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Change The Era

Chapter Text

It was the first day Taiga realized that the Sakura trees in Nakanocho were changing colors to pink. Almost one year after the darkest week of Yoshiwara, things were almost back to normal and some things hadn’t changed, like Taiga still being first in the ranking while Reo had finally caught up to the second place. Taiga was more than willing to hand the first place to Reo, but he unfortunately had to wait another year, because the lineup for the Matsuri was already decided and once more he would need to walk in front.

“I know that look, you’re daydreaming about the past,” Juri said as he walked next to Taiga on their way home after some early errands.

“Is that a bad thing?” Taiga asked with a light smile on which Juri reached out for his hand and squeezed it with a gentle touch.

“Not at all, but we should also sometimes dream about the future.”

Juri’s words turned Taiga’s emotions upside down again, but not necessarily in a bad way, but he couldn’t deny that talking about the future always made him kind of nervous and they still had time to think about everything.

“But not today,” Taiga finally replied as they made it back to their house. “Today it’s their day after all.”

It was a day to celebrate, yet it was also a bit sad to have to say goodbye to Kentaro and Myuto.

As they wouldn’t get off just for some of the boys leaving, they had to prepare everything early in the morning and Myuto and Kentaro had to leave before the noon hours started. Reia and Ren tried to get done with their duties as fast as possible so they could also be there when Kamenashi would hand them their free letters, the proof that they were allowed to leave Yoshiwara.

Taiga also hurried to put all their errands into place before they changed into their work Kimono. It was tradition for them to wear their work Kimono while Myuto and Kentaro would leave in a pale grey yukata, which was like a last present from the owner of the house and would strip them from all the colorful patterns in Yoshiwara and turned them into citizens which didn’t have to fear to be looked at as members of a red light district anymore.

“This is so emotional,” Shintaro said while overacting a sad expression on which Juri hit him against the back of the head when he stepped out of the house.

“If you want to cry I can make you,” Juri warned him on which Shintaro made a way too big step away from Juri and hid behind Ren and Reia, making the boys roll their eyes and they just walked away, leaving Shintaro panicked where to run off next to, but luckily Juri only laughed before he turned back to the entrance where Taiga and Reo also came to join him.

When all boys were finally outside the house Kamenashi and Tatsuya joined them. Taiga’s look fell immediately on the free letters Tatsuya was carrying. A simple rolled up letter with a red ribbon, yet it was so powerful and something all of them wanted to receive.

“Wow, that’s so not suiting them,” Shota was heard next to him on which Taiga looked up in confusion, but realized that the others were looking towards the door where Kentaro and Myuto had stepped out next.

It was indeed a weird picture. Both of them in simple grey Yukatas with a dark grey obi. For a second Taiga wished Hikaru and Fuma could have been here, but the rules didn’t allow it. Not that the boys wouldn’t head to meet them afterwards anyway.

Kentaro gave Taiga the happiest smile he had ever seen on the boy when he walked passed him towards Kamenashi and for a moment Taiga feared he’d start crying. Of course he was jealous, all of them were feeling that way, but that wasn’t why he got emotional. Kentaro had helped him through a lot and it had already been a weird feeling to say goodbye to Taisuke, but Kentaro was a whole new level of sadness for Taiga.

To his surprise Juri reached out for his hand immediately, realizing how emotional he was and his other hand was squeezed by Reo the next moment and both boys gave him a knowing smile. Taiga was grateful for having been dropped off at this amazing house when he had come to Yoshiwara and he gave both a brief smile before they looked back at Myuto and Kentaro who had stopped in front of Kamenashi had bowed.

“Both of you have fulfilled your ten years in Yoshiwara,” Kamenashi said with a serious expression. “Both of you have faced a lot of hardship, yet you’ve given a lot of help and knowledge to your Kohais and they will now take over and teach the new boys in Yoshiwara.”

Myuto’s look darkened a bit on Kamenashi’s words and everyone still mourned the death of Myuto’s friends.

Kamenashi turned towards Tatsuya and took one of the free letters and handed one to Kentaro and one to Myuto. “Congratulations, you are free to leave Yoshiwara.”

