him.

Now, Shoma twirled their lacy white parasol, white and black muslin gown fluttering behind them. It was blistering out, and the sweat trickled between their shoulder blades beneath their snug spencer*. It did not help that they were thinking of yesterday, and how Javi had tasted, either. 

They heard a crack and snap of twigs nearby.

He appeared around a willow, carrying his waistcoat, tailcoat, and other essentials tucked beneath his arm. His linen shirt and breeches were drenched, sticking to his lean body, and there was very little to be imagined about how he would appear undressed. 

They both started at each other. Shoma was quite taken aback by Javi’s countenance for some reason. Though they had seen Javi without clothes, there was something intimate about coming upon Javi without his prior knowledge. It felt like they were intruding upon something which belonged to Javi. 

“Shoma,” Javi said, also visibly taken aback. 

“Javi,” Shoma squeaked.

“I am. Uhm. Is your family in good health?”

Shoma had learned it was a question Javi relied on only when he didn’t know what else to say. 

“Very much. Big. Good health,” Shoma stammered. 

“Good, good.” And then: “Lovely day.”

“Very.”

“I was just . . . are your parents in good health?”

“Uh, yes, thank you.”

They looked at each other. Shoma began laughing, most undignified, they supposed, but it could not be avoided. 

“What?” Javi asked. 

“I can see your --”.

They pointed to Javi’s nipples, plainly visible through the wet shirt. 

“Oh,” Javi said. 

“What are you doing?” Shoma finally asked. 

Javi grinned.

“Swimming,” he said. 

“In your clothes?” 

Javi mumbled and kicked the grass. 

“I sometimes swim in my clothes because there are servants or people around. But mostly I do it because it keeps me cool on hot days.” 

“Shall I leave you, then?” Shoma said. 

They really had no desire to leave, but asked the question because it was polite. It was best to respect a person’s privacy, those quiet moments they kept to themselves. Shoma knew that better than most. 

“What? No,” Javi said. “Please stay.”

Shoma smiled. They drew close to Javi, removing a glove. They placed their thumb on Javi’s nipple, and circled it through his shirt. Javi licked his lips. 

“Shall we go inside?” Javi asked. 

Shoma looked up at Javi through their lashes, in that manner they knew made Javi deliciously desirous of them. 

“No,” Shoma said. “I believe we should go swimming. Together.”

Shoma leaned in and sucked the other nipple. 

“Oh,” Javi said, breathy.

Chapter Text

After swimming, first in their clothes and then out of them, after they splashed and played and laughed, after, on the muddy bank they stroked one another to completion, they gathered their clothes, and in a state of undress scampered back to the manor, the golden columns brooding as if in disapproval as they entered. 

“It’s a good thing I don’t have servants to witness us running about in such a manner,” Javi remarked.

Shoma giggled, high and squeaky. 

Javi lead them upstairs to his room, which was sweet and familiar to Shoma now, from the large navy bed with the soaring walnut posts, to the bright, wide windows and white curtains, to the little writing desk tucked in the corner, the wardrobe, and then Javi’s discreet commode. It all smelled of Javi: something bright and open and slightly spicy, like basil.  

He went to the commode and they washed one another with a pitcher of cool water and a sponge. Shoma felt so at ease afterwards they lay upon the bed, bare and exposed. Javi bequeathed one of his shirts to Shoma, dressing himself in a shirt and breeches, so they could take their sopping clothes downstairs to the kitchen fire, which guttered warmly. Javi hung the clothes while Shoma wriggled in a chair. They adored how Javi’s shirt was far too large for them: how the sleeves drooped over fingers, how the hem hit their calves, and how the collar slid down, exposing Shoma’s shoulder. Mostly they adored that it was Javi’s shirt. 

“There,” Javi said. “What do you desire to do while we wait for your clothes to dry?”

Shoma found they did not know. They felt a kind of fervor, of course, simply gazing at Javi. The fervor of tangled limbs and gasping and moaning. But more than anything they felt an inclination towards something else. 

“Do you enjoy dancing?” Shoma inquired. 

“Yes, I enjoy it very much. I have created my own dances, in fact, with a friend of mine, from Spain.”

“Is that your accent then?” Shoma asked. “If I may be so forward?” 

“Yes,” Javi smiled. “Everyone seems taken with it.”

“I am.”

And here Javi seemed to do something quite extraordinary: his cheeks and the tips of his ears blushed pink and delicate as primrose. 

“Thank you,” Javi said.

He looked away, as though suddenly shy.

“How did the Orser heir find themselves in Spain?” Shoma asked. 

Javi cleared his throat. 

“Would you like me to teach you a dance? It’s called ‘Malagueña’.”

“Yes, please,” Shoma sprang up. 

It was a beautiful dance, a cotillion of sharp, straight lines and elegance. Shoma found it rather silly to drum on their knee, but nonetheless they followed Javi’s lead, for he was so forceful, so commanding that Shoma felt swept up in a beautiful dark wave, punctuated with colored light, like flowers. It was heady as too much red wine and upon the conclusion of the dance they both stood breathing heavily. 

“That was very vigorous,” Shoma said, bent over. 

“Yes, but you did admirably.”

“I am a good dancer, Sir,” Shoma straightened. “I too have crafted my own dances. With some help from my former governess, Miss Higuchi.” 

“Oh, have you?” Javi arched his brow. 

“Do you know ‘Stairway to Heaven’?”

“A lively tune.”

“I have rendered it livilier still. As a cotillion as well.”

“Oh?”

Though Javi was near enough they could feel the warmth of him, Shoma crooked their finger as though to say: come near, come near. 

So they began, Shoma leading through an intricate series of steps. They stumbled a few times, but rapidly regained their footing. Shoma gazed up at Javi and suddenly ached, very sharply, for the summer to conclude and for the Harvest Ball to arrive. There they could demonstrate their skill with Javi, a partner who was well matched. And what a joy that would be, to dance with Javi in front of the whole town. Not secreting themselves away. 

A stone formed in their throat. They completed the dance, both gasping once again. 

“That was quite vigorous,” Javi said, crooked over. “The middle was very difficult, with all that footwork. Do you expect people to perform this dance, or demons?”

Shoma grinned, and took Javi by the collar, straightening him so they could kiss him. 

“Demons of course. You and I.”

Shoma stood on tip toes and rubbed their nose to Javi’s.

“Oh yes?”

“Yes. For we are already mired in debauchery.”

