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Sugared Fruit

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The sky rains down, for the first time—perhaps in too long a time for anyone in the Amato Empire to remember.

It's not water droplets to the thirsty, soil-cracked ground. The land they stand upon heaves a noiseless and awed murmur as a layer of silky soft flower pedals blankets over it. Rakan's sakura flowers and his trees. His creations. The proof of this boy's goodness and his selfless, giving nature.

Chigusa smiles, lips closed, at his visual of Rakan alone, still buttoned up in his night-shirt, eyes bright and wide with happiness. The prince stares up at the veiling of the branches and swaying, sweetly fragrant plants high above him, his palms open and cupping.

Despite all to come, despite all he must do to make this world green once more, it doesn't seem unfamiliar that Rakan still finds hope in the smallest miracles of life.

Chigusa's name passes from the boy's lips as he approaches, wood gun resting against his shoulder. "Do you know what this one is?" Rakan asks, presenting out his palms.

The seed cradled there, already beginning to sprout from its hardened shell, has an orangish-brown tint to it and a faintly bitter smell. Too faint for anyone else to detect. Chigusa peers up through his goggles, smiling again at the glimpse of Rakan's mildly questioning look and affectionately reaches up towards him.

"I do not," he says, slowly picking the few of the pink pedals from Rakan's windswept hair.

Not bothering to shake the hand off, or give a disapproving eyeshrug, Rakan nods and then kneels to place the fast-growing plant away from their feet in the courtyard.

"Guess we'll find out, right?"

A matter of seconds, and the plant flourishes into a moss-covered tree, no bigger than Chigusa's height. Heavy with limbs bearing spiky, yellow blossoms and deep red fruit. Rakan gasps low, like he's delighted by the very sight, and breaks off one of the ripe-looking fruits to inspect closely. Before he can even think of sinking his teeth into it, Chigusa leans in and opens his mouth wide, biting down on a small chunk of the red fruit and pulling away. Rakan backs up, fruit still in hand, now shooting him a wordless, disapproving look.

"It's harmless," Chigusa announces thoughtfully, swallowing. A flavor similar to juniper berries. (Did he ever taste them before?)

A loud sigh.

"Now that you've risked your own health to figure this out, you can have the rest," Rakan tells him, good-naturedly handing over the fruit and going on his tiptoes for the nearest branch. "Maybe everyone else will want some for lunch," he says, musing to himself. "I could make a—"

Chigusa's hand flies out, seizing Rakan's sleeved wrist to hold him in place. His eyes narrow, black eyebrows furrowing.


The flash of panic in Rakan's eyes makes Chigusa's stomach uncomfortably drop. Panic for him.

"Are you okay? It's not poisonous, is it!—?"

The half-man silently points to a criss-crossing network of abnormally large thorns, hidden beneath the leaves surrounding the yellow blossoms. On the expected path Rakan's hand attempted for. It's an easier grab when Chigusa snatches onto the glove-shaped fruit, pushing it into Rakan's left hand. "Be more careful," he murmurs.

Rakan's breath comes out in a whoosh of relief, puffing out his cheeks.

"You scared me," he says, firmly. "I thought…"

The sentence trails off to linger. Chigusa's heart warms inside his chest in the significance of another person worrying for him. This is new. It would always be so new.

"I'm sorry, Rakan."

"I'm sorry, too."

The flesh of the deep red fruit between Rakan's teeth crunches loudly. Chigusa's head buzzes. Shiny and sticky and tinted, its juices dribble down the point of Rakan's chin, his lips colored. Chigusa's own lips smack apart, his tongue suddenly dry and too-big for his mouth. Rakan methodically brushes a finger under his bottom lip, frowning.

"It tastes like… cinnamon, doesn't it?" he asks. "That's… strange."


Chigusa's heartbeat increases fast fastfast. His senses kaleidoscope each other, blurring in and out.

Something's wrong.

Rakan's face scrunches up tight, like he's tussling for a lost memory. His voice far-away, mountains and ranges to Chigusa's ears.

"It does, doesn't it?... and there's honey, ah… I haven't tasted honey since I made breakfast the morning… after you appeared in my garden…"

Something's wrong.

Why hasn't anyone noticed them?

Narushige or Tohji? Kazuhi? Why has no one in their group noticed them standing together under the fluttering, sakura-colored trees? An agitated groan escapes Rakan's parted, juice-shiny mouth, fingers coming to his throat and digging underneath his collar. "Too warm…" he mumbles, starting to yank his shirt up.

Chigusa's hazing eyes (no—this shouldn't happen) catch the slit of exposed skin to the stale, morning air. A slender-muscled torso—creamy and unmarked with the exception of a short, white scar above Rakan's navel. He means to stop Rakan from undressing outside, and stumbles forward.

