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Red Sakura

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The first layer was thin and light, the second one still easy to wear, but the third layer of the Oiran kimono was always too heavy for Taiga. Still he didn’t complain when Reia put it over his shoulders after all he was used to it by now.

Plain white was the usual color for the first layer, the second one had a simple pattern, in this case it was red with white sakura on it. The third layer showed detailed pattern. The one he had to wear today was dark green with yellow sewing of birds and flowers, also showing detailed landscapes of mountains in blue as the background. A few months earlier he would have never imagined wearing something as expensive as this.

“You want to use any of it today?” Reia asked as he pointed at the make-up on the table right under the mirror.

Taiga sat up a bit to the front while Reia waited patiently behind him. First he took the black paste in his hands and as much as it had become famous among the Oiran to paint their teeth black he still wasn’t fond of it, so he put it back on the table and lifted the green lipstick up instead.

Carefully he put it on his bottom lip, correcting a part with his finger and he could spot Reia in the mirror looking fascinated at his hand movements.

“You shouldn’t get distracted by this anymore after all this time,” Taiga said teasing on which the boy immediately looked to the ground with slightly flushed cheeks.

With a chuckle Taiga put the make-up back and got ready to stand up. His skin was pale enough to not put extra white makeup on and as much as their new established system made them dress and behave like the high class female Oiran there were still parts Taiga wanted to keep as natural as possible.

Reia was up immediately to help Taiga with the layers of his kimono as he started walking towards the doors. Taiga stood still for a moment, taking a deep breath before Reia handed him the shamisen₁ he was supposed to use today at the tea house. He could already hear the people laughing and celebrating outside and luckily he knew that there were familiar faces there as well after all one of those familiar people had called him here today.

“Are you ready?” Reia asked as he stepped towards the door and Taiga closed his eyes for another moment before he nodded.

Reia vanished into the other room first, announcing Taiga’s entrance and the room fell silent immediately. Carefully Reia pushed the doors aside and remained seated next to them while Taiga put on his most seductive look as he stepped inside the tea house room.

There were about a dozen people, already sitting with other Oiran which were serving them today. Most of them were female, but he also spotted Juri and Reo next to a few of the people. But today he was the main guest and the others had to stand back now that he had entered. Nevertheless he didn’t miss the teasing smile Juri and Reo exchanged.

Taiga stopped in front of the customers, bowing towards all of them, his eyes remaining on the main person as he lifted his head again.

“Taiga, as beautiful as always,” Domoto said proudly on which Taiga slightly bowed a second time.

“And here we wondered why you didn’t ask for one of the most expensive Oiran, but your taste is extraordinary after all,” one of members said laughing on which others also cheered approving. A few of them Taiga remembered from the Shogunate meetings over the last two years, other faces were new and they were all eyeing Taiga with greedy looks, not that he was bothered by it. But today was not an official meeting, only a small party Domoto had prepared for some of his higher up friends from the Shogunate.

“Show them your worth,” Domoto said teasing and waved his hand on which Reia immediately stood next to Taiga and helped him sit and rearranged the kimono.

Taiga knew that his price was low in this new system where they were allowed to enter the tea houses at the main street in Nakanocho in Yoshiwara, but it was new for the male Oiran to even participate in this system so they would need time to get accepted by the female workers and also the customers.

The other Oiran in the room often gave him mocking smiles or hoped that he would fail, but while he had indeed failed a lot in the beginning he was more than confident recently. With a light smile he put the Bachi₂ on the strings and started playing.

***

“You were so damn awesome today!” Reo yelled way too loud over the Nakanocho main street on their way back. Luckily it was already late at night and most people had left the Yoshiwara district already or had been guided to one of the houses where they were allowed to stay until the early morning hours.

“Domoto likes bragging with you recently a lot,” Juri let out next to him on which Taiga just shrugged his shoulders.

“As long as I don’t embarrass him I guess it’s fine.”

“Not to forget that he pays more for you than he needs to,” Reia said as he took another look in the small pouch filled with several silver coins. “He almost paid the same price he would need to pay for Kentaro and he is on first place in the ranking at the moment.”

“Well, I am not really aiming to get into his position,” Taiga said laughing as they reached the end of the main street and left the almost blooming sakura trees behind them.

“If you wanted to though you could easily get a higher ranking,” Juri said.

“You already got a higher one than me,” Reo interfered on that kind of pouting.

“Be happy you are not that high in it, because time gets rare through that and you want to keep some time for Fu, right? And he would need to pay even more if you get higher in the ranking,” Taiga replied with a faint smile as the wind put one of his strands in his eye. Carefully he pushed it back, resting his fingers on the scars of his blind eye for a moment.

The nights were still a bit chilly outside now that it was end of March and the four boys hurried back to their house at the river. While Reia was carrying Taiga’s three layered kimono in a bag, they were now all dressed in their usual work kimonos, making it way easier to walk. Domoto didn’t stay this night, but usually they were allowed to guide the customers back to their house and let them stay until morning.

Two years have passed since the chaos with the Yamashita clan and a lot had changed in the Yoshiwara district, but things were calm at least.

“You are late!”

While Taiga didn’t even flinch as someone appeared right next to them, Juri jolted and hit the approaching person on the shoulder. “Shintaro, for god’s sake how often do we have to tell you not to hide there?”

The boy was taking care of the building now that Kochi wasn’t there anymore and through the system changing most of the houses also needed more protection against thieves and other trouble makers.

“Like this the bad guys get scared away easier you know?” The boy teased with a bright smile while Reia hurried to open the front door of their house for the others to enter.

“Then let Tatsuya handle the night shift alone his face scares people away,” Reo added laughing as he followed Taiga and the others inside the house.

With the new system Tatsuya had joined the house as the main security guard to Kamenashi’s obvious liking.

“Ah by the way today a new boy came,” Shintaro explained.

“Oh, out of a sudden?” Taiga asked, but remembered that he also came without any announcement.

“He seems to be quite a troublemaker.”

“Well, quite a lot of the new ones are like that,” Taiga said teasingly his eyes on Reia on which the boy pouted immediately. But Reia hadn’t become one of the boys in the end and that had been thanks to Taiga. He had asked Kamenashi to let Reia take care of the house like Kochi did before and he had agreed. Since the system had changed he had become Taiga’s assistant. Most of the boys in the house had an assistant now, carrying their new heavy kimonos to the tea houses and guide the customers back to their house.

“Then good luck with him from tomorrow on.”

“What, am I responsible for him?” Taiga asked with a raised eyebrow on which Shintaro gave him an apologizing look.

“You know with Taisuke being in his last year and Kentaro busy, Kamenashi said you should be in charge of him.”

“One trouble maker teaches the next one. A good match I’d say,” Reo said as he clapped Taiga encouraging on the shoulder.

It could be a good match indeed, because Reia was also easy to handle for him, but what if the new boy wasn’t?

***

The sun was already out when Taiga finally woke up and Juri was still deep asleep at his side, his face half hidden at the boy’s chest and he stroke over his hair with a light smile.

Their new system allowed them to take it easy in the morning as they usually let customers stay until morning. Taiga placed a soft kiss on the latter’s hair before he tried to get up without waking him up, not that Juri would easily wake up anyway.

Out in the corridor Taiga made his way towards the room he was told the new boy was living in for now. All rooms had been full so he had gotten a room for himself, at least for now.

“Oh up that early?” Shota was heard as he came up the stairs still in his work kimono as he had a customer over the night staying over and he just sent him off.

“I wanted to talk to the new boy,” Taiga said.

“Oh good luck with that,” Shota teased him.

“He only arrived yesterday, right?”

“Yes. Kamenashi had warned him yesterday already, because of his immature behavior, but he seems to be a pretty tough case.”

“Would you tell me his name and through what circumstances he came here?” Taiga asked.

“His name is Ren. He was in an illegal brothel until now, same as we were before. You have to know that after experiencing a treatment at such a place this is a joke.”

“I know, I remember your behavior when you came here first,” Taiga said, this time not as calm as before and Shota gave him an apologizing, but he knew that Taiga had forgiven them already.

Shota excused himself for now, wanting to take some rest before new customers would come for the noon hours.  

Taiga moved on to Ren’s door, but didn’t enter immediately.

Was there even a good reason to feel that nervous? Reia had also been quite stubborn, but he hadn't actually been aggressive, so a kohai like Ren was a first for him. Nevertheless he tried to keep his expression as neutral as possible as he knocked on the boy's door.

No response.

He tried a second time, louder than before. Maybe he was still asleep? Or…

The thought of Ren already having run away on his first night made Taiga panic a little as he grabbed the sliding door.

“I'm coming in.”

No one stopped him from entering which was no surprise because even though Ren was in the room and obviously awake he had ignored Taiga's knocking as well.

“Good morning, Ren.”

The boy was still wearing his night yukata, but was sitting on the windowsill from which he could see the river. He looked up at his senpai, but all Taiga could see was annoyance.

“I didn't allow you to come in.”

“You didn't stop me either,” Taiga replied as calm as possible as he walked up to the boy. If Ren was an untouched boy Taiga would be harsher with him from the start. Not standing up when a senpai enters the room, no proper greeting and there were a dozen more things which would definitely go wrong from now on as well. But something about the boy's look told him that there was no way in reaching him through preaching or punishments.

“I think Kamenashi told you yesterday already, but I’m the senpai in charge of you. My name is Taiga.”

“Great, thanks for the unnecessary self-introduction. Now leave me alone.”

The boy's impolite tone made Taiga raise an eyebrow at him, but he wouldn't lose his calm that easily. It was obvious that Ren just waited for him to freak and give up on teaching him any manners.

Instead of trying to have a normal conversation Taiga went over to the desk in the corner and took the book from it. Each room had one of those as it was their guideline for the new system.

In silence he sat on the windowsill next to Ren and flipped through the pages.

“Work shifts are divided between day and night work with the day shift being two hours from 14 - 16 o'clock, while the night shift starts at 18 o'clock, allowing the customer to stay until morning.”

There was no reaction on Taiga's sudden reading out loud so after a side glance at Ren who was still looking out to the river as if his look could actually make the water boil, he kept reading.

“Customers have to make a reservation at least one day prior to their visit if they come directly to the house. Tea house visits need to be booked a week in advance. After the tea house closes customers are allowed to come back to the house and stay until morning even without reservation.”

Another break, still no reaction. When Taiga kept reading though he saw how Ren clenched his fists in annoyance.

“The price for a visit is set, as is the price for the tea house. The ranking decides the price. No special services will be granted even if more money is offered. Violence against the boys is prohibited.”

It was a new rule Taiga liked a lot, yet Ren didn't even seem to care.

With a sigh Taiga turned back to the book and he could hear Ren's dangerous growl, but he ignored it.

“Each Oiran of the house can choose an assistant if wanted. That person will help with duties in the house and guide customers from the tea house back to the main house. The assistant is no apprentice and no customer is allowed to ask any sexual services from them.”

Maybe this one would finally trigger something, but again it was just anger and an obvious feeling of irritation against Taiga showing on the boy's face.

With him coming from an illegal house maybe he was afraid of what awaited him, maybe he needed someone to talk to, to open up to, but there was not the slightest hint on his face which could help Taiga.

Once more he turned back to the book and flipped to the next page.

“The participation at the Yoshiwara festivals will be-”

Before he could read the next word Ren had suddenly jumped up and ripped the book out of Taiga's hand.

Without another comment he went over to the open window and threw the book into the river. Taiga starred outside the window with a stunned expression while Ren sat down with a pouting look and crossed his arms to his chest.

“What the actual…” Taiga said to himself and shook his head with a disbelieving look.

“Oh what a shame. Lesson time is over,” Ren said mocking before he pointed at the door. “And now out.”

“The participation at the Yoshiwara festivals will be decided by the rankings and held under strict rules of the Yoshiwara district and looked over by the regional police,” Taiga ended his previous sentence to the boy's obvious astonishment. “Sorry, but I memorized the rules of that book.”

The teasing look Taiga formed made Ren's look turn even darker and suddenly the boy was up once more and grabbed Taiga by the wrist.

There was no need for a fight on the boy's first day so he let himself get dragged towards the door and Ren pushed him out to the corridor with another death glare.

“If you keep annoying me I'll make you regret it!”

Without waiting for a reply Ren shut the door and all Taiga could do was shake his head before he walked down the corridor and massaged his temples.

“Damn, it's too early for a headache.”

***

Leaving the back of the house behind Taiga made his way to the red wooden part in the front. It was quiet here now that it was daytime and the last customers were about to leave.

The size of the house still gave Taiga a weird feeling. Having a bridge and pond in the middle of the house seemed way too much compared to the small house they had before.

When he walked down one of the open corridors next to their indoor garden a door in front of him got slit open.

“Why didn’t you wake me up? You know I’d run late?”

Taiga moved aside at the last moment, making Fuma almost stumble as he swirled around to his direction to hurry down the corridor.

“Oh, damn, sorry Taiga.” Without a real greeting he just waved his hand at the boy and rushed towards the exit.

With a chuckle Taiga moved towards the open door of the room, finding Kentaro sitting on the futon, still half asleep.

“You and Fuma need someone to wake you both up when you spend the night together.”

“Would be definitely a good idea,” Kentaro said as he pulled his kimono up over his shoulders after it was just hanging loose around his hips with a half closed obi. “But I scolded him already for staying so often recently.”

“Why, is he spending too much money on you now that you got the first place in the male Oiran ranking?” Taiga teased him.

“Actually yes, that’s a part of it as well,” Kentaro replied with a chuckle.

“You are working nonstop recently, you should really take off for some time,” Taiga suggested on which Kentaro nodded.

“Then hurry up and take my place.”

“In your dreams! You know how much trouble I have with all the new arts and skills we have to learn to get into the higher ranking, right?”

“Your shamisen got famous among the customers though,” Kentaro replied with a wink on which Taiga shook his head, but showed a brief proud smile.

“And here I still spill the tea every third time and mess up my calligraphy lessons so badly that our teacher keeps scolding me nonstop.”

“Well I can’t master the Koto₃ and I fear that our teacher already gave up on me because of it.”

Taiga sat down on the tatami in front of Kentaro and both boys let out a sigh at the same time on which they bursted out laughing.

“Guess a lot has changed for all of us,” Taiga said nostalgic on which Kentaro tilted his head with a light smile and observed him on which Taiga gave him a questioning look. “Did I say something weird?”

“Not at all. It’s just nice to see you so calm in this environment. You know after all the chaos in your first year here I wondered how well you could fit in for your ten years of work.”

Right, his ten years would be over someday as well and he had been here three in total already. But he wasn’t trying to hurry to the end, because he didn’t want to waste those precious years with unnecessary worries.

“What do you plan on doing as soon as you are free to go?” Taiga asked on which Kentaro hummed for a moment before he cracked a bright smile.

“I want to have my own shop.”

“A shop? What kind of?”

“Not sure, I guess I will have to think about that a bit more, but for now I still have three more years for that, so no hurry, right?”

“Three more years to defend your rank,” Taiga replied on which a pillow was thrown in his direction and both of them started laughing again.

It was really a peaceful time and with every new day Taiga prayed that it would remain like this.

 

+++

 

₁shamisen: three-stringed traditional Japanese musical instrument

₂bachi: plectrum for a Japanese Shamisen

₃koto: 13 string Japanese traditional instrument

Chapter Text

“Juri I didn’t take off to waste my time.”

“Oh, so taking a walk with me is a waste of time?” Juri asked teasingly as he knew that Taiga wasn’t meaning it that way. “Recently you always keep your eyes on Ren and here it is obviously that all he is up to is causing more trouble. He is not stupid since he has realized that you took care of the kimono chaos he created the other day he tries to play with your patience.”

“Good for him that I am not the type of senpai to punish my kohai easily.”

Juri just shook his head on that and hooked his arm with Taiga’s as they made their way over the nearest bridge. It was quite a warm day and they were in two casual yukatas in light blue and yellow, but their house has become famous around Yoshiwara as the first male Oiran house participating in all the official events and rankings so people recognized them anyway.

“The festival is coming up in two weeks, do you think we'll be fine?” Taiga asked as they walked passed a few small shops on one of the side streets next to their district.

“I will be, but I am not sure about you and Kentaro. You two have to walk in front and do all the annoying stuff,” Juri replied with a lopsided smile.

“Well, that is also part of my worries.”

“And the other part?” Juri asked a bit more serious this time.

“I am not sure. It’s just that we barely started all this and it feels like we invaded a tradition we should have stayed away from. I don’t want the other houses to hate us or even attack us because of it.”

“And the festival would be the perfect opportunity,” Juri said in realization on which Taiga’s face darkened.

“Don’t worry, Takizawa’s house is still going with the old rules, remember? He and Kamenashi had agreed on going with different systems for now to see how things work out and to give customers the chance to go with the old system as well if they want to.”

“I know and it’s good to know that even their house seems quiet at the moment, but I feel really restless recently,” Taiga finally admitted after keeping his worries away from the others most of the time.

Juri squeezed his arm into his a bit on hearing that, knowing of course that Taiga had carried around some worries for the last weeks, but he was always too polite to talk about it, because he didn’t want others to worry.

“Do you think it’s the calm before the storm?”

“Hopefully not, but we can never be sure, right? For now I want to enjoy our calm time though.”

“Perfect, because that is why we are here,” Juri said proudly as he sped up and grabbed Taiga’s hand to pull him along.

With a questioning look Taiga followed the boy until they reached another main street where he could hear a lot of people cheering and saw people dancing on the streets.

“Eh, isn’t it way too soon for an Odori₁ festival?” Taiga asked a bit perplex on the festival like atmosphere in front of him.

“It’s a regional festival here in town. They celebrate the first sakura blossoms,” Juri explained as they squeezed along the side of the street, trying to find a good spot to have a look at the dancers.

“Oh what a surprise, we are not the only ones on their day off,” Juri said as he pointed at the other side of the street.

Taiga immediately formed a teasing smile as he saw Tegoshi, but not alone. Next to him was Massu, the owner of the shop from which their instruments were usually coming from. Over the last months Tegoshi had started visiting their house a lot, because they had to get more of the three layered kimono and that was taking a lot of time and measuring. Of course those two had met several times through that inside the house and there was not a single member of the house who hadn’t realized what was going on after their first encounter already.

Taiga kept looking around as he suddenly saw another boy with a quite fashionable Yukata. It was red and white, with a simple yet bright pattern of lines and circles. Also his look was unusual for a normal citizen. His hair seemed to be dyed in a light brown and his eye color seemed lighter than the usual one, quite close to Tegoshi’s blue eyes, but more of a dark grey. What caught his attention as well was that the boy wasn’t looking at the dancers, but directly back at him. Had he realized who they were even while they were a bit away from Yoshiwara and in simple Yukata?

Before Taiga could think about how to react another boy appeared next to him and they started talking before they vanished into the crowd, but Taiga didn’t miss the last look over his shoulder towards him with a lopsided smile.

The next moment Juri had dragged him along the street to take a look at another location of the festival and Taiga wanted to keep his attention on Juri after the boy was spending so much effort in giving Taiga a break from his kohai troubles, which would hopefully remain his only troubles for now.

***

The hot tea landed on the ground even without Taiga messing up this time. From the very first day they had started their training in different skills and arts he had known that this one just didn't suit him.

Aran didn't mind though, because he wasn't the type to come for an hour of tea as foreplay.

Making sure that they wouldn't create an even bigger mess, Taiga crawled a bit away from the small table the moment Aran had tackled him to the ground without a warning and was now busy with teasing his neck with his teeth.

“Tough day at work?” Taiga asked on which the other one bit harsher this time on which Taiga escaped a low chuckle.

Searching for the younger one's face he put his hands to his cheeks to make him look up. Dark eyes awaited him as they stared at each other before Taiga invited him to a greedy kiss.

“How about some distraction?”

The suggestion made Aran's eyes shine and with a smooth movement of his legs Taiga had Aran trapped so that he could turn them around.

There was not a single complain when Taiga slowly crawled of him, but then stopped between his legs. Taiga didn't even need to say anything and Aran's greedy look was enough of permission.

With a light touch Taiga let his hands vanish inside the boy's hakama and as expected Aran spread his legs invitingly.

It was the teasing touch around his thighs which made Aran growl impatiently. It was obvious that it was no day for teasing or a long foreplay.

With skilled fingers Taiga took care of Aran's already erected member while he also untied the hakama to get it out of the way. Just for a bit longer he wanted to have a look at how Aran's eyes got darker. There was always this point when he'd start biting his lip that was when he had to level things up and as expected this moment came sooner than usual.

“So impatient today,” Taiga whispered as he leant forward and gave him another short kiss before he crawled back and lowered himself between his legs.

Just a small teasing lick over the boy's tip was leaving Aran in a paralyzed state for a few seconds. When he took him completely in his mouth the younger one had trouble keeping himself up on his elbows and Taiga pushed on his stomach, allowing him to lie back.

His sweet moans filled the room way too soon for Taiga's liking, but he had said he'd stay the night so there was no way this was going to be their last round.

When Taiga felt Aran's hand in his hair he knew the boy was close, but he had found a weird liking in not pulling away and Aran knew that, so all he did was calling Taiga's name as his grip got tighter before he came into Taiga's mouth.

Swallowing had become easier as Taiga hadn't been fond of it at first. Still he used his chance while Aran came down from his climax to get a bit of the remaining tea.

“You seem busy with something as well,” Aran was heard as he lay on the side, facing Taiga with a brief smile.

“Now I wonder how you figured that out, because that I let the tea drop is nothing new.”

Aran escaped a chuckle on that before he shook his head. “You usually just offer distraction like this when you want some as well,” Aran said with a smirk. “And don't worry I'm more than willing to give a lot to you later.”

“Glad to hear that,” Taiga replied with a wink on which both started laughing.

“But seriously, everything alright?” Aran asked a bit more serious as he sat up and this time Taiga grabbed the sake bottle instead and poured him some knowing that it was way more of Aran's liking than the tea.

“It's a new boy which came a few days ago. He is causing a lot of trouble.”

“So you are in charge of him?”

Taiga nodded with a sigh before Aran suddenly handed him the cup he was holding.

“Sounds like you need a drink as well.”

Taiga took the cup from him without another comment, but he wasn't that fond of the taste.

“How much did he drive you crazy until now?”

“On the first day he threw our rule book into the river. On the second day he ripped the kimono apart I gave him for work. He seriously tries everything possible to make me freak.”

“But you won't as I know you,” Aran said proudly.

“And that is exactly why they chose me. They know the boy can handle any kind of punishment, so I've to find another way if there is one.”

Aran nodded with a worried look on hearing that. “It's rare for you to speak so negatively.”

“I know, I'm sorry. I guess it bothers me more than it should.”

Aran reached out for the cup to put it back on the table before he pulled Taiga closer on his kimono collar.

“Well, then let me distract you from all those unnecessary worries for tonight,” Aran whispered against his lips on which Taiga tried to trap his bottom lip with his teeth, but the boy pulled back. “Hey, is causing me pain the only distraction you want?”

Taiga couldn't hide a low chuckle on that before he put his hands to the boy's neck and crawled on his lap so that Aran had to fall back a bit.

“Trust me there dozens of other ways to distract me.”

“Then let me try all of them tonight,” Aran suggested with his eyes turning back to the greedy look Taiga loved so much.

***

Taiga could do nothing more, but apologize to their calligraphy teacher over and over again. First he had thought it was a good idea to distract Ren with lessons for now instead of trying to put him right into work, but it turned out to have been a horrible plan.

It had surprised Taiga already that Ren had actually followed him to one of the calligraphy lessons, but it was of course just to create chaos.

Instead of practicing, Ren had decided that the floor needed some coloring instead and the teacher went furious at his doing on which Taiga had jumped up and promised to clean it later.

“Please continue the lesson. We will take our lead for now.” Taiga said apologizing and moved between the other young boys towards Ren and signaled him to stand up. Of course the boy didn't move and just brought his Fude₂ down to the tatami mat once more.

Taiga rolled his eyes on the move and crouched down to take the writing utensil out of his hand. Before he could do so Ren suddenly moved his hand up and slashed the Fude through the air so that Taiga had to pull back with a hiss as some of the ink hit his eyes.

“What are you doing?” Reo was heard outraged from the front and he jumped up, forcing Ren up.

“It's all good, Reo. Thank you,” Taiga said as he used his sleeve to get the ink off his face at least a bit before he took a grip on Ren's arm so that Reo stepped back. He looked ready to hit the boy, but that was exactly what Ren wanted so Taiga wouldn't let him win this game and he made Reo sit down again even though his friend seemed ready to kick Ren out of the next best window as soon as they would be alone.

“Sorry for disturbing your class. I'll make sure to clean everything later,” Taiga apologized once more before he dragged Ren out to the corridor of the first floor where their rooms for several kinds of lessons were placed.

“Even if you don't want to learn it's fine, but please don't cause trouble for the others. They are all here to-”

In the middle of speaking Ren had already turned his back towards Taiga and walked down the corridor.

Taiga just let out a sigh on his behavior, but would let it pass like always. When he heard fast steps behind him though he turned just to see an unknown boy pass him and hurry towards Ren. When he reached the boy he yanked him back on his Yukata and forced him to walk back to Taiga. Ren was so shocked that he couldn't even struggle much before he was grabbed by the hair and forced to bow to the front.

“How dare you treat your senpai in such a disrespectful way?” The boy yelled and forced Ren to bow even lower as he started struggling. “Apologize!”

“Noeru, let him go,” another person was heard behind them and Taiga turned to face a familiar face. He had seen the boy on the festival with Juri before and now he also remembered that he had seen the other boy with him.

“But Ryosuke, his behavior is unforgivable!”

Ryosuke cracked an apologizing smile towards Taiga before he clapped him on the shoulder as if they were friends.

“Look at his senpai. It's obvious that the boy is a tough case and here he decided that the best was to let him leave. So now you are disrespectful through questioning his teaching methods,” Ryosuke explained on which Noeru let go of Ren immediately and bowed towards Taiga.

“My apologies.”

Taiga waved his hand immediately while Ren gave the boy a death glare, but just retreated instead of picking a fight, which was definitely not what Taiga had expected. But there had been something dangerous in his eyes and it was clear that he had to watch out for him even more.