Shoma kissed Javi again. Javi’s arms, wiry and strong, clasped Shoma and the kiss became increasingly intimate and fevered. Javi broke this kiss only to lift his shirt over Shoma’s head, and to undress himself.

It was easiest not to depart from the kitchen, for the bottle of olive oil was there. So Shoma placed themselves on their hands and knees while Javi parted their cheeks, first with tongue and lips, then with oiled fingers.

“Please,” Shoma said, elbows on the blanket. “Please.”

Javi entered Shoma cautiously, tenderly, running his fingers up and down Shoma’s back, squeezing their cheeks, murmuring in Spanish. Shoma had received Javi in this manner before, several times now. At first it had felt rather odd, and even undesirable, but now it made Shoma feel radiant. Javi shifted so as to strike that burning white spot inside, and proceeded more quickly, in just the way which pleased Shoma. Shoma moaned, clutching the blanket as each press inside them made their body crackle like lightning. 

I love -- I love -- I love you. 

Shoma bit down on the blanket to keep from crying out those treacherous, ruinous words, as they completed. For, while congress was part of their agreement, this was not. Not this ardor which beat in Shoma’s heart quick as a swallow’s wings. 

They felt Javi finish inside them and wished they could cherish it. Wished they could cherish Javi cradling them and nuzzling the back of their neck. 

But they could not. 

Chapter Text

A letter addressed to Mr. Javier Fernández from number 10 Pemberley Court, London: 

My Dearest Brother,

I miss you. You bring the sun with you. Everyone in the household feels your absence, but I believe I feel it most painfully. After all these long years growing up together, how could I not? 

London is tedious without you, of course, and there is little to stimulate or divert me, especially since the doctors seem to have me on eternal (infernal?) bedrest due to my ankle. Oh, do not fret, I am recovering, though slowly. I have, on occasion, taken leave of my bed and gone for walks. Yesterday, I even tried fencing on my ankle and though it hurt, a blinding hurt, I could still best the other men at the club readily. It exhilarated me so, not just to be out of bed, but conquering, winning. You know my penchant for this. 

You have not written about your chères amie for some time. Is all well? You seemed very fond of them. From the tone and tenor of your previous letters, I would even venture you loved them. Yes, loved! I know your heart well enough, brother. Your letters, though they concealed the name of your paramour for their protection (very sensibly!) made your affections clear. 

I hope the renovations of the grounds are still proceeding. It was madness, not taking servants, and I wish I was there to help, even as the air softens and the leaves begin to golden and redden. I anxiously await the day that the doctors allow me to travel, so that I may see you again. 

Until such time, I am faithfully yours.

Yuzu

~ ~ ~

A letter addressed to Mr. Hanyu, from Orser Lane, Norbury:

Dearest brother, 

It is so good to hear from you again. I am well, and I hope you are too. I hope that you are convalescing and your ankle growing stronger each day. And please, do not go jaunting about, or fencing, until your ankle is quite mended. I beg you, for your sake and for your health.

I miss you too. I miss you and the household very much. But I must confess that I have found these months without the household and without servants very dulcifying and stimulating. The solitude has offered me opportunities to dwell upon manners I had not thought of before. Namely, what I desire of life now, and what I will do in the future. 

My paramour is well, but distant. They seem reluctant, at times, to touch and be touched, as though they were locked in a cage and we have to reach each other through bars. When we do touch, the same passion is there. But still, they visit less. They are brief in conversation. They seem to be gazing outwards, away. And yet other times they look upon me as though I was the sun and the moon.

I must confess, you are right, dear brother, and I cannot much longer withhold the depth of my affection for this person. Plainly put, I do love them. I love them. 

I have not admitted this to anyone else, and barely admitted it to myself. In doing so, I feel a bubbling in my chest. I desire to laugh, to dance. To run straight to my paramour’s house and beg for their hand in marriage. Yes, marry! They are a treasure, the companion of my heart. 

They are stubborn, oh yes, but gentle too. They are shy, yet mischievous. They make me laugh. They are very imaginative, and not just in regards to dress-making, or dance. They are unbendingly loyal. And no matter the occurrences of the past, they soldier ever onwards, looking to the future.

I would like that future to be with me. 

But first, there are some things I must make plain before I produce an offer of marriage. I plan to reveal all before the upcoming Harvest Ball. It’s a quite quaint gathering of food and dancing at the local town hall, the Grand Prix. I have been looking forward to it for a month now, due to the fact that my chères amie and I will be dancing together. 

It is time, however, to finally say what I ought to have said at the beginning of our acquaintance. I hope they can forgive me for my tresspasses, and still accept me. 

I know I am being vague again, brother, but I do not desire to burden you. Not when your attention should be upon your ankle.

Faithfully yours, 

Javi  

Chapter Text

“Are you sure, dear?” Mrs. Uno fretted, wringing the cuff of her dress. “You don’t want your dark turquoise dress? Or the black and white one? Or even the silver --”

“No, I want to wear this,” they said, posing in the mirror, fingers splayed behind them like daggers. 

The fact Shoma was so adamant about attending the Harvest Ball in this strange attire only increased her worry. This dress was neither male nor female, but a conglomeration of both. Sharp collar, embroidered with red, and then red down the spine, like glittering vines, and around the cuffs. The waist high as it should be for a lady, but the tails of the coat long, almost like skirts, swishing at Shoma’s ankles. 

Mrs. Uno felt sure if Shoma still had affection for Mr. Fernández, they would be wearing a dress, since Shoma had favored them when they visited him. But Mrs. Uno had noticed that the frequency of Shoma’s visits to Mr. Fernández had decreased and shortened, and that Shoma had become terser than before, like they were clamping something down, hard and heavy. She worried that Mr. Fernández had broken Shoma’s heart, and, for that a mother was want to take a rolling pin and march straight down to Orser Manor and commit some very unladylike things upon Mr. Fernández.

But Shoma had said nothing on the matter, and Mrs. Uno, however incensed she might become at the thought of her oldest child being hurt, would not take out the rolling pin. 

“Ja -- Mr. Fernández will be at the ball,” Shoma said. 

They turned to admire the rhinestones on the back. As they did so something shone in their countenance, flame-like and fearsome. Something which Mrs. Uno could not interpret. 

