Soaked to the bone in the sudden torrential downpour, he darted through the open doors of the building before he’d even had a chance to process where he was going.
Inside it was warm, lit by the soft glow of red paper lanterns that cast laughing shadows on the wall, a far cry from the hiss of water against the earth that he could still hear behind him. Somewhere in the building delicate strings were being plucked, the sound drifting on the incensed air to his ears where it lingered for a moment before passing on elsewhere.
It was atmospheric and elegant, the sort of place meant to titillate the senses and stimulate the imagination, though it no longer filled him with the sense of wonder it might have in the past.
“Can I help you?”
The voice was polite and warm but it startled him from his thoughts nonetheless, his frozen fingers brushing strands of wet hair form his wide eyes. Blinking, he could only take in the sight of the finely dressed man draped in sumptuous shades of green and red as his expression morphed from cordial to concerned in an instant.
“You’re soaked,” the man stepped forward, his honey colored eyes catching and holding the lamp light in a way that made them glow like semi-precious stones. “Let me have someone bring you something dry, immediately. Umeko -!”
“You don’t -” he tried to protest but the man cut him off with a single look, the genuine concern on his face impossible to argue against. “I’ll stay for just long enough for the rain to stop and then I’ll be out of your way.”
“And if the rain doesn’t stop?” he asked in the manner of someone used to organizing and caring for people and their needs, his honey golden eyes shifting their attention to a woman that Takahiro had not noticed enter the room. “Prepare a place for our guest to sleep, and please see to it that he has something new and dry to change in to… And make sure Yume launders what he’s wearing now.”
Rusty brown eyes shifted towards Takahiro curiously as the demure and expressionless woman took him in, gazing at him as if he were nothing more than a piece of lint … His very existence inoffensive and unobtrusive, but something that needed to be seen to nonetheless for the sake of her reputation. After a moment longer of staring at Takahiro, she turned towards the other man and bowed before she walked away, her black hair making her merge into the shadows of the hallway.
“You must be freezing,” said the man, stepping towards him with a smile on his face. “Would you like me to have someone prepare some tea for you? I’m sure someone around here isn’t entertaining guests…”
As he trailed off, Takahiro’s ears picked up on the faint sound of jingling bells approaching them, soft and musical, accompanying the arrival of another man … Whose footfalls made no noise against the wood in spite of any other noises he brought with him.
“I thought I heard a new voice coming from the entry,” said the newcomer in a voice as smooth as silk and as warm as mulled cider. “I thought you may have a lovely flower for me to water …”
The man stepped into sight, his tall frame casting a long shadow that blocked out the flickering lanterns and turned his hair into a halo of fiery red and cast dancing pockets of light on the fine silk of his loosely tied kimono.
“I wasn’t expecting to find our very own Hideyoshi attending to the needs of a poor, soaked beauty all by his lonesome,” the newcomer smiled as he spoke and stepped closer, his bells continuing to sing with every step.
That sound was distracting enough that Takahiro almost forgot to be flattered by those words, though the moment those eyes slid over to him it quickly became impossible not to be embarrassed … Especially when the smile that broke across those lips broadened, dark eyes glittering suggestively from a handsome face.
“If you’d like to warm up, I’m certain I can think of a few entertaining ways to do so.”
The frown the man named Hideyoshi gave their newcomer could guilt a naughty child into apology, “Shingen, this is no time for jokes. If you’re not busy, please make yourself useful and brew our guest some tea.”
Shingen only laughed, the suggestiveness draining from him as the smile on his face turned easy. Just like that he was a different man, one who cast Takahiro a playful wink before reaching out to place a broad, warm hand between his shoulder blades.
“Have Umeko or Yume brew the tea,” he said. “I’m not entertaining anyone at the moment, and it would be a shame to leave our guest out here shivering for a second longer than he needs to be. I’ll take him to my room, so just send the ladies there with what he’ll need for the night.”
Takahiro wasn’t given a chance to protest, nor was the man named in Hideyoshi, as Shingen used the hand still placed flat against Taka’s back to steer him away from the entrance and down the hallway. He didn’t even give Taka enough time to slip out of his waterlogged sandals, but at this point what did courtesy really mean, anyway?
What was the point of him standing on propriety in a situation like this?
So Taka bowed his head and let himself be guided down the dark corridor.
Every step made it more and more apparent just what sort of place he’d stumbled into when he saw silhouettes of dancing men and could hear the sound of women’s laughter. The scent of incense had grown more intense, more masculine than the perfume of other places in the Pleasure District. Even the music from before had grown louder the farther into the building they went, but it wasn’t loud enough to mask the shuffling and distant moaning of what must be business as usual here.
Of course it wasn’t surprising that he’d walked into this manner of establishment, but a part of him had been hoping it was an inn, a restaurant, a theater, or a gambling den. The man up front may have been garishly dressed, but his appearance was also less outlandish than what Takahiro had come to expect from male courtesans and other men of the night … And so he had hoped that perhaps he would be spared the scrutiny of the kinds of prying eyes these professional pleasure makers often had.
But the moment he had seen Shingen, any illusion that he’d walked into a different kind of less savory had faltered and now all doubt was utterly erased in the wake of such overwhelming evidence.
