Deeper than Love

Ryuuki is still pining for Shuurei and Ensei talks sense to him. In the wake of this, Seiran makes his final choice of loyalty. Drama with Fluff, I-3


The evening was lovely, out in the pavilions by the water. Clear and warm, a perfect evening for drinking.

Ensei felt very in need of the drink.

"Of course she loves you." He leaned back on the pavilion bench and passed the sake bottle back over to his Emperor. "Thing is… you’re asking her to not love all of you."

"Huh?" Ryuuki blinked eyes that were a little redder than the alcohol could account for at him and Ensei sighed. He wished Seiran would hurry up and get back from Kou province. This was a big brother’s job, wasn’t it?

"Look," he said, lacing his hands around one knee, "you want her to see you as just Ryuuki, right? Not as the Emperor at all?"

Ryuuki nodded vigorously and Ensei snagged the bottle back for another swig.

"But the fact is, you are the Emperor. So ‘just Ryuuki’… well, that isn’t all of you, is it? Do you really want her to just love part of you?"

"Well, no, but…" Ryuuki chewed his lip.

"Besides, this is Shuurei we’re talking about," Ensei pressed on. "Would you want her to forget everything outside the Inner Courts? Would you want her to never talk to you about policy and which bureaus are doing what, and what she thinks you should do about the great families?"

Ryuuki shook his head even more vigorously than he’d nodded, hair swishing wildly. "No, no! That’s what makes her so wonderful! The things she sees and thinks about and how determined she is and all the good things she dreams to do and—"

"And," Ensei cut in firmly, "those are all the things that remind her you’re the Emperor." And the things that made her Shuurei, and it would be a crime to take those away, in his informed opinion.

Ryuuki looked stricken, and Ensei winced. Okay, maybe it was a good thing Seiran wasn’t back yet, to throw him into the lake for making Ryuuki look like that, no matter how good the cause. More gently, he added, "If those are all the things that make you love her, then you don’t really want her to stop being and doing all of them, right?"

"Oh." Ryuuki’s voice was a whisper, and his hair hid his face when he lowered his head.

Ensei sighed. He really hated to do this, but better him than Shuurei, who, he would bet all his fancy certifications, wouldn’t be able to lay it out plainly enough, and then the two silly children would just go dancing around the whole mess again. "Come on." He tucked the bottle away, pretty sure he’d want it again later, and pulled his Emperor’s arm over his shoulders, steering him back toward his bedroom. "Time to sleep. Sleep will make you feel better."

He hoped he wasn’t lying.

Ryuuki stumbled along beside him, and Ensei barely caught the whisper, "Not her. Then who?"

He pressed his lips together tight. He really, really hoped Seiran got back soon.


Seiran didn’t like leaving the court, these days. Things always seemed to get cluttered and messy in his absence, and then he had to spend days on end cleaning them up.

This time, though, he didn’t think he’d be able to fix things just by throwing Ensei in the lake or looming over Shuurei’s newest suitor until he was suitably intimidated. Not that he didn’t dunk Ensei anyway on general principles, once he heard the story.

After the third time Ryuuki insisted, with a painful smile, that everything was fine, Seiran decided it was time for drastic measures and went to find that old goat Shou.

The old goat gave him a surprised look. "And what business could a guardsman have with me?"

"Don’t give me that nonsense," Seiran rapped out, staring straight ahead as they paced down the breezeway. "Tell me. Is Ryuuki secure enough on the throne for my identity to be known?"

Shou’s eyes sharpened. "Hm." After several long moments he said, "You would make yourself the target of intrigue. But for those who suspect, you are that already. I think it would have no worse effect than your observed behavior toward the Emperor has already led to."

Seiran stifled a snarl at that not very veiled accusation of carelessness. "You already have your assurance, then, that I have only my brother’s good in mind," he returned, instead, coolly.

Shou had the nerve to smirk. "Indeed."