Long before Shoma had gone to the tailor for this unusual outfit, and long before they had their mother aid them with their hair and the finer details on the night of the Harvest Ball, they had decided to ask Javi to marry them. It was true they had been distant, out of fear and frustration, but now their heart was sure. It had happened one day, with Javi, while learning their new dance. Javi’s arms had been so warm and strong that Shoma had simply known : this was the man they desired to spend the remainder of their days with.

And they believed, truly, in their heart, that Javi had affection for them too. The way he glanced at Shoma, even in public. His fine caresses. The way they made each other laugh. How they had come together, even through Shoma’s frostiness, to create a new dance. There was love there, there had to be, Shoma believed. They were effulgent with it now as they posed, and their mother fretted. 

The town would be abuzz with them after tonight, and hopefully abuzz with their engagement.

~ ~ ~

Shoma exited the carriage with their parents and Itsuki, all of them greeted by the warm interior of the Grand Prix, decked with candles and garlands of autumnal leaves. People gasped as Shoma passed, whether from their outfit, or their beauty, or their audacity at not wearing a top hat -- they did not know. They did wear fine velvet black gloves. 

People gasped because Shoma was glorious. What to call such a divine creature, both feminine and masculine in appearance and bearing? 

Shoma, for their part, felt like themselves, utterly and wholly. More so than if they dressed in male attire, or female attire. This was them. 

Mrs. Uno was, for once, protesting something Itsuki was doing, saying a fine young gentlemen ought to dance at least one dance, though Itsuki immediately made his way to the far east end, where there were games and food to be had. Mr. Uno followed, leaving Mrs. Uno with Shoma. 

And Javi. Resplendent in a bright red waistcoat and slender black tailcoat. When he smiled, Shoma felt lifted. They did not even pay heed to the fact that their mother had, very carefully, taken her leave to the east end. 

Shoma and Javi bowed, though it seemed rather ridiculous at this point. Then Shoma drew them into a quiet part of the hall which was not yet occupied. 

“I am so glad you could come,” Javi said. 

“Me too. I have something --”

“I have something --”

They both spoke at once and smiled. 

“Apologies. Please go first,” Javi said, eyes soft. 

Shoma shook their head. “I insist you go first.”

Though it was rather brazen, given the public setting, Shoma gazed coyly at Javi through their lashes. 

The smile on Javi’s face did not alter, but there was a desperation in those eyes now.. 

Javi took Shoma’s hand. 

“I am afraid --”  

The Mistress of Ceremonies, Miss Miyahara, spoke then, ushering couples to the dance floor. 

“May I have the honor of the first dance?” Javi asked, and then whispered, “My Shoma,” so that only Shoma would hear. 

Shoma felt themselves all aflush.

“Of course,” Shoma stumbled over their own tongue as though he were buffle-headed.

Javi lead Shoma by the hand. 

The music began, a simple country dance to initiate. All was elegance, and grace, the hems of dresses and the cloth of gloves whispering through the air. Shoma and Javi clasped hands, then traded partners, much to Shoma’s dismay. Shoma peered past people at Javi as they wove down the line to the end. Javi smiled, and even cheekily winked when they reunited, clasping each other’s hands, before parting and bowing. 

Several other dances followed, and people began to whisper when they noted that Mr. Fernández and M. Uno were dancing almost exclusively with one another. Dance after dance, except a few peppered in, where M. Uno danced with their friend Miss Sakamoto. How sweet it was, how quaint, people said, that M. Uno and Mr. Fernández had such an attachment. 

A very lyrical quadrille had ended when Miss Miyahara announced, in her demure way:

“We now have a waltz, presented by Mr. Fernández and M. Uno.”

Mr. Fernández’s eyes were fierce as he lead M. Uno out to the dance floor. Later townsfolk would say the same of M. Uno’s. They were indecently flush even before the dance began, red blooming from their collar and along their jaw. Yet there was precision there, focus, that the townsfolk had never seen in M. Uno before. 

The dance began. Some of the townsfolk had heard about the waltz, and how vaguely scandalous it was, being between two people in close proximity. They were not anticipating the heated way M. Uno and Mr. Fernández looked at one another, the way Mr. Fernández’s hands drew across M. Uno’s body, the absolutely splendid yet unseemly manner Mr. Fernández held M. Uno while they arced from his waist, and how both partners constantly circled one another. All the while M. Uno’s long, thick black tailcoats flew like shadows in some dark corner where impropriety may strike. And indeed this was an improprietous, lascivious dance. Mrs. Tutberidze and Mr. Arutyunyan both proceeded to the door before the conclusion. 

The dance ended with the pair shoulder to shoulder, looking at one another. There was a long pause. Shoma’s heart capered, and they heard someone drop a fork. A slow ripple of applause, begun by Kaori and Keiji. Shoma, breathless, bowed, along with Javi.

“Cracking good stuff,” Mr. Reed came up and said. “Did you make the dance yourself, M. Uno?”

“No, Mr. Fernández and I did.”

“Cracking good stuff,” Mr. Reed repeated before returning to the east end. 

Javi and Shoma looked at one another and exhaled. Shoma felt as though they were made of sunlight itself. They were high and shining, and nothing could defeat them. At that moment, they wanted more than anything to ask for Javi’s hand in marriage. 

“Javi,” Shoma said, grasping the collar of Javi’s tailcoat. 

They did not give a damn about respectability, if anyone saw. 

“Javi, I want --”

“Javi!” a strange voice said, light and buoyant. 

Here a man appeared through the doorway of the Grand Prix, slender and graceful, hobbling upon a cane. His cheerful, smiling countenance made Shoma like him very much for some reason.

“Javi!” he said again. 

Javi paled. 

“Javi? Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?” Shoma asked. 

“Uh. Yes. I need to tell you --”

“Javi,” the cheerful man haltingly came to them, heedless of Miss Miyahara trying to clear them from the midst of the dance floor. 

The cheerful man embraced Javi, which would have made Shoma jealous, if they were prone to such emotions. 

“Javi, how are you?” the man asked. His dark eyes turned to Shoma. “Is this your chères amie?”

“I beg your pardon,” Shoma bristled. “How can you possibly know that?”

The cheerful man laughed. 

“I’m his brother, Yuzuru Hanyu, heir to the Orser Estate. Pleased to meet you.”

Javi deflated. 

Shoma felt bile rising in their throat. Though Mr. Hanyu offered his hand, Shoma did not take it. 

“He’s the heir?” Shoma hissed at Javi. 

