Cat’s Cradle – Chapter Four

When Toshi makes her choice known, Saizou has to deal with everything that’s still between he and Yohan. Drama, Fluff, Angst, I-4

Pairing(s): Toshi/Yohan

“You want to what?” Saizou yelped, staring at his little sister while Toshiki snatched for his coffee mug before it could hit the floor.

She lifted her chin in that way that made his stomach sink because it wasn’t just stubborn. That was her “doing the right thing” expression. “I want to marry Yohan.”

Saizou sat down with a thump in the nearest kitchen chair. “But you can’t… I mean that’s… Yohan?”

“It will stop the clan elders arguing over whether he should marry Fuuchouin or Kokuchouin blood, everyone in the clan knows me or at least knows of me, and Yohan won’t have a wife who isn’t a warrior,” she listed off briskly. “And besides, I…” she looked down at her hands, clasped on the kitchen table, “I… want to.”

“You’ve already agreed to this?” Saizou asked, feeling a little dazed.

“Well no. Not exactly.” She reclasped her hands. “It would mean I couldn’t serve as your voice any more, so I wanted to talk to you first.”

Saizou scrubbed his hands over his face. “Toshi…” His little sister wanted to marry Yohan. His little sister wanted to marry Yohan. Toshiki patted his shoulder with a heartless chuckle, but he also gave Saizou back his filled coffee mug. Saizou clutched it and tried to make his brain work.

“Onii-sama, do you… really dislike him?” Toshi asked hesitantly.

Saizou took a fortifying slug of coffee. “It’s more complicated than that,” he muttered. “I know he’s changed, Toshi, but I’ve seen him do horrifying things.” Some of them had been done to Saizou himself.

“I know.”

Saizou looked up, startled, and Toshi met his eyes levelly. “I know. He told me some of them. When I asked why Takeo-san and Akihito-san were being so stubborn about getting a Fuuchouin wife. But he has changed since then. He’s…” she looked down again, cheeks pink, “he’s kind. And brilliant. And he really wants to do what’s best.”

Saizou groaned. Under her hard-headed presentation, his sister was an idealist at heart; if those two had bonded over that it was all over except the question of what flowers she’d wear for the ceremony.

Still.

“Toshi, are you really sure about this?” he couldn’t help asking.

She glared at him. “Onii-sama, you are so—”

“Toshi,” Kazuki interrupted, hands sliding over Saizou’s shoulders. “Let us talk this over among ourselves.”

She sat back with a huff, still looking daggers at Saizou. “Oh all right.”

Juubei, who Saizou could just tell was hiding amusement behind that deadpan look, pushed away from the doorway where he’d been leaning. “Ane-chan asked if you would like to visit, the next time you were in Lower Town,” he offered.

As she left with him, spine almost as stiff as his, Saizou let his head drop back against Kazuki’s stomach. “What the hell am I going to do?”

“You’re going to stop panicking and relax,” Kazuki told him.

“Easier said than done.”

Toshiki turned a chair around and sat, resting his arms across the back as he regarded Saizou. “I know you’ve forgiven him, even if you can’t actually deal with him very well,” he said. “So what’s got you so knotted up about this?”

“It’s my sister!” Saizou waved his hands, unable to find any stronger words than that.

“And it’s my brother,” Kazuki murmured, arms folding around his shoulders and drawing him back again. Saizou bit his lip.

“I don’t mean he’d do anything to her,” he started.

“Shh.” Kazuki pressed a kiss to the top of his head. “I know. It’s just that they’ll be very close, and they might hurt each other. And we don’t want that to happen.”

Saizou craned his head back to look up at Kazuki. “How are you so calm about this?”

Kazuki smiled down at him. “Because I’ve watched them falling in love for half a year.”

Saizou opened his mouth and closed it again. “And you didn’t tell me?”

“They’ve also been studiously avoiding admitting it, the whole time,” Kazuki pointed out. “And if you’d mentioned it to Toshi before she did, who knows what would have happened?”

Toshiki rested his chin on his arms with a wry grin. “Always a step ahead.”

“Because he cheats,” Saizou muttered.

“Well, if you want to see for yourself, why don’t you come with me, the next time she visits him?” Kazuki returned.

Toshiki laughed out loud, probably at Saizou’s expression, Saizou admitted ruefully. “I yield,” he sighed, and lifted one of Kazuki’s hands to kiss the back.