“My apologies for the rough greeting,” Ryosuke said as Noeru walked back to him.

“No worries, everything is alright. By the way may I ask who you are?” Taiga asked politely.

“They are from another district in Edo and just came here. They will be part of the house from now on,” Taisuke was heard as he walked up to them as he had obviously just come from Kamenashi's room to inform him about their arrival. “Kamenashi has time for you now.”

“Thank you,” Noeru said with a light bow towards him as he waited for his senpai to move as well. They were both in the clothes from before so it was obvious that Ryosuke would join them, but maybe Noeru was an assistant like Reia and the other boys, but Taiga would have enough time to ask them later.

“Let me know if you need any help around the house, you can always ask me or one of the other boys,” Taiga offered on which Ryosuke suddenly stretched his arm out to touch his face. It had been some time that Taiga flinched on such a move, but somehow Ryosuke's touch had something provoking.

First he thought he had aimed for his scar, but when he pulled his fingers back a bit of ink was on his fingertips.

“I guess for calligraphy I need to ask someone else, but I heard you are famous for you shamisen.”

“Oh does my reputation precede towards other districts already?” Taiga asked a bit playful on which Ryosuke formed a lopsided smile as he stepped back.

“I'm just a good observer and have a good eye for special talents.”

The boy had a weird aura surrounding him and while it woke Taiga's interest it also made him aware of some kind of danger or maybe he should call it competition instead?

“Looking forward to working with you from now on,” Taiga said neutral before the two boys left with Taisuke.

With slow steps Taiga went down the corridor towards the bath. Ren was causing enough trouble already and it wasn't clear if those two were a good or bad match for their house, so for now Taiga could just hope that the storm wasn't approaching faster than he had hoped.

***

“What, you met Ryosuke before?” Juri asked confused as he met with Taiga in the bath later. The boy had helped with cleaning his Yukata from the ink, but of course not without having a good laugh at the story first.

“I saw him and Noeru in the streets when we were at the festival,” Taig explained as he got the last stains of ink from his face and joined Juri in the bath.

“So what do you think about them?”

“Not much yet. We just briefly talked in the corridor earlier, but Noeru seems to be quite respectful towards him and also other senpai. I fear he will end up in a fight with Ren at some point.”

“And?” Juri asked, shrugging his shoulders. “Then let him do your work. I bet he can punch some manners into the boy.”

Taiga splashed some water towards Juri on that comment. “That is exactly what Ren doesn’t need.”

“Do you really think he will be able to follow the rules in the end?”

Taiga had no direct reply to that, because as much as he hoped to be able to break through Ren’s walls he feared that things could get worse instead of better.

When Juri’s nose suddenly touched his Taiga gasped and pulled back on which Juri let out a teasing chuckle. “I know your mind is occupied a lot with this problem, but how about you occupy yourself with me for a while instead?”

The invitation made Taiga smile while Juri sat on his lap and trapped him with his back at the stone wall of the bath.

“And what kind of distraction do you have in mind?” Taiga asked against Juri’s lips as the boy hovered hungrily over him.

“The good kind,” Juri replied before he engaged their lips in a wet kiss. They both moved slow, hands secretly exploring their exposed skin underwater while their kiss turned deeper.

“I like your ideas,” the older one let out between a break for air. “How far does the good kind go?”

Juri’s eyes narrowed with a greedy expression as Taiga pulled him closer on the hips.

“If we change locations then this service might know no end,” Juri whispered invitingly before his hand found its way between Taiga’s legs and the boy bit his lip throwing his head to the back.

“I warn you, if I find the slightest bit of cum in the bath I make you both clean it for a whole month.”

A few months ago they would have both still jumped on the sudden interference, but now they didn’t even bother getting off each other on the sight of Kentaro standing in the door. Reo was right behind him a jealous expression making them both smile.

“That’s why I suggested a location change,” Juri replied as he finally got off the other one and stepped out of the bath.

“And here I was hoping for a show,” Reo said disappointed.

“Maybe next time.” Taiga said promising as he walked up to the boy and put his pointer finger under his chin. “You can join us then.” With a wink Taiga took his Yukata and left the bath with Juri while Kentaro needed to snap his fingers in front of Reo’s face to make him snap out of it.

“Wow that was a huge promise. Are you planning on keeping it?” Juri asked curious.

“If you are okay with it?”

“I told you, whenever you feel like it.”

It had been on Taiga’s mind for quite some time now, but it had been hard to talk to Juri about it. They were together for so long now and while a normal relationship would be perfectly fine like this, Taiga weirdly felt like he’d keep the others out, even though they had of course still some private times together with customers when Fuma, Fu or others called them in together, but this was different. Luckily Juri had understood his problem without freaking at him and he had left the decision to Taiga when one of the other boys would be allowed to join them.

“Well, not today at least,” Taiga said with a lopsided smile before he vanished inside their room, waving at Juri to follow him.

“As you wish,” Juri replied before he hurried to close the door and finally give Taiga the promised distraction.

***

The fan dance wasn’t just hypnotizing the customers, but also fascinated Taiga a lot. Unfortunately he had to concentrate on playing the shamisen or he would ruin Ryosuke’s performance.

Fan dance was a skill not performed by their house, but when the customers had heard from Noeru that Ryosuke had practiced it before they all wanted to see it.

“You got an amazing duo here,” one of the customers congratulated the person who had picked Taiga and Ryosuke for their teahouse time. As the customers were unknown to both it had been just a coincidence for them to be called out together, but it had made Taiga kind of nervous. He didn’t want to challenge the other one so he didn’t put on any extravagant makeup and also his three layered kimono was a simple one with a bird pattern in red and white.

Ryosuke on the other hand had shown up in a detailed kimono with such beautiful emblems that he was the center of attention before he even said a word. Noeru seemed quite happy about the customers’ reaction and he could see the stare battle he had with Reia over some minutes already before Noeru left the room to get new sake.

“Thank you for your shamisen play,” Ryosuke addressed him as the attention was drawn away from them for a while.

“Not at all. Thank you for showing us such a beautiful dance. It’s really impressive.” Taiga praised him on which Ryosuke sat right in front of him.

“I can teach you if you want.”

“No,” Taiga replied way too fast and bit his lip through his impoliteness, but Ryosuke just kept smiling at him. “I mean I am not a good dancer. It would be a waste of your time.”

“This is all a waste of time.”

Both of them turned towards the boy who had just entered the room again after getting some more food for the customers, but Ren didn’t even seem to feel the slightest guilty about what he had said. For the boy it was the second time in the teahouse, but his attitude was still a big problem. Usually he should be with them, in a three layered kimono, but because he refused to even take customers, while he had been in an illegal house already, there had been no other choice but to put him to an assistant duty.

“For those who doesn’t want to learn any beautiful art it is definitely a waste,” Ryosuke replied calm on which Ren seemed to feel triggered. But Taiga gave him a warning look before he could actually do anything stupid. He was just here to learn and help out, but with Reia and Noeru there as well he luckily didn’t try to cause chaos, at least for now.

“Thank you for the offer, but I think it’s really a skill that fits you way better than me,” Taiga said towards the older one with a small bow.

“If you say so,” Ryosuke replied neutral before he joined the customers again while Taiga stared absentminded through the room for a moment.

“Are you not feeling well?” Reia was heard worried next to him, but Taiga immediately shook his head with a brief smile.

“Not at all. Don’t worry.”

Reia didn’t seem convinced at all and as Taiga’s assistant he would notice immediately.

“I will get you some water,” Reia said and headed towards the door where he almost collided with Noeru who wanted to enter the room.

Taiga remained seated, really not feeling that well over the whole day already. Noeru brought some sake towards the place Ryosuke was talking to the customers at. Like this the attention was drawn away from him for a while luckily and he closed his eyes for a moment.

A sudden scream from the corridor made him flinch and the other members in the room also looked towards the doors in shock.

Noeru was the first one to get up and Taiga and Ryosuke followed him outside in the corridor. Ren didn’t even bother to follow them.

A few rooms away an Oiran assistant was sitting on the floor. Her eyes wide open and her body still shivering from whatever she had seen in the half opened door.

“What is going on?” Reia asked as he hurried up the stairs next to the girl. When his look fell into the room he gasped and let the bottle of water he was holding fall to the ground on which it shattered into pieces. His horrified expression made Taiga hurry towards them and he pulled Reia away so that the inside of the room wasn’t visible to him anymore.

“Wait here!” He ordered, but it was clear that Reia wasn’t able to do anything else for now anyway.

When Taiga went back to the room Noeru had helped the girl away already while Ryosuke stood frozen to the spot in the doorframe.

“What is going on? What happe-”

Taiga’s question got answered the moment he stepped next to the other one. His eyes grew wide in shock and disgust about the picture in front of him. An Oiran, actually a quite famous one which whom Taiga had worked together before, had been murdered. But she hadn't’ been just stabbed. Her throat was cut open and her face was defaced to a degree that it was hard to say who she had been in the first place if her kimono wouldn’t have told them.

Taiga searched for words, wanted to make his body move as he realized the nausea taking over him through the smell of blood in the air. All he was capable of in the end was turning towards the next corner to throw up.

+++

 

Odori₁: Dance festival

Fude₂: calligraphy brush

Chapter Text

 “Oh, not exactly who I wanted to meet here,” Aran greeted Taiga and the others with a bitter expression. They all had to remain at the teahouse until the police arrived which had just happened.

“Trust me, we would have liked to pass this as well,” Reia greeted him. Aran told his men to ask the other members of the house and the customers if they had seen anything suspicious before he shut the door.

“New members?” Aran asked looking at the other three boys. While Ryosuke and Noeru immediately stood up and bowed towards the officer, Ren just rolled his eyes.

“Yes, we just came to this district a few weeks ago,” Noeru explained.

“I see, thank you. You can sit down for now.”

Aran also sat down, but his look immediately fell on Taiga. “Are you alright?”

When Taiga didn't even realize that the question was meant for him, Reia hit him slightly with his elbow.

“Yes, sorry. All good.”

“A terrible liar as always,” was what Aran replied with a scolding look before he pulled out a notebook. “I am sorry, but for a moment I need all of you to concentrate and tell me what you have witnessed and if you have seen any suspicious people. After that I will escort you back to your house. Reia I want you to inform Kamenashi about Taiga’s condition later.”

Reia nodded immediately, but Taiga wanted to protest of course on which Aran pointed his pen at him, so close that Taiga moved back a bit. “No objection, is that clear?”

Aran knew when to use his authority and as much as Taiga wanted to pretend that he felt completely okay he knew that no one would believe him anyway. Especially not after tonight's happening.

***

“You look like a walking ghost.”

“Thank you Reo for that unnecessary comment,” Kamenashi scolded the boy as he came back inside the room together with Kentaro and Taisuke. Aran had explained everything as fast as he could and wanted to let the boys rest for now, but Kamenashi urged them into his room after he had asked Shintaro to get Juri, Reo and also Tatsuya, while he got Kentaro and Taisuke for an urgent meeting.

“Are you okay?” Juri asked worried as he pushed Reo out of the way and sat down next to Taiga to take a closer look at him.

“It’s alright. Please could you all not worry so much for me? I didn't feel great the whole evening and the last happening didn't make it any easier.”

“Totally understandable,” Kentaro replied. “So what are we doing now?”

“I want you all to not let any of the boys alone in the teahouse from now on, not even a second and definitely not with people we don't know.”

“So over dramatic,” Ren whispered and got a death glare from Noeru in return.

“What if it was just a person holding a grudge against her?” Taisuke asked.

“On the other hand the killer could also change locations and attack elsewhere,” Noeru explained worried.

“That's why we have to be extra careful for now,” Kamenashi explained and turned towards Tatsuya and Shintaro. “I want one of you to always escort them to the teahouse from now on.”

“No problem, I am going to beat the shit out of everyone who tries to attack them,” Shintaro let out confident.

“But please always make sure you stay safe as well. Don't jump into unnecessary fights,” he addressed Tatsuya this time and the man nodded.

“Let's hope this was just a personal thing and not the opening of a massacre.”

Tatsuya’s comment made Taiga feel even more nauseous, but with Juri holding him in his arms he felt a lot better already.

***

“You're taking off, end of discussion!”

It wasn't like Taiga would try and argue with his senpai, but it was still rare for Taisuke to be so protective.

“Ryosuke is at the tea house as well, why should I stay home?”

“Because this is not about the incident, but about you looking like shit the whole morning already. Reia even did all your duties for the day already.”

“He did what?” Taiga asked perplex, because he hadn't even realized that the boy wasn't around and had obviously ran his duties early in the morning.

With a sigh Taiga put his hand against his forehead. Who was he kidding he could tell himself that he had a fever and should stay in his room.

“I know what you are thinking, but no one thinks you are in this condition because of yesterday's incident. And even if it wouldn't matter you know?”

Taisuke's words made it a bit easier for him to finally accept that he should take it slow for today.

“Am I at least allowed to take a look at the new ordered kimonos? I bet Reia brought them in already, right?”

Of course he had and Taisuke's smile was answer enough. “Just make sure to sleep a bit more so that you feel better tomorrow.”

“I'll do that. Thank you.”

While Taisuke went to the front of the house Taiga made his way to the kimono room and as he had already thought he found Reia in it, already putting the new kimono on the ground for inspection.

“You're a really sneaky kohai, you know that?”

Reia turned around with a teasing smile on that and bowed slightly. “Sorry?”

“We both know you are not,” Taiga teased back before he sat down next to Reia. “But thank you for taking care of everything.”

“Were you really thinking of working?” Reia asked as he realized that Taiga was dressed in one of his usual work kimono.

“I tried, but as you can see I got stopped,” Taiga explained as he took a brown kimono with white crossed lines and black detailed maple leaves on it in his hands. “So how are you feeling?”

“Shouldn't that be my question?” Reia asked as he took the kimono after Taiga had made sure that there were no mistakes in the pattern.

“I'm not talking about a cold though. I want to know how you're dealing with yesterday's incident.”

Reia remained silent for a while, but Taiga kept analyzing the next kimono instead and waited patiently for a reply.

“I think I'm okay. I never saw something like that before, but as shocked as I was at first I don't feel like it will haunt me. At least not for too long.”

“That was a really honest and brave reply of you,” Taiga said as he handed the boy the next kimono and patted his head with a brief smile.

Reia seemed kind of proud after hearing that, but Taiga could see that there was something else in his look. It wasn't the first time he had seen this impatience and insecurity in the boy's eyes. As always though he ignored it. If the boy wanted to ask he needed to do so himself.

“Would you put these in the upper shelf?”

Reia got up and brought the new kimono to the front shelf on his request. When the boy let out something similar to a growl Taiga turned around. Ren had appeared in the open door and Reia was obviously not fond of him being in the house in the first place.

“What do you want?” Reia asked impolitely on which Ren gave him a death glare, but turned towards Taiga instead.

“Just letting you know that I won't run those stupid errands.” Ren said as he tossed a paper in front of Taiga. It had been placed in his room before with Taiga's request to get some stuff from the market.

“Those errands are for you as well though. If you don't get them you won't get any food from tomorrow anymore, because we'll run out of supplies.

“Then get it yourself. After all you want to eat as well.”

Reia moved before Taiga could even think about getting up and he took Ren by the collar of his yukata. Of course the boy was still not thinking about working, so all he did was lingering around the whole day if no one forced him to assist at a tea house.

“If you dare address him like this again I'll make you pay for it.”

“Oh, I'd like to see you try,” Ren said challenging and knowing Reia well enough Taiga jumped up right in time to get a grip on the boy's lifted arm before he could actually punch the other one.

“Enough, both of you.”

“I didn't do anything though,” Ren said with a mocking expression on which Reia suddenly jumped to the front, Taiga not being able to hold onto his wrist.

Reia had tackled Ren to the ground, both of them rolling around the corridor trying to punch each other, yelling curses and childish pulling on each other's hair.

“I can't believe this,” Taiga growled in annoyance as he got ready to somehow get them apart.

Ren easily got the upper hand and lunged out for a punch as he sat on top of Reia, but once more Taiga was faster and pulled the boy up.

“Enough! I won't tolerate fights with other members of the house!” Taiga warned the boy strictly, but to his surprise Ren pushed Taiga with such a force that he crushed into the sliding door which was in front of the small veranda to their small inner garden in the back. The force made the wooden frame break and Taiga found himself lying on the veranda between the wooden pieces.

“ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?” Reia shouted at Ren who didn't even show the slightest bit of remote.

“I don't take orders from hoes,” Ren replied with a dark look before he turned around and walked up the stairs to their rooms.

“Don't run away!”

“Reia, don't!” Taiga yelled after the other one as he tried to get up without cutting his skin even more on the sharp edges of the broken wood. The boy didn't listen though and soon another struggle had started on the stairs and Taiga rushed over to them.

“Stop it, Reia!” Taiga scolded the boy who had pulled Ren back at the top of the stairs, but had to release him now that Taiga had pulled him back and made him stand next to him.

“Oh god what happened here?” Reo was suddenly heard downstairs and when Taiga looked down to the corridor Reo and Juri were looking up to them on the stairs, but at the same time Ren tried to run away once more.

“Wait, don't think you can just leave like this!” Taiga scolded the boy and pulled him back on his arm. Unfortunately Ren hadn't calmed down a bit and he swirled around, pushing Taiga away once more. This time though there was nothing to stop Taiga’s fall and even though Reia jumped forward right away he wasn’t fast enough to catch him as he fell down the stairs.

“TAIGA,” Juri was heard appalled and he managed at least to somehow catch the boy before he hit the floor after the last steps. “Reo, get him!”

Reo didn’t even need to get told twice as he already jumped up the stairs rushing after Ren who tried to run away from him while Reia rushed down the stairs towards Juri and Taiga.

“Is he okay?” Reia asked in worry as he sank to his knees next to them.

“I’m fine, don’t worry,” Taiga let out, but was obviously not able to get back up without help.

“Take it slow, there is no need for you to get up,” Juri scolded him. “We have to treat your cuts as well. Don’t tell me he actually throw you through the door?”

When Taiga didn’t reply Juri looked at Reia who nodded with a guilty expression. “It was my fault. I got into a fight with Ren and Taiga tried to stop us and in the end Ren freaked at him instead.”

“Don’t worry, I bet you had a good reason to get angry at him in the first place,” Juri said to calm the boy down as he clenched his hands into his jinbei, obviously ready to start crying.

Shouting from upstairs made them focus back to Reo who appeared at the stairs, dragging Ren at the hair.

“If you keep struggling I push you down the stairs as well and I make sure it will hurt a lot,” Reo yelled at the boy and shoved him into the wall before he dragged him down the stairs, making sure he couldn’t try kicking or punching around.

“What the actual…” Ryota and Shota were heard as they came to the back of the house about to take a break.

“Perfect timing, here,” Reo said and pushed Ren towards them. “Take him to Kamenashi immediately.”

The two boys didn’t need to hear more, just one look at Taiga and the broken wood made them take a tight grip on the boy.

“Don’t hurt him, you hear me?” Taiga said strictly to all their surprise.

“Taiga, he just threw you through a door and down the stairs, how can you still say that?” Juri asked a bit scolding this time.

“This is exactly why getting violent with him won’t help. He doesn’t see physical pain as something threatening. Just report to Kamenashi and wait for me I will be there in a moment,” Taiga explained as he tried to get up, but needed Juri and Reia to support him.

“If you say so,” was all Shota said before he had Ryota dragged the boy away, followed by Reo who observed the boy with a death glare, ready to kick him out of the next window into the river if he tried any stupid move again, but as Taiga had said the boy didn’t even seem to care.

“Can you for now just please come with me to our room so that I can have a look at your cuts and if you’ve any bad bruises from the fall?” Juri begged on which Taiga faced him with a softer look this time.

“Fine. And sorry for worrying you this much. I had hoped today would be a calm day.”

“You know as well as me that as soon as you take a day off it usually end in a disaster,” Juri said with an amused expression while Reia hurried upstairs already to get the medical supply together to help treating Taiga’s injuries.

“I really wonder how you can reach him.”

“You mean Ren? Maybe you can’t? I think there are some hopeless cases out there, no matter how hard we try to understand them.”

Taiga’s look darkened on that thought, because it could be indeed the case and it would be sad, because in the end Ren would try to run away and it would cost his head.

While carefully getting up the stairs, not putting too much weight on his right ankle as he could already feel that it was at least sprained.

“Are you worried for him?”

Taiga looked at Juri in confusion as he didn’t understand who he meant. Juri made a movement with his head towards the top of the stairs. “Reia.”

“I am not sure. It’s just that he gets so easily annoyed by Ren and now that they actually got into a fight and Ren seems to feel threatened by him I want to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

“We’ll all have an eye on them, don’t worry,” Juri promised. “But for now it’s time to think about yourself and I will force you to lay down later to have a rest if necessary so you better behave!”

Taiga let out a chuckle on hearing that, but for now he had enough fights for one day so he would obediently take a rest for the rest of the day, as soon as he had a talk with Kamenashi.

***

“Here you go, like new,” Massu said proudly as he handed Taiga his shamisen after attaching a new string which had ripped in one of the lessons.

“Thank you so much, right in time.”

“Are you sure you can already go out tonight?” Tegoshi asked worried after making Taiga tell him what had happened to his face, because the cuts and bruises weren’t yet completely healed.

“I will be fine, don’t worry. It’s not like I need more than my hands to play.”

“But there will be more than just playing the shamisen and you know that,” Massu added a bit worried as well.

Taiga rolled his eyes on that comment after all that was his work and he was used to do it even with some bruises. “You know that there were way worse situations for me, right?”

“I luckily wasn’t part of this area at that time. Each time I pass by Takizawa’s house and hear stories from Myuto, Hagiya and the other boys I am kind of happy your house goes a different path,” Massu admitted which made Tegoshi walk up to him and put his hand on his shoulder.

“Trust me the same applies for me. There are a lot of things we don’t need to repeat.”

Taiga’s hand automatically found the scar over his blind eye and he could see how Tegoshi’s look darkened a bit even though he flashed a smile.

“Oh, and don’t forget these.”

Tegoshi handed him the ordered Obi, because it was actually Tegoshi’s shop they were in, but somehow Taiga had hoped to find Massu with him and he was lucky so he had brought his shamisen as well.

“Thank you as always,” Taiga said while Tegoshi’s hand was now not on Massu’s shoulder anymore, but down to his collarbone and while Massu just flashed the boy an innocent smile and waved him good-bye, Tegoshi’s eyes already ripped the man from the chair and to the hidden backroom Taiga knew way too well.

“Please wait at least until I am out,” Taiga teased them before hurrying outside, because he always had to fear that they were not waiting after all and after visiting the shop at the worst timing before already he didn’t need it to happen again.

On his way back to the house Taiga had to cross the main street now that their house was next to the river and unfortunately at the other side of the district.

He greeted some female Oiran and people running errands on the way as he spotted Ryosuke and Noeru on their way back from the early shift at the tea house. Ueda was with them as Kamenashi had ordered to not leave them alone.

He wanted to hurry over to them to go back to the house together when someone suddenly grabbed him by the arm. Trouble was the last thing he needed now especially not before having to head out to the tea house later.

“Running away from us?”

Pure annoyance took over him as he turned around and hit Myuto with the bag from Tegoshi’s shop against the shoulder.

“Idiots you scared me!” Taiga scolded him and Hagiya who had suddenly approached him.

“I’d say sorry, but as you know I intended to do so.”

“Damn, what happened to your face? I thought your customers weren’t allowed to lay a hand on you that way anymore?” Hagiya asked as he took a closer look.

“It was more of an accident and no customer was involved. I have a pretty complicated kohai at the moment.”

Both boys exchanged a disbelieving look on which Taiga formed a questioning look.

“You want to tell me that your kohai did this? How bad was he punished?” Myuto asked.

“He wasn’t punished at all, as I said it was an accident.”

They weren’t buying it and why should they? It hadn’t been an accident, not at all, but why should everyone get to know about it?

“Well, anyway I hope you’ll be fine,” Hagiya said with a bit of a warning undertone. They would always jump in to help him and the others, but with Ren it would just backfire.

“How are things going at your house?” Taiga asked trying to change the topic and luckily it worked.

“Same as always, but Domoto enjoys his visits even more since he can’t go out on you and Reo anymore,” Myuto explained, but it was clear that there was no reason to worry. They all knew Domoto too well already to become a target of his bad mood and a bit of rough behavior they could all still take.

“Please be careful with new customers, I feel like we put a lot of pressure on your house,” Taiga apologized, but both boys just gave him a lopsided smile.

“At least we get more customers now so that makes up a bit for it,” Hagiya teased. “But we heard about the Oiran incident at the tea house before, were you really there when it happened?”

Taiga didn’t want to be reminded of it, but he slowly nodded.

“It was horrible and I hope it won’t happen again, but please be careful as well, okay?”

“I never expected something like this to happen in Yoshiwara as well,” Myuto said on which Taiga’s look turned to confused. “You didn’t hear? There had been murders before at other districts in Tokyo, but they had never been able to catch the murderer. Things had calmed down for a while, but then the same happened in some illegal businesses and they caught someone. But if it was the wrong person maybe the killer has come here now?”

“Or someone who just aimed to get attention through doing the same,” Hagiya said worried.

So here their hopes of this being just a personal motive slowly vanished into thin air, but when it had stopped in other districts as well they could just hope it was the same for Yoshiwara.

Chapter Text

Reo was with him at the tea house and somehow everything felt way calmer and safer like this already. Shintaro had come with them, now waiting in front of the room while both got ready.

“Reia could you hand me the green lipstick,” Taiga asked as he closed the ribbon of the obi in front of the red and white colored three layered kimono.

“Oh, you go with the full program again?” Reia said kind of happy as he hurried to bring the requested utensils to Taiga’s mirror.

“What do you mean? Don’t I use it regularly?”

“Not since Ryosuke arrived,” Reia replied.

Taiga hadn’t even noticed, but now that he got reminded of it he indeed never put on make-up or used fancy kimonos when with Ryosuke. Was his presence overwhelming him so much? After all the boy was nice and it wasn’t like they wouldn’t get along. It was quite the opposite actually and also Noeru helped a lot when Reia had no time to come with them.

“Great if we go for the whole thing then let me help you,” Reo interfered out of a sudden as he crouched down next to Taiga and made him turn a bit towards him.