Both boys bowed deeply before they took the letters and turned back towards all the boys who tried to form a happy smile between their sad expressions.

Kentaro looked at Myuto and waved his hand to signal him to go first and the boy stepped in front of all the others with a slightly unsure expression.

“I know I was only in this house for a few months, but I still want to thank all of you for your support and your help, without you I would have fallen into a very dark place,” Myuto said honestly. “I know that with this letter I can go wherever I want to and start over, but I have realized that I want to choose another path.”

The boys exchanged a confused look on hearing that while Kentaro only smiled. As his friend he had definitely already known of the boy’s decision.

“I will remain in Yoshiwara as a teacher for the younger boys. I will teach them dance and turn the fan dance into a skill all of the younger boys can learn in Yoshiwara from now on.”

It was such a fitting choice and while it also felt a bit weird to have someone stay behind in Yoshiwara while their ten years were over it wasn’t like they couldn’t become happy. Kamenashi was the best example for that. Takizawa had also decided to become an owner of a house and a lot of other owners and teachers in Yoshiwara had a past in this district.

“Thank you all so much for your help and support. But remember that you are now Senpais as well and I will come to you and scold you directly if your Kohais cause trouble in my lessons,” Myuto added and gave all of them a warning look on which another round of laughter followed. With a more serious expression Myuto gave one by one a direct look, resting on Taiga a bit longer and the boy gave him an encouraging smile.

“Thank you all for your help and support over the past ten years,” Myuto finally closed his speech and bowed on which all of the boys bowed as well.

When he stepped back Kentaro was the next one to step forward and he gave a bright smile to everyone before he started speaking.

“I’ve taught a lot of you,” Kentaro started with a steady voice. “Some of you were difficult cases.” A side glance to Ryota and Shota made the two boys give him a light apologizing bow on which Kentaro formed a lopsided smile.

“Some of you were troublemakers,” Kentaro added, looking at the three boys who immediately laughed, because who else than Juri, Reo and Taiga could he mean?

“Some of you have taught me instead,” he let out in a lower voice and first his look remained on Taiga before he turned and looked at Myuto who gave his friend a bright smile.

“What all of you have in common though is that you have all grown to be my friends. No matter if boys of the house, assistants or guards.”

Shintaro finally dared to step a bit closer to the others on hearing that and Reia patted his shoulder with a small smile while Ren tried to play things cool, but he was obviously also getting slightly emotional.

“I thought a lot about the future over the past months, but I realized that my path from here is something I have to walk on my own. I have to walk into the unknown and find out for myself what is going to happen. I am sure even outside Yoshiwara a lot of challenges will await me, but we all saw that we boys of Yoshiwara can overcome even the darkest times and the toughest challenges.”

Now Taiga felt even more uncomfortable as not just Kentaro, but all of the boys looked at him. Luckily Kentaro ended his speech with stepping forward to all of them so the attention was back on him.

“I wish all of you calm years in Yoshiwara and the best for your future when your time has come as well. Thank you for everything.”

When Kentaro bowed everyone first bowed in silence again, which was how things usually went, but Taiga just felt like it wasn’t enough and he broke the tradition as he started clapping his hands to everyone’s surprise.

Kamenashi gave him a confused look, but then he only formed a calm smile and when it were Kamenashi and Tatsuya who joined the clapping first all of the others joined as well on which Kentaro teared up and bit his lip, trying so hard not to cry after he had managed his farewell speech so well, but when Myuto threw one arm around his shoulder all his effort was good for nothing as his tears finally fell.

“You’re all so unbelievable,” Kentaro scolded them between his sobs on which everyone started laughing.

Both boys turned back to Kamenashi after things have calmed down again and they thanked the owner and bowed once more.

“You are free to go now, I hope you will find happiness,” Kamenashi said, knowing that he will at least see Myuto a lot from now on as well.

Both boys were a bit hesitant to actually leave, which was understandable, because while they could of course just come back to Yoshiwara and talk to the boys of the house, Kentaro was definitely not sure if he was even going to remain in Edo or not. His future was more undecided than Myuto’s so he felt a bit more reluctant to just leave.