His hands clasp solidly to Rakan's waist, thumbs pressing to naked skin, meaning to steady himself when the ground beneath Chigusa's feet teeters his balance.

The immediate contact elicits another groan, shakier than before. Rakan's face already flushed. The round fruit falls between them, ignored as one of Rakan's trembling hands bunches the lightweight fabric of Chigusa's kimono, dragging him in, as the other hand remains fixed to his throat. Maybe he's called Rakan's name, maybe Rakan has called his; neither understand the words exchanged, if any existed. There's only sensation—heat, wet, a messy kiss; blunt, chipped fingernails nudging detailed threadwork.

Within the drugged trance, reality slams him back as unfamiliar hands pry him away and toss him against scratchy bark. A warning growl rumbles from Chigusa, all of his instincts screaming danger Rakan danger need need skin Rakan need more

He fiercely eyes their group, Akiichi and Atsuhito flinching outwardly.

"{Senroh, listen to me.}"

Kazuhi appears in front of him, bandanna untied and his third eye unblinking, gazing calmly into him. "{You're not in your right mind,}" he explains, speaking directly into his skull. "{I can feel it in you. Everything's muddled. It's the tree fruit. It's affecting you. You need to fight it before you regret it. You hearin' me?}"

Chigusa takes in a sharp breath, closes his eyes with his head buzzing noise and more angry noise. Barely getting Kazhi's message. But he hears it clear enough.

With a frightening amount of mirroring calmness, he raises a hand to locate a sensitive nerve on the nape of his neck, pinching it bruising-hard.

The headlong darkness settles.





It's eerie to hear the news on Rakan's condition, several hours later when Chigusa wakes.

"He's been restrained for now," Narushige informs him during his next visit, facing towards the opposite wall as he speaks. A hand lay on the hilt of his sword. Face clear of emotion. "You both were caught under the influence of the Aphrodisiac. The books from the library we encountered mentioned what the tree looked like, as well as what it bore. You seemed to have recovered, but Rakan is getting worse the longer we wait for his suffering to pass."

At those painful words—the only true pain he could feel—Chigusa rises to his feet, steadier than before, head silent. "I would advise against going to see him," Narushige adds, turning slightly towards him, expression unchanged. "You might make it worse."

A tight-lipped smirk aims purposefully for the other man.

"It would be amusing to see you stop me," is all chipped, pseudo-friendly tones. Chigusa exits the unlit bedroom, his companion following intently behind. It's far worse than eerie when he enters. It's alarming. Seeing such a kindhearted and obliging boy thrashing violently with arms and legs tied down, knotted ropes to wrists and pajama-ankles. Rakan's face strains a beet red from exhausting himself, struggling on his back, chest heaving wildly with each grunting breath.

The men guarding inside and outside the room shift uneasily when Chigusa charges in, and acknowledge a grim-faced Narushige, bowing their shoulders.

When Rakan's bulging, glassy eyes meet his, the prince gives a long, hard shudder before his body collapses its strength. "He shouldn't—" Tohji begins, gesturing to the half-man unstrapping his goggles and walking forward. He audibly snaps his mouth shut, reluctant and scowling when Narushige patiently holds up a hand to him.

"Chigusa…" A wrecked sob, following another, so broken-hearted in the otherwise silent room. Tears roll from the corners of brown eyes. "I can't…"

Fighting back the sting in his heart, he sits down at Rakan's side, anticipating the dread surrounding him. "I'm here," Chigusa says, grasping onto a cold, trapped hand and locking their fingers. With the same affection of picking flower pedals out of Rakan's hair, he palms the damp bangs from Rakan's eyes. "I'm here with you, Rakan. Let it go."

Another weaker shudder seizes him as the boy whimpers softly, inclining his head back to pillow the futon.

Bit, by bit, the glassy look vanishes, replaced with fear and confusion.

Quickly coming to join them, Narushige takes the empty space next to Chigusa and cradles the top of mussed, chestnut hair with a hand. "Rakan," he says, smiling gratefully.

"Help me cut him free."

The knotted ropes fall apart, sliced within moments. Tohji hovers, peering over someone else's shoulder with mixed anxiety and reassurance. "Rakan, say something, please," Narushige begs him in a hushed voice, briefly touching the side of a blood-warmed cheek.

His forehead wrinkles.

"…Is it too late to cook dinner?" Rakan croaks out, visibly distressed at the possibility of missing the daily and normalized ritual.

And it is thanked with echoes of wary, relieved laughter from his personal guard and his friends.





The path of bloomed, lighted flowers goes a single line until it berths an entire meadow, reaching even towards a cliff edge. Their yellowish illumination do not pulse, lie they have human heartbeats, but provide a constant, unwavering source of light—much like a flashlight, Rakan described once. Except no one could turn them off.