“Wait, what are you doing?”

“Shut your eyes and hold still,” Reo demanded as he brought the black liner down towards Taiga’s face.

“Reo that one is for the eyebrows you know that, right?” Reia asked a bit worried, but Reo just let out a mischievous chuckle.

“Perfect. Here take a look!” Reo said as he moved out of the way and let Taiga take a look at himself. Reia gasped while Taiga’s eyes grew wide on the way his own look had drastically changed through two thin lines.

“What did you do? What kind of make-up is this?” Taiga asked almost panicked, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to get it off now that they were getting ready to go to the main room already.

“What? It looks awesome. Don’t you think your look is even stronger like this? I played around with it before and used Kentaro as a model and trust me he looks almost as good as you with the eyes lined in black, but damn you look stunning.”

Ridiculous was the word Taiga would have used, but maybe it was just because he wasn’t used to it?

“Reia what do you think?” Taiga addressed the younger one and took a look at him over the mirror, but there was no reply. “Reia?”

The boy kept staring back at him until he realized that both boys were now looking at him. In embarrassment he looked away. “It looks...good, I mean...it fits you…”

“Here we left the first one speechless, perfect let’s go,” Reo said as he got up and headed to the door without giving Taiga a chance to redo it.

“Reia, would you mind?”

The boy nodded immediately and hurried to enter the room first and introduce both of them. Reo was in a three layered kimono as well this time and was going to take on requests from the customers to write them haiku or show them calligraphy if they requested for it.

The request of having someone being good at it made Taiga wonder for the customers, but they weren’t allowed to ask for details of new customers and he had come to play the shamisen to entertain them and so he left the personal contact to Reo for now.

When Reia slid the door open for them Taiga didn’t miss the slightly confused look on the boy’s face and seconds later he realized what was going on.

Even Reo had stopped out of a sudden, giving Taiga a confused look, but what were they supposed to do? Customers were customers, no matter from what country.

The room was filled with laughter and loud voices in a different language. Taiga had no clue what they were talking about, but looking at the few foreign people in the room he guessed they were speaking English.

On their entrance though the room fell quite until one dark haired boy maybe not even older than Reo, but of a much stronger built let out a whistle. Even though he seemed still young he was way taller than everyone else in the room and was wearing a beige suit with a white shirt. On a closer look his hair seemed to have a red shine to it. He said something in English towards the Japanese person next to him and pointed at Taiga with an excited look before he clapped his hands in pure entertainment. It wasn’t clear if he was making fun out of them or if he was just really enjoying himself, but it was obviously the first time for him in a tea house.

Reo and Taiga bowed for now, Taiga sitting down with his shamisen while Reo walked over to one of the Japanese people on the side, greeting him and bowing towards the other customers as well.

The few Japanese people in the room kept translating for the others and it made Taiga slightly nervous and he could see how even Reo and Reia felt a bit uncomfortable.

“Please go on,” one of the Japanese members said towards Taiga who immediately bowed towards him and started playing.

The atmosphere relaxed soon especially with Reia starting to hand sake to Reo and he made his round giving it out to everyone. One of the foreigners stopped him and tried talking to him, but Reo’s eyes immediately searched for help and luckily one of the other members translated for him.

Taiga put the shamisen down and bowed once more after he was done with the third piece and the room had calmed down even more. Reo was now teaching one of the foreign people calligraphy and most of the others had gathered around them, completely stunned by the Japanese art.

Wanting to join them Taiga got ready to get up as the noisy boy from before suddenly stepped in front of him.

Even without standing up it was clear that he was extremely tall and somehow it made Taiga feel a bit nervous. The boy pointed at the shamisen and said something in English which Taiga couldn’t understand. With a confused expression he tilted his head and this time he understood what the boy said as he started chuckling on his behavior. The word “cute” was heard between his chuckles and it made Taiga feel a bit embarrassed.

“He asked you if you can sing as well.” One of the Japanese members shouted over to them and Taiga nodded towards him gratefully.

A bit hesitant Taiga nodded towards Jesse and brought out a shy yes. All the songs for the evening had been planned without him singing, because the conversations had been quite loud at the beginning, but now that some small groups had formed it was quiet enough and the boy sat down right in front of Taiga so he would definitely be able to hear him.

When Taiga wanted to lift up his shamisen already the boy stretched out his hand, which made Taiga slightly flinch.

“Jesse,” the boy said and Taiga needed a moment to realize that it was a self-introduction. Carefully he stretched his hand out and shook Jesse’s way too big hand.

“Taiga,” he said in a sheepish voice on which Jesse flashed him a bright smile and pulled back to give him some space to start playing and singing.

It was a weird feeling seeing someone so tall flashing such cute smiles while Taiga was performing. But it made him relax finally as well and it felt way easier to perform than before.

At the end Jesse clapped way too loud, making everyone stare at them and he slightly shook Taiga on his shoulders praising him for his talent as one of the Japanese members told him later.

With the tea house time slowly coming to an end some people got their last sake poured and when Reo started explaining how to form the right verses for haiku everyone was busy watching and translating.

“I will head for the toilet for a moment,” Taiga whispered towards Reia and the boy was ready to get up immediately. “Stay here, it’s okay. I will ask Shintaro to go with me,” Taiga promised, knowing that they were all worried at the moment, not knowing if another incident would occur.

Things were luckily quite at the tea house that night and Shintaro walked a few meters behind him on the way back to the room as someone else came down the corridor. Soon Taiga realized it was Jesse and he turned around signaling Shintaro to stay a bit on distance as it wasn’t usual for others than the Oirans and their assistants to be around so it was a bit impolite to the customers to have others at their private tea house time.

Taiga bowed towards him as he came closer and the boy flashed him another smile, but this time there was something else visible in his eyes. They were scanning him this time from head to toe. The interest was visible, but somehow there was also still some kind of hesitation and for now he just politely bowed a bit and left towards the toilet as well.

In no way did Jesse look dangerous to him, but getting interested in someone like him could indeed turn out dangerous for Taiga in the end, but it had been a while since he had found some interesting company in a tea house so he tried his best to keep the boy’s attention even while needing someone to translate.

***

 “That was somehow exhausting,” Reo said while stretching his arms into the air as they arrived back at the house. Reia brought their three layered kimonos back to the kimono room while Shintaro had to report to Kamenashi how things had been going at the tea house.

“But interesting as well,” Taiga said with a smile on which Reo kept observing him.

“Do I see some interest in today’s customers?”

“Maybe?” Taiga replied playful as they made their way towards the back of the house. Fu had already said that he would come for the night so Reo hadn’t been free to book for the night from the beginning. But a break after the tea house was the usual routine before going back to work and so both of them headed to their rooms for now.

“Taiga, are you there?” Ryota was heard from the corridor.

“Yes come in.”

He had just changed into a new work kimono of his. The pattern mostly in black with red, green, violet and blue parts crossing over the whole pattern, making it colorful without being annoying to the eye.

“You’ve got a customer.”

“Really? I thought I had no reservation today?”

“It’s someone from the tea house.”

The way his heart skipped a beat on hearing that it wasn’t clear if he was excited or nervous about hearing that, maybe both?

Following Ryota to the front of the house he couldn’t stop his thoughts from racing. What if it was someone else? Would he be disappointed?

“I gave him the red room at the end of the corridor,” Ryota explained on which Taiga thanked him and made his way down the corridor. Their new rooms had slightly different patterns. Some were divided by size, others by color. The red room had a red flower ikebana in the room which they all had to be able to make now as well and most of the rooms were designed by Kentaro and Shota who had a good sense for them.

With his heart hammering like crazy he finally made it to the room before carefully sliding the door open. He bowed immediately, luckily being able to hide his sheepish smile when he spotted Jesse sitting on the futon in the middle of the room. He was kind of impressed that the foreign boy had dared to make his way here all on his own.

“Thank you for visiting,” Taiga said as always, suddenly panicking as he realized that the boy couldn’t communicate with him.

“I didn’t know I was allowed to actually book you for a night that made me feel super excited.”

Usually Taiga would thank him now for showing that much interest, but all he could do was staring back at him with an open mouth. Soon Jesse started laughing at his behavior and Taiga hawked in embarrassment.

“My apologies, I didn’t want to be rude,” Taiga said immediately on which Jesse laughed even louder.

“Dude, I was the rude one. I am so sorry I didn’t tell you that I speak Japanese, but I like seeing how people react to me first,” Jesse said apologizing.

There was not actually a reason to be angry after all Jesse hadn’t made fun out of him. He could also somehow understand his concerns.

“So how does this work?”

“What do you mean?” Taiga asked curious as he sat down opposite of Jesse next to the futon, still leaving a bit of a safety space between them.

“I mean tonight, you know, you and me.”

It might not have been the best move to let out a chuckle on that question and Taiga hid his smile behind his hand immediately, but he couldn’t deny that Jesse acted way too confused and cute around this obviously new environment.

“Why did you come if you didn’t know?”

“Well, we got invited to the teahouse by our trading partners, just when you already left I was told about what else you were there for and it, well...fascinated me.”

And here he had heard rumors about the foreigners being rude and impolite when getting introduced to their traditions and arts. Especially in Yoshiwara their reputation hadn’t been that good until now, but Jesse was definitely an exception.

“So, this is the first time for you to come to Yoshiwara?”

“It’s my very first time in Japan in the first place. I’ve been only here for barely two weeks on a trading job and I’ve to say there are more and more interesting things showing up in front of me.”

“So am I one of those things to you?”

Jesse obviously needed a moment to understand the question and he immediately shook his head almost panicked. He crawled a bit to the front and grabbed one of Taiga’s hands without a warning making the latter flinch a bit on the tight grip. “You are not a thing to me! I hope I didn’t insult you?”

Again Taiga couldn’t hide a smile on the sweet way Jesse thought of his behavior as rude and he stroke over the boy’s hand soothingly. “Don’t worry, even if I was a thing to you that is how people here get treated. Don’t feel sorry for finding this environment special. This place is made for you to think a bit different than usual.”

Jesse relaxed a bit on hearing that and fell back on the futon with a long sigh. He was still way too stiff and nervous about the situation and it was time to find a way to make things easier for both of them so Taiga sat a bit closer to him with his hand stretched out towards him. He hadn’t missed the way Jesse had pulled back after his intuitive reaction. He had obviously heard about Japanese people usually not being that touchy with each other, but here things were different after all.

“You can touch me, it’s okay.”

Jesse finally took the invitation, but it was way too hesitant for his taste and Taiga put his hand on the latter’s hand, moving it over his upper arm up to his shoulders. “I might look fragile, but don’t worry you won’t break me.”

Finally the latter’s look changed and with a little bit more confidence he let his hands explore Taiga’s arms until the older one brought the latter’s hands up to his neck, making him explore the exposed parts of his collarbones and shoulders before he moved to Taiga’s face on his own. With a teasing smile Taiga welcomed the touch on his cheeks, slowly closing in to his lips.

“I am really sorry if I sound impolite again, but you look like a beautiful doll.”

“That’s a nice compliment thank you,” Taiga replied honestly.

Soon one of Jesse’s thumbs found Taiga’s scar over his eye and Taiga intuitively closed it for a moment.

“What happened?”

Before thinking of a reply Taiga took away the other one’s hand and kissed his fingers before his look darkened a bit. “It’s not directly related to this work if that worried you. We had to bring back a friend and sometimes sacrifices have to be made to retrieve happiness.”

When a hand landed on his hair and he was pulled to the front he wanted to look up, but then he had to shut his eyes when Jesse kissed his blind eye.

“Trust me we all know those sacrifices. My father went to war and told me that sacrifices have to be made to save other people’s lives. I was never able to tell him how grateful I was for his sacrifice of making the life I have now possible.”

“I am sorry to hear that,” Taiga said on which Jesse flashed a brief smile. “Both of our stories are in the past though and we live in the present.”

“You have a lot of wisdom stored in your Japanese knowledge for someone being in Japan for just two weeks,” Taiga teased him on which the other one started laughing again.

“I studied a lot overseas already. I also know some good Japanese jokes, my trading partners loved them.”

Taiga could imagine that right away, somehow the boy wasn’t the serious type no matter his past or his job.

“Okay sorry for the distraction, back to the topic,” Jesse said as he faced Taiga with a greedier look this time. “I was told some of the rules before, but I just want to be sure not to do something bad. Am I really allowed, you know… to have you for tonight?”

This time Taiga didn’t laugh as Jesse’s look remained completely serious. With a swift movement Taiga shifted to the front their faces now just inches away from each other. “I am all yours as long as you play by exactly those rules you heard about earlier. The rest is completely up to you.”

There was still some hesitation left in the other one’s look, but his eyes moved quickly down to Taiga’s lips and the older one leant closer to make the decision even easier and when he brushed his lips playfully over the younger ones, Jesse’s hands found their way back to Taiga’s hair, pulling him into a greedy kiss.

The other one’s excitement was noticeable in his unsteady touch switching between greedily pulling and pinching Taiga’s skin on his neck and pulling back a bit hesitant.

There was such a difference in their height and strength that it didn’t matter if Jesse tried to take things careful or not, because in the end he wouldn’t be able to adjust to Taiga and that was also not what Taiga wanted, it would take away the fun.

“Don’t hold back. I will let you know when I don’t like something,” Taiga whispered against the latter’s lips and put his arms around his neck while letting himself drop to the back so that Jesse crawled on top of him, keeping their lips close as he dared to put his hands a bit further inside the latter’s kimono to explore his chest.

When the younger one started to despair on trying to somehow open the obi Taiga lifted his hips a bit and helped him out.

“Another skill I have to master someday,” Jesse said teasingly before he went back to exploring the boy’s body now that he was able to get the kimono out of the way.

Now that Taiga had allowed the other one to touch him there was not so much hesitation left in the boy’s movement and it felt weirdly rough how the boy just put his hands on his hips or let them stroke over his thighs. It was a new kind of friction and Taiga closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath as he let this new feeling take over him.

When the touch on his skin was gone he dared to look up at the other one again and he was up in a sitting position immediately as he saw how Jesse started unbuttoning his own shirt.

“Oh am I getting an undressing service as well?”

“You get way more services if you ask,” Taiga replied while his hand found the boy’s belt and struggled a bit around the unknown sipper and bottom, but soon his long fingers were vanishing in the western style pants and Jesse’s look turned to even more excited.

“You should think twice about what you offer me from now on,” Jesse said, but first Taiga didn’t understand. Jesse guided his hand to his member with a smug look on his face and when Taiga’s hands found way more than he had thought he would he understood and bit his lip.

“Are you sure you can take it?”

“Well there is just one way to find out,” Taiga said confident as he helped Jesse out of the rest of his clothes, but he found himself staring down at Jesse’s already erected member. He would already need his mouth and both of his hands to be able to give him a full stimulation if Jesse asked him for it, which was not his plan as it seemed as he redirected Taiga’s concentration back to his face.

“Tell me when it gets too much.”

Taiga could just nod on that, but as nervous as he felt he also felt excited about the new experience and he guided Jesse’s hand to his mouth, the younger one’s eyes stuck on the boy’s tongue moving around his fingers.

“I hope I can ask for this favor at least?” Taiga asked playfully as he pulled back.

“There is no way I can reject anything you ask for,” Jesse replied with the same greedy expression as before and instead of making Taiga lay down again he pulled him more on his lap and kept his eyes on Taiga’s face while he carefully inserted one finger.

It was such a familiar movement and yet a complete different feeling and soon Taiga found himself rocking his hips against Jesse’s finger on which he inserted a second one immediately.

Why did it feel like he already got close to his limit? They hadn’t even started yet and he felt like there was no way he could take more. With the next movement Jesse shoved his fingers even deeper, making Taiga let out a low curse before he hid his face on the other one’s neck.

“Is cursing your way of letting me know that I do things right or wrong?” Jesse asked between teasing and worrying.

Instead of replying anything Taiga rocked his hips once more and tried to relax a bit more before he dared to face the other one once more and let his hands travel over the younger one’s cheeks. “If I start biting, you might have to worry.”

“Oh, why am I somehow finding that challenging?”

“Maybe you are a masochist?”

“Not just maybe,” Jesse replied before he curled up his fingers and forced the first real moan out of Taiga.

After some time passing with Jesse trying to drive him crazy alone with his fingers Taiga grabbed the other one by the hair and pulled himself a bit away from his lap.

“I like that look,” Jesse said astonished by the sudden dark aura Taiga spread through the whole room.

“If you don’t want it to swallow you maybe you should level things up or this game might end before it even started.”

“Am I that good?”

“Your fingers are at least, not sure about the rest?”

“Are you sure you really want to find out?” Jesse challenged him on which Taiga took actions himself and made Jesse pull out and sit back a bit so that he could crawl further on his lap. Yet when he took the other one’s erection in his hand a bit of his confidence seemed to leave him.

“Backing out after all?”

The foreign boy did know how to annoy him so Taiga finally moved and lowered himself, slowly but steady. But as much as he wanted to win the challenge there was no way he could take him in one go, so he started moving carefully on which Jesse gave him a lopsided smirk.

“Get that smug look off your face. I am not done yet,” Taiga hissed at him on which the other one gave him a disbelieving look.

“Want some help?”

Maybe distraction was the better word, but Taiga would refuse none of it anyway and they met halfway for another kiss. The one turning it messy was Taiga this time as it was obviously hard for him to coordinate his own body movements in his position and when Jesse moved his hands over his hips down over the back of his thighs he realized how tense he actually was.

“Mh, maybe you need a bit more help here than you think. How much am I allowed to get in control?”

“Until I tell you to stop,” Taiga challenged him and the other one took that offer immediately and pulled Taiga’s legs up on which he fell on the futon with Jesse hovering over him.

Already the first push from Jesse’s hips made Taiga’s body tense automatically and his back arched away from the intrusion.

“You’re good in running away,” Jesse said almost praising before his hands found Taiga’s hips to hold him better in place before he leant more to the front and Taiga used that moment to claw his hands into the other one’s back to Jesse’s obvious surprise. The sudden action made the younger one thrust in further and forced another moan out of Taiga.

“I like your voice even more like this as when you’re singing,” Jesse whispered in front of Taiga’s lips, but the boy was too distracted to even reply. The kiss following was throwing Taiga even more out of balance and without even knowing why he started struggling, but how would he even be able to win against Jesse?

The other one seemed to find a liking in the way he could take full control over his movements and he thrusted in even deeper this time on which Taiga escaped a gasped into the other one’s mouth. His fingernails dug even deeper into the other one’s skin, but it didn’t seem to bother Jesse.

For a moment longer Jesse seemed to try and take it a bit slower, but that made Taiga relax and if he did he also got into control of his moans and that was something Jesse obviously didn’t like.

“Don’t stay silent,” he demanded, but Taiga gave him a challenging look and licked his lips.

It was a trigger that got pulled immediately inside Jesse and his movements turned to even rougher and even though Taiga thought he was able to adjust he wasn’t prepared for Jesse having so much left to thrust in to him and when his full length buried inside him with the next thrust his moan ended up being more high pitched than he wanted.

The sudden shock made his body get weirdly aroused even more and Jesse also enjoyed the way Taiga had started shivering under him and lost the ability to even complain as his body seemed to collapse in between the pain and the pleasure.

His moans continued with every new thrust, but now they were deeper and Jesse adjusted with faster thrusts as he realized how close the other one was. However, aroused by the sounds filling the room Jesse was the first one to come. Not forgetting about Taiga he took care of him immediately and just a few strokes over his erection were enough for Taiga to follow him. Alone the touch of the other one’s hands was too much for him to take now and for the first time he wasn’t able to say if he felt good or not after finding release. It had been painful yet he had never been that easily been driven to a corner unable to follow the pace of his customer.

“Are you okay?”

And here the boy was back to his sweet behavior immediately, dropping a brief kiss on Taiga’s forehead as the boy kept breathing heavily with his eyes closed.

“I think I didn’t screw up completely at least?” Jesse asked.

“What makes you believe that?” Taiga asked curiously as he finally came down from his climax.

“You didn’t bite me.”

This time Taiga couldn’t stop from laughing and luckily Jesse joined in as well.

After a few minutes in silence Taiga realized how he was about to fall asleep if they didn’t start talking again, but when he looked up he found Jesse fetching his pants.

“Are you in a hurry?”

“What? No, I just thought, you know...I need to leave, don’t I?”

Taiga flashed him another smile on that question and got up in a sitting position. “Actually you can stay until the morning hours, just if you want of course.”

“Wait, do I have to pay more if I do?”

Another laughter from Taiga followed before he shook his head. “Don’t worry. The payment is for a whole night. So you can of course leave at any time, but you could also stay until the morning.”

The other one seemed to consider it and there were obviously other thoughts crossing his mind on this offer as well on which Taiga carefully got up on his knees, ignoring the slight pain around his crotch.

“Staying the night doesn’t just include sleeping if you have other wishes,” Taiga whispered next to his ear on which Jesse’s eyes got the same shine as before back, but luckily he gave them both a bit more time to take a break, which didn’t mean that he was done for now, because now he was definitely staying the night.

Chapter Text

“Taiga?”

Three times he had ignored the calling of his name, but of course that ended in the other one finally trying to make him wake up through shaking him on the shoulder.

“Would you at least answer me so I know you are okay?”

He hated it how easily the boy was always worrying for him and with a groan he finally turned on his side and looked up at Reia with a sleepy look. “All good.”

“Are you sure? It’s rare for you to not even realize when your customer gets up.”

Getting reminded of that Taiga turned around, but Jesse was indeed gone. Carefully he sat up, letting the light blanket slid down to his hips on which Reia suddenly turned away and got up. “I’ll get you one of your yukata.”

“I’ve my kimono here. Reia-”

But the boy was gone already. It made Taiga chuckle how easily Reia felt embarrassed. Not wanting to wait until Reia was back Taiga wanted to get up and get his kimono which had somehow ended up in the corner.

With a hiss he fell back on the futon once more, but what had he expected? It wasn’t like they hadn’t slept at some point, however until that time Jesse had indeed enjoyed his time and Taiga would need some days to recover, not that it had in any way been bad.

When he got up to get his kimono from the corner he stepped on something on the futon and when he looked down at the small object he realized that it was a small paper envelope. So small that it easily fit in his hand when he lifted his up.

First he thought about opening it, but then he realized that Jesse had most likely dropped it and it would be impolite to not try and give it back to him.

He hurried into his kimono and put the small paper into his sleeve for now, hoping that Jesse might come by again before he left the country.

When he suddenly heard a sound of something shattering on the ground he made his way out of his room and down the corridor.

 “I swear you’re gonna pay for this!”

“Are you sure?”

When Taiga walked around the next corner he found Ren holding Reia by the collar, but this time Reia wasn’t actually looking like he wanted to pick a fight. Ren on the other hand seemed extremely pissed.

“What is going on here?” Taiga asked as calm as possible, hoping that he could somehow solve the situation without another huge outburst and luck seemed to be with him as Kentaro appeared down the corridor. He remained on distance, but signaled Taiga that he was there to observe the situation and would interfere if Ren went wild once more.

“I was on my way to get your yukata and he made me stumble,” Reia said way calmer than he would usually face such a situation. When Ren pulled him even closer on the collar on that comment Taiga stepped closer and to his surprise Ren released the other one, but of course not without pushing him unnecessarily against the wall.

“And what is this?” Taiga asked as one of the Ikabana vases they kept around the entrance was lying shattered on the ground.

“I wanted him to apologize, but of course he wouldn’t and then he freaked again and tried to attack me with the vase,” Reia explained and showed a cut on his lower arm.

Taiga wanted to reply something when Ren suddenly started chuckling. “Are you sure you want to leave it at this explanation?”

“Is there anything else you want me to add maybe?” Reia asked on which Taiga looked a bit confused from one to the other. Their looks were cutting the air between them and both their behaviors seemed weird, nevertheless Taiga preferred it this way instead of both going berserk once more.

“Okay, forget it, let’s leave it at this for now. Ren clean up this mess. Reia you come with me and we will treat your wound.”

Reia moved down the corridor immediately, but Taiga didn’t miss the almost arrogant look towards Ren, but the other one also had something extremely dangerous nesting in his eyes and it was surprising that he was able to keep it inside this time.

***

 “Here try it,” one of the customers said, handing the cigarette to Taiga. It wasn’t a good move to refuse customers and while he had become used to drinking, smoking wasn’t really his thing. Nevertheless he took the cigarette from Ryosuke’s recently regularly coming customer in the tea house. As expected though he ended up coughing, leaving half of the room laughing at him and Reia hurried to hand him a glass of water.

“Not made for the hard things, mh?”

“He is made for the beautiful things,” Ryosuke interfered playfully as he had handed out two other cigarettes to some of his other customers. It wasn’t the only regular group which was booking Ryosuke in the tea house now and Taiga often ended up with them as well on Ryosuke’s suggestion.

The next thing that was heard was Ren clicking his tongue, but this time Ryosuke didn’t seem to be in the mood of letting it pass. Taiga wanted to interfere as he was the boy’s senpai, but Ryosuke was faster and dragged the boy away from the customers, giving him a harsh scolding.

To Taiga’s surprise it seemed to have at least a bit of an effect. Maybe it would be better to punish the boy after all when he got rude and didn’t want to work? After all he wasn’t an assistant like Reia, but supposed to work as all of the other boys.

For now Ryosuke send him outside to get more cigarettes for the customers.

Ryosuke went back to the table Taiga was at, entertaining the customers and succeeded in pulling Taiga a bit to the side while the customers were laughing loudly, talking to the two female Oirans which they had booked together with them.

“You’re getting almost as famous as Kentaro,” Taiga whispered while he tried to get the weird feeling out of his lungs which spread through his body. Before Ryosuke had arrived he didn’t have many customers which smoked or made him smoke, but recently he felt even worse doing it or the cigarettes had just become a lot stronger he wasn’t sure.

“I was first in ranking in my district, so who knows maybe I can overtake him,” Ryosuke joked before he waved Noeru over. He handed him an empty sake bottle and asked him to get a new one from the servants downstairs.

“Make sure that Shintaro is with you,” Ryosuke hurried to add before the boy left the room.

“Isn’t Shintaro with Ren?” Taiga asked a bit panicked and wanted to get up, but Ryosuke pulled him back down with a soothing expression. “Didn’t Kamenashi tell you that Ren argued so much with him about it that he allowed him to be by himself?”