“Yes,” Javi replied rather miserably. “I tried to tell you --”

“Well. It little matters now. Good day, sir,” Shoma bowed to Mr. Hanyu and stomped out of the hall, feet leaden. 

They desired to disappear. To be nothing at all. 

“Shoma, wait --” Javi said, following. 

“I don’t mind that you’re not the heir. I mind the lying.”

“It wasn’t on purpose!”

“You let everyone assume. You let me assume. And I love you,” Shoma felt the vile tears even though they couldn’t help it. 

“Shoma, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to lie.”

“Nothing you say matters anymore,” Shoma spat. “ Liar.

They sniffled, wiping tears on their tailcoat’s sleeve. 

“Shoma --”

“I don’t want to talk to you,” Shoma said.

They turned and began to walk briskly home. After awhile the lights of the Grand Prix faded and Shoma did not hear footsteps following. This too, was an insult.

Chapter Text

Within a few days of the Harvest Ball, an affliction began to bloom in the town of Norbury. Initially it began with Miss Virtue and Mr. Moir and their special guest, Mr. Radford. From thence it spread to Mr. Tanaka and Mr. Brown, and from there onwards, to Miss Sakamoto and Miss Miyahara. By the time it crept its way to Mr. Reed and Mr. Howarth’s, the good Doctor Galindo and his assistant, Miss Medvedeva, were quite overwhelmed. Doctor Galindo was accustomed to these coughs, the hoarseness of voice and fever, but in children. Why it should be rampaging through the whole village indiscriminately remained a mystery to him, laboring to bring fevers down and dole out white horehound syrup. Most recovered in a week, but a fair few worsened, their coughs deepening, their breathing thinning. Two of them were Shoma and Itsuki Uno.

Mrs. Uno was in a daily state of panic, and Mr. Uno, though sick himself, breathily reminded her that Doctor Galindo said this type of ailment usually passed in adults. They were doing everything they could: wrapping Shoma, Itsuki, and Mr. Uno in blankets and placing them on the couches downstairs, so their every need could be attended to immediately, wiping their brows with cool damp cloths, and feeding them soup and mint tea and the white horehound syrup Doctor Galindo left. 

Mrs. Uno assumed the worst for Shoma, however. Shoma had been born so small they’d had trouble breathing in their childhood. But wasn’t just the illness. She could tell, as the fever raged and they struggled. Beneath the illness lie Shoma’s listlessness and lack of cheer. Shoma always had cheer in their heart, even when it was desperate. Mr. Reed said they were “like good weather”. And Mrs. Uno knew it was because that scoundrel Mr. Fern ández had broken Shoma’s heart. Shoma had wept in her arms after the Harvest Ball. She possessed the rather unladylike desire to break both of Mr. Fern ández’s ankles. She would have, except her children and husband were sick, and she could not bear to leave them.

What Mrs. Uno feared most was that Shoma’s heartbreak would not permit them to recover, that they would sink deeper into the illness and then be lost forever, either to death or a scarring of the lungs that would mar them for the rest of their life. 

After five days Itsuki and Mr. Uno seemed improved, yet Shoma continued to worsen, face and throat fever flush, lips cracking, whole body twitching, the sound of their voice lost in thin, rasping breaths and barking coughs. They would not even open their eyes, as though blinking would expend too much effort. On the sixth day, when it was discovered they were out of white horehound syrup, Mrs. Uno ruptured into calamitous tears. All of the servants were yet recovering as well, leaving her the only one who could depart for Doctor Galindo’s. But what of her charges? Mr. Uno, still too weary to leave his couch, spent a considerable amount of time attempting to soothe her with his croaking voice. 

Itsuki Uno, for his part, looked at his sibling on another couch and felt love and obligation burning in him. Though his fever had not broken, he had been feigning improvement. He felt like he had been run over by a cart with spiked wheels. He still had the tremors, and speaking through his swollen throat was like swallowing glass, but he forced himself to sound better. Yet, with Shoma still struggling, Itsuki understood very well what he had to do.

As he sat up, he felt dizzy, but he told himself this would pass.

“Itsuki, darling, go back to bed,” Mrs. Uno turned from her husband to fret at Itsuki.

“I’m . . . fine,” he hoped, desperately, that his struggle to breathe would not be transparent. 

“I want to help. I want to go . . . to Doctor Galindo.”

“You should remain on the couch,” his mother said rather sternly.

The clock chimed for lunch. Itsuki tucked himself back into the couch and waited while his mother went to the kitchen to prepare soup and tea for the household. He knew she would be there some time, enough time, and so crept up the stairs while Shoma and Mr. Uno slept. He had to pause on the stairs, wheezing, but at length he reached his bedroom.

It was so damnably difficult to button a waistcoat and tailcoat, and even force on a hat and boots, when one was shaking. But he did it, all the while thinking of Shoma. It was a second, low heartbeat in him: Shoma, Shoma, Shoma. He wobbled down the stairs and then out the front door. 

Town was not so distant. Itsuki strode towards Norbury, halting frequently so he could collect his breath.

He knew well that Mr. Fern ández had lied by omission. The whole town did. He knew well it had wounded Shoma. It had hurt like a wound to his own person. So this, at least, was one thing he could do to alleviate Shoma’s suffering. 

But the nearer he approached town, the more the world began to swim around him and his breath caught in his chest, as if snagged by a barb. He could just see the grove of willows which preceded the entrance to Norbury as he stumbled and fell. His limbs were lead and would not allow him to assemble himself. He lay squirming on the cold, damp ground, gasping, gasping. Slowly, the edges of his vision dimmed and darkness invaded, shrouding his sight. 

Shoma, his heart beat before he slipped into a state of unconsciousness. 

Chapter Text

Shoma woke to a loud plunk, something glugging and sloshing, and then their mother’s cry.

“Itsuki!” 

She dug through the vacant burrow of blankets on the couch nearest Shoma. 

“Itsuki!” their mother shrieked, thundering up the stairs. 

There was the rattle of a door, more despairing noises from their mother, before she whirled back downstairs.

“Itsuki!” she called from the bowels of the kitchens and servants’ quarters.

Shoma very incautiously sat up. The world wobbled, but they felt as though something had come and carved their throat and lungs out so they could breathe again. It still ached and burned, but they could do so. And they desired sustenance. They gazed forlornly upon the fine pewter bowl on the floor, upended and drooling soup onto the carpet. 

“Itsuki!”