Chigusa stands towards the boundaries of the meadow, reading two other protective figures waiting nearby in shadows. Watches evenly as the prince crosses his arms over his chest, his school jacket providing inadequate shielding against the chill of night air. Rakan keeps his tensed back to the shining meadow while continuing to face motionless to the dark abyssal of the cliff. Did Rakan harbor a secret resentment, about being unable to turn off his abilities while wishing for solitary?

At approaching footsteps, Rakan's fingers wrapping to the bump on his elbow twitch. He does not turn towards his friend. Chigusa says aloud, staring ahead with him into the nighttime and scanning the area for potential threats (nothing, but the sand and roars of the wind), "I have seen many beautiful things now, because of Rakan."

Rakan's chin tilts up.

"I promise to make the sky blue again," he answers, young features solemn. "And then there will be more plants, and more beautiful things for everyone to see."

"What things?"

A beat of silence. Chigusa's dark eyes glimpse at their corners for a soft and fond expression on Rakan's face.

"Willow trees," Rakan says, whispering. "Hydrangeas. And the lotus flowers from the park. I would bring back the seeds to grow here."

"You plan on leaving."

The formidable and uncomfortably long drop in Chigusa's stomach disappears at Rakan's defiant smile.

"I've already made my decision to stay. But if I did, I would plan on coming back," he says. "There's still so much to do."

Chigusa's lips tilt upwards.


"It's not your fault, anyway, earlier," Rakan admits, embarrassed. "I should have thought more about the consequences of—…" Instead of a harsher color, his cheeks heat a feeble shade of pink. He scratches at the space below his ear, laughing a little. "Besides, if I was gonna kiss someone, I'd do it without being under the magic spell of… sugared fruit…"

The flustered babbling is refreshing, he thinks. Chigusa pretends to look doubtful, tapping a newly made wood gun to his shoulder.

"Oh?" he teases, smiling big. "I don't believe you."

Rakan's mouth hangs open as Chigusa moves away.


One of his hands captures Chigusa's arm before they can get too far into the lighted meadow. "Th-that sounds ridiculous, Chigusa! Why not?"

He gently pries Rakan's hand off.

"You would have to prove it to me," he says, eyes crinkling with another brilliant smile. "Are you nervous?"

Rakan's throat gulps. But he appears stoic otherwise.


"Then close your eyes." His hands—not twined or bandaged with his own monstrous blood—come to rest against Rakan's face, cupping his cheeks lightly, and feeling a small personal victory when the boy leans in, unafraid to the careful touch. "And imagine you are somewhere safe and loved."

Rakan shakes his head, eyes gazing up.

"That's impossible," he murmurs. So matter-of-factly. "If I close them, then that place goes away." A bright, warm smile at Chigusa's shocked expression. "I'm… already happy here."


There aren't any words, he finds. None possible to convey the swell of emotion there, making him lighter, making him feel human one of the few times in his life.

… …Maybe one, though.


The warmth in his smile deepens into knowing, into mischief as Rakan pushes himself up on his toes, arms gathering round Chigusa's neck to anchor the slack and unhurried kisses.

Chigusa's thumbs begin stroking along the sides of Rakan's jaw, creating a soothing, cadenced weight. The approving, too-faint whine issuing from the depths of Rakan's mouth he takes as permission to slide his hands, down, down, experimentally over the narrow shape of Rakan's hips. It is different this time, it truly is. Chigusa's head spins and hums with pleasure, but doesn't buzz in his eardrums, too overwhelming and distracting. The direct feeling of Rakan's skin doesn't burn slow-slow-sore or itch madly, as it once had.

And oddly enough, he almost misses the noisy rustling in the brush.

"That's enough of that," Narushige says, smiling cheerfully as he separates them with his own bodily intrusion. Koh gleefully winds and slithers around Narushige and Rakan's necks. Tohji awkwardly pats Chigusa's right bicep as he crowds in as well, passing on the nonverbal message of "sorry about this, but you really are a pervert, you pervert".

"It's your turn for the bath, Rakan."

Chigusa grins, taking a step from the group with his hand clasping Rakan's hip, forcing out a tiny, surprised yelp from his companion. "Then I guess I will join—"

"—the sanome prince's guard on watch while I accompany him," Narushige finishes for him, also grinning, this time baring teeth.

The atmosphere around them thunders, like an invisible storm.

"How about rock-paper-scissors?"


"Next time," Rakan says, interrupting from the background. All three of his friends whirl around to face him. A proper defuse to the situation. He sends them an innocent but rebellious smile, allowing himself to be embraced around his shoulders by Tohji and Narushige.

Imagine you are somewhere safe and loved.

With that in mind, Chigusa nods. "Very well, Rakan," he says. "Next time."