His mind was so taken with its own thoughts that he nearly ran into Shingen when the man suddenly stopped and slid open a pair of doors, his brain jolted back into the present moment when he was pulled unceremoniously into the room.
With the door shut behind him, he tried to get his bearings long enough to come to grips with his current situation… Alone with a lavishly dressed man of pleasure in that man’s own room. Outside, the rain still pounded down on the streets turning them into slurries of mud, wind causing unsecured shutters to bang and the chimes to scream in protest as they were buffeted with more force than they were meant to stand.
“You can relax.”
Shingen’s voice was smooth and calming, grounding Takahiro in the moment as he finally took in his surroundings… Only to find that the room wasn’t quite what he expected it to be. Instead of a place that was expensive and lavishly decorated, it was rather simple and very lived-in looking. Even the futon was still laid out on the ground and, in a shameless display, looked as if someone had been lying in it not all that long ago.
Of course, Takahiro had no right to criticize when he was wearing his shoes and dripping water all over the floor.
“Now get out of those clothes -- I probably have something around your sized stowed away in here,” he stepped off of the wood and onto the tatami, leaving Taka to stand in mute shock at the idea that he should strip down to nothing right here and now.
Unless… That’s not what he meant?
Unless he meant he’d find the clothes and then leave so Takahiro could change?
Leaning down, he figured at the very least he could remove his sandals… But he was so wet that his socks went with them, leaving him standing barefoot on the cold, wet wood. Wrapping his arms around himself, he tried to rub warmth back into his skin but his own fingers were so freezing that it wasn’t effective at all.
“I’m going to have to find some way to repay you,” Takahiro said, in part to distract himself from his own chattering teeth. “What you’re doing -- It’s very…” He shifted his weight and then kicked his sandals out of the way just to have something to do with himself. “You both seem very kind.”
“That’s a staple in this neighborhood, you know,” said the man named Shingen, pulling out an orange, worn looking kimono from a chest of drawers somewhere and holding it up to examine it. “No one is out this late in the Pleasure District unless they’re a client…”
His charcoal grey eyes flickered towards Takahiro and narrowed thoughtfully, “or they’re working. I personally think it was the latter, and Hideyoshi probably agrees with me. You may not look like one of us, but we know the sort of people who use the services here.”
Slowly, Shingen turned his head to look in Takahiro’s direction, his brows arching as he did.
Then a smile slowly spread across his lips and his entire face softened with kindness, “for example, if you were a client you wouldn't still be wearing your clothing..”
Takahiro’s cheeks burned bright and he gingerly took the bundle of fabric offered him in his cold hands. Something in Shingen’s gaze was kind, glittering behind his flirtatious smile as he drew away and then stepped past Taka to open the door.
Only for a moment did he pause, looking back over his shoulder with another sultry smile, “let me know when you’ve finished changing and I’ll have the ladies set up the tea for us.”
One more wink and he left the room, the doors sliding shut behind him.
Taka took a second to breathe and let his situation sink in, lost in the sound of the rain hitting the roof above him and the warmth that lingered in the cloth he held in his hands … Though any contemplation was quickly put aside as a shiver traveled up his spine and he finally found it in him to move his frozen muscles and remove his sopping wet clothing. It hit the floor with a soft thud, and he toed it away from him while wearing a sour expression. He berated his lack of sense and sorely wished he’d trusted his own instincts to bring an umbrella when he’d peered at the sky that morning and found it a depressing white-grey.
The cool air raised the gooseflesh of his arms as he quickly stripped down to nothing, not wanting to be naked and exposed any longer than he had to. As quickly as he could manage with his stiff fingers, he dressed with the efficiency of a man who had been in this strange world long enough to become used to it … Something that still surprised him when he took the time to think about it.
Turning around, he padded on bare feet towards the door and slid it open, sticking his head outside to find Shingen still standing there … Though even completely still and without any of the posturing the men and women of the night used at shop fronts and from street-front windows, he was the very picture of a high class prostitute. His clothing was simple of cut but sumptuous and brightly colored, showing off the pale skin of his broad shoulders just enough to be tantalizing for how it accentuated the broadness of his build and his incredible height.
That was nothing, however, compared to the smile that was painted on his lips, somehow both mischievous and inviting. It was a smile like a promise shared between two lovers, a secret smile that revealed nothing as surely as it whispered sweet assurances that it would give everything away …
And it was a smile he quickly turned to Takahiro when Shingen noticed him staring.
“There you are,” Shingen said, that smile quickly melting to something more congenial. “You’re a bit lost in that fabric, I see, but it will have to do for now.”
He reached out, placing his hand on Takahiro’s shoulder for a brief moment before his touch shifted to press firmly between his shoulder blades once more. “Hideyoshi has sent a message that we’re all to have tea together,”he said conversationally. “I suppose he wants to make sure you’re feeling well, and I won’t deprive him of that, especially when you have such a cute face.”
In spite of himself, a blush rose to Takahiro’s cheeks at being called cute by a man whose face could make artists weep from inspiration … A man whose job it was to bring pleasure to working men and women like him.
Without responding, he let himself be taken in by that smile once more and lead back down the hallway to have tea …
The first tea of his life he had ever shared with men of the night, though he had the strange feeling it would not be the last as he watched his guide, red hair glowing like flame in the lantern light.