But there was something else, something Taiga noticed when Kentaro gave Kamenashi a weird look and the owner only sighed before he turned to Tatsuya who suddenly went back into the house for a moment.

“Well, as we are all already here, I want to make another announcement,” Kamenashi said to everyone’s surprise and Kentaro smiled and stepped aside with Myuto.

“He knows something we don’t,” Reo whispered towards the others, but Taiga suddenly felt nauseous without even knowing why.

“This announcement was planned to be held after the Matsuri as I didn’t want things to get too chaotic, but I guess as a last request of your leaving Senpai I will make an exception,” Kamenashi said and the boys confusion just got bigger when Tatsuya stepped out again with one more letter in his hand. But it wasn’t a free letter and everyone started whispering on the letter with the golden ribbon.

“A buyer? Someone got bought free?” Reia asked around him, but everyone could only shrug their shoulders, while Shintaro turned to Ren for an explanation of the letter they have just brought.

“A free letter has a red ribbon and you will get it after your ten years, a buy off letter as you can call it has a golden ribbon and it means that someone has bought someone free from Yoshiwara before their ten years,” Ren whispered back while Tatsuya handed the letter to Kamenashi.

“But I heard it’s super expensive to buy someone free from Yoshiwara, only really rich people can do that,” Ryota whispered on which Shota nodded.

“You’ve to pay the years off they won’t be working anymore, so the sooner you buy someone off the more it costs and you will also have to pay for the person himself, so if it’s an Oiran high in the ranking it will cost even more money,” Shota added.

“And you are not really free,” Juri said with a dark expression on which Shintaro tilted his head in confusion. “You are just getting sold to another person that’s all.”

“If you are lucky that person is nice and will make it possible for you to have a new life, but you are their possession from that moment on, so it could also end up in a nightmare,” Reo whispered before they all fell silent as Kamenashi stepped forward.

“You all know what this is and while it is not a free letter it is an honor to be bought free from Yoshiwara. Remember that someone spend a lot of money on you to do this. It’s thanks to that person that you will be able to leave early and I hope you will be able to be grateful to that person and see it as a new chance,” Kamenashi said while he walked into the middle of the boys. Ren, Reia and Shintaro stepped back as they knew they weren’t part of this while all the other boys seemed to have fallen into a state of shock.

It wasn’t clear who had given the letter to Kamenashi, so they didn’t know if it was a good or a bad buyer. They also didn’t know who would be bought off, so they all exchanged the same worried looks when Kamenashi walked up to them.

As if in a game where you didn’t want to be the one caught by a chaser they all looked to the ground, not able to face Kamenashi as if they could avoid getting bought off like that.

Juri’s hand started shaking in Taiga’s so the boy squeezed it even more, knowing that they all worried for each other.

“Remember that this letter won’t be valid before the end of the Matsuri. Don’t get excited yet and don’t ask for the buyer or any details. This is only because Kentaro requested it to be revealed early as a preparation for your leave. You’ve once month more in which you have to work as normal and take part in the Matsuri.”

Maybe it was indeed better to know a bit earlier about getting bought off, but behaving for a whole month as if nothing had happened and as if things were like normal was also a tough challenge.

“Congratulations, you got bought off from Yoshiwara,” Kamenashi finally let out and everyone fell silent while they realized that the owner had held out the letter towards one of them. Taiga squeezed Juri’s hand once more and they both dared to finally look up just to find all looks on them.

It was a moment of shock and denial. Something Taiga had never seen coming and he couldn’t stop some tears from falling in silence as he looked at the letter right in front of him.

No one dared to speak, but Ren pulled Reia into a hug when the boy started crying immediately.

It wasn’t like the end of the world, they all knew that. It was a chance, a new beginning and if the person who bought him off was really caring for him then it was as good as a free letter, but now he had to live in the dark for a whole month, not knowing who he would belong to after the Matsuri.

“You are not allowed to open this letter until the Matsuri is over,” Kamenashi warned him once more, but Taiga was even unable to take the letter. He had started shaking and Juri was unable to even comfort him this time as he was in shock as well.

It was Reo who moved first and put his hand on Taiga’s shoulder. “You will be fine, you always are. Don’t see only the dark where there could be light.”