“Good,” Kazuki said comfortably. “Because it’s about time you did see them for yourself.”

They obviously had Kazuki’s blessing already, so Saizou tried not to worry. Too much.


“Are you sure…?” Saizou asked for the sixth or so time.

“We’re far from the only ones watching those two,” Kazuki murmured, nodding to a Kokuchouin retainer as they slipped quietly up the stairs. “Besides Maiya, and sometimes even Takeo these days, at least half of Yohan’s retainers find an excuse to keep an eye on them. Yohan won’t notice us in the crowd. This should do.” They emerged onto one of the second level open rooms and Kazuki knelt behind the balcony half-wall and gestured Saizou down beside him.

Peeking over, he could see Toshi and Yohan sitting on one of the garden benches below.

Toshi was teaching Yohan string figures.

“Now the little fingers go all the way over to get the thumb string.” She illustrated, and Yohan followed but missed one side. “Ah, keep the tension on the string! Here.” She shook her string off her fingers and helped Yohan recover his, fingers dancing over the web of his strings as she directed. Yohan was looking studiously at his hands, but he was also smiling in a way that a loop of tangled string really didn’t deserve.

“There! The butterfly.”

Yohan did it a few more times and regarded the figure between his hands. “The Butterfly is also your favorite form, isn’t it? Your fighting pattern always comes back to it.”

Toshi’s mouth quirked, and her fingers flickered through three figures in quick succession. “Well, actually… the Flowing River is my favorite. Enough that Onii-sama said I needed to stop using it so much.”

“Ah. The Butterfly is your reminder, then.”

Toshi smiled, fingers slowing again. “Yes, exactly! It helps me to remember the indirect approaches.”

Yohan tipped his head, looking at her for a long moment. “Saizou is wise. But you should use Flowing River more often, I think. To deflect and strike through the center that way is very true to the heart of you.”

Toshi’s fingers stilled entirely, and the two of them just sat there looking at each other, apparently oblivious to anything else in the world. Saizou slid down behind the half-wall with a quiet sigh.

“They really are totally in love, aren’t they?”

“They do seem to be.” Kazuki settled beside him, shoulder touching his. “I’ve found them training and researching and talking about philosophy and history and even gardening, but sooner or later it always seems to come down to this.” He gestured at the silent, absorbed couple below them.

“I should have known the very first day,” Saizou muttered. “When she hustled him for a match.”

Kazuki pressed a hand over his mouth, eyes dancing. “Does it run in the family?” he asked, once his shoulders had stopped shaking with laughter.

“Seems to.” Saizou shook his head, rueful.

Yohan’s voice drifted up from below. “Show me another one?”

“Come on,” Saizou whispered. “I don’t think I can take much for of the syrup before I drown.”

They had slipped down the stairs and back out through the house, all the way to the bridge on the outer path before he put a finger on what was oddest about the whole afternoon. “Yohan really didn’t seem to know we were there,” he said finally.

“Mm.” Kazuki perched on one of the railings. “That does seem to happen a good deal; every now and then I’ve surprised him walking into the room when he’s with her. He seems to focus on her very exclusively when they’re together.”

“The Beltline was a lot… quieter, today, too.”

“Yohan’s is the strongest will here,” Kazuki said quietly.

“You’re saying he quiets it for her.” Saizou crossed his arms and leaned against the other railing, considering that.

“More than that. I think she quiets him enough that the effect blankets the entire Beltline. It’s been getting calmer and calmer over the past few seasons. But yes, nothing in the Beltline dares approach her any more.”

Saizou sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I’m talking myself into this, aren’t I?”

“I hope so. I think they’ll be good for each other.” Kazuki smiled gently at Saizou. “I wouldn’t have encouraged it if I’d thought otherwise.” His smile quirked. “And just in time, too.” He nodded back down the path to where their siblings were coming, side by side.

“They’re practically holding hands,” Saizou groaned.

Kazuki laughed out loud. “I had no idea you were still such a traditionalist, Saizou!”

The children were close enough to spot them, by then, and Toshi was giving Saizou a look of mingled apprehension and suspicion. “Onii-sama? What are you doing here?”

He looked at her, and the way she drew a protective step closer to Yohan, and the way Yohan turned toward her without hesitation, and heaved a long-suffering sigh. “Okay. Okay, fine. If you really want him that much, you can have him.”