Yes -- where was their younger brother? Why was his couch of blankets empty? Why was their mother screaming and hysterical this time?

She returned from the kitchens, hand pressed upon her face. She was weeping, Shoma realized.

They stood and teetered their way to their mother, wrapping their arms around her. She started. 

“Oh Shoma,” she said, crying all the more and clutching her child close.  

“Mother,” Shoma rasped, “what’s wrong?”

“Itsuki is gone!”

“I’m sure he just snuck off. He’ll be back. Little rascal,” Mr. Uno croaked.

“He’s ill, he can’t leave --”

“We’ll go look for him, then,” Mr. Uno said. 

He sat up from his couch with a groan.

“As if heaven or hell could motivate me to allow that,” Mrs. Uno said.

She deposited Shoma on their couch and wrangled with her husband. It was not much of a contest, as Mr. Uno was far too weak to fight her. Then she plucked up the pewter bowl and cleaned the rug as best she could, before she stomped resolutely to the kitchens. She made soup once more, and imposed upon Shoma and her husband to eat half a bowl each. Shoma grimaced with each swallow. Their throat was raw, but it also felt good to eat. 

Mrs. Uno took the bowls back to the kitchens before bringing tea. She then ascended the stairs, all the while muttering to herself. Upon her return she wore a warm grey walking dress, a dark lavender spencer, and gloves, while tying one of her hats upon her head. It was the one with purple flowers which Shoma had made her, and they knew it was the hat she donned when she required courage. 

“I will find that little rascal. You all should rest,” she declared, before marching out the front door. 

Mr. Uno was already asleep. Shoma watched her go, blinking, dazed. They lay back down and gazed upon that place where Itsuki ought to be, and wondered if they might just be able to . . . 

They fumbled to their feet. But they felt like they were made of wet paper, and crumpled at the foot of the stairs, unable to venture further. They lay on the floor, asking themselves how, how would they even return to the couch?

It washed upon them, like a cold wave from the sea: the desire to have Javi there again. To have Javi cradle them in his arms and bear them back to the couch. To feel Javi’s solid, warm body pressed against theirs, his arm draped around them. It had always felt protective when Javi did that. 

Shoma’s throat swelled again and they rubbed the tears in their eyes. Shoma had almost enjoyed being sick, for the simple, selfish fact that it meant they thought about something, anything else except Javier Fern ández. How he’d lied to Shoma, over and over, during the months they had congress, and then began to love one another. 

They bit the hem of their chemise vigorously, savoring the grind of teeth through the cotton fabric. For now the memories of Javi, and of Javi lying, angered them. It flared in Shoma as such that they began to cough.

“Shoma?” their father called blearily. “Where have you gone?”

Shoma found themselves too weak to walk and so had to crawl, on shivering hands and knees. Mr. Uno did not even open his eyes as Shoma hauled themselves back onto the couch. Every inch of their body hurt.

“There you are. Where did you go?”

“I wanted . . . to see if I could . . . walk.”

“No, stay here. Enjoy the silence and tea with me.”

“But . . . Itsuki,” Shoma panted, everything around them rippling. 

They had to aid in locating their brother. Itsuki would have done the same. 

“Itsuki is probably fine,” their father said. 

He staggered his way to Shoma, sitting down next to them and wrapping them once again in blankets. Then, he poured the tea Mrs. Uno had left. They drank and Shoma had to admit the tranquility was refreshing. Their mother, as much as they loved her, made the whole house vibrate with noise at times. And their father was likely correct. Itsuki had a habit of divagating off on his own. He was ferociously mulish in his ways, not unlike his sibling. 

So Shoma drank the mint tea, and though lukewarm it still soothed their inflamed throat

“So . . .” Mr. Uno murmured, voice all gravel at this juncture. “I know you’ve told your mother about this Fern ández fellow, and how he injured you.”

Shoma fixed their eyes upon their teacup, attempting not to shatter it out of wrath.

“Injured me? Injured me? ” Shoma said, and began coughing. 

Their father patted them on the back.

“I hope his horse kicks him,” Shoma managed before drinking more tea.

“What he did wasn’t the most upstanding thing, but he is not a rake and hasn’t gambled away his fortune.” 

Mr. Uno paused to draw a few breaths. 

“He is yet the second son of the Orser Estate, so his omission was a slight one. It could be a simple mistake.”

Shoma set up their bristles.

“I think you ought to speak with the gentleman. Discover his perspective,” Mr. Uno said. 

“Why . . . should I care?”

Shoma felt so brittle, as though they were crafted of ice. 

Mr. Uno shrugged.

“If you have regard for a person, you heed them even when you are angered.”

“I do not . . . have regard.”

Mr. Uno shook his head. 

“How do you think your mother and I have been riveted twenty-three years?”

Shoma was silent.

“It’s not due to us ignoring one another. You must listen, Shoma.”

Shoma  drank their tea.

“Surely he made you happy?” Mr. Uno nudged his child.

Shoma spat out their tea. 

“You were in high ropes all summer, up until the ball.”

“I don’t . . . want to talk about it,” Shoma said.

Their father tousled their hair before proceeding to grunt and gasp his way to his own couch.

Sweet memories, sweet as sunlight passing through a lemonade glass, drenched them through and through as they put their teacup aside and curled up in their blankets. 

They did not desire the memories: Javi’s honey colored eyes, nor his sunflower yellow laugh. The way he would whisper endearments to Shoma whilest kissing their shoulders, their throat. How he caused laughter to rupture from Shoma, high and loud. 

Drowsily, Shoma contemplated what an upright man Javi had seemed. He was kind, and generous, and only rarely impatient. He was creative, as his dances proved. He treated others with regard, no matter their station. And he had a deep and abiding affection for Shoma. He had always listened to them, even when it must have been inconvenient or arduous for him. 

One afternoon he had inquired about the nature of Shoma’s maleness and femaleness and listened as Shoma explicated that they felt like neither in particular, but both. Truthfully, they were indistinguishable from one another. Shoma saw little difference, and wore the clothes which fit the occasion and their mood. But they were both, conjoined, always. Javi’s brow had furrowed at times, but he had not interjected

Shoma’s words were never lost. They never drifted away. Javi caught them like a brilliant flurry of butterflies in a net and there examined every one. 

Shoma felt a pinprick of warmth in their heart.

The front door gusted open, and a chill breeze billowed in, accompanying Mrs. Uno.

