After the shouting was over and the rush of people had ebbed away again and all the wounded had been marched back to Gen’s back rooms by a frowning Ren, Kazuki had a chance to finally think about what he had found by returning to Mugenjou. He listened to the crunch and hush of medicines being mixed, to Ren scolding Emishi, to Sakura’s quiet as she sat beside Juubei, and hoped that this time he and Juubei could say what they meant, to each other, and not what they feared.
His search for a way to start that was preempted, though, when Gen stumped over to Juubei and gave him a look of professional disapproval.
“You turned your own arts against yourself; you should know better than anyone what that means. It was only the luck or fate of this place that you missed the critical points but you came close enough to shock even your system badly. I don’t know,” he added, more quietly, “if your eyes will recover.”
“No matter,” Juubei said evenly, and Gen grunted without either surprise or agreement.
“At any rate, if there’s to be any chance you’ll need to rest for at least a week. Take this once a day,” he handed Sakura a small, blue glass bottle, “and don’t do any of these things.” He passed over a closely written sheet of paper.
Sakura read down it and pursed her lips, looking down at her brother dubiously. “Thank you, sir,” she said all the same.
Kazuki slipped out of bed and looked over her shoulder. “Well, then, it seems that after I’ve wrapped up this job I’ll be back for a while,” he said dryly.
“Back?” Juubei asked, and perhaps only the two of them heard the crack of hope in his voice. Kazuki took a breath.
“Of course,” he answered, voice as cheerful as he could make it. “After all, no one else will be able to make you follow the doctor’s orders, will they?”
Sakura pressed a hand over her mouth, eyes dancing. Juubei was silent, though, and Kazuki made himself reach out, resting a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “You need me here. So I’ll be here.”
Juubei still didn’t speak, but his muscles relaxed under Kazuki’s touch.
“Perhaps you should take him back to your own apartment, then,” Sakura suggested, smiling up at him with a light of mischief. “A little extra distance between him and his work won’t hurt.”
“Ane-chan,” Juubei objected, but Sakura kept looking at Kazuki and he finally bowed his head.
“If you think that’s for the best, Sakura,” he murmured.
She laid a hand over his, on Juubei’s shoulder. “I do.”
He was glad to have Sakura’s blessing on this renewal of an old friendship. And perhaps… perhaps more than that.
“I don’t want to be away from Lower Town,” Juubei grumbled.
“Nonsense,” Sakura said firmly. “Kazuki-san may not live in the heart of Mugenjou any more, but he’s only moved to the edge of Lower Town.”
“…oh.” Juubei subsided.
Kazuki fought for a moment with simultaneous pleasure that Sakura had kept that much track of him and the twinge that Juubei obviously hadn’t. “Rest here while I close this job,” he told Juubei. “I’ll come get you when that’s done.”
And they would see what it was going to take to repair hearts and bodies both.
As Kazuki had expected, having been a spectator the last time Juubei got a cold, Juubei spent exactly one day in bed before he was sneaking out of it every time Kazuki’s back was turned. Kazuki was fairly sure that one day was only because he’d been concentrating on readjusting his senses, because he moved as silently as ever when he did get up.
That didn’t make Kazuki any happier about it.
“How are your eyes going to have any chance to heal if you don’t rest?” he remonstrated, catching Juubei moving methodically through the kitchen, cataloging dishes and cans with his fingertips.
“I doubt they will,” Juubei answered, sounding perfectly serene about it. “And that’s as well. I raised my hand against you; it’s just and right that I be punished for that.”
Kazuki touched Juubei’s cheek below the wrap over his eyes, just about ready to howl with frustration except that he didn’t do such things, any more than Juubei did. They’d both been well taught. “I don’t like to see you hurt,” he said instead.
Juubei rested his hand over Kazuki’s. “I am not in pain.”
Kazuki sighed. That complete equanimity was as comforting as it was frustrating, to tell the truth. That was the Juubei he’d known for so long, this serenity and not the harsh, driven edge Juubei had shown when they fought. Juubei had always been a rock, standing firm in any stream of events, even the madness of Fuuchouin’s fall.
Of course, the tiny, resentful part of his mind that he tried not to pay too much attention to said, the foundation of Juubei’s serenity was still intact. His family had not fallen, and he had left it of his own will to follow the one tradition had bound him to. Even in exile, Juubei knew he was walking the straight path of his house and clan, following…
Kazuki felt his breath stop for a moment. Without him, Juubei had not been himself. Now that he was here again, Juubei was at ease. Secure in his place in the world.
“Kazuki?” Juubei asked softly, hand closing on his shoulder.
Kazuki wrapped his arms tight around Juubei and pressed close, reassuring himself that they were both here and alive and as safe as anyone could be. Husky, against Juubei’s shoulder, he murmured, “Did it truly trouble you that much… No.” He took a breath. “Never mind. I shouldn’t have to ask that.”
He knew the answer already, in his heart. The Kakei family was proud, a samurai House who kept their traditions. It must have driven Juubei half-wild to be masterless. Kazuki understood perfectly, in the abstract.
It was only when he faced the fact that Juubei’s master was him that it made him flinch away.