One of these days, Seiran swore, he was going to strangle the manipulative old goat. "Prepare for it then," he ordered and turned abruptly aside, making for Ryuuki’s office.

Seiran stood outside the doors of the audience hall and listened to the faint murmurs from within as the nobles and officials whispered to each other. It was a typical Court, so far, decrees and trifles of acclaim for this or that service, and only those most involved paid attention.

That was about to change.

Ryuuki’s voice rose again. "Last, We summon Seiran of the Guard to come before Us."

Seiran allowed himself a grim smile at the inquiring hitch to the murmurs, before smoothing his expression and stepping inside. Silence spread out behind him as he made his way to the foot of the Imperial dais, where Ryuuki stood, with measured steps. Today he did not wear the armor of the Guard. His armor today was chased and enameled.

The colors were purple.

Passing the last rank of courtiers, he allowed himself a tiny encouraging smile up at Ryuuki before kneeling, just enough to get them both through this, and was relieved. The gold threads of the Imperial finery winked faintly, as if Ryuuki trembled, but his eyes were steady.

"We would have it known," Ryuuki announced into the silence, voice clear and ringing, "that the one known as Shi Seiran, of the Guard, is also Shi Seien, Our brother. We are pleased to welcome him home, to stand at Our side."

As Seiran raised his head, Ryuuki held out his hands, offering, summoning, and Seiran had to swallow back a catch in his throat as he rose and climbed the stairs. He knelt again, smiling up at Ryuuki, and took his hands.

"It is my honor to stand at your side, my Emperor," he declared in just the same carrying voice they had both been taught for official occasions. "It is my honor to serve you."

Ryuuki nodded and stepped back to resume his throne, and Seiran stood and turned, taking his place beside and behind the throne, planned and smooth. They stood, looking out over the Court as whispers rose again, a united icon.

All this, Seiran reflected to himself, only to prepare for his real goal.

He stood calm and stoic through the end of court, joined the little cavalcade of Emperor and advisors as Ryuuki left, and let the courtiers look their fill. When the gossip about the brilliant second prince revived, he wanted it to run straight into this image, of him armed and armored and not in any formal robes, guarding his younger brother’s back.

Let them remember that.

He wasn’t really accustomed to this game anymore, though, and sighed with relief as he pulled the door of Ryuuki’s office shut behind them all. Ryuuki looked around at that, and Seiran’s heart squeezed at the fragile hope in Ryuuki’s face, the hesitant, silent way his lips formed the word, "Aniue."

"Ryuuki." Seiran smiled and held out his arms, bracing himself to catch his brother as Ryuuki positively dove into them. "Ryuuki," he repeated, softly, cradling his brother close and protective, savoring the fierce rightness of it.

"Aniue." It was out loud, this time, shaking like Ryuuki’s whole body was.

"I’m here," Seiran soothed, petting his brother’s hair. He lifted his eyes for a moment to check on Ryuuki’s advisors; if they couldn’t accept this, there would be trouble. Shuuei looked amused, which Seiran supposed he might have expected, and Kouyuu looked a little uncomfortable and a little envious, but his smile was soft. That would do. Seiran gave Shuuei a cold, warning look, and Shuuei stopped looking amused and looked rueful instead, possibly remembering the expression from his visits to Shuurei. That would do also. Seiran turned his attention back to his brother and murmured against his bright hair, "I’m proud of you."

Ryuuki looked up, flushed and happy, eyes bright. "Aniue." Seiran smiled and kissed his forehead gently, and wiped Ryuuki’s face with the end of his sash, the way he used to do, which made Ryuuki laugh.

"I’ll always be here," Seiran told his brother. "Now. There’s work to do, yes?"

"Mm." Ryuuki nodded, smiling, and turned willingly enough to his desk.

Seiran settled by the door, watching as the day’s work picked up, waiting to see how he should fit himself into it. Ensei was right, he reflected, he had made his choice and, in the end, it was not for Shuurei.

Seeing his brother smile properly again, he didn’t regret it.