The Color of the Phoenix’s Tail – Part Two

Shuuei and Kouyuu pass the Exams and meet the princes. Drama, I-3

Shuuei

Shuuei leaned on the rail outside his newly-assigned department and smiled. “So, here we are. Real live officials.”

“And even as an official, I can’t get rid of you,” Kouyuu grumbled. He did not, however, stop leaning back on the rail beside Shuuei.

“Why would you want to get rid of your best friend, the one who’s always ready to help you out?” Shuuei asked, innocently. “Or help you back to where you were trying to go, anyway…”

“Shut up!”

When Kouyuu’s growling and Shuuei’s laughter both subsided, Shuuei added, “Hey. Did you notice the Prince, during the ceremony?”

Kouyuu raised a brow at him. “Which one?”

“Seien, of course,” Shuuei told him, patiently. “The one we’re going to spend most of our lives serving?”

“Supposing nothing else happens to him,” Kouyuu muttered. “What about him?”

“Didn’t it seem odd to you?” Shuuei pressed. “I don’t think he changed expression once, the entire time. Ryuuki-koushi was definitely bored, but Seien…” He trailed off, not sure how to express what had disturbed him.

“So he’s better at ceremonies.” Kouyuu shrugged. “He’s what? Seven years older? It isn’t surprising is it?”

Shuuei braced his elbows on the rail and clasped his hands, staring out over the trees. “It was more than that. He seemed so distant; as though none of it meant anything to him, even though we’ll be the officials serving under him the longest.” Half to himself he murmured, “I wonder what happened while he was in exile.”

“Maybe he was somewhere cold and his face froze that way.” Kouyuu snorted. “What, did you not like having someone not paying attention to you?”

“It just seemed strange,” Shuuei said, lightly. “My brothers say he didn’t used to be like that. So I wondered what happened.”

“Mm.” Kouyuu frowned. “I do remember hearing something—about him disappearing?”

“Completely,” Shuuei confirmed. “My family tried to find him, but there was no trace. He set out and then just vanished.”

Kouyuu waved a hand, dismissing the mystery. “He was probably taken somewhere secret for his own safety. The imperial family is like that. It’s amazing any of them survive.” He tilted his head at Shuuei. “Why are you so interested in him, anyway? You can bet our positions won’t involve him for a good long time.”

Shuuei smiled, a bit crookedly. “Oh, well. I was trained to be his supporter, from the time I was little, you know. And then the clan thought not, but then there was the trouble a few years ago, and here I am after all.” He laughed and stretched upright. “Maybe it’s destiny.”

Kouyuu was suddenly smirking at him. “Oh, so you’re Seien-koushi’s intended, huh? No wonder you’re so interested in him.” The smirk became an outright grin. “Should I get you a red veil to celebrate your next promotion?”

“I wouldn’t laugh if I was you,” Shuuei told him mildly. “Isn’t that Yu-kanri, over there? He probably has another invitation for you.”

Kouyuu’s eyes got a little wild. “Ah, I, I should start work right away!” He strode off, in the opposite direction from his new duties, nearly running.

Shuuei leaned back against the rail, chuckling, as his friend fled.

Kouyuu

Kouyuu dashed down a covered walk. He’d abandoned dignity and started running two courtyards back.

It had been months since the Exams, and they were still after him!

After another two turnings he dared to stop and catch his breath and look around, trying to figure out where he’d ended up.

“Ah, is that Li-kanri?”

Kouyuu panicked and darted through the nearest arch, flinging himself back against the wall, out of sight. He waited, tense, while whichever daughter-laden official was outside shuffled around and finally walked off again making puzzled sounds. Slowly, he let his breath out.

“Who are you?”

Kouyuu jumped at the question and his head snapped around. He was poised to run again before the youth of the voice registered and he managed to relax before he actually sprinted off.

Then his eye took in the quite distinctive gold and silver hair of the two people in the courtyard, and the equally distinctive paired black and white fittings of their swords. Fate, he decided, hated him.

“Seien-koushi, Ryuuki-koushi! I’m very sorry.” He bowed quickly, eyeing the edge of steel Seien-koushi had turned toward him and the way the Prince had pushed his younger brother behind him. A bit cautiously, he added, “I didn’t mean to intrude; please forgive me.”

Rather to his relief, Seien relaxed. “It’s no problem.” He cocked his head at Kouyuu, looking a bit bemused. “Running away from something?”

Kouyuu flushed. “It’s just… invitations,” he muttered. “Daughters.”

“Oh.” The syllable was heavy with sudden understanding. Come to think of it, Kouyuu supposed the Prince probably got at least as many of those as he did.

Ryuuki-koushi tugged on his brother’s sleeve, wide-eyed. “Seien-aniue, are they going to chase me like that, too?” the boy asked, worried.

Seien’s smile softened so quickly that Kouyuu couldn’t help staring. The Prince petted back his brother’s hair. “A little, I’m afraid. I can’t keep them away forever. But don’t worry; I’ll keep you safe.”

Ryuuki nodded, and the shining trust in his face as he looked up at Seien-koushi made Kouyuu’s throat unaccountably tight. He swallowed against it.

And then he had to blink as the young prince turned to him and smiled, bright and generous. “Aniue has trouble with them all the time. You can hide here until they’re gone.”

“That’s… very kind of you, your Highness,” Kouyuu murmured, startled. He hadn’t been prepared for an imperial prince to be so… nice.

“Ah, there you are.”

Kouyuu choked as Shuuei popped up on the other side of the courtyard. How did Shuuei always find him?!

“Ryuuki-koushi, Seien-koushi, I do apologize for the interruption.” Shuuei bowed with infuriating grace and strolled across the court to catch Kouyuu’s hand. “Come along, Kouyuu, Sho-kanri will be annoyed if you’re late again.” With a last, sparkling smile at the elder prince, he towed Kouyuu out.

“Are you sure you’re not just flirting with him?” Kouyuu growled, red-faced.

Shuuei just laughed. “Not yet.”

TBC