That sounded a lot like Ren, but it didn’t take away Taiga’s worries.

“Ah I forgot,” Ryosuke said out of a sudden and slid the door open, but the boy was already gone.

“What is it?”

“One of the customers asked for a special sake earlier. I will hurry after them.”

Before Taiga could even offer to go with him or make him wait the boy flashed him a smile and hurried down the corridor.

“Shall I go with him?” Reia offered, but Taiga shook his head.

“Don’t worry, it will be alright. We should stop worrying so much.”

Even though he said this to make the other one calm down he still couldn’t shake of this weird feeling around Nakanocho recently.

On the request of some tea Taiga wanted to hurry over to get it for the customers as he suddenly lost balance the moment he wanted to get up. Reia was right next to him and grabbed him by the arm.

“Are you alright?”

“Sorry, all good, just a bit dizzy. Maybe I drank too much.”

“You barely had two cups of sake over the last hour,” Reia said skeptical. “Are you getting ill again?”

“What, are you feeling bad again?” Ryosuke was heard worried from the door when he entered together with Noeru and brought the sake.

“It’s not a big deal,” Taiga tried to make them believe, but of course Reia was up in the corridor once more.

“I will ask the staff if they have something for you.”

Taiga gave up discussing with the boy and let him and Shintaro had downstairs once more. Lost in his thoughts he flinched when Ryosuke suddenly put his hand on his forehead.

“Mh, you don’t seem to have a fever. Are you feeling cold?”

“Just a bit dizzy, nothing more. Seriously please stop worrying.”

Ryosuke showed an apologizing smile on that, but what else could he expect? The last weeks had been quite rough for all of them.

“The customers will leave in like half an hour, just hold on a bit longer, okay?”

What else was he supposed to do anyway? And luckily after a bit more small talk here and there, another empty sake bottle and a few more cigarettes the customers were leaving. It wasn’t like they had drunk way too much, but they seemed in a weirdly way hyper and tipsy as if they had drank the whole night, but it was somehow fun to watch and the boys bowed towards them as they were guided outside.

When Taiga went back into the dressing room Reia kept observing him nonstop until Taiga let out a sigh. “I am feeling better if you could finally calm down after hearing that?”

“Mh, maybe if you make it back to the house without stumbling,” Reia said with a small smile. Luckily he could tell that Taiga wasn’t lying and the weird dizziness feeling had finally dissolved.

The next moment Reia hissed when Ren shoved him out of the way to throw the remaining layers of Taiga’s kimono on the ground. “Aren’t you cute? How about you make yourself useful instead of showing your senpai how much you love him?”

“I don’t- … you can do that work by yourself!” Reia replied annoyed, getting irritated by the boy’s behavior even more than usual this time. “And you are not supposed to throw the expensive kimono on the ground, you know that!”

“Oh, my apologies!” Ren replied mocking on which Reia got ready to start a fight in the tea house, but luckily Noeru was faster and pulled the boy back before he folded the kimono carefully.

“Shall we go?” Noeru asked neutral as if nothing had happened, before he shoved the bag with the kimono against Ren’s chest. One warning look was enough for Ren to take the bag from him, but Taiga didn’t miss the annoyed glance over to Reia as the boy looked mockingly back at him.

They all went downstairs together, Ryosuke chatting with Shintaro about some bars they had in Yoshiwara and where his favorite places to go were.

Without a warning Reia stopped in the middle of the corridor on which Taiga almost bumped into him. “What is it?”

Everyone else turned towards them as well as they realized that he had stopped and Taiga’s look turned to worried immediately as he realized that the boy was slightly shaking.

“Reia, what is it? Tell me!” Taiga said a bit stricter this time as he moved in front of the boy, finding the boy looking up at him with a terrified look.

“This smell…”

They all fell quiet until Noeru was the first one to gasp and put his hand up over his mouth and nose.

“Out, now!” Taiga said and pulled Reia with him down the corridor. Everyone caught up with the situation immediately and they rushed outside.

“You stay here!”

“What, are you crazy?” Reia suddenly yelled at Taiga as he and Ryosuke were about to turn back to the tea house. Almost desperately he clawed his hands into the other one’s arm.

“Reia, this is an order!” Taiga put the boy into place before he looked at Shintaro. “Take them further away from the building, but make sure to stay visible on the main street.”

Shintaro didn’t even try to discuss with Taiga and he grabbed Reia by the arm and shoved Ren down the street, luckily getting help from Noeru as the other one seemed to have full trust into Ryosuke and made sure to go on safe distance from the house for now.

Ryosuke and Taiga hurried to talk to the staff of the house, making sure someone would get the police immediately and warn the other customers and Oiran.

Carefully they moved back into the corridor they came from before and started checking the rooms.

“Be careful,” Ryosuke whispered each time they slowly opened a new door, but it was actually so quiet in the corridor that they doubted that the murderer was still around. Like before everything seemed to have happened unnoticed and quiet.

With the next door Taiga could already tell how the well-known nausea took over him the moment he slid the door open and the smell of blood felt way too overwhelming.

“Not again…”

But it was the same picture in front of them unfortunately. This time though it was an Oiran assistant being the victim. They could tell by her clothes, but it would be hard to identify her. The same cruel murder had been performed on her and her throat was slid with her face cut to a degree that she was unrecognizable.

“Let’s leave the rest to the police, shall we?” Ryosuke suggested and pulled Taiga a bit away from the room before they could get too affected by the scene in front of them.

So it had been the calm before the storm after all. What if their calm time was over with this and they had to fear for everyone’s life from now on? An Oiran, an assistant...who was going to be next? By what pattern was the murderer going by?

***

“Don’t ask, please.” Taiga said as he joined Juri in their room late at night after Aran had brought them back to their house once more. He couldn’t stand everyone’s worried looks and the least he needed now was pity, after all he wasn’t the one dead.

“You want to sleep?” Juri asked neutral on which Taiga went over to the cupboard to change into his night yukata. Juri waited patiently on the futon until the older one joined him.

Without another word Taiga buried his forehead against the latter’s chest as Juri threw the blanket over both of them and carefully kissed the other one’s hair. “Good night.”

He really tried too hard to not make Taiga feel weak and here it was hard to tell if it was helping or not. The only thing Taiga could tell was that pretending that everything was okay wasn’t helping.

“Do you think I am weaker than the others?”

“Maybe more emotional?” Juri replied in a low voice and pulled the other one closer.

“I mean Ryosuke and Noeru seemed to be of the tough type from the beginning, but Reia, I don’t know...he seems so distracted recently.”

“Distracted with you and Ren, isn’t that good in a way? Like that he keeps his thoughts of those incidences.”

“What do you mean?” Taiga asked a bit confused, but still kept his face hidden on the other one’s chest, already feeling how he got too tired for this conversation.

“You didn’t notice? Since Ren came into the house you try so hard to somehow get to him that Reia looks at you two kind of jealous all the time.”

Taiga had to let out a chuckle on hearing that. “He has me in the teahouse the whole time.”

“And here we both know that it’s not enough for him.”

This time Taiga fought himself out of his sleepy state once more to look up at the other one. “You noticed?”

“Who wouldn’t if not me? I always see the way he looks at you and when he realizes I am watching he always looks so embarrassed, almost sorry.”

“Does it bother you? Shall I talk to him?” Taiga asked worried, but Juri shook his head and stroked Taiga’s hair.

“You know talking won’t solve this. How about you solve it for good?”

It was still fascinating Taiga how selfless Juri was and it hurt every time, because no matter how much he said it was okay there was always a part which was definitely not okay with it.

“I will think about it,” Taiga said in a sleepy voice as he cuddled himself back against the other one’s chest, slowly falling asleep in the younger one’s arms.

Chapter Text

It was the second round already in which Taiga had been left out in the end, but he couldn’t keep up with Kentaro and Fuma no matter how often he joined them.

“You can always join for a third round,” Fuma teased him as Taiga got back into his kimono.

“Oh trust me I’d love to, but to be honest I fear the noon opening hours are almost over.”

“Doesn’t Reia usually tell you when it’s closing time?” Kentaro asked as he slowly sat up, but ended up getting attacked by Fuma right away, making him giggle as the latter’s tongue found his collarbone.

“That’s what he usually does, yes. Let me just check the time, okay?”

“Take your time,” Fuma was heard muffled against the other one’s chest and Taiga left the room shaking his head. Was there even a reason to pay for him as well when he usually spent his time mostly on Kentaro anyways?

Looking out at the corridor Taiga saw how Taisuke brought Hiromitsu to the exit and the customer waved at him with a smile before he left.

“Is the noon time over?” Taiga asked as he approached his senpai.

“Yes it is, didn’t Reia tell you?”

“No he didn’t come to our room.”

“Mh weird, a while ago he already came to our room.”

Why did it worry Taiga out of a sudden? Maybe he was still busy going around the other rooms?

“Go and look for him, I will throw out Fuma.”

With a chuckle Taiga thanked him and kept walking through the corridors of the front of the house. The rooms on his way were all empty, no customer left as it seemed.

He made his way towards the rooms in the back of the corridor they usually didn’t use at noon hours when he heard a noise from somewhere at the end of the corridor. The rooms there were specially reserved for evening guests from the teahouse so no one should be in there. Halting his steps Taiga suddenly felt weirdly uncomfortable. The next time he heard the noise he was sure he hadn’t misheard. It was a whimper, not of the sad type, but of the desperate one. A sound not coming out as it should be, because someone was trying to keep the sounds hidden.

With a wave of rage already filling his body Taiga hurried down the corridor. It couldn’t be. There was no way he would have gone that far. There was no reason for it or was there…

The sounds got louder the closer he got and it took Taiga a lot of effort not to rip the door out of its frame as he slid it open. The picture in front of him was exactly what he had feared, yet it didn’t make any sense to him.

Reia turned his face away the moment he saw Taiga on which Ren let go of him after he had obviously violently tried to keep him silent. But the damage had already been done and there was no way Taiga could make up for not realizing the danger earlier. Reia was shivering all over, his sobs filling the room while Ren backed off, closing his yukata as if he had just been done with a customer.

“What? You wanted me to work, right?”

The arrogant smile on the latter’s face made Taiga freak and he stormed into the room, taking Ren by the hair and dragging him out to the corridor. This time he was at full strength and he wouldn’t let Ren push him around. Never would he let this boy do as he liked. He was obviously more of a demon than Taiga had thought.

“Let go, you are hurting me!” Ren complained on which Taiga slammed him into the wall with such a force that the boy let out a pained yelp.

“Hurting you? Boy, trust me you don’t know what pain is yet!”

Once more Taiga dragged the boy along the corridor and when Ren started struggling with all his might Taiga got violent with him for the first time and hit him quite hard on the head.

“What is going on? Taiga, what are you doing?” Reo was heard worried as he hurried down the corridor towards him.

“Explanations later, keep an eye on Reia. Please?” Taiga tried to sound as calm as possible, but Reo was fast in catching up with the situation and he hurried past them towards the room from where they could hear even louder sobs and cries now.

When they had made it to the front of the corridor Taiga dragged the boy towards the center garden where they were now visible for all the people in the front of the house.

“Taiga, what’s going on?” Taisuke yelled over to him after he had obviously made Fuma leave. Kentaro stood next to him with a confused yet alarmed expression while Taiga kept dragging the boy on the hair with Ren screaming at him furiously.

Without being able to stop him they all had to watch as Taiga threw Ren into the pond they had in the middle of the inside garden.

“Are you out of your mind?” Taisuke scolded him, not knowing of the situation.

“STAY OUT OF THIS,” Taiga yelled back at his senpai, making Taisuke’s and also Kentaro’s look turn to stunned. Never had he spoken up this impolite against his senpais.

With the next move Taiga jumped into the pond as well, pulling Ren back as the boy tried to run away from him.

“You want to know what pain is? I will show you,” Taiga hissed at the other one and pushed his head down, forcing it underwater.

“Okay, that is getting too far, we’ve to stop him!” Kentaro was heard worried next to them and Taiga saw them hurrying over to them, but then their steps stopped and Taiga turned to have a quick look at what was going on. To his surprise he found Kamenashi standing next to them and he had stopped them.

The owner’s expression didn’t seem pleased and Taiga knew he was going to get into a lot of trouble later, but he didn’t care. When their looks met Taiga turned back to Ren who had started struggling for his life after more seconds had passed. Kamenashi wouldn’t stop him and that was all he needed to know for now.

After about thirty seconds Taiga pulled the boy up and Ren let out some painful coughs while he tried to claw Taiga’s face to make him let go. The older one immediately pushed him down once more. Ren’s struggle started even fast this time, but Taiga let him underwater even longer.

“Taiga,” Kamenashi let out warningly on which he pulled Ren up once more. This time the boy had no energy left to struggle that much anymore as he tried to take some deep breaths, interrupted by his coughing.

“I tell you this once,” Taiga hissed and made the boy face him, his fingers clawing the other one’s cheekbones. “Each time you dare to disrespect any member, customer or other person in Yoshiwara, each time you dare to speak up, hurt someone or even give us a disrespectful look I will throw you back into this pond and I will add five more seconds for each time you mess up. You don’t seem to care for others and even less for yourself, so I will also stop caring for you. Let’s see if there is any kind of survival instinct in your poisoned mind.”

Ren was still too exhausted and obviously too shocked to give a clear reply to that and Taiga shoved him back into the pond, but let go of him this time. Ren swallowed some water again on the sudden move, but didn’t try to speak up against him or attack. After he had crawled back to the side of the pond Taiga moved out of it to the other side towards Kamenashi and the others.

To his surprise he found Juri next to them holding a yukata in his hands. Even Ryota and Shota were standing at the door to the back of the house, looking at everything from a safe distance. But the only thing that was important to him was that none of them seemed to judge him.

Taiga threw his kimono right next to the pond and grabbed the yukata Juri was holding out to him with a brief thank you on which Juri gave him an understanding nod.

“Please give me a few more minutes,” Taiga asked of Kamenashi as his look fell down the corridor towards the open door and the owner knew of course that this situation wasn’t solved yet.

“Take your time, but make sure to find me in my room as soon as everything calmed down. I will make sure that Tatsuya or Shintaro will always have an eye on Ren from now on.”

Taiga thanked the owner and apologized quickly to his senpais for his impolite behavior before he went down the corridor, not even spending Ren any more attention.

Arriving back at the room he found Reo holding Reia in his arms. The boy was still crying and his body was shaking nonstop.

“Thank you Reo,” Taiga whispered as he dropped on his knees next to them on which Reia’s cries suddenly seemed to get even louder and he clawed his hands into the other one’s sleeves.

“It’s okay. Don’t worry,” Reo said soothingly as he carefully pushed Reia a bit to the back. What didn’t surprise Taiga was when the boy didn’t turn towards him, but curled up against the wall instead.

Reo gave him a sad look on his behavior, but Taiga shook his head and whispered another thank you towards the younger one. Reo got up and shut the door to give them some private time to talk.

For a while longer Taiga remained silent, looking at the boy in front of him. Reia’s working clothes were torn, the room had been turned into a mess and there were even claw marks on the tatami floor. The blood on the floor didn’t come from that though and it hurt Taiga even more. How had they not realized what was going on? How much had the boy fought and tried to stop Ren without them noticing?

“I’m sorry…”

It was almost inaudible between Reia’s ongoing sobs and Taiga’s heart felt like it had been stabbed.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry….”

He kept going on and on until Taiga couldn’t take it anymore and he moved closer and pulled Reia against his chest. The boy’s cries turned louder again on that action, but Taiga wouldn’t let him go.

“Don’t say that ever again. This is not your fault! Don’t apologize!”

Reia tried to get away from Taiga, but the older one just tightened his grip and when the boy realized he wouldn’t get away he turned around, hiding his face against Taiga’s chest instead.

“I feel so embarrassed…” he whispered and it brought tears into Taiga’s eyes this time.

“I should be the one saying that! I should also be the one apologizing. I didn’t realize that you were in danger. I am the one who messed up and I am so sorry for being at fault for you having to go through such a painful experience.”

Reia grabbed Taiga’s arms with a tight grip as he shook his head, but there was no need to keep arguing. They were both hurt, both disappointed.

“I made him angry,” Reia said in a shaking voice after a few minutes in silence in which he slowly got in control of his emotions. “I challenged him and now I’ve to deal with the consequences.”

Taiga didn’t need to ask somehow he knew already that something like this had been going on. Yet Reia needed to get it off his chest so he let him keep talking.

“I was the one who broke the vase the other day. I cut myself on the arm. I wanted to show him that he was worthless, that no one would believe him even if he told you I was a liar.”

It had worked. Taiga couldn’t deny that he easily saw Ren as the bad one and Reia as the victim, but challenging the boy like that had indeed made Reia the victim in the end.

Taiga couldn’t scold him. There was no way he would tell him that he was wrong, at least not now.

“I should have spent more attention to you. I should have taken better care of you.”

It was a weird chuckle swallowed by another sob coming from Reia on Taiga’s words. “You are there for me all the time and yet I was jealous of him getting so much attention from you. It’s just...I…”

Here they were back at the topic. Each time Reia was about to speak about it he crawled back into his shell, but somehow Taiga knew he wouldn’t do so this time.

Reia took another shaking breath before he dared to speak again and Taiga felt how he teared up once more knowing already what he would say. “I wanted it to be you. I always wanted to ask, yet I felt way too embarrassed about it. You were the one who made it possible for me to be an assistant instead of one of the boys, you also have Juri at your side...there was no way I would ruin your happiness.”

This time Taiga was the one to start crying as he pulled Reia even closer and placed a kiss on his hair. “Idiot, you should have asked. I was waiting for you to ask all this time.”

There was no surprise on Reia’s face hearing that, after all he had definitely been aware of how easily Taiga could read his expression each time Taiga undressed in front of him or put makeup on.

“I am sorry….”

And they were back at apologizing, but what else was left to say? Taiga pulled the boy even closer in his embrace as Reia closed his hands around his body. Those wounds would need a long time to heal for both of them. Important was that they were aware of what the other one was feeling and that they kept talking things through from now on to make sure that something like this would never occur ever again.

***

Even though the preparations for the upcoming Yoshiwara Matsuri were going as planned the atmosphere in the house was unbearable dark. There was no way they were allowed to take off because of the recent happenings in the house, but the teahouses didn’t have as many guests as before through the murders, so most of the time all of them were just working inside the house, taking care of their regular customers.

“You should really take a break.”

Taiga ignored the person coming inside the kimono room after it had been already the third one bothering him. Reo had given up when Fu had come by, but Kentaro had been more persistent until Taiga almost picked a fight with him.

When the kimono he was folding together was taken out of his hands he wanted to snatch it back, but Ryosuke was faster and put it on one of the cupboards before he sat down next to Taiga on the tatami.

“I should really put a lock on that door when I work,” Taiga hissed.

“Maybe shut it in the first place?”

A short look over his shoulder showed that he had indeed left the door wide open the whole time, so it was no wonder that everyone was trying to talk him into a break.

“You don’t have to finish Reia’s work at the same speed, you know that. You are not an assistant and you have customers as well, why won’t you leave it to other assistants?”

“Like who? Ren?” Taiga shot at Ryosuke more annoyed than he wanted and the older one seemed not pleased with his aggressive behavior.

“Sorry, I know I shouldn’t behave like this. But I also can’t face Ren at the moment.”

“Better don’t or you might drown him for good this time,” Ryosuke said as he started helping Taiga folding the freshly washed kimonos.

It was a joke, of course. Yet Taiga couldn’t take it as one, because the chance that he would actually do it was there and it scared him a bit.

“Hey, don’t space out,” Ryosuke warned him as Taiga kept looking at the ground instead of folding the next kimono. When Ryosuke wanted to take it away from him Taiga tried to be faster and pulled the kimono away, but Ryosuke trapped his hands on which Taiga froze in his movements and looked up at the other one.

“Everyone in the house told me how stubborn you are and how easily you load all the problems and guilt on your shoulders. I thought they were exaggerating, but I fear they didn’t.”

Was it because Ryosuke still didn’t know him that well that he looked so worried or was he just way more patient than all the others? Because recently he got scolded more than actually worried for.

Lost in his thoughts he flinched when one of Ryosuke’s hands found the scar over his eye with a light touch and with a shiver Taiga closed his eye.

“Don’t you think you have proven yourself enough already?”

A bit hesitant Taiga moved his own hand up and took Ryosuke’s hand away. “Maybe I need to prove myself that I am not becoming like those I feared for so long.”

“You protected your kohai there is nothing wrong with that.”

“And still rage is the only emotion I can feel over the past week. I didn’t even once enter Reia’s room to ask how he is feeling.”

“And Reia didn’t come out either, so he doesn’t want to talk about it yet. Give him time,” Ryosuke soothed him with a brief smile while he took one of Taiga’s hands in both of his with a tighter grip this time. “Maybe taking a break inside the house isn’t actually what you need at the moment.”

There was a brief moment of silence before there was a small chuckle from Ryosuke on which Taiga lifted an eyebrow. “What is it?”

“Nothing, all good. Make sure to take a break when you are done here, okay?”

Without any kind of explanation Ryosuke got up and flashed Taiga another bright smile before he headed to the open doors and wanted to head towards the front of the house.

“Whoa, you scared me.”

When Taiga turned around to see what was going on he found Ryosuke looking at someone who was standing next to the door, but he had to shift a bit more to the front to be able to see who it was.

“Juri, is something the matter?” Taiga asked as he saw his boyfriend standing next to the door. Juri needed a moment to realize that he had addressed him and he looked up at Ryosuke first before he faced Taiga with a weird expression and shook his head.

“No, all good. I was just on my way to take a break.”

Before Taiga could reply anything Juri vanished up the stairs to their living quarters.

“Seems like we all need some time off,” Ryosuke said looking after Juri.

***

It was one sleepless night after the other and after finally falling asleep at some point Taiga didn’t want to get up at all, but he needed to, because after all he had to take care of all the errands Reia was usually in charge off. He knew the boy needed some more time, so for now he had to at least try and cover up for him. Luckily he didn’t have any reservations in any tea house until the evening either.

With a groan he turned around, hoping to find Juri’s chest to snuggle into, but his forehead hit the boy’s back, which actually surprised him, because even if he turned away at night it was usually always Juri who faced him in the morning no matter if he was asleep or not.

Carefully Taiga got up, not wanting to wake up Juri as the boy didn’t need to help him with all the duties he shouldered himself with. Getting into one of his yukata, a new one he got from Tegoshi the year before as a birthday present. It was white with a blue bamboo pattern, which had Taiga actually ask if he had somehow mixed up the colors, but it had been Juri’s idea to make the bamboo blue, because like that the yukata was as unique as the kimono he still cared for so much.

With quiet steps Taiga made his way towards the front of the house. Except for a few of the assistants no one else was awake yet, but Taiga had spotted Shintaro in front of Ren’s room. For now he didn't want to bother though. For the night they were putting a lock on his door and at day time Tatsuya or Shintaro would make sure that he was doing the work Kamenashi ordered him to do.

Getting ready to leave Taiga slid open the front door of the house, but collided with someone trying to get inside, obviously in a hurry. The boy stepped back immediately and wanted to apologize as he realized who was standing in front of him.

“Taiga…” Reia let out startled, grabbing the bag he was holding now even tighter. “What are you doing here so early in the morning?”

“Isn’t that my question?” Taiga asked calmly as he of course saw what the boy was doing. Running his errands as early as possible to not get seen and then vanish back inside his room.

“I didn’t want to cause trouble, so I-”

“Reia, you are not causing trouble,” Taiga soothed him immediately, but the boy still looked away guilty. “You don’t have to hide from any of us, but you also don’t have to get up at ridiculous times to do your duties. But thank you for getting the rice like that the heaviest thing on my list is gone.”

The teasing smile Taiga formed finally made Reia’s expression brighten up a tiny bit as well, but it was still far away from a smile. “I am sorry I bothered you with my duties over the last week. I will do them properly again from now on!”

“But at normal daytime, okay? For now get a bit more sleep.”

“But I still need to-”

“You need sleep! End of discussion! I am going to get everything else, okay?”

Taiga dared to stretch his arm out and put it on the boy’s hair as he had done it so often before and luckily Reia didn’t pull away. It was one big step into the right direction.

“Okay…” Reia said a bit hesitant before he bowed slightly. “Thank you.”

It felt somehow liberating to see Reia walking around the house once more. Just the fact that he could have a normal conversation without a breakdown was a huge recovery compared to the first two nights when they could all hear Reia cry in his room.

Chapter Text

It was still quiet around Yoshiwara when Taiga made it out the main gate towards the nearest market place. A few corners later he spotted someone walking towards his direction, but when he realized who it was the other one passed around another corner obviously heading back to their house.

“He is such a diligent assistant,” Taiga said to himself with a smile after looking after Noeru as he reached the next corner. The boy was carrying a small bag, so most likely he had been out for errands early as well.

Finally at the market place, things got a bit livelier with all the salesmen of the stalls greeting the people coming early to get the best products. Taiga chatted a bit with the old lady who favored him so much and somehow always got angry at Reo.

At the other side of the marketplace someone suddenly started laughing and Taiga looked up immediately on the familiar and way too loud sound.

Not far away from him he found Jesse standing with a few of the Japanese customers who they had entertained in the teahouse before. They scolded him for being so loud and looked around a bit nervous before they walked off into a small alley, but Taiga could still see them and he didn’t miss the movement of one of them handing Jesse something, but they were too far away to see what it was and because Jesse easily put it into his pocket it also seemed to be a small object. With a bright smile Jesse thanked the man, but the other people around didn’t seem as cheerful as him as their looks remained skeptical as they scanned their surroundings.

A few seconds later Taiga remembered about the small envelope Jesse had forgotten last time and while he wasn’t carrying it at the moment he could at least asked Jesse about it in case it was something he should get back to him immediately. He hurried towards the place he had seen him and the other men standing earlier, but now none of them was to be seen. Hoping to get another chance to talk to him Taiga decided to head back. Back in the quiet streets away from the marketplace Taiga turned towards another street lost in his thoughts as he realized that some people had gathered right in front of him. They hadn’t noticed him at first until he stopped a few meters away as they blocked the small alley he had walked in to.