Toshi lit up like sunrise. “Onii-sama!” She dashed the few steps up the bridge and threw herself into his arms, nearly sending both of them over the rail.

And then, just as quickly, she skipped back to Yohan, smiling up at him. “I do! I would! I mean…” she glanced down and back up, suddenly shy. “If you want to.”

Yohan was looking back and forth between Saizou and Kazuki. “Saizou?” he asked.

He didn’t hesitate, though, about taking Toshi’s hands in his, and Saizou snorted wryly.

“Yeah. Not that it looks like the two of you really need it, but you have my blessing.”

Yohan looked back at Toshi and smiled like Saizou had never seen before, sweet and happy and young, and Saizou had to swallow tightness out of his throat for a moment.

“I would be honored if you would marry me, Toufuuin Toshi,” Yohan said softly, and Toshi laughed up at him.

“I would be honored to accept.”

When it looked like they might just keep standing there, staring at each other, Saizou murmured dryly, “Scaring up the family members for this ceremony is going to be a project.”

Toshi looked away long enough to stick out her tongue at him, and Saizou laughed. It was good to see his sister so happy.

“Family, yes.” Yohan looked up at him again. “Will you choose another to act in your place with the clan, then?”

The thought that Saizou had been trying not to look at ever since Toshi first spoke to him darted up again. He could choose another. Or he could… not. He could return to Yohan’s side himself, to this smiling gentle-eyed Yohan who he was trusting with his little sister.

To Yohan, who had trapped him in service and torment for eight long years.

To Yohan, who had all the deadly grace of the Fuuchouin line and had held him with more than force alone.

Saizou’s hands clenched tight, and he had to swallow before he could speak. “I… don’t know. Let me consider.”

Yohan nodded slowly. “Of course.”

Kazuki came to Saizou and linked an arm through his. “I’ll take Saizou home, then, and you two can decide how you want to announce this to Takeo.”

Yohan’s eyes on Saizou were still grave, but a tiny smile curled the corner of his mouth, and Toshi had a definite light of mischief in her eyes. “We’ll think on that, yes,” she murmured.

As Kazuki led him back toward the gates, Saizou was aware that the decision he had made today had been the easy one.


Kazuki and Toshiki and Juubei had held and comforted Saizou while he wrestled with his past, with the braid of fear and sympathy and pain that still ran taut between he and Yohan. He was grateful for them, desperately grateful for the peace and shelter that belonging to Kazuki gave him. But he knew that he couldn’t live out his whole life never going beyond that shelter.

In the end, Saizou had come to Sakura for a second opinion.

Sakura sat him down in her sunlit kitchen and made tea for them both, and listened as he told her things she already knew, things she had sifted out of his heart while he held her under the curse seal, and things he was only starting to become aware of. Chief among them, of course, the knowledge that he truly did want to return to Yohan’s side.

Saizou drove his fingers into his hair. “Sakura, you’re the smart one around here. Tell me why I’m even considering going back?”

He didn’t honestly expect her to give him an answer, but she looked at him soberly for a long moment, arms crossed over her stomach, and finally sighed.

“He betrayed you. He held leadership over you with one hand and with the other denied everything that it means to lead. But you can’t forget his brilliance, or the security of being led by such a powerful spirit. It draws you back, even when you fear to be betrayed and cast aside again.”

He lifted his head and stared at her shocked to his bones, shaken by the blunt truth of her words. “How… how do you know?”

She came to him and rested her hands on his shoulders. Her smile was faint and shadowed. “I recognized that expression.”

The world tilted and slid sideways and suddenly he heard another name behind the “he” she’d spoken. “Sakura…” He stared at her, reaching out to gather her closer, needing to comfort the hurt hiding behind her small smile. He knew that smile and that hurt.

She leaned against him and sighed, arms folded around his shoulders. “He did come back to us. He came back and he cared for us, little by little, more and more, and now we’re safe in his hands, and I’ve forgiven him, truly I have, I know the pain he carried that drove him away, but…” She took a deep, unsteady breath and let it out. “I recognized how you looked, just now.”

Saizou rested his cheek against her stomach. “You have a great heart. I don’t know if mine is that strong.”

“It is,” she said softly against his hair. “You just want it to make logical sense to you, too.”

After a moment Saizou chuckled, ruefully. “I did say you were the smart one.”