It was the poetic choice of words that made Taiga chuckle a bit, while he tried to get his tears back under control.

“Now you sound like Hokuto,” Taiga said teasing while his smile didn’t last for more than a brief moment as his lips were shaking too much.

“And you usually believe Hokuto, don’t you?” Reo teased back.

With an insecure expression Taiga looked at Juri, but it was hard to read the latter’s expression. He was shocked that was for sure, but was he happy? Sad? Furious even maybe?

“Can I deny a buy off letter?” Taiga asked, facing Kamenashi on which the owner shook his head.

“I fear not,” Kamenashi replied.

Lost in a chaos he hadn’t seen coming Taiga lifted his look to his Senpai, but Kentaro was the only one who was calm. He formed a smile towards his Kohai and that was when Taiga finally calmed down. No this was not the end, they were right! He had gone through so many challenges and he had always come out stronger than before, so why did he fear this so much when it could indeed mean something good? Once more he needed to find the courage to trust his Senpai, to trust the owner and to see the good in people.

With a slightly shaking hand he reached out for the letter on which Juri stepped closer, which gave Taiga the push he needed to take the letter from the owner. If Juri had pulled away then it would have maybe pulled him towards the dark places in his mind instead.

“Congratulations,” Juri whispered in a hoarse voice as he put one arm around Taiga’s body and pulled him against his, trying to form a smile somehow. How hard must it be on him? Knowing that he would lose Taiga after the Matsuri, not even knowing if there was any future for them together?

“One more thing,” Kamenashi said with a small smile. Taiga would almost call it teasing and he hadn’t seen such an expression often on the owner’s face.

When Kamenashi moved towards Juri and took the boy’s arm they both looked even more confused. The owner made Taiga lower the letter and have Juri hold on to the other end of it.

“This is a shared buy off letter. It’s for two people.”

Silence was all he got as a reply as he stepped away from the two boys who exchanged the most confused look they had ever seen on each other.

“Wait, what?” Reia was heard when he finally stopped crying.

“You’re leaving together,” Shota let out in a cheerful voice.

All their dark moods and worries were suddenly replaced by the hopeful feeling Kamenashi had talked about. A double buy off was more than rare, but somehow it made them believe that it was indeed something good, it just had to be!

“I was so afraid to lose you...again,” Juri said honestly as he started crying this time and Taiga didn’t hesitate to pull him into a tight hug.

“Not this time! Not ever again!” Taiga let out in an unsteady voice while their friends jumped in for a group hug, Reia making sure that the letter wouldn’t get damaged in the chaos.

“You knew, didn’t you?” Myuto whispered towards Kentaro and the boy just shrugged his shoulders.

“Who am I to interfere in Yoshiwara business? I am just a normal citizen,” Kentaro let out playful while lifting up his free letter.

“Once a Senpai always a Senpai, I see,” Myuto said and gave the smaller one a clap on the shoulder.

When Taiga finally somehow managed to get out of the crowded space they had created he walked up to Kentaro who gave him a teasing look.

What took his Senpai by surprise was Taiga not saying anything, but only hugging him. “Thank you for everything.”

“It’s not like I bought you off,” Kentaro said scolding as he pulled back to shake his Kohai a bit on the shoulders. “You just have to make sure I won’t regret begging Kamenashi to let you two know earlier, okay?”

“Well I can’t promise to stay out of trouble for the last month, but I can definitely promise to make it an unforgettable last Matsuri for everyone.”

“That’s the spirit,” Kentaro said with a bright smile. “And now back to work, you don’t want to make your customers wait! I bet Aran will be thrilled to hear about your buy off letter.”

Their friends behind them had fallen silent again and when Taiga flashed the two boys a bright smile and bowed deeply to them all of the others followed his example, because no matter how happy Juri and Taiga were right now, it was still Myuto’s and Kentaro’s send off and they wanted them to leave remembering that they were forever grateful!

“Whatever comes your way, never give up! All of you!” Kentaro said to all of them.

“Never, I promise,” Taiga replied in the name of all of the boys. After all they were known for creating chaos, but also taking care of each other in the end.