On a closer look Taiga realized that one of the men had been with Jesse and the others before, but the other two were unknown to him. He didn’t mean to interfere in anything so he bowed a bit apologizing and turned away, wanting to head back to the main street instead.

Without even realizing what he had done he was pulled back into the alley on the back of his yukata, dropping the bags he carried and with a hiss he found himself slammed into the next wall, surrounded by the three men.

“What are you up to?”

“What do you mean?” Taiga asked a bit confused, but it had been obviously the wrong answer, because with the next move the man in front of him pressed him even more against the wall, his hands clenching in the collar of his yukata, making it hard for Taiga to breath.

“I saw you on the marketplace earlier as well. Are you a spy?”

Taiga wanted to laugh on that question, because which police spy would actually dress as obviously as a Yoshiwara member to sneak around? “I am not. I am sorry if I was somehow impolite, but it was really just a coincidence that I passed by here.”

“He is lying. He saw what we were doing,” one of the others shouted outraged.

“I really don’t know what you are talking about,” Taiga tried to reason with them again. As soon as he had walked into the alley he had turned around again. He hadn’t even spent any attention to what they were doing.

“Don’t trust him. He will run to the police immediately!”

Now it was time to panic, because no matter what he had not seen would bring a lot of trouble.

“Why is it always me,” Taiga hissed in a low voice, trying to decide what the best move to get out of this situation was.

“This is too risky, let’s get rid of him!” One of the others said and pulled out a Shoto he was carrying at his hakama.

“Are you crazy? That will bring even more trouble!” The other one interfered, but it didn’t seem like that person was joking and the moment the man holding on to Taiga turned towards the other two Taiga used his chance and raised his arms, slamming them down on the man’s wrists with as much force as he could somehow come up with and luckily the other one was indeed forced to let go. Reo had given him some useful advice for times like this, but even though he had also taught him how to actually fight back Taiga took the chance to run instead.

“Come back here! Get him!”

Taiga didn’t even dare to look back, for now he tried to get as much distance between them as possible, which wasn’t easy dressed in a Yukata and wearing Geta, but he had to at least try.

Unfortunately he had set off towards the wrong direction and he was moving away from Yoshiwara and the marketplace, no clue where the next corner would lead him.

“Damn it!” Taiga hissed as he turned towards a dead end, but was somehow able to dash away to another direction in time, but now there was almost no distance between them anymore and at the next corner Taiga felt a hand reaching out for his Yukata, but once more he was able to pull away.

It was when the end of the next alley ended right in front of a river that Taiga had been forced to an abrupt stop. He wanted to dash off to the left immediately, but this time he had been too late and he got pulled back on the arm. Without thinking about it he lunged out to the back, somehow hitting the person in the face so that he cursed and let go off him, but the other two were already reaching out for him, one of them still having the Shoto raised in his hand.

On a movement on the other side of the river a bit down the street Taiga dared to look over the other one’s shoulder for a split second, ready to scream out for help and the uniform which came into his sight made him hope that fate wasn’t always laughing at him.

“ARAN!”

The other three turned around on Taiga’s sudden shouting and luckily Aran also swirled around.

“Shit, worst timing,” the man with the Shoto hissed and turned back to Taiga immediately, rising his blade on which Taiga ripped himself out of his grip, but stumbled backwards before he could even think about running.

“STOP IT!” Aran was heard from the other side of the river as he ran towards them, but unfortunately there was no bridge close by for him to cross.

There was no time and Taiga was aware of that, so he had to choose his next move wisely, because there was no time for mistakes. The Shoto was stabbed down towards him the next second and while he somehow succeeded to prevent a fatal attack he screamed out as the blade stabbed into his shoulder.

“TAIGA!” Aran shouted in worry as he had almost reached them on the opposite side, but there was no time to wait to get rescued so Taiga kicked the man off him so that he stumbled backwards and blocked the way for the other two as Taiga got up and ran, but not towards the next bridge as Aran had obviously thought he would as he was about to pass them, hoping Taiga would be fast enough to make it to the bridge as well. But he wouldn’t, Taiga knew that the best, so he jumped!

He could see Aran’s shocked expression as he stopped abruptly and watched Taiga jumping down into the river. But while he had hoped he had made it in time there was something on Aran’s face which told him that it wasn’t just his move of jumping that made his eyes grew wide, but the adrenaline made him forget everything around him for the moment as he hit the water.

Kicking off his Geta he tried to make it back to the surface, but his Yukata was forcing him down on which he slightly started panicking. Seconds later though he was pulled back up and with a painful cough he broke though the surface.

“You are such an idiot,” Aran scolded him as he pulled him towards the safe side of the river. Taiga could hear the familiar sound of the police whistles around them, so Aran hadn’t been alone which luckily resulted with his attackers hurrying away.

“And you are always there at the right time,” Taiga joked as Aran wanted to pull him out of the water, but the moment he stretched out his arm another pain shot through his body, almost forcing him underwater once more.

“Get a grip, we need to treat your wounds, come on!”

That was what Taiga hadn’t been able to feel at his sudden escape. The pain on his shoulder wasn’t that bad, but unfortunately he had been attacked with the Shoto once more from behind the moment he had jumped, leaving a long cut on his back. It wasn’t too deep, but the pain finally reached him and it felt like an impossible task already to make it out of the water.

***

It was a place almost as familiar as their house in Yoshiwara, but Taiga still didn’t like to be here again.

“How are you feeling?”

“Better, thanks to your quick treatment,” Taiga thanked their skilled doctor Nakamaru.

“I want you to stay here for at least two days, okay? The stab wound isn’t that bad and the cut will also heal easily as it isn’t deep, but as I know your house there won’t be time for you to rest even if Kamenashi tells you to.”

He wasn’t wrong with that at all, but Taiga felt like he needed to go back or the house would fall into chaos a few days before the Matsuri.

“Can I come in?” Aran asked with a knock on the door and Nakamaru let him in, excusing himself for a bit.

Aran sat down on the tatami next to Taiga’s futon on which he was resting on his stomach, his back and shoulders bandaged carefully.

“How come you always attracted the worst trouble?”

“Weird, I asked myself the same question earlier,” Taiga replied with a brief smile on which Aran hit him on his unhurt shoulder.

“I am sorry that I have to do all the police taking now, but do you know what they wanted from you? And please no lies, you remember that it didn’t go well the last time you lied to me, right?”

How could he forget? The whole mess with the Yamashita clan was engraved over his left eye for everyone to remember.

“One of them I saw earlier on the marketplace with a few former teahouse guests. When I saw him a few minutes later in an alley on my way back he was with those two other men you saw earlier. I have no clue what they did, because all I did was trying to get back to the main street, because I felt like I was somehow interfering into something. After that they suddenly pulled me back, asking me if I was a spy.”

“They thought you were with the police?”

“I think so? But I have no clue why. I really didn’t see anything, I don’t know what they have done what could cause them so much trouble that they even considered getting rid of me.”

Aran crossed his arms to his chest with a thoughtful expression on which Taiga felt that he wouldn’t like what was coming next.

“You know, we actually increased the numbers of police members and also spies around all areas in Edo recently.”

“So there is actually something going on which made them skeptical about me?”

Aran formed an apologizing expression as if it was his fault that he got attacked. “You know, the murders going on in Yoshiwara and other entertainment districts in Edo have recently spread to other parts as well. People were found dead at their houses or working places. Some of them got murdered, others died...on their own.”

“What do you mean with on their own?” Taiga asked a bit alarmed on Aran’s troubled expression and he reached out for the boy’s hand. “I know you don’t want to tell me because you think you will protect me like this, but I need to know. Please Aran! It’s happening in Yoshiwara as well and now people go crazy on the street and I have no clue what is going on!”

With a sigh Aran finally gave in and squeezed Taiga’s hand gentle. “Fine, but this is official police business, you have to promise me to not spread rumors about this or things will get out of hand even more.”

Taiga just nodded, because of course Aran knew that he could trust him, but it didn’t seem to be a small problem.

“Did you ever hear of opium?”

Taiga tried to remember if he had ever heard the name around Yoshiwara, but nothing came to his mind so he shook his head.

“It’s a drug from China and recently Chinese traders started bringing it into Japan in such big lots that the police can’t confiscate everything. And the worst part is that they have sold the ingredient list to some Japanese doctors who have now started an illegal business of making money with selling opium made in Japan on the black market.”

Even though all of this was completely new to Taiga he could already guess how big the mess created by those people was.

“So the murders…”

“Are most likely connected to the opium dealers as it is a drug which people like to use on parties.”

“But the people who died on their own, what’s with them?” Taiga asked a bit hesitant, already fearing to know the answer.  

“They are the people taking the drug in too high doses, which actually kills them in the end.”

Hearing all this made Taiga feel nauseous all of a sudden. Would they even be able to get rid of this drug again? What if everything escalated even more from now on? Before Taiga could ask any other questions there were fast steps on the corridor, but there was a break before the person outside dared to knock.

“Can I come in?”

Aran cracked a smile towards Taiga on the familiar voice before he replied.

“Of course, come in.”

Way too fast Juri slid the door open and while he had obviously tried to calm himself down outside in the corridor before entering, his expression turned to teary the moment he spotted Taiga.

“Oh my god...what- what happened? Who did that?”

Aran hurried out of the way as Juri sank to his knees next to Taiga and took his hand in his with his eyes scanning his bandaged body in fear.

“Please don’t worry so much, it’s not as bad as it looks,” Taiga replied immediately. It was so typical for Juri to be the first one to rush to his side after getting informed about what had happened, but Taiga also didn’t like it to see him that worried.

Instead of looking at Taiga, Juri was now facing Aran who shifted a bit uncomfortable as he knew what the scanning look was for. With a sigh he finally gave in. “Fine, you two always come in a pack, so I guess I need to let you know about what is going on as well, but make sure to find an excuse to tell the others, okay? I will just inform Kamenashi about the official situation, it’s his decision then if he wants to make it official in the house or not.”

***

The poster was on every street corner all around Yoshiwara the day Taiga was finally allowed to go back to the house. Nakamaru had managed to make him stay for four days in total, but of course Juri had come by every day. Kamenashi had been there on the first day later as well, but he had forbidden anyone else to see him, because it had become way too dangerous for everyone to walk around alone, so even the assistants were ordered to at least go in groups of three around the area.

Tatsuya was walking a few steps behind Juri and Taiga, after he had been ordered to take Juri to Nakamaru’s clinic each time he went over to have a look at Taiga.

“Wow, that looks almost as good as your poster back then,” Juri said while having a closer look on the painting of the female number one Oiran in the ranking and Kentaro, both of them on every poster for the upcoming Yoshiwara Matsuri.

“Idiot, this looks a dozen times better than mine, they are not number one without a reason.”

“You are just not number one, because you are not aiming for it,” Juri said with a teasing smile.

“He aims for trouble instead.”

Both turned around finding Myuto and Hagiya standing behind them. Tatsuya seemed to have seen them coming and didn’t seem to mind if they had a small chat before heading back.

“We heard you had some rough time with a former customer? Are you okay?” Hagiya asked honestly worried.

Right, that was the lie Kamenashi had come up with and as long as he wouldn’t show anyone the cuts he was hiding under his Yukata no one would get to know about the real story.

“I am fine, thank you. Just a few heavy bruises which made it pretty tough to get up over the last days,” Taiga lied to his friends, hoping his guilt wouldn’t show too much on his always easily crumbling poker face.

“Please be careful with his back and shoulder,” Juri supported him and both boys nodded immediately.

“Do you think you can make it to the festival? It’s already in two days,” Myuto asked on which Taiga nodded.

“I will be there, don’t worry. It’s not like I am part of the main event anyway. Kentaro and Ryosuke are the only ones which will be in the center of attention.”

“Which might not be so good at times like this,” Hagiya said worried.

The murders inside the Yoshiwara district had abruptly stopped about a week ago, but now it also happened outside Yoshiwara as Aran had explained.

“Did you hear about the customer who suddenly collapsed and died last night?” Myuto asked on which Taiga and Juri gave him a shocked expression.

“He was in one of the teahouses and while everything seemed completely normal he suddenly started coughing blood and died.”

Was that also connected to what Aran had said? Did he know? With a slightly panicked expression he looked up at Juri, but the boy had already reached out for his hand and squeezed it gentlly.

“Thank you for letting us know. We will inform the others as well. Let’s all be as careful as we can!”

Chapter Text

As much as Juri had complained he hadn’t been able to take off the evening when he was called over to a teahouse for one of the bigger events they were holding before the Matsuri. Taiga had told him that he was fine, because for now he was just resting anyways.

Most of the other boys had been called over with him, so that the house had fallen rarely quiet in the evening. They would definitely bring customers back to the house with them, but for now there was still some time to take advantage of the silence and Taiga made his way down to the bath.

When he made it down the stairs someone rushed around the corner, trying to get upstairs. Taiga first saw the typical assistant clothes, the navy colored jinbei before he realized who it was when the person apologized to him.

The apology came before he looked up and then the boy automatically made two big steps backwards. Was he that afraid? And why did Taiga feel guilty out of a sudden? He should be satisfied with the new authority he gained, but he didn’t want people to fear him, not even Ren.

“Ren, hurry up, why are you standing around here?” Shintaro scolded the boy as he walked down the corridor after having obviously given him a task of getting something from upstairs. “Oh Taiga, still up?`”

“Yes, I was on my way to the bath,” Taiga said slowly as he found his voice again, but his eyes remained on Ren who was now looking to the ground.

“Ren, hurry up,” Shintaro said again on which the boy slightly flinched before he turned towards the other one and bowed slightly. To Taiga’s surprise he bowed towards Taiga as well before he hurried passed him and up the stairs.

“Awesome, isn’t it?” Shintaro said with a proud smile as if it was thanks to him that the boy was actually finally working. “For the last week he does seriously everything Tatsuya and I am telling him. He didn’t even complain once.”

Why didn’t it sound good when it should? There shouldn’t be that stone in his stomach making him feel guilty, but what had he expected? From the very first moment it had been that reason why he didn’t want to punish the boy. It was always Taiga himself carrying the burden after hurting someone. It was okay getting hurt himself he could handle it, but doing the same to others was something he couldn’t swallow, but he had lost against his rage and now he had to deal with the consequences which seemed positive for everyone except Ren and himself.

“Let me know if you need anything, we are preparing the rooms for possible guests later,” Shintaro said before he hurried after Ren.

In barely minutes the anticipated silence, turned into a tormenting quiet place. Like in slow motion Taiga made his way into the bath, taking off his night yukata carefully as he didn’t want to cause the cut on his back to open again, even though Nakamaru had told him that it should be fine if he didn’t suddenly move too much.

The bandages had to stay off for the time being, after all he couldn’t put them back on by himself and he couldn’t ask anyone for help, because Kamenashi had told him to keep it a secret and Juri was at the teahouse and he didn’t want to bother Kamenashi directly.

As much as Taiga wanted to take a long relaxing bath, for now he could do nothing else, but carefully wash himself and sit on one of the highest stones inside the bath, so that he could at least go into the water until his hips.

With his mind racing like hell he couldn’t shut out everything as much as he wanted to, but at least the small waterfall on the stone wall was breaking through the silence. The murders, the opium, the people dying because of it...Ren being scared of him...Reia getting hurt...people he knew were dying around him...one thought was hunting the other one and soon Taiga whined, putting his hands up to his ears as if he could somehow shut everything out like that. But there was no way he could shut out his own thoughts and slowly everything got too much for him and he felt how his shoulders started moving up and down through his sobbing, but it didn’t matter. He knew that sooner or later he would get at least a small breakdown and better now than at the Matsuri.

After all these years he still felt so helpless, so vulnerable and as much as he wanted to change everything about his weak points he feared he’d lose himself if he tried to build up a wall to lock up his emotions.

“Why can’t I become stronger?” He whispered between his sobs, his hands slowly reaching from his ears up to pull on his hair. “I am always too weak.”

“It’s okay to be weak sometimes.”

The voice was so close already that Taiga almost jumped from his place, but was able to calm down in time to not cause his wounds any damage. Nevertheless he swirled around, finding himself face to face with Ryosuke.

Right, the boy hadn’t been called to the teahouse because he had some bookings in the house, but Taiga had totally forgotten that sometimes those appointments got canceled as well.

Ryosuke was still in his work kimono, a wine red one with black crows flying over it, losing feathers all over it like Taiga had just lost every bit of pride in front of him.

With a light smile Ryosuke reached out for Taiga’s cheek and brushed away his remaining tears. “You don’t have to be ashamed of who you are. I don’t know what happened, but the fact that you are concerned about it and still keep fighting shows that you are not as weak as you think.”

It wasn’t clear if he talked about the sword wounds which were now completely exposed to Ryosuke or if he had also somehow caught up to his trouble with Ren and Reia as well, but no matter which one it was Taiga always felt guilty when he made Ryosuke worry for him.

When Ryosuke didn’t make a move to actually join him in the bath, but also didn’t back off Taiga slowly got up on which Ryosuke gave him another encouraging smile before he held out his hand towards him to help him out of the bath.

“You want me to help you with those?” Ryosuke asked and pointed at the bandages. Taiga’s mind was still racing around all the other bitter thoughts that he couldn’t keep up with Ryosuke being there and trying to comfort him. “I see, you might need some more time for yourself. I am sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable.”

And while Taiga hadn’t been sure if that was really the case, the moment Ryosuke headed for the door he had caught his hand, making him stop.

Ryosuke waited patiently for Taiga to decide what he actually wanted and with an unsure look Taiga faced the older one. “If you don’t mind, I would like some help with the bandages.”

A small chuckle escaped Ryosuke before he nodded with another brief smile. “Perfect, then let’s get you dry before you get cold,” he said and grabbed a towel from the shelf and threw it over Taiga’s head, starting to rub his hair dry.

Taiga let out an unpleased sound on that move and tried to make him stop, but Ryosuke just started laughing at his pouting expression.

“Better?” Ryosuke asked playfully as he finally pulled the towel away, revealing Taiga’s hair standing up wildly in all directions on which Ryosuke couldn’t hide another chuckle, but this time Taiga also cracked a smile and soon both of them were laughing.

***

“Are you sure?” Juri asked worried, but Taiga nodded with a smile.

“It’s not like I can’t help at all with the preparations, but I promise you to not overdo it.”

Juri seemed happy to hear that and even though it was still a bit reluctant he let Taiga take care of the decoration of the windows for the upcoming Matsuri. All houses were putting out red lanterns for the evening parade and they weren’t heavy so Juri couldn’t actually complain that he wanted to help at least where he could.

Stretching his arm up to the top of the window wasn’t that pleasant for the wound on his back, but now it was luckily not more than a sting anymore. When he tried to put the next lantern up the hook fell to the ground before he could put it on.

“Let me help you.”

Taiga looked down towards the person picking up the hook for him and with a smile he took it from him. “Thank you.”

Without another comment Reia kept giving Taiga the hooks for each lantern and with his help they were done with the whole decoration in barely minutes.

“Great, that was fast. Thank you Reia.”

Taiga aimed for the door, but then he got stopped by a hand reaching out for the sleeve of his Yukata. Reia was facing the ground when Taiga turned towards him and Taiga shook his head with a brief smile before he put his hand on the boy’s hair.

“How about we get ourselves a treat for our hard work?”

Reia peered up on Taiga’s offer and bit his lip. “Can I ask for dangos?”

Taiga couldn’t stop from bursting out laughing on the boy’s question and finally there was a smile on the younger one’s face for the first time in weeks.

“Definitely, let’s go!”

They went to the small shop at the river a lot before as Reia found a liking in the dangos the shop sold and Taiga was too nice to tell him to not eat so many of them. After all Reo was eating double of the amount and everyone had stopped scolding him as well.

“Here you go,” Taiga said as he handed Reia the wooden stick with the white, green and pink dangos on it. With a sigh he sat down next to the boy and took a bite of the pink dango on his own stick.

“Damn, I’ve almost forgotten how good they taste,” Taiga said with a satisfied expression and he found Reia staring back at him as he did so often. And the same as always the boy felt caught and looked away in embarrassment and kept himself busy with eating as well for now.

Minutes later they both still stared at the river in silence until Reia finally dared to turn towards his senpai.

“You always told me that when I have to say something I have to say it by myself and not wait for people to ask me.”

Taiga didn’t reply to that, but his look turned a bit more serious when he looked at the younger one.

“There had been so many things I wanted to say, which I wanted to ask...and yet I never did and I know it was stupid and now I’ve to live with the consequences, because the things I actually said were out of rage and brought a lot of trouble to everyone in the house.”

Taiga got ready to stop him in case the younger one would start talking himself into any kind of weird guilt again, but this time that didn’t seem to be the case.

With a restless look towards the river Reia let out a sigh and twisted his fingers nervously around each other.

“It was thanks to you that I became an assistant and didn’t have to go through the ceremony, yet it was my stupidity which made me end up experience something similar. Yet I am not feeling like hiding anymore. I am still afraid and I am definitely not ready to face Ren yet, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t be able to forgive him at some point.”

It was a really mature thing to say, even though Taiga wouldn’t judge him at all if he said he would never forgive him, because it was a haunting experience and each time he looked at Ren those memories and emotions would come back to the surface no matter how much time passed.

There was a moment of silence, but Taiga could see that the boy was struggling with something else and it was obviously the same topic he always ran away from. But seeing how much he still struggled with it Taiga couldn’t keep his own promise of always leaving it up to Reia to voice everything out by himself.

With a swift movement he put his pointer finger under the boy’s chin and made him look up. Taiga had leant so close to him that he could feel the boy’s erratic breathing through the sudden action.

“You still want it to be me, right?”

Reia understood immediately what he meant and wanted to look away, but Taiga wouldn’t let him and kept his head in place with his thumb taking a hold on his chin, making the other one slightly gasp. “It’s a wish that doesn’t go away through a bad experience and it won’t vanish by ignoring it or feeling embarrassed about it.”

Reia was out of words for now, but Taiga knew that a move like this would make the boy freeze. On the other hand it was obviously exactly this topic which made Reia finally crawl out of his shell.

With a serious expression Taiga leaned even closer, making Reia gulp nervously as his lips almost touched the boy’s earlobe. “To make this clear, I don’t mind, but you have to come to me.”

It was hard not to chuckle when Reia jolted hearing what he had hoped for so much, but was so afraid to ask for. “But…” Taiga started and he could feel how Reia tensed. “Make sure to wait until the Matsuri is over.”

That was something Reia could definitely do, after all he had waited way longer to make it even this far. When Taiga backed off he could see the impatience in the boy’s eyes and he stroke with his thumb over his bottom lip before he finally pulled back and got up.

The boy followed him without any hesitation and they soon switched back to a daily topic, smiling and laughing while returning to the house.

It wasn’t just Reia feeling relieved and Taiga couldn’t thank the gods enough that this cheerful boy wasn’t broken that easily and from now on he would do everything necessary to make him keep that bright smile!

***

The streets of Yoshiwara were filled with bright lights at every corner. The cherry blossoms were at full bloom at Nakanocho and when the evening finally arrived, their district filled with way more people than usual. Some of them had been able to reserve a spot on one of the teahouse verandas right at Nakanocho where the main event of the Matsuri would take place. Domoto was of course one of them, but as Taiga and the other boys of the house were part of the Matsuri itself, Takizawa had given his okay for his boys to serve at the teahouses for this evening while he usually still didn’t participate in the new routines of Kamenashi’s house. His change of mind pleased Domoto a lot though as Myuto was the one to stay with him for the Matsuri.

“How the hell am I supposed to walk in this?” Reo complained for the third time on which Tegoshi hit him against the back of the head.

“If you’d finally stand still I can make it a bit easier for you to walk.”

“You just have to hold the bangasa₁ so don’t complain, I have to walk and play my shakuhachi₂,” Juri said while also trying to get used to the festival clothes. All their kimonos had been made by Tegoshi for the Matsuri and while they were quite short so they wouldn’t stumble, they were also heavy as they also had three layers.

“Would you stop talking so loud?” Shota hissed at them as some of the female Oirans getting ready next to them were chuckling and pointing their fingers at them. After all they were used to those traditions way longer than them.

Taiga hadn’t much to complain about, even though he was also a bit over challenged with the ribbon in front of his kimono, because he would need to somehow still be able to play his Shamisen.

“Taiga, don’t forget this,” Reia was heard as the boy ran towards him from the house and gave him the Bachi for his shamisen.

“Thank you Reia. Are you ready for the parade as well?”

With a wide smile Reia lifted the hand drum in his hand and showed off his first ever Yukata, which he had been allowed to choose by himself. The color was a bright yellow with white flowers on it and it fitted Reia’s sudden bright mood perfectly.

“I might just be allowed to walk at the end of the parade with the other assistants, but I will do my best,” the boy announced and hit on his hand drum once before striking a weird pose.

“That’s what I call over motivated,” Ryota said laughing on which Reia stretched out his tongue towards him and the older one started chasing him around the place in front of their house.

“It’s good to see that he is trying to be so cheerful.”

Taiga hadn’t even realized that Kamenashi had joined them, but he had to crack a sad smile about what he had said. “Trying indeed...I wish everything of his smile would be real again.”

“Give him a bit more time,” Kamenashi said and clapped Taiga on the shoulder before he made everyone turn towards him and demanded their attention. The owner was in his usual red kimono with the golden phoenix on the back and for once he also wore light make-up as he was going to join the owners of the other houses in one of the tea houses before the parade would start as it was tradition for them to watch and not to participate.

“Everyone, please watch each other’s backs at the parade, okay? This is a cheerful and happy event for all of us, but please remember that we had some unfortunate events over the last weeks and we should all watch out that no one gets hurt.”

Everyone nodded on his warning, but they tried to keep a cheerful atmosphere instead of drowning in bad thoughts.

Soon Noeru and Shintaro stepped out the house, followed by Tatsuya on which Kamenashi explained to the boys that Tatsuya would go with him to the teahouse, but that they would have a close look at the parade from the veranda and would interfere in case it was needed. Rarely Shintaro was also wearing a Yukata, in dark green, with beige lines on it. He would walk in the back together with the assistants to keep an eye on everything around.