Sakura took his face in her hands to make him look up. “I believe in you,” she said, steadily. “I believe that you will never betray Kazuki, by this. And I believe that you will not betray yourself, either.”

Saizou closed his eyes, letting her words fill him. Sakura believed in him. He held on to that like a lifeline in a storm. “Thank you,” he whispered.

She leaned down and kissed him softly. “Go see him. Find what it is you need to know.”

“Far be it from me to disobey the word of our House’s councilor,” Saizou murmured, wry.

“Really?” She looked down at him with a tiny smile. “Well, then. Go see him tomorrow.” She took his hands and pulled him up and off toward her bedroom.


Saizou stood in the door of what he thought might be Yohan’s favorite room, the one that overlooked the waterfall. Both Kazuki and Toshi mentioned this room frequently. Yohan was sitting by the open screens, back to the door. Saizou wasn’t in the least surprised, though, when he murmured, “Come in, Saizou.”

He came silently and sat across the way from Yohan, looking out over the water too, his hands clenched on his thighs.

“I have already said I will not force your service again,” Yohan said after a while. “If you object…”

“It isn’t that,” Saizou interrupted, tightly. “If it were, I’d just choose another to speak for me and be done with it.”

Finally Yohan looked at him, quiet and clear-eyed. “What is it, then?”

Saizou dropped his head, eyes closed. “It’s that I do want to return,” he said, low.

“I know your heart belongs to Aniue,” Yohan said tentatively, as if he were feeling his way into this tangle too. Saizou huffed half a laugh.

“That’s less of a problem than I thought it might be, now that more of the clan has met Kazuki and seen how completely he’s released the clan to you. No one will think there might be a conflict of clan loyalty.”

“So for appearances. What of reality?” Yohan asked.

That was the perception, cutting straight to the core, that drew Saizou so. “If Kazuki should ever choose to command something of me that conflicted with your orders, it’s him I would obey,” he said quietly. “But Kazuki loves you. He trusts the clan to you. I believe he would not do such a thing.”

After a long moment Yohan said, “You entrust yourself greatly to our hands.”

A shudder raked through Saizou, and he wrapped his arms around himself. “I… want to.”

The past hung in the silence between them, the pain both of them had carried, had shared in a twisted way, and the fact that Yohan had been responsible for Saizou’s.

“Perhaps,” Yohan said at last, “we should take wisdom from your sister.”

Saizou looked at him blankly, unable to make any sense of the words.

“You have not fought me since that first time, when I defeated you.” Yohan held Saizou’s eyes as he started. “Perhaps it is time you did.”

Saizou swallowed, years of fear clamoring that it was pointless, hopeless, that to fight Yohan would only mean destruction—that or the shame of knowing there was nothing, nothing at all, he could do against Yohan.

But there was no glint of amusement or irony in Yohan’s eyes now, nothing of those years, only quiet waiting. And perhaps that was Yohan’s point. Saizou took a shaking breath.

“You both have that ruthlessness, you and Kazuki,” he said, husky. “All right.”

“Come, then.” Yohan rose and led the way back out through the house to the same training ground where Toshi had demanded a match. Now the remark about his sister’s wisdom made sense. Yohan stood in the center of the space, bell gleaming between his fingers, and simply waited.

Saizou took a breath, and then another, and sent his strings flashing out in the Winter Gale.

It was a strange fight. He felt as though he were fighting himself as much as he was Yohan, fighting the drag and twitch of fear in his muscles, fighting ghosts of the past that told him to cower behind the Jade Shield and not dare strike out. He fought past that, as well as Yohan’s attacks, and breathed freer with every attack, twisting aside from the Rain Shower to return it with the Blossoming Plum, blood singing every time an attack drove Yohan to step aside.

He knew Yohan was not fighting with his full power, that this was a training match and not a true battle. But the knowledge didn’t hurt; it was what they’d set out to do after all, to take each other’s measure on this ground, and Yohan’s grace called to him the way Kazuki’s had the first time they fought. He gave himself up to that grace again and let the rhythm of the match take him, moving through the forms like flying, hovering, watching for the opportunity to dive.

At last, Yohan spun his strings out into a form Saizou didn’t recognize, and he tensed, wondering if Yohan would use one of the hidden techniques on him now. In a flicker of decision he chose to meet Yohan’s lunge head on, seeking to entangle his strings in the Night Forest Web. Yohan’s strings didn’t close on him, though. Instead they drew taut just out of his range and sang.