They would never forget the hardship, yet also never forget all the love and support they have gotten from one another in this district!

Yoshiwara was a place full of demons, but if you looked closer you could find so much more behind the red bars, you only have to dare to open your eyes!

*** 

Epilogue

The Nakasendo was already a day behind them and on the next fork they stopped their horses, taking in the landscape around them.

“The castle should be behind the next mountain,” Juri said, taking a look at the map they have received when leaving Edo. They were up in the mountains of one of the central provinces after they had been told to check up on the Daimyo after he hadn’t responded to one of the Shogunate letters.

The light breeze was already showing that soon the leaves would turn to their beautiful red color and autumn would replace the warm and humid days.

“I hope we can settle this as calm as the last one,” Taiga said as he looked down at one of the villages in front of them. There was no sign of a civil war or abuse of the villagers in the small places they have passed on their way, so he hoped that no upcoming war against the Shogunate was coming their way.

“You will get rusty if we solve everything by talking though,” Juri laughed as he put the map back and turned his horse towards the path down the mountain.

Taiga only laughed on hearing that, but intuitively reached out to touch Tai-chan’s swords, which he was still carrying. Using it had become a regular task for him and also Juri’s fighting skills have improved, but luckily they didn’t have to face anything as dangerous as the uproar Yabu had caused.

“My lords,” someone was heard from down the hill and soon an older man came into their sight, a villager. He bowed towards them and asked if he was allowed to come closer.

“Speak up my friend, you don’t have to fear us,” Taiga said as he allowed him to come closer. It had been a challenge for Taiga to accept the position he was in now, to not always try and stop people from speaking from a lower position to him, but now he was wearing the emblem of the Tokugawa Shogunate on his Hakama and he had to behave that way. After all it didn’t mean to be high and mighty or impolite, it just finally gave him the opportunity to help were he could only watch until now.

“We would like to talk to you about our Daimyo if you don’t mind listening to some of the villagers.”

Juri and Taiga exchanged a knowing look on hearing that and Juri nodded. “Show us the way. We will gladly listen to what the people of this province have to tell us.”

The man bowed towards them again and hurried down the path to show them the way.

Over half a year ago they had gotten their buy off letter and while it hadn’t been such a surprise in the first place it had still been a quite weird feeling to see Domoto’s name on the letter when they were finally allowed to open it.

Taiga would be eternally grateful though, because Domoto hadn’t just seen Taiga as one of the Yoshiwara boys he could have his fun with, but he had seen more potential in his ambitions. He had given him the opportunity to take the necessary preparations to go through several difficult exams to become the Hatamoto of Domoto, and not only that. Domoto had put Taiga in charge of patrolling the provinces to check on the Daimyos who were connected to other provinces through giving their children into their custody.

It had been a task Taiga could have never dreamed off, after all he wasn’t of high birth and if it hadn’t been for Domoto he would have never gotten the chance to even hold any rank in the Shogunate.

Also the fact that Domoto had bought off Juri together with him and allowed him to take part in the training as well, showed how well he knew Taiga and how much he cared.

Juri was a Taisho for now as he had to actually catch up to a lot of things Taiga had already established before.

“By the way did you hear back from any of them?” Juri asked when they went down the mountain.

“Not yet, but I hope that means they are taking their time reading, because if their silence means that my book is that bad that they don’t even bother with a reply, then I won’t write down our story from now on,” Taiga said with a teasing smile.

A month ago he had finally finished his book and he had given it to a copy service so he could send out a few copies to his friends. After all it wasn’t just Hokuto who had told him he wanted to read it, so now he had a lot of copies on their way all over Japan and he could only nervously wait what they all would think about it.

“We can ask them directly after we’re done with this job, after all we are close to a few of their provinces,” Juri said with a wink.

“You only want to take a few days off. You know that Domoto will get angry if he realizes that we delayed things on purpose.”

“Then we just don’t tell him,” Juri said laughing on which Taiga couldn’t even object.

They were now part of the Shogunate, possessions of Domoto and while they were indeed not free, things have turned out way more positive than Taiga could have ever imagined.

Maybe this part of their story would be indeed worth another book!