“Wow, and here you complained about not being able to walk,” Juri said towards Reo out of a sudden on which the boy lifted an eyebrow at him in confusion. Juri pointed towards the house instead and soon they all followed his look and Taiga felt how his jaw was about to drop open as Kentaro and Ryosuke walked up to them.

Their Geta were at least twenty centimeter high, which resulted in them not being able to walk fast at all, but the slow movements made them look even more elegant. Their make-up was more intense than they would usually wear it for a tea house, with Ryosuke having copied the eyeliner idea Reo had tried out on Taiga before. Somehow Ryosuke had found a liking of that make-up as Taiga had worn the eyeliner a lot since his customers seemed to have liked it too. Kentaro had put the accent on his lips and had used almost white make-up on his face, to make the green lipstick he was wearing on his bottom lip look even more intense.

“Wow…”

“I bet you would have looked as stunning as them,” Juri let out a bit teasing on Taiga’s astonished expression.

“In your dreams,” Taiga replied and hit his elbow against Juri’s arm on which he received a chuckle.

“I’ve dreamed about it already, now I want to see it for real,” Juri said a bit more serious this time, but before Taiga could give it a second thought the two boys had finally reached them.

“I swear if I fall in those and any of you dares to laugh I will kill you.” Kentaro warned them.

“The queen has spoken,” Taisuke was heard behind them as he gave the assistants which were in charge of the house for the time of the parade a few last instructions.

The first who was unable to hide a chuckle was Reo and even though he had lifted his hand to his mouth immediately and turned away a quiet round of laughter had already began. Shota was at fault for the laughter getting louder as he was the first one who burst out laughing followed by the other boys.

“Very funny,” Kentaro said, while rolling his eyes.

“Don’t anger the queen or the punishment will be a Geta in your face,” Ryota joked on which Kentaro actually lifted his foot to the back, pretending to aim for him on which the boy squealed and hid behind Shota.

“But seriously now, you two look amazing!” Reo said and while Ryosuke took the compliment with a smile, Kentaro still didn’t feel that comfortable in his position as the main person at this parade.

“Well, then let’s get going?” Ryosuke asked into the round and everyone nodded before they got into the order they had to walk in, just Reia stopped for a brief moment and when Taiga looked to the back he could see why. Next to Shintaro and a few of the other boys and assistants was Ren who was of course also going to participate even though he didn’t look too happy about it. Nevertheless they had allowed him to choose a Yukata as well, but Taiga wasn’t too happy about his choice. He remembered the black Yukata the boy was wearing. It had once belonged to Hokuto and his dark thoughts were always visible in the choice of his clothes and it was the same for Ren.

“Show them how awesome your Shamisen is,” Reia said and when Taiga looked at him he was faced with a bright smile once more, before the boy hurried right next to Ren.

It was the mix of hurt and pride which made Taiga’s stomach twist a bit. Ren seemed to feel as uncomfortable next to Reia as the other way around, but while Reia faced his fears, Ren was confronted with a fear he didn’t even know existed until now. Was there actually something like guilt visible on his face?

 

+++

₁Bangasa: Japanese sturdy umbrella

₂Shakuhachi: Japanese wooden flute

Chapter Text

There were way too many people at the main street in Nakanocho to make it possible for everyone to see, but Taiga felt exposed enough already so he tried to look ahead and concentrate on his shamisen and singing as they moved down the street under the full blooming sakura.

Just at one house he dared to look up for a moment and Domoto seemed pretty pleased by the special treatment. A few weeks before the Matsuri he had told him how much he had hoped to see him in front of the parade, but Taiga just didn’t like it to be in the center of attention.

Kentaro on the other hand was born to be fabulous and he proved it with his walk in front of the parade together with Ryosuke and the two female Oirans which had been first in the ranking.

People were trying to somehow get into the first rows right next to the road to get a closer look, but to Taiga’s surprise they all stood on distance which was also thanks to Aran and his men which were protecting the parade.

Finally things seemed to be calm around Yoshiwara again and seeing all the people laughing and cheering around them made Taiga smile. All of his friends walking the parade with him after all the hardship all of them had to face over the past years seemed to be finally blurring enough to get forgotten over the time.

A sakura blossom falling from one of the trees got caught on Taiga’s eyelid and he needed to somehow shake it off without interrupting his shamisen play.

When it didn’t want to come up off easily he dared to step out of the line just for a brief moment and shake his head a bit more so it would fall off. When he looked up he saw how some people made way for someone at the end of the parade to make it through the crowd.

But it were just the assistants walking in the back so their parade wouldn’t be disturbed.

With the next song they started, the parade would slowly come to an end as they reached the teahouse were the owners were gathered on the balcony and the crowd around them got even thicker and they had to actually squeeze into one row on the main street to be able to keep moving.

Taiga caught Juri turning towards him with a smile at some point and he could also spot Reo, Ryota and Shota more in the front with Kentaro and Ryosuke all of them exchanging smiles, laughing and celebrating as the parade slowly moved on.

Why couldn’t it be always like this? With all of them being happy and having nothing to worry about? Seeing their regular customers who were more like friends now it was such a calm night.

Hiromitsu had spotted Taiga of course, but this time his attention was completely on Taisuke, because it was his first and also last parade, but that didn’t bother Hiromitsu. After all in just a few more months he would finally have Taisuke all for himself.

Fu and Fuma were of course also looking at and especially out for their loved ones, following the parade on the not so crowded part of the street a bit away from the main event.

Hikaru had shown up as well, but he wouldn’t move from his spot, because the one he was looking out for tonight was with Domoto on the veranda.

With another bright smile Taiga closed his eyes and took a deep breath and then he froze…

When he opened his eyes again he could see the smoke even with the dim lights from their houses and the smell was making his fears rise even more and then he swirled around like so many other people.

“FIRE! One of the tea houses is on fire!”

Their music stopped immediately and soon people started screaming, running around in panic and while the police tried to somehow make them calm down the boys tried to stay together to not get run over.

“Taiga,” Juri shouted out for him and grabbed him by the arm to pull him closer. “We’ve to get out of the crowd.”

“Wait, we need to make sure Reia and the others are safe,” Taiga said, but there was no way he could find them. People were running all over the place, making it impossible to spot most people of the parade.

“Don’t worry, they will make it back to the house and we should head there as well and prepare water in case the fire spreads.”

It was the only thing they could do for now and Taiga tried to see if he could find anyone else in the panicked crowd when someone ran into him and made him almost fall over.

“Are you okay?” Juri asked as he had caught him.

“Yes, I-”

Right in front of him something had been dropped to the ground, but he couldn’t say what it was. When he took a closer look though he realized that it was something like a ball with a thread attached to it. “Is it burning?”

“What is burning?” Juri asked before the screams of the people got swallowed by an explosion and everyone looked panicked down the street were a huge smoke wall had risen. Seconds later a second explosion and a third one, slowly coming towards them and then it clicked and Taiga turned and shoved Juri away with as much force as he could come up with.

He could see Juri’s panicked look on his sudden action, but there had been no time for explanations and the moment Taiga turned and threw himself on the ground the small ball next to him exploded.

It didn’t seem like the explosion caused more damage than him losing his hearing on one hear for now, but when he opened his eyes again there was just smoke around him.

“JURI!” Taiga shouted, but there was no response and people kept stumbling over him as they tried to somehow make it out the thick smoke.

For now Taiga also hurried to get out of the smoke when he almost stumbled over something on the ground. When he took a closer look he realized they were the high Geta Kentaro and Ryosuke had been wearing. It had been definitely a wise decision to get out of them to get away faster, but when Taiga wanted to keep going he realized something disturbing. There was a line of blood on the ground and out of a sudden a very bad feeling made Taiga’s stomach twist.

“Here you are!” Taiga jolted when Juri suddenly grabbed him by the arm. “What is it?”

“Juri, we need to find them, I fear this was all a plan to get to them?”

“Who? What are you talking about?”

“Those who were walking in the front.”

When Taiga pointed to the blood on the ground Juri finally caught up with the situation, but the moment Taiga tried to follow the trail Juri pulled him back. “Are you crazy? We can’t even see anything? Let’s try and find at least a police officer.”

“Juri, please I don’t want to see anyone else die! There is no time, I don’t want to be too late.”

His desperation seemed to be enough for Juri to not keep discussing this and they hurried to follow the trail of blood and soon the smoke finally thinned out and they could see their surroundings more clearly. They had been lead away from the main street, now a few of the backstreets in front of them.

“Which way?” Juri asked as the ground had turned to wooden planks and sand so it was hard to make out where they needed to go.

“Let’s head straight for now,” Taiga suggested and they carefully looked down each new alley they came across until Taiga stopped at the next street with wide eyes.

“Oh my god...no, please no…”

Juri swirled around to him immediately and gasped as he saw Ryosuke on the ground a few meters away from them.

“Let’s be careful,” Juri said, but urged Taiga to get to him to see if he was still alive. The moment Taiga fell on his knees next to him it was clear that no matter if he was still alive they would need to be fast if they wanted to keep him alive. He was losing a lot of blood from a wound around his stomach area and Taiga moved his shaking hands up to Ryosuke’s shoulder.

“Ryosuke?”

An immediate groan made him tear up and he hurried to find the source of the bleeding to stop it as good as possible for now. “Don’t worry, we will call Nakamaru. Please hold on just a bit longer.”

Instead of replying, Ryosuke forced himself to move and pointed towards another ally in front of them. Juri and Taiga exchanged a panicked look before Juri dared to get closer to the alley and when he looked around the corner he gasped, making Taiga’s tears flow over without even knowing what he was seeing.

Juri hadn’t called out his name, but the way he hurried down the alley and out of his view he knew that it was Kentaro he had found and all he could hope for was that he was alive as well.

***

Reia dashed through the room and throw himself inside Taiga’s arms. “Everything is okay, don’t worry.”

But Reia was still crying as he was more than relieved to finally find most of the members of their house inside Nakamaru’s clinic.

Ryota, Shota and Reo had found Taiga and Juri soon after they had found Ryosuke and Kentaro. After they had dropped them of at Nakamaru’s place they had gone to search for the remaining members of the house.

The fire of the tea house had luckily been stopped and the police had been able to control the crowd as well so that there were just minor injuries after the smoke bomb attack.

“Out of my way!” A loud voice was heard and soon Fuma dashed inside the room followed by Taisuke and Hiromitsu who had been out to gather the remaining members. “Where is he? WHERE IS HE?”

“Fuma, could you please calm down a bit first?” Juri asked of him, but it had obviously been the wrong thing to say as Fuma took the boy by the collar and shook him violently. “THE FEMALE OIRANS ARE BOTH DEAD! DEAD, YOU HEAR ME? DON’T TELL ME TO CALM DOWN!”

“Fuma,” Taiga tried this time on which the boy let go of Juri and turned towards him with a death glare. But his look changed immediately when he was confronted with Taiga’s sorrowful expression. He was still holding Reia in his arms, the boy still crying and Taiga carefully stroking over his hair.

“No, it can’t be,” Fuma said as he shook his head read to deny reality, but luckily there was nothing to deny.

“Don’t worry he is too stubborn to leave your side,” Taiga finally let out with a shaking smile. “But I am still sorry that we didn’t find him earlier.”

Fuma definitely didn’t want to know what that meant, but at least he had calmed down now and when Taiga looked over to the side-door at the corridor Fuma gulped nervously as he dared to knock and entered on Nakamaru’s permission.

He closed the door behind him and yet they could all hear him crying as they fell silent. Kamenashi and Tatsuya also arrived while they were all stuck between being relieved and yet having to fear for all their lives being in danger again.

“Will Kentaro be alright?” Reia dared to ask after a few minutes in silence. Taiga nodded with an encouraging look, but it was clear to everyone that it would take a long time and leave scars, deep scars, for all of them to see.

He had been barely alive when Juri had found him and the worst part was that it had been obviously the same murderer who had been killing all the other Oiran before as well, because he had been cutting Kentaro’s face so badly that Juri couldn’t even be sure it was him at first with all the blood covering his face.

“Nakamaru said he will be fine, don’t worry.”

He had also said that luckily his eyes hadn’t been attacked and that was a big relief for Taiga, because he knew how it was to fear not to be able to see again. How much the remaining scars would be visible on his face eventually wasn’t clear yet, but for now they were just happy that both of them survived.

The moment Nakamaru left Fuma alone with Kentaro for a bit, the last members of the house finally arrived. Shintaro and Reo had met up with Fu at some point and had now returned with Ren who looked pretty clueless about the whole situation, but he remained silent for now realizing it wasn’t the time for questions.

“How is Ryosuke?” Kamenashi asked.

“Better than Kentaro. You want to talk to him? I left him with Noeru for now as he was conscious, but pretty distressed.”

“Yes, just for a bit though. He needs to rest as I am sure that the police want to question him as well later.”

Before he followed Nakamaru to Ryosuke’s room he turned towards his house members. “I know you want to stay here, but please do me the favor and go back to the house and keep a close eye on everyone. I will keep you updated about both of them.”

It was to everyone’s surprise when it was Taiga who stood up and made Reia stand next to him before he turned towards Kamenashi with a sad, yet understanding expression. “Please tell them that we are waiting for them to get better and please be careful on your way back as well.”

Kamenashi seemed also surprised, almost alarmed by Taiga’s mature or maybe even cold behavior as he headed towards the door, followed by Reia and Juri. But it wasn’t as easy as it seemed for Taiga to leave, for once though the shock was bigger than his wish to be there for his friends and all he wanted was to get out.

Except for Tatsuya, Fuma and Noeru everyone else left with them and as much as Taiga realized how much Reia and Juri were actually staring at him as he was almost running away from the house he couldn’t break down now, not yet.

***

“Are they asleep?” Juri asked as Taiga finally made it back to their room.

“For now, but I won’t judge them if it doesn't last for long.”

Reia and the other younger boys had been pretty shaken by the parade happening and Taiga had stayed in their room until they were asleep. He had even put his guilt aside and had taken a look at Ren, but Shintaro was with him and assured him not to worry.

“We should try and get some sleep as well,” Juri suggested, but made no actual move to prepare the futon.

Taiga walked through the room to the open window and kept looking outside absentmindedly into the cold night.

Juri slowly walked up to him and put his hands around his waist from behind and rested his chin on his shoulder on which he received a shaking breathe from the other one.

“It's not your fault.”

“I didn't say that.”

“But you are thinking it,” Juri replied in a calm voice.

Taiga searched for the other one's hand and squeezed it carefully as he leaned back against the other one's chest.

“Don't keep silent, what's on your mind?” Juri asked after a few more minutes.

“I know it's not my fault,” Taiga started, knowing that he needed to put his thoughts into words or he would crumble under the pressure. “It was an event none of us could have seen coming. We can even call ourselves lucky that we found them in time and no one died from our house.”

“But?” Juri asked with a gentle touch on the latter's hands as they kept shaking slightly.

“But now I wonder if it would have been different if I had tried to be at Kentaro's spot.”

It didn't seem to surprise Juri or make him angry. This was how Taiga's mind worked and Juri was always there to tell him that he was stupid.

“You know that the only change would have been you getting hurt instead.”

“And why do I wish that it would have been me?”

Again Juri just hugged him a bit tighter and let out a small sigh. “You tell me?”

“He almost died for me once and yet here he is badly hurt once more. Those scars…”

“Are what you carry as well.” Juri interrupted him this time. “Kentaro wears the scars on his back, you on your eyes. Both of you protected someone and his new scars might be a reminder of an unfortunate event, but that doesn't make you a bad person.”

“I wish I could have somehow paid him back, somehow protected him…”

When he couldn't hold back his silent tears Juri finally turned him around in his arms and pressed a soft kiss on his forehead. “You always want to protect everyone and here we also want to protect you, but none of us can always do it as we are just humans.”

Taiga dared to look up at the other one, seeing an encouraging smile between his still falling tears.

“And don't you dare to come me with your 'and some of us are weaker’ shit because I'm seriously going to hit you!”

This time Taiga couldn't suppress a chuckle mixed with a sob before he cracked a shaking smile. “What would I do without you?”

“Dying of your misery?” Juri asked teasing before his look turned a bit more serious again and he stroke a strand of hair behind Taiga's ear and leaned in for a soft and passionate kiss which Taiga didn't want to end for the rest of the night.

“Let's try and get some sleep?” Juri asked as he caressed Taiga's cheek with his thumb, stroking away the last tears on the way.

Chapter Text

“Do you think they will charge us?” Reo was heard as he was talking to Ryota and Shota in one of the corridors in the front of the house.

“It wasn’t our fault, right? So they can’t actually make us pay I think,” Shota replied, stretching his arms out with a yawn.

“So I guess we weren’t the only ones not getting enough sleep?” Juri teased as he walked up to them with Taiga.

“Guess for now it will be hard for any of us to calm down,” Reo said with a sad expression.

“What were you talking about?” Taiga asked curious.

“About the payment rule at monbi₁,” Ryota explained.

“Oh, I heard that it was supposed to be today, right? After the main event when all the prices are double as usual, but when we can’t get customers we have to pay for ourselves?”

“Weird, isn’t it?” Reo said laughing.

“But I doubt they will actually make any of us pay this year. Yoshiwara is completely shut down and is surrounded by police today, so there is no way we could actually held the usual celebration day,” Juri explained.

“And none of us would want to celebrate anyway,” Taisuke was suddenly heard as he walked towards them from the entrance of the house.

“Were you out so early already?” Taiga asked.

“I checked up on Kentaro and Ryosuke.”

On their mention all the boys exchanged a dark look, but there was nothing they could do for now, except for making sure that no one gets hurt again.

“As you read the atmosphere right, there won’t be any work today,” Taisuke added as he realized that everyone was in casual Yukatas. “But please don’t leave the house without letting us know.”

“For now I fear no one will leave the house anyway.”

When they turned towards the entrance they found Kamenashi coming inside, followed by Noeru and Aran with some of his men.

“Please tell me that you left some men with Ryosuke and Kentaro?” Taiga asked worried and Aran nodded immediately.

“Don’t worry they are safe and Fuma and Tatsuya are with them as well,” Aran explained.

“So what brings you here then?” Juri asked curious.

“We need to have a talk,” Kamenashi explained instead. “Please bring all members of the house to the main room.”

Taiga and Juri exchanged a worried look on hearing that, because whatever this sudden meeting was about didn’t seem to be out of good reasons.

Minutes later they all found themselves in the main room of the house which they used for special occasions.

The first thing which Taiga found fishy was that Noeru was sitting next to Kamenashi and Aran while the other police officers blocked the doors. All the other members of the house were sitting on the tatami floor in the middle of the room.

“First I want to let you know that Kentaro regained consciousness in the morning and he wanted me to tell you that you shouldn’t worry for him.”

“Showing off even in his condition,” Reo hissed between feeling relieved and ready to cry.

“We had a brief talk with him this morning and then also with Ryosuke about what happened to them at the Matsuri and that is why I wanted you all to gather here. The first attack happened in the smoke as it seemed and Ryosuke got stabbed. Realizing the danger he pushed Kentaro to run and followed him as fast as he could, but his injury didn't make it easy. Both of them had been struck down from behind on their try to escape so we don't know any faces.”

The atmosphere felt more and more tense to all of them and Taiga could see Reia shifting uncomfortable next to him.

“Taiga.”

He almost flinched on the sound of his own name and he looked up to the owner. “Please come to the front.”

With a hesitant look towards Juri he dared to stand up and sit down in front of Kamenashi and Aran.

“I want you to tell us once more exactly what you did and saw over the Matsuri.”

“Please remember that leaving out details will be considered lying,” Aran said seriously on which Taiga gulped nervously. He had nothing to hide. After all he hadn’t done anything, but this weird questioning session made him fear that something was going on he didn’t know about.

After he had explained everything once more Juri was called to the front. After him even Taisuke, Shintaro and all other members which had participated in the Matsuri were questioned.

“Ren, come here,” Kamenashi said on which the boy reluctantly went to the front. “Tell us what you’ve witnessed at the Matsuri.”

Silence followed and without even knowing what was going on he heard a gasp from Reia next to him on which he looked at the boy, but Reia’s look was directed towards the ground a weird expression on his face.

“I didn’t witness anything…” Ren finally dared to speak up.

“What do you mean? You were at the Matsuri as well, weren’t you?” Aran asked.

“I was, but before the explosions and the fire happened I left the main street.”

“And why did you do that?” Kamenashi asked a bit alarmed now as if he had hoped the boy would have given a different reply.

“Because I had been asked to go to Massu’s shop.”

“In the middle of the Matsuri?” Aran asked skeptical.

“Yes.”

“Who asked you to go?”

Ren slightly turned his head towards all the members behind him, but didn’t reply. Taiga could see his troubled expression and his confusion seemed to be shared by the whole room until Reia suddenly stood up.

“I asked him to,” he let out in an almost inaudible voice. Reia hadn’t been questioned yet and somehow Taiga was happy about it, because with this weird progression of their questioning Reia could have easily tried to hide the fact that he had made Ren leave in the middle of the Matsuri.

“Why did you ask him to go?”

...exactly because of those dangerous questions. Taiga felt the rage boiling inside of him, because never had he thought he’d see doubt in Aran’s or Kamenashi’s eyes towards a person Taiga trusted so much.

“I forgot to prepare the instruments for the evening events at the tea house and remembered that there were two shamisen which needed new strings so I asked him to get them for me.”

“Why didn’t you go yourself?” Aran asked, but Reia couldn’t easily answer yet Taiga knew the answer of course. Reia wanted to show Ren that he wasn’t afraid that he could also stand up against him and even though it was just a small request he needed to make it to feel more confident around him. Unfortunately Reia’s request and Ren’s sudden willingness to actually do what people asked him for brought a lot of trouble towards them.

“Ren did you get the strings for the shamisen?” Kamenashi asked on which the boy clenched his fists in his Yukata.

“No, I didn’t make it to the shop in time and hurried back as I saw the flames rising from the tea house, but when I arrived at the main street it was full of smoke and I couldn’t find anyone before the smoke was gone and then I found Reo, Fu and Shintaro.” The three boys had confirmed before already that they had met Ren, but it had been after everything had been already over.

“Reia, what did you do when the chaos broke loose?” Aran asked, his piercing look showing that there was no room for lies, but Taiga was sure there was no need for them anyways. An alibi was necessary though.

“When the fire started I turned towards the teahouse like most of the others, but soon people started to ran passed me, shoving me out of the way as they tried to flee and then the explosions started and I landed on the ground, not able to see for several minutes. After I could see a bit more clearly I started looking for the others and…”

“And?” Aran asked calmly.

The boy seemed to be scared of his own words as if he had done something which made it so hard to say it out loud. Taiga dared to put his hand on Reia’s arm and the boy flinched as he looked down towards him.

“Don’t worry, we are all here for you. Just answer the questions. I am sure you didn’t do anything so you have nothing to worry about.”

The look he received was proof enough for him that he was right, but Reia still took a moment to be able to finally reply.

“And I didn’t find anyone so I went looking at possible places they could have gone to.”

“And instead of the house you thought Nakamaru’s clinic was the most common place for them to be?” Aran asked once more and as much as Taiga knew that it was his job to ask all those questions he got annoyed by the way Aran seemed to know more than them.

“It was- I don’t know- the closest place for me to come to mind maybe? I was afraid and stressed out, so I just ran to the closest place I knew. I would have maybe even run to Tegoshi’s shop before trying the house, because it was closer.”

The explanation was logical and most of the members seemed to completely believe him, but Taiga could see doubt which enraged him and he finally stood up, putting his hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“Aran, could it be that you didn’t come with a neutral opinion to question us?”

Kamenashi was about to put Taiga into place, but Aran waved his hand. “You are right, I wasn’t.”

“Then what makes you believe that those two have something to do with the incidence?”

On his question Aran turned towards Noeru who was the one to shift uncomfortable before he dared to look up at Taiga with an apologizing look.

“As I was with Ryosuke in the morning, Aran questioned me first and I told him that I saw Ren leaving in the middle and that- Reia also vanished at the fire right before the explosions started.”

“What? I didn’t vanish!” Reia shouted all of a sudden, his body shaking as one of their own house members seemed to turn against him.

“I really don’t want to put any of you in this situation. I don’t believe that any of you is such a bad person, but- with the things Ren did before…”

“That has nothing to do with this!” Reia shouted again, Taiga pulling him back this time as his rage made tears burn in his eyes as he wanted to dash forward.

“I am really sorry. Reia, I know you are such a sweet boy, but it doesn’t change what I’ve seen and I won’t lie to the police.”

“I didn’t vanish, please believe me!” Reia started begging, but instead of turning to Aran he turned towards Taiga instead. “People where all over the street in seconds even before the explosions. I didn’t vanish. I had nothing to do with this. Please…”

Taiga pulled the boy in a hug as he almost started hyperventilating in his attempt to speak while his sobs and tears were swallowing half of his words.

“What do you have to say?” Kamenashi asked Ren who had looked at everything with a frozen expression.

“I- I can’t say anything else than I did before,” Ren replied in a quieter voice this time. He seemed almost as vulnerable as Reia, but he wasn’t ready to make a scene or get a breakdown in front of everyone. “Will you even believe me if I said I had nothing to do with it?” Ren asked serious and it was obviously a difficult question for Kamenashi.

“Well for now I got all the answers I need. Further interrogation will be held at the headquarters. Ren and Reia are coming with us.”

Reia clawed his hands into Taiga’s Yukata on hearing that and Taiga took an even tighter hold on him as the police officers tried to take the two boys with them.

“Aran, please,” Taiga tried his luck, but Aran didn’t seem happy about Taiga trying to address him as his customer and not as the police officer he was at the moment.

“You know the rules.”

“Actually, the rules say that you can’t take a hold of someone longer than a day if you don’t have proof that it was really them.”

To everyone’s surprise it had been Taisuke to speak up and he stood up, stepping next to Ren. “Do you really think you can find any proof that it could have been them in one day?”

Aran rolled his eyes at the sudden interference, but when he got up Reo and Juri also got up, stepping next to Taiga and Reia. “Wouldn’t it be enough if we promise you that we will make sure that they are staying with us?” Reo asked.

“And trust me, no one gets away if I have an eye on them,” Shintaro said as he stood up and clapped Ren on the shoulder. The boy seemed confused by the members of the house talking about both of them and not just about Reia, but no matter what he had done until now, murder was a whole different topic!

