Peaches and Thorns

Shoukun and Seien talk about freedom, and she gathers a promise from him. Drama, I-3

Character(s): Kou Shoukun, Shi Seien

“Tou-sama, higher! There’s another up there!”

Seiran laughed softly as Shouka-sama helped his daughter stand on his shoulders to reach the last ripe peach in a tree.

“She’s so fearless, that girl!” Shoukun-sama thumped down on the steps beside him, her own basket already full.

“After watching you climb those trees, that shouldn’t be a surprise, Shoukun-sama,” Seiran told her. He couldn’t help the faint edge of scolding in his voice; sometimes Shuurei’s innocent fearlessness truly terrified him, and her parents wouldn’t be there to protect her forever.

Sometimes he wondered how long he would be there.

A cool hand on his cheek made him start. “You’re drifting again,” Shoukun-sama scolded back.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured.

She sighed. “My little Seiran.” Very quietly she added, “If the palace will be such a cage to you, I will be sad to see you walk back in and pick up your chains again.”

Seiran looked up, helplessly, into deep, beautiful eyes. “I don’t know anymore. I…” he looked away, “it didn’t used to be.” But that had been when he was a silly, bright-eyed child, before he’d been shown what filth humans could be.

Before he’d been shown he was just like them.

And it was so terribly easy, now, to imagine the faces of his elder brothers when he remembered the wet slide of his sword cutting flesh. So easy. What would the glittering poison of the Court be to him now? A cage? Or truly his natural place?

Shoukun-sama sniffed. “Well, perhaps it isn’t cages they keep hunting hawks in, but they aren’t free, all the same.”

Seiran bit his lip. She saw so much, even the things he never wanted anyone to see. “Maybe I’m the kind of hawk they give up on and abandon because it can’t be tamed,” he said, voice low.

“Oh, what nonsense.” She ruffled his hair as he stared at her. “You’re quite tame with us.”

Seiran smiled, shy and rueful; that was true.

“Perhaps I should kidnap that little brother of yours and keep both of you here,” she added, thoughtfully.

His breath caught in flash of such wild wanting it blinded him for a moment. “Shoukun-sama, please don’t tease,” he begged. He didn’t think his heart could stand much of that.

She just looked at him for a long moment, and finally sighed. “So be it. Will you promise me something, then?”

“Anything.”

“So quick to let a woman take advantage of you!” she laughed, but then sobered. “You don’t have to be very tame, you know. But let others help you to protect what is precious.” Her fingers touched his cheek again. “Promise me.”

Seiran opened his mouth to protest and then closed it. She hadn’t said to let anyone else do it for him; just to let some people help. “I promise,” he said softly.

“There’s my Seiran. And here’s your reward.” She pressed a peach into his hand.

Seiran looked down at it and smiled wryly. “Are you secretly the leader of the eight enlightened ones, handing over peaches of immortality?” he asked, and really thought he might only be half joking.

Shoukun-sama laughed softly. “Oh, I’m something much worse than that. But don’t worry; I wouldn’t do such a thing to you.” He looked up, puzzled, but she only shook her head and touched his hair. “It will be all right, Seiran. Just remember your promise.”

He bowed his head under her hand. “I will.”

He would let others help. If they were worthy to protect precious things. If he could trust them with the task.

He didn’t expect to find many of those.

End

A/N: The leader of the Eight Immortals of Chinese legend is often depicted holding one of the peaches of immortality, a standard legendary fixture themselves.