“I looked all over. I went to town, to Doctor Galindo, because Itsuki said he desired to go there, but he was not there!”

Shoma felt nauseous with worry over Itsuki and despised themselves that they couldn’t do anything. 

Mrs. Uno sat on Itsuki’s couch and began shedding gouts of tears. Mr. Uno staggered from his couch to join his wife, draping a weakly arm around her. 

“All shall be well,” he said. “We will find him.”

Despite their father’s words, Shoma felt only despair over their brother.

Chapter Text

Shoma wanted to be out with the townsfolk, including their own father, all who were well or mending, scrutinizing every tree, every bush, every graveled road, for Itsuki. But they occupied most of their time in a vapor of sleep, disrupted only by coughing. Doctor Galindo had come with more white horehound syrup, and that was all Shoma recalled, beyond their absent sibling. Any time they attempted to rise, they felt weak, and the world askew. So pitifully, loathfully, they remained blanketed upon the couch while everyone else performed practical actions. 

Shoma woke to their mother sitting on Itsuki’s couch in the midst of a sobbing bluster.

“Mother,” they croaked, sitting up. 

Her keening abated a little.

“He’s been gone three days,” she sniffled.

First, they wondered that three days had already expired, and they in a stupor most of the time. 

Second, Shoma did not know what to say. There was nothing soothing to be said. Though Shoma was usually not perturbed by Mrs. Uno’s histrionics, viewing them as being slightly ridiculous, in this instance they had to admit their own heart felt as keenly entrapped by trepidation. They dared not imagine never seeing their brother again. They could not imagine. That was an unreal world, an awful fiction. But the more time stretched on, the more likely this became reality. 

A knock rapped upon the front door. 

Mrs. Uno botched her eyes with a handkerchief while one of the servants opened the door. She was yet attired in her outdoor gear, the spencer rain damped and the hem of her gown mud drenched. Still, she rose, ever the lady of the house. Shoma admired their mother then, and the strength she had. First, to be tending everyone in the household while they lie ill, and now to be out searching for her child though she must be exhausted to the marrow. Shoma ardently wished they could have that strength, could be that kind of partner and parent. 

“Mrs. Uno.”

The egregiously elegant Mr. Hanyu, the true heir of the Orser Estate, stepped through the threshold, leaning upon his cane. He removed his hat and bowed to Shoma’s mother and to Shoma. Shoma glared at him, though, he had played no part in Javi’s deception. 

“I believe I have something you shall be most relieved to see,” Mr. Hanyu said, gesturing for the door. 

Two men bore a stretcher, upon which lay a tightly bundled Itsuki.

“I can walk! I can walk!” Itsuki coughed, struggling to sit up.

Mrs. Uno seized upon her child before they were halfway to her.

“My baby!” she wailed. 

“Mother,” Itsuki grumbled, for he despised being called her baby.

Shoma stuck their tongue out at Itsuki from over the couch. Itsuki stuck his out in return. Shoma began to laugh and then cough. Instead of the deep bellowing cough of a few days before, it was thin and raspy. 

Mr. Hanyu stepped forward while Mrs. Uno cooed over Itsuki. 

Shoma wanted to detest the man. But there was something in his swan-like bearing and cheerful countenance which made Shoma not only like him, but trust him. What good had trust done with Javi though, Shoma thought as Mr. Hanyu neared.

Although, I have not listened to Javi’s side, Shoma also thought. 

“She won’t unfix herself from him for some hours,” Mr. Hanyu said, nodding to Mrs. Uno and Itsuki. 

She was now upbraiding her child for having vanished.  

“My mother would be the same,” Mr. Hanyu continued. “She is living with us at Orser Manor. She interrogates me anytime I go out and there is the faintest of breezes!”

“Is Javi still there?” Shoma quiered. 

They didn’t know why; but it was suddenly a question which required attention.

Mr. Hanyu’s smile was Cupid’s bow perfect. 

“Of course he is. Do you desire that I send him your regards?”

“No,” Shoma snapped. “I mean. Beg pardon. I just desired to inquire after him.”

“He is well. Though he misses you terribly.”

Shoma pretended to disregard this last statement. 

Mr. Hanyu laughed and ruffled Shoma’s hair. Shoma sat furiously wondering if they should or should not care for Mr. Hanyu’s affections. It was akin to being informed one had an older, slightly annoying brother. 

Mrs. Uno began aiding Itsuki back to his couch, heedless of his protests. 

“Where-ever did you find him?” she asked Mr. Hanyu.

“Between here and town. We took him to Doctor Wilson, up north, since he seemed to be in very poor condition. Doctor Wilson is less overwhelmed at present.”

“Doctor Wilson is very expensive,” Mrs. Uno wrung her hands. “How can I repay you?”

“No need,” Mr. Hanyu chirped. 

Mrs. Uno turned to Itsuki and tried to bundle him once more. 

“Mother,” Itsuki groused. 

“I’m getting another blanket.”

“Mother! I am fine!” 

Itsuki coughed a few times and his mother shook her finger at him as if to say: not another word . She marched upstairs and Itsuki sighed while Mr. Hanyu chuckled. 

Yes, it was well enough. Mr. Hanyu could be his acquaintance at least. 

“Thank you for rescuing him,” Shoma said, grasping Mr. Hanyu’s wrist. 

Mr. Hanyu seemed taken aback by this and stood for a few minutes puckering his lips. Then, careless of Shoma’s lingering illness, he leaned in and whispered:

“He would chastise me most soundly for this, but it wasn’t I who rescued your brother. Not that the youngest Mr. Uno would remember. He was delirious. It was your Javi who rescued him. He also paid for Doctor Wilson out of his own allowance. He was so concerned for your brother’s condition. He doesn’t want anyone to know.”

“Oh,” Shoma managed after a moment had elapsed. 

They wanted to say that he was not my Javi, but they were not sure if they would be perjuring themselves if they did so. 

When Mrs. Uno returned and wrangled her youngest offspring into a fresh blanket, she offered Mr. Hanyu tea. He politely declined, saying he had over duties to attend to. 

“Of course, of course,” Mrs. Uno murmured. “Thank you so very much for fetching my wayward child and bringing him home.”

“My pleasure,” Mr. Hanyu bowed, and then winked at Shoma.

It was vaguely that Shoma heard the door close, and Mr. Hanyu’s carriage pull out. The crackle of the fire was distant, and so were their mother’s ministrations. 