Aran let out a sigh before he turned towards Kamenashi. “What do you think?”

The owner seemed impressed by the reactions of the members, but also slightly amused which made Taiga relax a bit. No matter how serious he had to be with official police business it was clear that he was also not seeing any of his own boys as murderers.

“How about this. You let them stay with us until you find proof and in case they get away in that time I will take the full responsibility for it.”

That was a huge thing to say for all of them, because it meant that in case the two boys dared to flee and were found guilty it was going to be Kamenashi who would need to take their punishment and it would most likely be an execution.

“Are you really sure you want to take that risk?”

Kamenashi got up with a serious look and turned towards Ren first. The boy seemed to have stopped breathing the moment the owner walked up to him.

“Did you have anything to do with the happenings at the Matsuri?”

The direct question made the room fall completely silent until Ren dared to make a step to the front and look straight back at the owner.

“No.”

After his reply the owner walked up to Reia and Taiga stepped a bit back while Reia tried to get a grip and look up at Kamenashi.

“How about you?”

“No.”

Again Kamenashi just turned away and walked up to Aran. “Here you have your answers. So yes I am totally okay to take that risk, because I have nothing to fear. My boys told me they didn’t do anything, so there is nothing to worry about.”

Aran couldn’t hide a smile on his reaction and he slowly nodded. “Well in that case there is nothing I can do. Make sure they stay put in the house until I let you know how our investigations are going.”

Aran made his men leave without any further discussion and finally the atmosphere didn’t feel that heavy anymore, but they definitely needed to thank Kamenashi a lot for this.

“Okay, so listen up,” Kamenashi said. “I know this is a chaotic time for all of us, but I don’t want any members of the house to be mistrusted by others. If you have any proof that someone is involved in this then please feel free to go to Aran and let him know if you don’t have anything then just shut up!”

Reo and Juri couldn’t hide a smile on Kamenashi’s mocking words and Taiga could see how Noeru felt pretty uncomfortable out of a sudden. Not that he had any other choice, but say what he had seen.

“For now let’s all try and calm down, okay? Please just make sure to let me know if something is up. Your senpais and friends are also all here for you.”

It was something they all needed to be reminded of and especially Taiga, because he hadn’t been the senpai he needed to be and there was a drastically need to change that.

***

As much as they all wanted to somehow distract themselves from all the chaos it was complicated while they weren’t allowed to go outside and soon some groups had formed, Ryota and Shota ending up trying to cheer the younger boys and assistants up, Taisuke trying to hide that he felt as uncomfortable as the rest by reorganizing the rooms in the front of the house while Taiga and Juri sat in their room with Reo not sure what else to do.

“Feels nostalgic, doesn’t it?”

“The chaos?” Juri asked on Reo’s sudden comment while the boy had done nothing else but staring at the ceiling for minutes.

“That as well,” Reo said with a faint smile. “But I actually meant us back in the same room. Sometimes I really miss Hokuto, even though he would always just sit at the windowsill and read. His presence was enough to somehow calm any kind of tense atmosphere down.”

“I’d actually love to have him here too,” Taiga let out as he looked out of the window, imagining how Hokuto would have liked their room and this spot on the windowsill. “He would definitely have some good advice for us right now.”

“We can just hope that he and Kochi are in a way better place right now though,” Juri said with a brief smile before he gave up on pretending that he could actually focus on the book on his lap and he dropped to the back on which Reo complained as Juri rested his head on his stomach.

“Dude the room is big enough for you to lie down elsewhere.”

“I don’t want to,” Juri pouted on which Taiga couldn’t hide a chuckle. “Definitely feels nostalgic now.”

When Taiga got up both boys gave him a question look on which Taiga waved his hand. “Don’t worry I will just take a look at the others.”

“Okay, but I might end up throwing him out of the window if you leave me alone with him,” Juri joked on which Reo hit him on the forehead and soon they started quarrelling on which Taiga decided to leave them to their chaotic mood and he closed the door with a smile. At least some things would never change.

It was when he made his way towards the stairs that he realized that he wasn’t even sure where he was going when someone else came up the stairs.

“Oh, didn’t you go back to Nakamaru’s house?”

Noeru flinched a bit on Taiga’s words and almost let the things he had been carrying drop. Taiga realized that it were Ryosuke’s belongings like his hair needles he liked to use to pin up his hair.  “I need to wait for Tatsuya to pick me up and I still need some time to put Ryosuke’s things back in his room. Kamenashi said I can decide if I wanted to stay here or with Ryosuke, but I wanted to at least change my clothes before going back. Ryosuke scolds me the whole time that I need to get some sleep as well.”

“Sounds right to me,” Taiga let out with a light smile, but Noeru couldn’t return it. “What is it?”

“Nothing, I just…” Noeru searched for the right words, but it was obviously hard, but Taiga could understand the reason.

“You did nothing bad. Stop being so down it’s not your fault that Aran is suspecting Ren and Reia.”

“But if I had made sure to not lose sight of Reia then he would have an alibi and I feel so bad for him, I know he would never do something horrible like this.”

“And that’s all we need to know,” Taiga replied on which Noeru’s look finally brightened up a bit. “And now get some sleep I will let you know when Tatsuya comes to pick you up, okay?”

“Thank you.”

Taiga remained at the stairs for a moment longer while Noeru vanished inside Ryosuke’s room. Thinking about everything that had happened at the Matsuri Taiga realized that there was someone else he needed to talk to and he made his way downstairs.

“Why are you sitting outside the room?” Taiga asked as he arrived where he had headed for, finding Shintaro sitting in the corridor.

“He seemed tired so I wanted to let him sleep a bit, but because I need to lock the door I can’t stay with him at that time.”

“Right,” Taiga said with a dark look towards the lock on the door. “Where is Reia?”

“With Ryota, Shota and the other younger ones.”

“Do you want to join them for a while or get a bit time for yourself?”

“I am fine actually,” Shintaro replied, but when silence followed he peered up at Taiga who bit his lip as he tried to avoid being too obvious. “But on another thought why not. Even if it’s just inside the house a small walk and maybe a nap would be awesome.”

Taiga felt grateful for his friend being able to read the atmosphere even if it took a moment, but now Taiga was faced with a way bigger problem. He was the senpai and still he didn’t feel ready for this talk. Why was it so hard to accept that he had actually no reason to apologies? That it had been okay that one time to lose his patience and yet he couldn’t forgive himself even less than he could forgive Ren for what he had done.

Carefully Taiga opened the lock and stepped inside the room without giving himself the chance to back out.

As he had already expected the boy wasn't asleep and he sat on his futon with a sceptic look towards his senpai. Taiga tried to not get affected by it, but when he walked up to the boy and sat in front of him he saw Ren's movement of his hands clenching in the sheets and once more he felt more guilty than he should. There was a drastic need to start this conversation at another topic.

“I came to talk to you about the Matsuri, but there is something else I want to talk about first.”

Ren didn't seem surprised yet also not thrilled about having any conversation in the first place.

“You know I won't say I'm sorry, because I'm not.” It had been definitely way too straight forward, but Taiga felt too stressed out to talk about the topic carefully and why should he? “Let me be honest with you. I didn't expect you to be so afraid of me, but even though I regret that I freaked at you I won't forgive you easily for what you've done to Reia.”

Ren had kept staring down on the futon the whole time and his look had awkwardly softened over the last weeks already, but now he looked so down, so hurt that it was hard for Taiga to explain what was going on in his head.

“Nevertheless,” Taiga added on which the boy carefully peered up. Was he hoping for something? Did he know what Taiga was about to say? “You did something I hope you realize was more than just a small mistake. Something you've to apologize for and I don't mean me. But one mistake doesn't make you a horrible person. We all have our backstories and reasons for our decisions and I want to know yours.”

It had just been a simple question to somehow understand the boy better, but this time it was impossible to say what he had triggered with his question as some tears fell in silence on Ren’s hands.

Taiga could do nothing, but stare in shock while the boy didn't even try to hide that he was crying. But he didn't seem hurt or sad, more like relieved.

Taiga gave him a few more minutes to calm down and waited for the boy to speak up.

“Thank you.”

Something he had never imagined to hear from the boy. For now he just nodded, realizing that there was a lot more the boy had to say.

“As Kamenashi has definitely told you already I'm from an illegal brothel, but that had actually been the better part of my life.”

A shiver ran down the older one's back hearing that, because the boy was still younger than him when he had entered Yoshiwara, what had he been forced to endure at such a young age?

“My family was farming in a calm prefecture in the south until a civil war made the feudal lords clash around our area and burn down everything we owned. Even worse my parents were killed in that war and our feudal lord lost. I had been sold as a slave to the other feudal lord.”

Why did that story sound so familiar? Suddenly Taiga remembered his own life as a slave and also Hokuto's life of being sold to another lord after the war.

“I ended up serving in the lord's house with other servants, but I was way younger than the others and didn't know how to do all the duties which ended with a lot of punishments. I got more and more scared of doing mistakes and of course everyone sensed my insecurity until they started taking full advantage of it.”

For people in Yoshiwara it wasn't an uncommon backstory yet it still didn't explain the sudden turn of his behavior towards exactly that type of person he hated so much.

“It was when the other servants suddenly started selling me to people meeting with our feudal lord that I knew I needed to get away. I decided to run knowing that it could be my death if they caught up to me and...they did.”

Ren pulled the sheet away and opened his obi, revealing his upper body down to his hips. Taiga hadn't even spend close attention to the boy until now so seeing all the scars on his body now made him bite his lip. It weren't punishment scars, but stab wounds.

“One of the servants who always treated me the worst found me and instead of trying to bring me back he tried to kill me. But no matter how bad my life had been until then I didn't want to die. I started fighting for my life, struggling over the Shoto until I was the one to hold it in the end. And then...I stabbed him and while he had been treating me like trash all the time he suddenly started begging for his life. It was... disgusting…”

Ren started shaking on his own words and Taiga could sense the hate yet the guilt and slowly he could understand what weird twist he had gone through.

“For the first time in my life I felt superior and I just- I don't know...I could have just run away, but I didn't. I kept slashing the blade down on him until his annoying pleading finally stopped. Other people had actually caught up to us, but when they reached us they gasped and backed off instead of trying to get me. I must have looked like a demon to them. I was covered in blood, the blade still in my hand and I wasn't willing to ever let go of that power again. They ran away before I could do anything to them, but I kept that feeling in my chest as a lifeline. Each time someone acted high and mighty towards me or tried to force themselves on me they would regret it.”

There was no pride in his words. No matter how much he had thought of it as a superior feeling at that time he didn't think so now. And because Taiga had gone through similar happenings, also killing someone in self-defense, it was easy for him to not see the other one as a demon.

“There was nowhere for me to go, but I needed money so I made my way to Edo and ended up in an illegal brother for a few months. I got to be one of the most feared people inside it in just a few days after making it clear that the survival of the fittest was putting me above them.”

Ren let out a joyless chuckle and remained silent for a moment while he tried to control his now showing anger against everyone who turned him into who he was now and mostly the rage against himself.

“So all in all Aran’s accusations aren’t that wrong, after all I am indeed a murderer,” Ren said, before he dared to look up at the other one. “You must hate me now even more than you did already.”

His voice had turned weirdly weak, almost beaten and Taiga shook his head, fighting with his own tears now. “I don't hate you. I am disappointed in you.”

“Then we are two already,” Ren replied. “I didn't want to keep working in this kind of environment. It was just to make some money and then find a better place. Yet the police suddenly got involved and I ended up here. There was no way I would let myself get formed into someone like…”

“Me,” Taiga replied for him on which Ren gave him a guilty look.

“All the things I did in this house I thought would protect me, but I didn't even think about the possibility that there were people here who didn't want to hurt, but to help me.”

Taiga couldn't hide a small chuckle on which Ren gave him a questioning look.

“You know, Shota and Ryota told me the same at some point. They came from an illegal place as well and they also lived the way of the survival of the fittest. Unfortunately I had become their favorite pray.”

It obviously surprised Ren a lot to hear something like that, because they were now so close to Taiga and also judging Ren's behavior a lot.

“They changed a lot over the time and while it needed an unfortunate event in which they almost got killed to open their eyes it might took something different for you?”

Ren needed a few more minutes to think about it, but Taiga was right.

“I think the first blast already happened when somehow no one seemed afraid of me no matter what I did and then Reia dared to try and challenge me. I thought if I put him in place I could keep living here the same way as I did before…”

“But something was different,” Taiga concluded for him and Ren nodded.

“You were there.” Ren replied directly. “For the first time someone cared. It wasn't about the fact that someone dared to punish me, but the way you did it because you cared for Reia. It threw me back to the bottom. Feeling afraid of everyone in my surroundings, lost and scared of not being able to win any fight in here.”

“Are you thinking the same way now as well?”

Ren didn't seem sure what to reply at first, but Taiga gave him all the time needed to think about it.

“Actually there were two moments I wasn't sure anymore what to think.” Ren explained. “Reia approaching me at the Matsuri to ask me to get the strings as if nothing had ever happened, even though I know I've hurt him a lot and owe him more than just a simple apology. And the second one...just happened...you actually telling me that you don't hate me.”

Ren’s thoughts made a smile appear on Taiga's lips and he felt relieved about the way Ren finally found his way back, away from all the anger and fear.

“So do you think you'll be able to cooperate with us from now on? Or do I have to threaten you with more seconds in the pond once more?”

For the very first time Taiga saw Ren's smile as he shook his head. “Please no throwing me into the pond again, I promise I won't do something stupid which will piss you off that much ever again.”

“That makes me feel pretty relieved,” Taiga replied. “Do you mind if I ask you something about the Matsuri?”

Ren's look darkened a bit on that topic, but he nodded.

“As you just said yourself we all care for each other and the way Taisuke and Kamenashi stood up for you should make it clear that we all care for you as well, so you've to make sure to never lie to us, is that clear?”

Taiga hoped he wouldn't make Ren crawl back into his shell with his serious tone, but he needed to make sure that Ren was getting in how much trouble they actually were.

Ren seemed determined though when he nodded and Taiga could just hope that he trusted the right person this time.

“You said you wanted to go to Massu's shop to get the shamisen strings, right?”

Again Ren nodded and Taiga knew already that his question won't be important to Ren, but give him a headache for the rest of the day.

“Which direction did you head off to when you left the parade?”

“Massu's shop is on the other side of the river so I wanted to take a short cut next to the tea houses. So I left the street on the right.”

“You are definitely saying the truth?”

Taiga's serious expression made Ren gulp nervously, but he still nodded. “Yes I left to the right. Reia also saw that.”

That was all he needed to know, but now the difficult part would start.

“Thank you for letting me know,” Taiga said and got up, heading for the door.

“Taiga?”

The one in question turned back to the boy and Ren seemed a bit unsure about what to say so for now he stood up and bowed to his senpai. “Thank you for trusting me after all the chaos and pain I've caused. I won't make you regret it.”

“No matter what happens from now on please remember your own words,” Taiga replied with a light smile and left the room with a way lighter feeling in his chest. Slowly he slid the door shut and closed the lock. Then his smile grew a bit wider before he looked to the side.

“Shouldn't you be locked up as well?”

Reia didn't look up at his senpai, instead he faced the ground with a thoughtful expression. Why was Taiga almost sure that Shintaro’s walk had ended at Reia’s room?

“The rest is up to you now. He made his point clear,” Taiga said on which Reia took a deep breath and bowed to his senpai before he went back to his room.

It hadn't been his plan, but this outcome would hopefully support both sides and while he needed to put the boys’ problems to the back for now there was something else he needed to focus on.

When Ren had set off to the right and everyone else had stayed at the parade who had he seen leaving to the left?

 

+++

 

₁monbi – Festival in Yoshiwara, on which the visit costs double of the money, if someone doesn’t get booked they have to pay for themselves

Chapter Text

“Does it look that bad?”

“To be honest it already looks a bit better than when we found you,” Taiga let out with a shaking fake smile and soon Kentaro grabbed his hand and squeezed it right before Taiga couldn't hold back his tears anymore.

After a little bit of begging they were allowed one by one to visit Ryosuke and Kentaro the next days and everyone had said Taiga should go first.

“Let me guess you somehow give yourself the fault in some weird twisted way?”

It was a sob mixed with a chuckle this time when Taiga hit Kentaro lightly on the back of his hand. “Why are you two always saying the same stuff?”

“Because Juri might be your boyfriend, but I'm the mum of all of you.” Even though he was teasing of course, there was no smile on his face, because of the deep scars.

“I can still see, speak and hear. What else do you need to realize that I'll be fine? You lost your eyesight on one eye and I carry some deep scars on my face. And? We're both still alive that's all we need, right?”

It was amazing how his senpai was supporting him while it should be the other way around, but what else did he expect.

“Let's focus on finding who is doing all this, okay? We don’t want anyone else getting hurt.”

“Did you talk to Aran already?”

Kentaro nodded, but didn't seem optimistic. “I did, but I couldn't give him any good information. All I remember are the smoke bombs getting off, Ryosuke suddenly gasping next to me and when I saw that he got stabbed I dragged him away from the main street. The next thing that happened was me getting knocked out from behind.”

“So there is the possibility of two people doing this, right? The other two Oirans got killed, but I somehow doubt the same person could have made it after you in time,” Taiga concluded and Kentaro nodded.

“I think so as well. I can't recall the details anymore, but I think it was just one person chasing us, because I remember dragging Ryosuke after me and because Ryosuke got just knocked out that person seemed to not have time to attack both of us. Maybe you came around the corner when he wanted to go for Ryosuke?”

That was a possibility, but it also made Taiga feel stupid for not thinking about it right away. Maybe they could have caught up to the culprit.

“I know that look. Stop it, you did what you could!” Kentaro scolded him.

“I know, sorry,” Taiga replied when a knock on the door interrupted them and Fuma stepped inside the room with some food in his hand.

“My personal caretaker has returned after just 30 minutes of not seeing me. Can't you finally try and get some rest?”

“I rest when you do. Remember, Nakamaru lets me stay here,” Fuma teased and Taiga was happy to see Fuma a bit calmer now.

“I'll leave you alone for now. I need to talk to Ryosuke as well,” Taiga excused himself, but was stopped by Fuma in the doorframe.

“If there are any clues or hints about who did this, make sure to not hide it from us, okay?”

That was more a “from me”, but Taiga couldn't judge Fuma for wanting to take revenge and he nodded even though he wasn't sure if he could keep that promise.

With a heavy feeling in chest from checking up on Kentaro, Taiga made it to Ryosuke’s room, but luckily in his room the atmosphere was way lighter.

“Hey, there. Did they finally let you guys out of the house again?” Ryosuke greeted him, sitting on his futon, but still having the side of his ribs bandaged where he had been stabbed.

“More or less, yes. At least Noeru was allowed to check up on you over the past days.”

“Even though I wished he’d take some time for himself as well. Is he back at the house now?”

Taiga nodded with a brief smile on seeing Ryosuke’s worries for his assistant. 

“I told him to sleep for now and that I am going to check up on you today.”

Ryosuke seemed relieved hearing that and he leaned back against the wall with his eyes closed for a moment.

“Are you feeling alright?” Taiga asked as he finally sat down in front of the futon.

“Definitely better than a week ago, even though I shouldn’t complain, because my wounds are nothing compared to what had been done to Kentaro.”

Both their looks darkened on that topic, but on the other hand their senpai was dealing better with it than they did.

“Are there any news about who did it? I heard that the police was actually suspecting Ren and Reia? How come they would even think that?”

With a sign Taiga shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. “I guess the police wanted to make sure they investigated every possibility, but because there was no actual evidence against them, they can’t take a hold of them.”

“That’s so ridiculous,” Ryosuke hissed. “I mean we all know Ren is a bad kid, but this? It’s a totally different topic. You must be a monster to do what this person is doing!”

It brought a small smile on Taiga’s face knowing that even Ryosuke wasn’t believing that they were involved in this incident. “How are the activities in the house? Are you still all under house arrest?”

“Actually not for much longer. Other houses also decided to go back to the teahouses next week and we will as well, with the small change that Ren and Reia will have to stay put in the house for now and they are being watched by Shintaro and Tatsuya until things hopefully calm down in the end and the police can capture whoever is doing this!”

When Ryosuke’s hand landed on Taiga’s he flinched a bit. He hadn’t realized that he had clawed his hands into his Yukata while speaking.

“Hey, it’s going to be okay! Nothing will happen to you or the people we care about. We just need to have a close eye on everyone.”

After everything that had happened it was astonishing that Ryosuke was still able to stay strong like this and Taiga wished he could show the same courage, but he couldn’t deny that fear was his companion each time they headed to the tea house.

“I hope you are right,” Taiga whispered on which Ryosuke squeezed his hand and gave him an encouraging smile.

“You need to worry about other things for now!” Ryosuke said playful on which Taiga lifted an eyebrow at him. “You are aware that you need to entertain my usual customers until I make it back to the tea houses, right? I don’t want to come back to empty rooms!”

Taiga cracked a smile on hearing that and nodded a bit embarrassed. “I will try my best!”

***

First it was Juri’s turn and Taiga held the kimono open for the older one as he moved his arms into the long sleeves. Carefully Taiga put the now heavy feeling fabric over the boy’s shoulders. For weeks they had just worn Yukatas and now their Kimonos felt kind of weird to wear. Teasingly Taiga moved his fingers around the skin showing on Juri’s collarbones as he walked to the front to close it for him.

“Since when do you enjoy this so much?” Juri asked teasing, but Taiga just gave him a lopsided smile before he ‘accidently’ stepped a bit too close as he put the obi around Juri’s hips. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Taiga whispered against the other one’s lips on which Juri seemed a bit embarrassed yet playful.

When the Kimono was finally closed and in place Taiga moved his fingers over the embroidery over the fabric. It was the Kimono Taiga had presented to Juri and while it was of course showing signs of bad treatment from customers he still loved it as it carried a lot of their memories.

“Your turn,” Juri said as he moved over to the cupboard with a wide smile. They had decided that as it was their first day at a tea house in a while the other one would decide which Kimono they’d wear today and they weren’t allowed to look until the other one had chosen. “You might want to get ready?”

Which meant as much as get out of your night Yukata and with a chuckle Taiga did as he was told and waited patiently with his back turned to the boy. A shiver ran through his body when the cold fabric of a Kimono landed on his shoulders. Before he could open his eyes to take a look, Juri had suddenly pulled his back against his chest to hold him in a tight hug.

“As soon as this trouble is over I want to present you with a new Kimono,” the boy whispered and Taiga new of course which Kimono he had chosen for today.

Slowly opening his eyes Taiga already moved his arms into the sleeves and lifted his arm in the black fabric showing sakura blossoms all over the fabric. “Then let me choose a new one for you as well, as something like our new beginning.”

“Wow that sounded super dramatic,” Juri said on which Taiga lifted his hand to the boy’s cheek and gave him a light clap on it on which Juri laughed and finally moved to the front to close the Kimono for Taiga.

When Juri wanted to step back he was grabbed by the collar and he obviously knew what was coming when he met Taiga for a soft and slow kiss.

“What was that for?” Juri asked with a teasing smile.

“A good luck charm maybe?” Taiga replied with a wink before he stepped back or they would definitely not leave this room soon and their Kimonos would end up on the floor once more.

***

“Can you stop looking over your shoulder?”

Taiga hadn’t even realized that he was indeed looking back all the time, even though the night at the tea house had been calm, maybe too calm for his liking. “Sorry.”

“I didn’t tell you to apologize, I know you are worried, but you were the last one to go home today and everyone else is safely back at the house,” Tatsuya explained on which Taiga nodded with a gloomy expression.

“When I brought you and Juri to the tea house earlier you both were so cheerful, did something happen that you switched into this mood?” Tatsuya asked neutral, because Juri had been in a good mood even after leaving the tea house, obviously happy about the calm atmosphere. Of course he had been worried for Taiga leaving after him, but Tatsuya had promised to wait for him so Juri and a few other boys had left with Shintaro while Ren and Reia had to stay with Taisuke back at the house.

“You’d laugh if I told you,” Taiga said in a low voice.

“Try me.”

All Taiga did was looking up at the older one on that statement on which Tatsuya suddenly stopped walking and gave him a scolding look. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t feel comfortable with it, but I want you to remember that I am a member of this house as much as you are. I know I am not involved that much in all your private problems, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care.”

It was rare for Tatsuya to speak so openly, but most of the time he took his work of protecting them so serious that there was no space for private conversations.

Without another word Tatsuya started walking again and Taiga needed to hurry to catch up with him.

“It feels weird without Reia,” Taiga finally said. “I know he’s been punished for something he didn’t do and I know how much he liked it to assist me in the tea house, so I feel a bit...lonely without him.”

Taiga was ready to get laughed at by the older one, but there was no teasing expression on the other one’s face at all when he nodded. “Understandable, especially because you worked well as a team and he is also your friend so you want to make sure he is safe and happy.”

It felt awkward to have such a conversation with him, but to his surprise Tatsuya seemed to know more about their lives and connections in the house than he thought.

“For now he and Ren are both allowed to work inside the house, so as long as you observe how things are going inside the house he should be fine, right?”

Straight forward spoken that was indeed the case and Taiga nodded with a thankful expression. They all needed to watch out for each other even more from now on after all.

***

The evening had started normal in the tea house. Taiga finally back in his three layered Kimono, playing the shamisen for well-known faces. Ryosuke’s regular customers had booked him and Reo tonight and Taiga wanted to keep his promise of entertaining his customers as good as he could.

When he bowed to the customers after the first song was over and he wanted to join them at the tables to pour them some drinks the door opened and a loud English greeting went through the whole room.

With a bright smile Jesse spotted Taiga and waved him over immediately as he sat down.

“Good to see that you’ve been safe over the past weeks,” Jesse said obviously happy about seeing Taiga.

“I am also pleased to see you back at Yoshiwara. How have things been going in Japan?” Taiga asked politely as he poured Jesse a drink and left the other customers to Reo for now.

“It has been awesome to be honest! I had been able to do a lot of research for my work, get to know even more about Japan and even got a few insider tips here and there.”

The lopsided smile on Jesse’s face made Taiga give him a playful look. “Insider tips? That sounds interesting, may I know about them?”