Saizou thought he cried out; he couldn’t tell. Sound and more than sound poured through him, halted him as surely as a binding but without holding him, cut through him like a knife but without touching him. He felt like it should be tearing his body apart, crushing him, but the force of it flowed through him without pause or pain.

When it released him his legs wouldn’t hold him up and he stumbled down to the ground, stunned. Yohan walked back to him and Saizou took a breath and looked up. “What…?” he managed, voice rough.

“What are the four principles of our art?” Yohan asked in return.

Saizou blinked at him. “To cut, to reflect, to strike, and to bind,” he answered, slowly. What was this, catechism?

“And so the signature forms of the four Houses, each one particularly and powerfully expressing one of the four principles,” Yohan agreed. “But there is a fifth. It is the core and root of all the others. Resonance.”

Saizou’s eyes widened; that was what the unknown form had done, then. Passed the resonance of the strings into his body, far more powerfully than any technique he’d ever heard of.

“That,” Yohan said softly, “was the Dance of the Yellow Dragon. I believe that it used to be the Fuuchouin succession technique, before Kachoufuugetsu—before the hidden arts were laid on the Kokuchouin—the proof that the heir had mastered the deepest root, as well as the highest reaches, of the art, and comprehended their unity and harmony.” More softly still he finished, “Toufuuin Saizou, do you accept it?”

Harmony. To conquer without injury. Saizou buried his face in his hands and laughed, breathless and helpless. Yohan was Kazuki’s brother after all. “Yes,” he whispered at last, and looked up again, smiling, at his clan lord. “Yes.”

Yohan smiled, small but pleased and bright. “I’m glad.”

Saizou bent his head and let his new knowledge settle into his heart. Yohan had found a place for life instead of the death that he’d worn like an over-robe for all those years. He would care for Fuuchouin and bring it harmony, and Saizou was welcomed, not bound, at his side. It fit; it made sense; Kazuki was the Master of his House and heart, and Yohan was the Master of his clan. His honor would be safe in their hands. He let out a trembling breath, feeling himself truly relax.

Yohan touched his shoulder. “Come back inside.” Now there was a hint of amusement in his eyes, but it was lighter than it had been before. “Aniue won’t like it if I send you back to him in this condition.”

Saizou snorted and levered himself upright. He could foresee his life getting complicated, between those two. To say nothing of what would happen when his sister mixed in.


Saizou’s first meeting with the rest of Yohan’s councilors wasn’t particularly comfortable. He hadn’t expected it to be. He remembered Seifuuin Koshijirou, after all, who seemed to feel it was his spiritual duty to never make anyone comfortable if he could help it.

“Saizou,” Koshijirou greeted him, on the engawa outside the room they would meet in. “I see you’ve finally regrown your courage.”

Saizou gave him a glittering grin. “Koshijirou. Well, you know how it is. It’s astonishing what it can do to people when they actually resist instead of licking the feet of whoever presents himself.”

Koshijirou laughed, apparently perfectly pleased. “It’s good to have you back.”

Some people, in Saizou’s opinion, had really bad hobbies.

He heard the patter of running feet behind him and habit braced him by the time Maiya’s weight landed on his shoulders. “Saizou!” Having failed to knock him over she swung down beside him and he blinked at her.

“Maiya-chan. You’re dressed.” Koshijirou snorted, and Saizou had to admit Maiya wasn’t entirely dressed by a long way, but she had added a pair of prettily printed hakama to her usual, desperately scanty, outfit; by contrast she nearly looked demure.

Maiya beamed at him. “Well, now Yohan lets the weather change here, it gets cold sometimes. Besides, Toshi blushes if I’m not.”

Toshi, coming behind her at a much more sedate pace, blushed demonstratively. “It’s not that I want to interfere, Maiya-san, it’s just…”

Maiya waved it off. “Oh, don’t worry. If I need to fight, it’s easy enough to get these off.” She patted her thigh and Saizou heard the chime of her leg bells, apparently still in place under the fabric.

“Wasting time chattering about fashion can wait,” grumbled an old man, who Saizou decided must be Seiji, as he stumped past them into the room. Maiya giggled in her most mendaciously brainless fashion and jiggled her breasts at him, and Saizou watched with interest as his neck turned red. Maiya must not like him very much; Saizou didn’t discount that.

