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"How do you make someone fall in love?" Hiromasa asks.

It's late summer, autumn now more than a distant dream. The end of the day is drowsy and the air shimmers with heat despite the approach of evening. Cicadas whirr in the trees, their music lending the situation a sense of unreality. Butterflies – not as bright or colourful as Mitsumushi – dip and weave amongst the tall grasses. A mayfly hovers, its movements erratic, its long tails quivering. The sky is darkening with dusk, a wash of grey tinting the pale, endless blue.

Seimei draws his fingers through the air, weaving slow spells. If Hiromasa concentrates on the tips of those long, pale fingers, he thinks he can see magic – a glimmer of light, a sheen like water over a pebble. He watches, and forgets he's asked a question.

Seimei doesn't forget. "Do you have someone in mind?"

Hiromasa starts. A blush spreads across his face, as hot as the aftermath of sunburn. "No. Of course not! What a question, Seimei! I'm just curious, that's all."

"Ah. Curiosity." Seimei brings his spell-casting to an abrupt halt and drops his hand into his lap. From the folds of his unfastened hunting costume he retrieves his fan and touches it to his lips.

The paper is speckled like a bird's egg. Hiromasa studies the construction of the fan, his gaze drawn to the delicacy of Seimei's grasp, the neat ovals of his fingernails, and the soft curve of his lips. He's smiling, and his smile makes Hiromasa's stomach flip.

Hiromasa clears his throat. "Well? How is it done?"

"With great delicacy." Seimei spreads the fan open on his knees, his gaze fixed on the elegant little poem written in the Grass Style upon its face. "You cannot make someone fall in love if they're not ready to fall in love. To force someone to do anything against their will is cruel and dangerous. Worse, such an act will be remembered and will be returned upon you threefold to redress the balance your spell has disturbed."

"Is that true for all spells?"

"True for all spells involving humans, yes." Seimei moves a little, and the fan tumbles from his lap. He lifts a hand, briefly touching the tall lacquered hat and the few strands of sweat-dampened hair that curl free of his topknot. He traces over his cheek, his expression distant, as if lost in thought, until with a soft sigh he runs his fingers around the open collar of his unlined summer robes of dark blue silk.

Hiromasa follows the path of those fingers. He longs for permission to touch, to press kisses to Seimei's hair, his face, his neck. Drawing in a breath, Hiromasa exhales his yearning, a shiver running through him and his cock stirring. Seimei seems oblivious to his suffering, and it's this that makes Hiromasa want him all the more.

He stares, lips parted, mouth dry, as Seimei pulls the blue silk away from his throat. It's a simple gesture, the action of a man too hot beneath his layered clothes. It's a harmless gesture, meaningless – and yet to Hiromasa it carries a sensual charge he's helpless to resist. He almost whimpers as Seimei stretches and purrs, tilting his head from side to side. His throat is pale, paler than a woman's, but without any feminine vulnerability.

Hiromasa wishes he could place his lips against the side of Seimei's neck and feel the insistent flutter of his pulse; he wishes he could taste the fine-dewed sweat from Seimei's nape, where a few tendrils of hair have escaped the topknot. He wishes he could kiss down the smooth column of Seimei's throat and lick at the notch between his collarbones. He wants all this, wants to make Seimei sigh and flush with pleasure as he spreads out beneath him, but he's too shy, too afraid. If only he could be sure of himself, the way he's sure of the court ladies he beds; but Seimei is different. Seimei isn't fully human, and so no spell will work upon him.

Hiromasa forces his gaze away. He studies a yellowed stem of grass and feels his heartbeat steady itself as his resolve strengthens. He wets his lips before he speaks. "It is said that a single glance from a fox is enough to make a man lose his mind." He pauses, weighing his words. "They say if a man should gaze into a fox's eyes, he will fall in love with it, immediately and without question."

Another pause, longer this time. "Seimei, tell me – you don't need a spell to make someone love you, do you?"

The words hang between them. Slowly, Seimei turns and looks at him, intense and unwavering. "Are you in love with me, Hiromasa?"

Hiromasa dry-swallows. His mind goes blank. He gropes for a witty reply, knowing that whatever he says, Seimei will mock him.

Still waiting for an answer, Seimei tilts his head again. His smile turns sad. "Ah, so that's it. The curse of the fox."

"No. You don't understand. I want you to fall in love with me," Hiromasa blurts. He crawls across the grass and takes hold of Seimei's shoulders, feeling the slide of the silk across skin, feeling the warmth of Seimei's body beneath the cloth. "It should be enough that I love you, but I don't want to be just another victim of fox-eyes. I want to be special. I want you to love me, too. How do I make you fall in love with me, Seimei?"

Seimei gazes up at him, eyes unreadable. "You can't make me do anything."

"But…" Hiromasa struggles to find an argument that will convince Seimei of his sincerity, of his need, but how can he think clearly when the man – fox – he loves is before him, smiling with such gentle amusement and with his robes in suggestive disarray?

Despair grips him. Hiromasa tries again. "But..."

Seimei's smile warms, becomes a soft laugh. He amends his remark: "You can't make me do anything I don't want already."

Hiromasa stares. "Seimei?"

Seimei shifts backwards slightly, catching the sleeves of his robes together. The blue silk slides off one shoulder, baring more than a hint of pale flesh.

"Seimei!" Hiromasa can't believe the invitation is for him, truly for him.

Seimei laughs as he lies back in the grass, his expression sparking a challenge. "Really, Hiromasa. There is no mystery to falling in love. It's the seduction that requires effort."