As if Jesse had hoped for that question he leant more to the front and waved Taiga closer, the boy turning his head so that the younger one could whisper in his ear. “If you don’t mind me coming over tonight then I might have a few things to tell?”

With a small chuckle Taiga pulled back and lifted his sleeve to his mouth to hide his smile. As always such a small movement made Jesse’s eyes shine and the boy nodded through which Jesse let out a way too loud English yes on which the other members of the room scolded him, but were also laughing at his typical hyper behavior.

“Then let’s enjoy ourselves for now, shall we?” Jesse suggested and of course Taiga knew already how to make this an entertaining evening, but Jesse seemed to have learned some new tricks as well.

***

It was the worst headache Taiga had woken up to in months and he could barely recall the evening from before, but when he scanned his surroundings he was sure that Jesse had indeed joined him in their house after the evening. Now the boy was unfortunately gone once more.

They had been drinking and smoking, Taiga playing the shamisen for him once more at some point, but before they left the tea house there was a blank spot and Taiga’s head started hurting even more on the try to remember so he gave up for now, getting dressed.

After just a few days back to business some customers seemed to already make a ruckus as it was time for them to leave. Taiga spotted the troublemaker at the end of the corridor and with him Ren who had trouble making him calm down.

Taiga wanted to hurry towards them, but he needed to stabilize himself at the wall for a moment as everything started spinning. Had he drunk that much the evening before? Before he could try to recall anything there was an impact heard and a yelp on which Taiga looked up again, finding Ren on the ground holding his arm in pain as he had obviously just been attacked by the customer.

Usually the boy would definitely just jump up and hit that man straight in the face, but somehow it felt like he tried to be patient this time, knowing that aggressive behavior would end with another police visit. Unfortunately the customer was too outraged to calm down and soon he started kicking Ren who tried to block the kicks as good as possible.

Before Taiga could reach them someone else came running from the other corridor, throwing himself in front of Ren. Taiga stopped dead on his tracks, watching how the boy successfully calmed down the customer with a lot of apologies and made him leave. If that hadn’t been weird enough he then came back to help up Ren who seemed to feel uncomfortable, but still took the helping hand stretched out to him.

“What’s going on?”

When Reo appeared next to him Taiga flinched. “Damn don’t scare me like this!”

“Sorry?” Reo said a bit worried, looking at Taiga with a scanning look he knew too well. “So what’s going on?” Reo tried again looking down the corridor on which he let out a disbelieving snort.

“Right?” Taiga said between worried and amused as they both looked at Reia who was helping up Ren and walked off with him towards the other direction.

“Wow, that is...unexpected? But maybe a change to the better?” Reo asked on which Taiga could do nothing more but shrug his shoulders, because he wasn’t sure either if Reia just played tough or if he was really ready to face this.

“So...how are you feeling?”

On Reo’s question Taiga bit his lip, already knowing that this question definitely had an embarrassing reason.

“You mind if we talk somewhere else?” Taiga asked with a look to the still open room door and Reo nodded, closing the door behind them as they both sat down.

“Ok so how embarrassing was I?”

“You don’t remember?” Reo asked a bit worried now.

“I remember having some drinks with Jesse, also playing the shamisen once more at some point, but the rest is a bit blurry.”

Reo crossed his arms to his chest with a thoughtful expression on which Taiga shifted nervously. “You left me with the rest of the customers so I didn’t have much time to observe you and Jesse, but what I remember clearly is you getting new drinks and something to smoke on Jesse’s request and then you two kept behaving all awkward.”

“Awkward in what way?” Taiga asked curious, because he couldn’t recall anything, but now that Reo said it there had been indeed something Jesse had behaved all secretly about even though he had kept laughing most of the time.

“At some point of the evening you complained about a headache, I remember Reia being worried for you before because you had a similar one? But except for that you behaved...weird.”

The headache he didn’t need to be reminded of and yes he had experienced it before, but this time it was worse.

“Please tell me that I didn’t do anything stupid?”

“No don’t worry it wasn’t that bad. You were more like drunk? But still able to do everything by yourself, you even talked nonstop to Jesse and brought him back to the house, so now I wonder why you’ve actually forgotten so much while you didn’t seem that bad?”

“I wish I knew,” Taiga said with a sight before he rubbed his temples with a groan.

“Well I guess for today you should rest as much as you can and in case you still feel sick by tonight let Kamenashi know?”

“Good idea I guess?” Taiga said thankfully and decided that he needed a bath and definitely more sleep for now.

Chapter Text

“Welcome back.” Taiga said with a brief smile.

“Does it sound weird if I say I am not sure if it’s good to be back?” Ryosuke asked a bit teasing when Taiga and Juri greeted him when he came inside the house with Noeru and Shintaro.

“Not at all, but let me tell you that it’s completely quiet at the teahouses since the parade,” Juri let out.

“That is at least something positive.”

They moved further into the house when Shintaro excused himself to Kamenashi’s room to report that they had come back.

“Do you have to go back to work immediately?” Taiga asked a bit worried on which Ryosuke gave him a confident look and slapped his own hand on the place where his wound was.

“I am a quick healer, don’t worry. And I can’t leave you alone with all of my customers all the time, right?”

Taiga couldn’t hide an embarrassed smile on that topic and bowed slightly to the other one. “I tried my best to entertain them until now.”

“Don’t worry, now I am back with you as well and having Noeru with us too will be helpful I guess? Or are the other assistants back at the teahouses as well?”

With the assistants it was clear that he meant Reia and Ren, but Taiga shook his head. “Out of security reasons Kamenashi had forbidden most of them to go for now, we usually go with Tatsuya and Shintaro. If nothing else happens over the next weeks they might be allowed back as well though.”

“Sounds like a safe plan for sure. Noeru would you mind preparing my room? I’d love to take a rest before my first shift in the evening.”

Noeru nodded immediately and wanted to take the small bag Ryosuke was carrying, but Juri was faster and took it from him. “Let me help, you brought a lot of other thing with you already.”

Noeru appreciated the help and went up the stairs first and while Juri followed him almost immediately Taiga didn’t miss the short glance towards Ryosuke before he went upstairs.

“You mind to accompany me through the house? I’d like to see the new ikebana in the rooms. I heard Shota was busy thinking of new patterns lately?”

Taiga nodded and moved back with Ryosuke to the front of the house where it was silent now with no customers.

“So did any of our usual customers come to the house over the time I wasn’t here?”

“Actually not too many, because most of them are still a bit hesitant after the incidence, but Jesse came by.”

There was an immediate chuckle from Ryosuke on the mention of his name and Taiga could tell what he was thinking before he even voiced it out, making him feel the heat crawling up his cheeks and here he usually never felt embarrassed about any topic, but with Ryosuke everything felt different. “I somehow guessed he’d come back for you and you seem to like to challenge yourself with types like him.”

Types like him, that was a wide room for interpretations, but before Taiga could give it a thought his way was blocked when Ryosuke put his hand to the wall right in front of him. It took the younger one a bit by surprise, but all he did was turning towards Ryosuke.

“I wonder if there is a type you cannot handle?”

“There have been types already I couldn’t handle,” Taiga said neutral, but automatically pressed his back a bit more against the wall when Ryosuke leant closer.

“Mh, then how about I give you a challenge? You know after not being able to work for some time now it would be a bit much to handle a complicated customer all by myself.”

“Are you trying to get one?” Taiga asked a bit confused on which Ryosuke formed a brief smile obviously amused by Taiga’s way too naive behavior.

“Let’s make a bet, shall we?”

“What kind of?” Taiga asked a bit more interested, because challenges were always his weak point and Ryosuke had definitely realized that as well.

“The next time we both go to the teahouse and get our regular customers I want you to persuade one of them to have a threesome with you and me.”

That challenge almost made Taiga jolt and yet he couldn’t from forming a lopsided smile and suddenly gain the confidence to lean a bit to the front as well. “What do I get if I succeed?”

The low chuckle he got as a reply made a shiver run through is body and Ryosuke put his elbow to the wall. “Maybe more than you can handle?”

That was way too vague and yet it was all Taiga needed to know, because surprises were also on the list of things he was totally up for. “But,” Ryosuke continued, putting the pointer finger of his free hand under the boy’s chin. “If you don’t succeed I might have to request something from you.”

“Oh? What could you possibly request from someone like me?” Taiga asked challenging and while it was getting dangerous to not get a reply when Ryosuke leant so close that he couldn’t actually look at him anymore there was someone heard hawking next to them and Ryosuke backed off immediately, for the first time ever showing a slightly startled expression.

“You know as much as I don’t care what other members in the house do at their free time would you mind not accidentally stumbling in one of those rooms? I just washed all the sheets,” Reia complained as he walked passed them as if it was something completely normal to see at daytime at the house.

“Lucky for you that we didn’t have that intention,” Ryosuke said teasing on which Reia gave him a side glance and Taiga couldn’t hide a chuckle. “Yeah, sure…”

“Do you want any help?” Taiga offered, but Reia shook his head.

“All good, it’s just this corridor. The Kimonos are done today as well. Ren washed them in the morning. I put yours in too by the way.”

“Thank you, Reia, that’s -”

Taiga froze on the spot when he remembered something and before any of them could ask what was going on he hurried down the corridor towards their garden where the Kimonos and Yukatas were usually washed.

“Taiga, what is going on?” Ryosuke asked as he had caught up with him followed by a worried looking Reia.

Without answering their questions he ripped one of his Kimonos from the line and took a quick look at the inside of his sleeves. “Damn it.”

“Is it time to panic, what is it?” Reia asked a bit scared, but Taiga shook his head.

“I hope it’s ok, but Jesse actually forgot something and I put it in my sleeve the other day, but with all the chaos of the past weeks I totally forgot about it.”

“What was it? Maybe Ren took it out?” Reia asked as he took a look around the washing area if something had been dropped.

“It was a paper envelope, pretty small so I am not sure if he would have noticed. It might also have dissolved in the water,” Taiga said as he looked at the other kimonos.

“You said Jesse forgot it when he left?” Ryosuke asked, now joining the search.

“Yes the morning he left I found it on the floor, but the last time he visited he was gone before I woke up so I forgot about it again. It is really pretty small so I fear it’s maybe gone. I really hope there was nothing important written on it or inside of it.”

“I go and ask Ren if he picked anything up,” Reia said and jumped back on the veranda.

“Wait, is it this?” Ryosuke asked before the boy could go back inside the house.

Taiga walked over to the older one who held something in his hand which he had obviously just picked up from the grass.

“That’s it! Thank you, Ryosuke!” Taiga let out in relief.

“Great, let’s hand it back to him the next time we go to the teahouse, but make sure to store it safely in your room for now and at a place no one could accidently throw it away.”

“Definitely will,” Taiga said grateful and kept it in his hand for now, before it could get forgotten in a sleeve once more.

***

“Our dream team is back to work,” Reo let out with a bright smile when Taiga and Ryosuke got ready to leave for the teahouse.

“Jealous?” Ryosuke asked playfully and there was no chance for Reo to hide that yes indeed he was jealous, because he always liked to be part of everything going on around the house.

“I will wait outside for you, take your time,” Ryosuke said over his shoulder towards Taiga who waited for one of his assistants who had forgotten his make-up in his room, again.

“It’s difficult for you without Reia, isn’t it?” Reo asked when Ryosuke went outside where Tatsuya and Noeru were waiting for him already.

“I guess it’s hard for him as well. It’s not good for him and Ren to be locked up like this.”

“They will be fine, don’t worry. After all we had no incidence at all recently, right?” It sounded so positive, yet Taiga couldn’t see it as such and when he heard a thoughtful snort behind him two other people with the same thoughts had joined them.

“To be honest it could be a pretty bad point as well,” Shota said on which Reo tilted his head.

“No murders means there is no murderer around, so maybe they are locked up here?” Ryota explained more detailed.

Reo couldn’t hide a snort on that and shook his head. “As if anyone would believe that.”

“People believe a lot if you give them the right bait,” Ryota added.

“Do you think the actual culprit knows what is going on?” Taiga asked and of course Ryota was thinking the same as he did and he nodded.

“With everything going on recently and the police showing up at our house so often it’s just normal that word spread fast.”

“Then wouldn’t it be better if we let them work again so that people see it wasn’t them?” Shota asked on which Reo seemed to have finally caught up to the situation and shook his head.

“That is exactly what they want, right? If we let them go back then they might kill someone again and it will seem like it was them, because they were finally allowed back at the teahouse!”

“Exactly,” Ryota said with a proud slap on Reo’s shoulder. “Now let’s keep those thoughts to us for now, okay? We don’t need panic again now that it’s calm for a while.”

They all agreed on that, but Taiga was sure that they were not the only ones with that thought and all he wanted was to catch whoever had done all this to his friends.

“Anyways, stay safe and don’t flirt too much with Ryosuke, you should get us paying customers instead!” Shota mocked Taiga and gave him a wink before he got a death glare in return.

Reo suddenly grabbed him by the arm when the other two left and pulled him a bit closer. “Serious question here, did you have the chance to do it with Ryosuke yet?”

 Of course that was a serious question for Reo, because Taiga wasn’t blind. Ryosuke wasn’t the type to easily get twisted around someone’s finger so most boys just left him alone, but Reo wanted to know as always.

“No I haven’t and I doubt you have either.”

“How would I have a chance if he doesn’t even go with you?”

“What do you mean? You are the one trying to get everyone the moment they enter the house,” Taiga replied playful, but Reo’s serious expression made his teasing smile fall.

“You know how he looks at you, right?”

“Oh, come on Reo. I know we are called a dream team, but things have to be played well to make things work like that.”

“It might be a play for you, but I doubt it’s for him.”

It was rare to see Reo that concerned about a topic like this and slowly Taiga saw a bit truth in what he was saying. Now he slowly realized that it wasn’t just Reo. Shota and Ryota had just said the same, Reia didn’t even look surprised when he walked in their bet talk before and Juri...all the weird looks, the grumpy mood when being around Ryosuke, now it all made sense.

With a groan Taiga rubbed his temples and cursed in a low voice. “I'm so stupid.”

“Well, blind is the better word, but don’t think too much about it, okay? Just do your work as you usually do, because it’s work after all, right? You know Juri is okay with it when it’s about the customers.”

But what if it wasn’t about the customers? What if every approach until now was about something else? The bet as well...for now he had to try and just keep the topic for later, but things had turned even more complicated for Taiga than they were already and maybe he didn’t want to win their bet anymore.

***

“You were so quiet today, everything alright?” Ryosuke asked, taking out his hair needles and handing them to Noeru who put them in his bag together with the make-up and the kimono before they got up and left the teahouse.

“Just a bit tired I guess,” Taiga lied on which Noeru hit him a bit against the arm.

“Be prepared for that lady to come later, she looked almost hypnotized when you were playing the shamisen.”

“Are you sure that look wasn’t for Ryosuke’s fan dance?”

“I like taking all the praise, but trust me this time it’s you who should take pride in your skills,” Ryosuke praised him, but for tonight Taiga couldn’t see it as positive as he usually did.

“Oh that’s not good,” Tatsuya was heard in front of them and Taiga looked past him towards their house immediately.

Police had arrived, which wasn’t unusual, because Aran had said they would make random checkups on the boys for a while, but this time things were different.

“Boys, would you wait- Taiga, wait!”

No he wouldn’t wait. What he saw in front of him was definitely not right and he would need to demand an explanation why Ren was being dragged out of the house with his hands tied to his back.

“ARAN!” Taiga yelled as he ran towards the entrance of the house where the Senpais tried to keep the others inside the house, but of course everyone wanted to know what was going on, but even Kamenashi didn’t interfere and it made Taiga worry what had happened. “What is going on? What are you doing?”

“Sorry Taiga, but this is none of your business for now. Please step aside and let us leave.”

Taiga looked up at Kamenashi and Taisuke who stood in the door with a worried expression, but before he could actually explode, Aran luckily seemed to be able to read the atmosphere and pulled him to the side.

“We found opium in Ren’s clothes. It makes him even more of a suspect.”

“Or a victim! You said yourself a lot of people get it from dealers, maybe he didn’t even know what it was. Did he tell you where he got it from?”

“No he doesn’t want to tell me.”

“Please let me try and ask him,” Taiga begged, but Aran looked skeptical. But now Tatsuya and the others had also arrived and the members of the house were getting louder inside as well, so he sighed and made a slight movement with his head towards Ren. “I can only give you a few minutes and I have to be with you. He isn’t allowed to tell you anything in secret.”

“Totally fine with me,” Taiga approved and they walked over to the other officers and Aran made them step back for a moment.

“Ren, are you okay?” Taiga asked worried and for the first time he saw so much fear in the boy’s eyes.

“I’m sorry.”

“For what? Ren, please just tell us what is going on. It’s definitely a misunderstanding, why won’t you talk?”

Silence. But Taiga didn’t want to take silence as a reply. “I told you to never lie to me again, right? You can trust me, please Ren we all want to help you.”

Somehow that statement made even more despair visible on the boy’s face and Taiga felt nauseous through this messed up situation. Had Ren actually made a very bad move? Had he somehow ended up with the wrong people, but when and why? It didn’t make any sense.

“You were trapped in the house. You didn’t even work directly with customers, why would you have opium with you?”

“Taiga, we actually need to investigate that as well, because the chances are high that someone from the house or from your customers is involved.”

Another slap in the face, but everything was possible at the moment. “Can you show me the opium he had with him, I want to-”

“NO!” Ren shouted all of the sudden, making his Senpai flinch. “Don’t show him. I don’t want anyone involved in this. Pleas let’s just go.”

Aran and Taiga exchanged a knowing look on the boy’s reaction and Aran actually pulled out the opium they had taken from the boy earlier.

“He had it in the sleeve of his Yukata,” Aran explained, while all color left Ren’s face when he looked up to his Senpai. But Taiga didn’t look much better as he realized what Aran was holding out to him.

“So anyways, he doesn’t want to tell us where he got it from so for now we have to take him with us,” Aran explained and put the opium back in his pocket. When he waved the officers back over, Taiga reached out for his arm, but Ren stepped in between them facing Taiga.

“What is it boy?” Aran asked and pushed Ren back, but the time had been enough to give a message to Taiga and as much as he wanted to refuse he knew what Ren was doing and it was the bravest thing he had ever done.

“Taiga I am sorry, but we need to leave for now.”

There was no reply just a nod and he couldn’t do anything else, but stare after the police officers dragging Ren with them.

"Let's go inside for now," Tatsuya urged them and Juri already waited for Taiga knowing that he was shaken through the sudden situation.

"Are you okay?" He asked as he took Taiga's hand in his and squeezed it.

"I need to talk to you," Taiga whispered and luckily everything was chaotic enough to not raise any suspicions as they left first for their room.

Once more Taiga looked out to the corridor making sure that no one was around before he closed the door and dashed over to his cupboard, throwing his Yukata and Kimono out of it.

"Taiga you're slightly scaring me, what is going on?" Juri asked with a shaking voice, but sat down on the Tatami ground, waiting for Taiga to reply.

"I don't know myself what's going on anymore," Taiga replied as his movements suddenly stopped.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean this," Taiga said as he turned towards Juri and held out the small paper envelope he had hidden there.

"That is…" Juri stuttered as he took the small envelope out of Taiga's hand.

"The same envelope Aran had shown to me. It's opium."

"But- how...Taiga, why do you have opium?"

It was obvious how confused Juri was about the situation, but if there was anyone who'd listen before judging it was Juri.

"I didn't know it was opium. I had no clue until now how it got transported or how it looked like," Taiga explained. "Jesse lost it when he visited the first time and I put it in my sleeve, but then Ren did the laundry and I thought it was gone, but then we found it in the grass, but…"

"But what?" Juri asked a bit restless. After all the fact that they had this in their room made them criminals already.

"I know this sounds totally weird, but earlier when Aran showed me the opium Ren begged him not to and when I wanted to tell him that I had the same envelope or more like that I thought it's mine Ren jumped in front of me with this begging look. I thought he wanted to protect me."

"And now you don't think so anymore?"

"If he wanted to protect me why is this still here?" Taiga asked and took the opium back from Juri. "If he had found it and took it then it would have made sense somehow. Maybe he didn't know what it was himself, but when the police told him it was opium he realized that I would end up in trouble as well."

"But it wasn't your opium…" Juri concluded, now also confused about what was going on.

A knock on the door made both of them jolt and while none of them said it was okay to come in the door got slid open anyways.

Reia hurried inside and closed the door before he sat down in front of the boys.

"What is it Reia?" Taiga asked concerned while hiding the envelope in his closed hand, but to his surprise Reia pointed out to him.

"That's not yours," he whispered on which Juri and Taiga exchanged a perplex look.

"What are you talking about?"

"The opium Taiga, I'm talking about the freaking opium," Reia finally lost it. He still tried to keep his voice down, but his hands were shaking and tears of rage were forming in his eyes.

"Ok calm down, please?" Juri tried to sooth him.

"Ren made me promise not to tell you until he figured out what was going on, but he didn't have enough time."

"I'm not sure if I can follow you," Taiga said.

"After we found that envelope in the garden I accidentally saw Ren pulling out the same kind of envelope out his sleeve and I asked him where he got it from. He explained that while doing the laundry he found it in your Kimono and had no time to return it yet. I told him about us finding another one while there should be just one and that was when we got curious and opened it. Ren realized immediately what it was and told me to make sure no one would know."

"Because you had one as well. So he was protecting you after all by not saying where he got that envelope from," Juri said on which Taiga nodded with a sorrowful expression.

"We need to make a plan," Taiga announced. "For now let's make sure this secret isn't leaking or we'll all be in trouble."

"There is one more thing," Reia started on which both boys waited for him to say what else was on his mind, but what he had to say made another problem rise and things got even more complicated than before. Who could they still trust?

***

“You don’t have to go,” Jesse said after Taiga was already up to get tobacco, because Jesse had asked him if he was okay with smoking.

The evening in the teahouse was as loud as always with all the people coming with Jesse all the time, but now Taiga had to handle them without Ryosuke for the time being, which made it a bit more complicated. Jesse had already decided to join Taiga at their house later though and the mood was cheerful as well.

“But didn’t you say you wanted to smoke?”

Jesse nodded, but pulled him back down, laughing in the progress like always without any specific reason. “Let’s try this one,” Jesse suggested and pulled something out of his sleeve and handed it to Taiga. A small paper envelope, nothing special.

“Wait I have seen this before. You lost one of those in the house. I totally forgot to give it back to you.”

“Oh, that’s where I lost it, well doesn’t matter now anymore. This is a present of my Japanese colleagues,” Jesse replied pointing to the people in the room, but still kept his voice low. “Let’s keep this a secret for now.”

Taiga just nodded and let Jesse prepare the cigarette. He handed it to Taiga and right after the first drag Taiga recognized the taste. It was that kind, which always had made him feel nauseous afterwards, but he didn’t want to be impolite and Jesse seemed extremely entertained so why ruin the mood.

“You mind if I join you later in the house?” Jesse asked when he took the cigarette back and took a drag himself.

“I am not booked for tonight, so you are more than welcome,” Taiga said with a teasing attitude on which Jesse blew some steam in his face on which Taiga let out a small cough making Jesse laugh.

“Perfect, then have some more of this then it will be even more fun later!”

If it had been fun or not Taiga still couldn’t remember, but his memories of this event finally coming back made his stomach turn when he woke up. Juri was still sleeping calmly next to him and also Reia was lying on the other side of him, because after the weird events going on in the house they didn’t want to let him sleep with the other assistants, it was just too dangerous.

“I am such an idiot,” Taiga whispered to himself as he turned on his back and let his hand move through his messy hair with a sigh. He had taken opium and didn’t even remember until now. Jesse, one of his most nice customers had actually made him take it. But could he judge him? He had gotten it from others, they had all taken it over all the meetings they had in the teahouse, which meant it hadn’t been just Taiga. Ryosuke had been there, as well as Juri and Reo sometimes. Also female Oirans and they were all unaware of what was going on...or were they?

“Such a troubled expression right in the morning?” Juri was suddenly heard on which Taiga looked over to him before he checked if Reia was still sleeping.

“I just remembered the evening in the teahouse with Jesse,” Taiga explained and Juri got up on his elbows on hearing that.

“And why does it trouble you?”

“You remember that Reo told me I had behaved super weird that evening, right?” Juri just nodded, because that was the only part Taiga had remembered at that day anyway. “I had been smoking Opium with Jesse that evening at the teahouse without knowing what it was.”

Suddenly Juri’s expression turned a bit paler through hearing that. “Wait, does that mean?”

“Yes I guess you and the others might have taken it before too, but maybe just in small doses, because we usually don’t smoke much of the customers cigarettes. But I seem to get easily affected by it and Jesse made me smoke a lot on that evening that’s why I couldn’t remember anything and also felt so bad the next day.”

Juri let out a sigh on that, but snuggled next to Taiga, hooking into his elbow on which Taiga raised an eyebrow at him. “You know that this doesn’t make you in any way bad, right? No one of us is at fault for the crimes those people did, so don’t trouble yourself so much with it, okay?”

Of course Juri could read his expression and Taiga knew he was overthinking, but he wished he had realized it earlier. “If I had known, maybe we could have found out already who the dealers are and also prevent the murders.”

“Stop it, will you?” Juri warned him and squeezed his arm a bit firmer. “We are no police officers and as unfortunate as all the events so far were it is not our task to risk our lives to find out what is going on!”

“I know, I just don’t want anyone else to get hurt,” Taiga said and turned towards Reia once more on which Juri put his head on the latter’s shoulder.

“I feel the same, trust me and I think as much as I want you to stop overthinking all this it might be our only way to finally find answers.”

Taiga couldn’t hide his surprised expression on hearing that, but Juri hid his face at the latter’s shoulder. “Don’t give me that look,” Juri mumbled into his clothes on which Taiga chuckled. It was so unusual for Juri to agree on overthinking and also getting themselves into dangerous situations, he had made that clear just a minute ago and yet he realized as well that it was a good chance for them to get answers.

Taiga placed a kiss on Juri’s hair with a faint smile. “I love you for keeping up with my stupid ideas.”

“Stupid indeed,” Juri mumbled again. “But I love you anyway.”

This time Taiga laughed out loud on which Reia groaned in his sleep, but didn’t wake up that easily. They were seriously a bunch of troublemakers.