Shoma gazed at Itsuki and thought: I might never have seen you again, if it had not been for Javi. 

Chapter Text

Mrs. Uno was quite pleased to keep her brood near, and would not hear of either Itsuki or Shoma going out in the late autumn chill. Her husband protested, saying: 

“My dear, we cannot expect to keep them locked away.” 

Even Doctor Galindo had said fresh air would be advantageous to healing. But Mrs. Uno would not have it. 

“There will be no more contagions and shattered hearts in this household,” she declared.

Village life resumed regardless of the absence of the Uno siblings. The illness passed and no one had perished. And a rumor began to circulate concerning Mr. Javier Fern ández, and how he had delivered the youngest Uno from almost certain death. The village softened to him and once again people greeted him with bows and smiles. Javi desired to strangle his own sibling, for it was only through Yuzu’s slack jaw that such a thing could be released to the public. 

Mrs. Uno spoke of it one day, after visiting the tailor for a bolt of wine purple fabric for Shoma. 

“That doesn’t make him less of a scoundrel,” she said, unbuttoning her spencer. 

“We should at least thank him,” Mr. Uno said, from his place by the fire, where he was playing games with Itsuki.

“He is not so much a scoundrel,” Shoma said, taking the fabric.

No one in the family uttered a word. 

“What?” Shoma quiered.

“My dear, it’s simply that -- you have not spoken of him,” their mother said.

Shoma shrugged and decided not to pursue the matter further. They took the fabric and proceeded up the stairs to their room, filled with ire. They felt ire with themselves, that they had not decided what they felt about Javi. 

They closed their bedroom door and sat at their desk candle lit desk. They wanted to sew another outfit like the one they had worn at the harvest ball. They had already done so, though they considered their handiwork rather shabby. It hung upon the door of their wardrobe: royal blue with golden curls and pale amber, white, and red stones. A gentleman's jacket which billowed into a black gown below the waist. 

This wine colored one, however, would have a lady’s neckline, Shoma decided, and began trimming the fabric. The snip of scissors was most satisfying. Shoma pretended to cut out the things in their life which frustrated them. Cut out their Mother’s edicts. Cut out Javi’s lie. Cut out their own indecision. All the while humming the song they and Javi had danced to at the Harvest Ball.

The door opened and Itsuki lumbered his way in.

“You’re humming that song again?”

“Go away Itsuki, I’m preoccupied.”

But he sat on the edge of Shoma’s bed and listened to Shoma’s incising and humming. 

“You miss him,” Itsuki said.

And those words, those three words, pierced Shoma. 

“What of it?” they snapped.

“Why don’t you go to him?” Itsuki said. 

“Mother won’t allow it,” Shoma said, knowing it was a convenient enough excuse. 

Itsuki rolled his eyes to such a great extent that Shoma wondered if his pupils would vanish.

“You are so buffle-headed. He loves you. You love him. It is really quite simple.”

“Except for the lying part,” Shoma said.

Itsuki sighed. “It was a lie of omission, everyone knows that --”

“And I should be oh so very grateful because he rescued you.”

Itsuki blinked as though incredulous about the words escaping their sibling’s mouth. 

“Fine,” Itsuki said. “Stew in your anger. Though that is not the Shoma Uno I am acquainted with.”

“Fine,” Shoma mimicked their sibling.

Itsuki sighed.

“Even if you are finished with him, don’t you want to see him, one last time?” Itsuki asked. 

Those soft brown eyes. The gentle lilt in his tenor voice. The way he smelled like basil fresh from the kitchen garden on a summer’s day. Shoma’s heart swelled and tears dripped onto the wine purple fabric.

“Let’s find you the proper attire,” Itsuki went to Shoma’s wardrobe.

“The turquoise dress,” Shoma said, rising. 

Dresses made them feel stronger, and this dress did that more than anything, with its speckling of rhinestones and wrap-around bodice in the Grecian style. It made Shoma feel like a goddess, fearsome and graceful. They donned the dress with Itsuki’s help, but did not sport a wig, instead styling their short black hair rather jauntily. 

“Do I look well enough?” Shoma asked as they gazed in the mirror. 

“Fetching,” Itsuki said. 

“How will I leave?” Shoma asked, buttoning a navy blue spencer and tugging their gloves on. 

“I will distract Mother so you can go out the servants’ entrance.”

Before Itsuki could depart, Shoma grasped his hand and said: “Thank you.”

Shoma rushed out the servants’ entrance, tying the ribbons of their hat. They crept through the icy woods behind the house, and then made their way to the Orser Estate. To say adieu or something else -- they did not know. 

Chapter Text

Night dropped and snow fell in feathery clumps as Shoma approached the creamy lights of Orser Manor. Shoma exhaled heat and anger, breath damp and silver. Their shoes were earthen-sticky. They wrang the wet hem of their dress and chewed their lips. 

“You’ll contract something if you remain out here long,” a familiar, sweet Spanish voice said. 

He strode through the snowfall, a dark figure against the glowing white. He came out in only his trousers, shirt, and tailcoat, all dampening in the snow. It was odd for Javi to be so underdressed. Unless, of course, he had been lounging in the manor, glanced Shoma through a window, and sprang up in such haste that he had neglected his waistcoat and necktie.  

As he drew near, Shoma could not ascertain his mood. Yet he held out his hand. Shoma did not take it, the anger grinding in them still, but followed him back to the manor. 

In the front room, Mr. Hanyu reposed with what must be Mrs. Hanyu, his mother. 

“Well, look who came to call on us.”

Mr. Hanyu’s eyes glimmered with happiness. 

“Let’s go to the parlor --” Javi said.

“Make sure to show them what you’ve been making,” Mr. Hanyu said. 

“Hush, you,” Javi said to his brother. 

“What have you been making?” Shoma asked. 

For now that they were here, they felt warm, and not from the fire. They also felt curious, and meek. What could they say to Javi when their last words had been so bitter?

“Come,” Mr. Hanyu said, grabbing Shoma by the wrist.

“Yuzu!” Javi threw up his arms.

Mr. Hanyu lead Shoma to a small work room, with but one table and two chairs. He lit a few candles, revealing a spill of pale yellow on the table. A dress, with navy cuffs and winding decorations all along the arms and back. Lopsided ones to be sure, and with an equally off kilter hem. In fact the whole thing was dreadful, but it was a dress. 