After all, the man must be completely oblivious not to have realized that they’d spend most of this meeting talking about fashion. Toshi would make sure of that.

He nodded to Maiya, gestured Toshi in ahead of him, and went to take his place at Yohan’s right.

The actual marriage contract was settled quickly, despite Seiji’s occasional grumpy noises, presumably at Toshi’s participation; the families were already allies and more, after all. The marriage would only reconfirm Toufuuin’s place within the Fuuchouin clan.

“Framing this as some kind of new alliance will only lead to further division,” Saizou said firmly to Kokuchouin Gorou’s suggestion, ignoring the sidelong glances of the Fuuchouin elders. “Toufuuin serves our clan lord willingly, and I won’t suggest it might be otherwise.”

Finally no one could think of any more clauses he needed to reject. Saizou sat back and opened a hand discreetly to his sister.

Toshi’s eyes sparkled.

“Well, then, let us discuss the ceremonies themselves,” she said brightly.

On mature consideration, Saizou decided thoughtfully, he wasn’t entirely surprised that Maiya and Toshi were getting along. They had very similar senses of humor, under certain circumstances, and the clan elders had obviously been getting on Toshi’s nerves for a while now. He was reasonably sure she didn’t actually want a modern wedding with church trappings, and had only suggested it to see the colors Seiji and Akihito would turn, but she had no compunction about using the specter of it as a bargaining chip to wring out every single outfit, ornament and moment of display tradition afforded. Saizou just smiled blandly and agreed to every single demand. By the time they were done, the celebration had expanded into a week long festival, and Takeo was looking appalled at the notion that it would have to be hosted here in the Beltline.

“Your sister is a dangerous woman to cross,” he murmured ruefully to Saizou as they all stood to go.

“She certainly is,” he agreed with a brilliant smile.

“I wish I had known sooner that she favored Yohan-sama for herself.” Takeo cast a thoughtful look over his shoulder to where Yohan and Toshi were saying temporary goodbye at great length.

Saizou snorted. “You and me both. But I think it’s for the best. She loves his idealism and Yohan needs a bright heart in his life, and Kazuki doesn’t actually live here.”

Takeo stopped and looked at him for a long moment. “You know Yohan-sama well,” he finally said.

“Yes,” Saizou agreed, quiet. “I do.”

Takeo smiled. “I had wondered whether your return to the clan council was wise.” He bowed deeply. “Forgive me for doubting you, Master of Toufuuin.”

Saizou’s mouth quirked. “You didn’t doubt me any more than I did. For a while there was cause. But we’re both healing from it, Yohan and I. Toufuuin will be well; and so will Fuuchouin.” His smile widened. “All the more after the entire clan sees Yohan, and Yohan and Kazuki together, at this circus of a wedding.”

Takeo paused, brows lifting, and looked back at Toshi again, this time with open respect. “I… see.” He smiled, small and rueful. “I will do my best to follow my lady’s program, then.”

“Usually wisest,” Saizou agreed, and clapped him on the shoulder companionably.

After all, trimming Toshi down to size was his job, and he didn’t intend to let it out to anyone else.

Takeo nodded to him and moved off after his fellows, and Yohan and Toshi finally emerged from the room. Saizou traded identical grins with his sister. “Go tell Maiya about your victory, then,” he told her. “I’ll catch up with you at the gates.”

Toshi laughed and ran the other way down the engawa.

“Saizou,” Yohan said quietly, looking after her. “Thank you.”

Saizou shrugged. “It was her choice. I just agreed to it.”

“You did—to all of it.” Yohan turned that even gaze on him. “That’s why I’m thanking you.”

Saizou hesitated for a moment, but at last he took a slow breath and knelt down in full salute at Yohan’s feet. The body memory of heart-pain from the many times he’d done this before pulled at him, but he pushed it away with the crisp cool of the fall afternoon here and now and the memory of the new Dance Yohan had shown him. “It is my duty and my honor,” he said firmly.

“Saizou.” There was startlement and wonder in Yohan’s voice, and Saizou smiled to himself. Neither would have shown, or even existed, two years ago.

He stood and gave Yohan a brighter grin. “Of course, you realize, as your big-brother-in-law, I’m going to tease you now. That’s my duty too.”

Yohan looked up at him, startlement softening into a smile. “Is it? Perhaps I’ll look forward to it, then.”

The trust of those words kept Saizou company all the way home.