“He was making it for you, weren’t you? Even though you can’t sew at all,” Mr. Hanyu turned and spoke to Javi, who stood in the doorway.

“Yes,” Javi replied, looking upon the floor as though embarrassed.

Shoma gazed at the dress, running their fingers over the fine fabric. They began to tremble.

“It’s rather unbecoming,” Shoma said. “I adore it.”

Javi vacated the doorway. 

There, I’ve gone and wrecked things properly, Shoma thought with some relief, but mostly distress.

Javi returned. 

“Shoma,” Javi said, so tenderly, and steering Shoma to a chair. 

There he brushed snow from their neck and shoulders before enfolding them in a warm woolen blanket. 

“Mother and I will be upstairs,” Mr. Hanyu winked. 

He spoke rather loudly before hopping neatly from the room. 

“Why do you need to go all the way upstairs?” Javi asked the air, frustrated. 

He turned to Shoma. 

“Well, Shoma, what is it that we say now?” Javi inquired. “Why have you come to call? The hour is rather late, you could be endangering your reputation, with a rake like me.”

“Who has said this?” Shoma bristled. 

“It little matters. It was a rumor only, for a few weeks. Rumors are curious things, though. They come and they take their leave.”

“They are curious,” Shoma murmured. “Javi?”

Javi turned and looked upon Shoma for the first time since they had arrived. 

“Yes?” Javi’s voice was coarse, as with fear. 

“Why did you lie?” 

Shoma saw no reasonable reason that they should not be direct. They were not the kind of person to torment a respectable man. 

Javi swallowed. 

“I was weak,” he said at length. “I laid eyes upon a beautiful person who I felt regard for. As time passed, my regard grew and deepened. I desired to be the heir, if only for you.”

“But Javi,” Shoma said, undoing their hat and shaking snow from it. “You know that those things have little consequence to me. You would make me joyful if you dwelled in a barn. There was no need to carry on the facade.”

“I know,” Javi sounded pained. “I wanted to tell you, as our attachment grew. I wanted -- I wanted to. I have no excuses as to why I did not.” 

“Well, after what you have done for Itsuki, I ought to thank you. Most sincerely.”

Javi smiled fondly, but as though he had lost something dear.

“You must know, surely you must know: it was all for you.”

Shoma sat rooted. Indecision at last sloughed itself like dead leaves from an oak in autumn. They looked up into those brown eyes they so cherished. 

“You may wish to sit by the fire,” Javi indicated through the doorway. “We will have a carriage take you home.”

“Ridiculous fellow,” Shoma bounced to their feet. “Whyever do you believe I would call on you at such a late hour?”

Something appeared to buckle in Javi, and tears lined his eyes. 

“Please,” he said. “Please don’t give me hope. I’ve scarcely allowed it -- ”

Shoma cast aside the blanket and took Javi’s hand. They laid kisses upon his knuckles. 

“I love you,” Shoma said. “And it is my most ardent desire to marry you.”

Pause. 

Perhaps I have been in haste, Shoma thought. Perhaps he did not have the same regard for them. Shoma felt chill all over again. 

Javi cradled their face in his palms. He tucked a strand of hair behind Shoma’s ear. He smiled now, but contentedly.

“You have bewitched me, Shoma Uno, body and soul. And I too, desire to marry.”

The kiss was flame and Javi’s hands coals as he lifted Shoma onto the work table, atop that hideous dress. Javi shut the workshop door and the room was lit by only a few flickering candles. 

Shoma shed their damp clothes readily, and peeled Javi out of his, the both of them kissing and laughing. When they were undressed, Javi lay atop Shoma, the pair of them rubbing together, velvet skin to velvet skin. Their panting was abrasive in the workshop, and Shoma felt rhinestones from the dress pricking their spine. Yet they enjoyed it, especially the weight of Javi on top of them. They arched and moaned. 

“Oh Shoma,” Javi groaned, body rippling with his climax as he stroked Shoma’s hair. 

Shoma completed soon after, whole body expanding with love. They clung to one another and lay in the half dark together for a long, long while. 

Chapter Text

Shoma was regal in the attire they had sewn, of royal blue with golden curls. Javi, knowing he could not compete with his bridegroom, settled for a matching gold waistcoat, and medium blue tailcoat. Not even the gloom and slight musk of the church could distract from how radiant the couple appeared as they pledged their troth to one another. 

Prior to the moment they placed the rings upon each others’ fingers, there had been months of dancing, of laughter, of furtive congress. The resplendence of being engaged and holding hands in the market, of townsfolk expressing their happiness for the pair. Of Shoma coming to treasure Yuzu -- formerly Mr. Hanyu -- and his mother. Of Shoma learning to make less assumptions and listen more. And of Mrs. Uno in full command of the wedding plans, at times weeping, her tears a rejoice. For her Shoma had found someone who did not simply love them, but cherished them. 

Exiting the cold church, the weather outside proved fine and sunny, the wild roses just beginning to bud and perfume the air of the wedding breakfast.

Mrs. Uno supervised the townsfolk, herding them into a queue. Mr. Tanaka loaded his plate with toast and eggs, while Miss Sakamoto drank hot chocolate and nibbled on rolls. Shoma vaguely ate some bacon, though Javi encouraged them to eat more. 

“It has all gone according to plan,” Mrs. Uno declared as the line progressed. 

She then discovered her husband was not only disrupting her queue from the center of the long tables bearing the food, but also serving the children cake.

“The children can’t have cake, they will become too excited --” she waved animatedly. 

Mr. Uno ignored his wife in this instance, and continued to cut cake for the children.

“It’s a wedding , my dear,” he said. “The children are allowed to have cake.”

“Doctor Galindo would never approve --” his wife began.

Mrs. Uno turned and was met with Doctor Galindo, carving himself a slice of cake. She threw her arms up.

The two bridegrooms, meanwhile, had detached themselves from the food and thanking guests. Shoma had desired to be called a bridegroom, because it had bride and groom in it, and they were, as always, a bit of both. The pair of them looked at one another and linked hands, golden rings winking in the sunlight. 

Javi kept Shoma from creeping off and falling asleep. They were so rapturous that they had become weary in the course of the festivities. They thought of tonight, when they would go home to Orser Manor -- and it would be their home too, at last. Javi would bear Shoma over the threshold and then they would have congress the entire night. Or part of the night, at the very least. The remainder they would laugh and converse.

And so they had begun the very great adventure of their marriage.