So instead he concentrated on the living warmth of Juubei against him, on the comfort of Juubei’s arms slowly sliding around him, on the soft pleasure lurking in Juubei’s voice when he said Kazuki’s name. That was enough.
After a week, during which he had been only marginally successful in making Juubei rest, Kazuki had to admit that Juubei was probably as recovered as he was getting, at least for now. Juubei was moving easily and his non-visual perception had made a leap forward such as Kazuki had never heard of before.
He just hoped that advance would hold outside of Mugenjou.
The moment he was sure Juubei was going to be all right was when Juubei cocked his head to one side and turned to him with a faint frown, as Kazuki was dressing for the day. “Kazuki? You’re favoring your right hand.”
Once it was pointed out it felt like the faint ache and twinge got deeper, as if pleased to be noticed. Kazuki sighed, twisting his wrist carefully. “Yes. I suppose there’s still a bit of forearm strain.”
“Sit down.” Juubei pushed him down onto the edge of the bed and knelt down beside him, taking Kazuki’s arm in his hand and running a thumb down the length of the inner tendon. He made a disapproving sound as Kazuki’s fingers twitched. “You’re the one who should have been resting more.”
Kazuki couldn’t help laughing; this was so familiar, this physician’s grumpiness. “Well you’re fully recovered, at any rate! I’m fine, Juubei.”
Juubei paused, head bent, fingers resting on Kazuki’s wrist. Finally he said, low, “Allow me this.”
There was a plea in those even words, and it caught at Kazuki’s heart. “Of course…” he started, impulsive, and then paused himself.
It touched a chord in him, seeing Juubei at his feet, waiting on his word. Part of him could not help feeling that it was good and right, it was their familiar fate as the heirs of their Houses. Kakei was vassal to Fuuchouin.
But that thought, that way, led back into the fire.
Juubei was still waiting.
Kazuki’s jaw tightened and he took a slow breath. Forget their Houses; this wasn’t a House before him, it was a person! Juubei. He lifted his other hand and rested it on Juubei’s head.
“Yes.” As he said it, his voice turned fierce, finally saying what he had spent years turning away from. “You are mine.”
The sudden openness of Juubei’s face as he lifted his head, the husky note in his voice as he said, “Kazuki…” settled in Kazuki’s chest and he laughed, softly, and slid down off the bed, pleased when Juubei’s arms caught him. Juubei’s mouth was soft, under his, startled perhaps, and Kazuki took ruthless advantage of that, kissing Juubei deep and slow until he moaned, arms tightening hard around Kazuki. Kazuki made a satisfied sound at that.
“Kazuki,” Juubei murmured against his mouth, breathless.
“I will allow you a great deal,” Kazuki purred back, enjoying the way Juubei’s breath hitched. “Because you’re my own.”
And why on earth had he waited so long to say that? He couldn’t really recall just at the moment. Never mind their pasts, he could have Juubei just as himself, and that would be all right.
Juubei’s hands spread against his back, supporting him, and Juubei turned his face up to Kazuki. “Kazuki… may I…?”
Kazuki shivered, pressing close, half laughing with the dizzy pleasure of the way he’d found to have this. “Yes.” He let Juubei lift him back up to the bed and tugged Juubei after him. If he could have managed to undress without letting go, he would have. Finally, after a few tangles of arms and legs and cloth ended in laughter—an open smile from Juubei was just as good—he leaned back, sighing, as strong deft hands trailed slowly over his skin, just as if Juubei had never touched his body before.
In fact, the familiarity of the touch was what soothed him, relaxed him until he was arching up against the weight of Juubei’s body, arms twined tight around him. “Mmm, Juubei…”
Juubei’s voice was husky as murmured, between kisses, “Do you have…?”
Kazuki stretched to reach the little bedside nook, purring as Juubei’s hands slid over his ribs. “Here.” He dropped the green glass jar into Juubei’s palm.
It was very different, to feel Juubei’s hands kneading gently up his thighs, to be gathered close as Juubei’s fingers touched him more and more intimately, to hear Juubei’s breath come quicker as Kazuki made a soft sound against his shoulder and shifted closer. The few other men and women he’d been with had been… well, they’d been brief, and most of them rather in awe of him. This was Juubei, who grumbled at him when he didn’t eat enough, who had guarded his back faithfully for years, who needed jokes explained to him. This was his Juubei, touching him now with complete reverence and no hesitation.
“I missed you so much,” he whispered against Juubei’s ear, breathless. Juubei’s arms tightened around him.
“I beg your forgiveness,” Juubei said, low, in the most abject form, and Kazuki moaned as Juubei pressed slowly into him.
“Wasn’t your fault,” he gasped, and laughed a little as Juubei’s silence disagreed with him. Juubei protected him even from himself.
“I didn’t want to leave you,” he offered, softly, sliding his leg up to wind around Juubei’s hip.
“Shh.” Juubei’s hands slid up his back, kneading hard and slow, and Kazuki gasped as muscles he hadn’t realized he’d tensed unwound again; it put an edge on the rise of pleasure as Juubei’s cock worked slowly in and out of him. “I lost my way, and I was a fool for letting it happen. But you brought me back to it. My life and honor are yours. Always.”
That skirted close to the things Kazuki didn’t dare think of too hard, hoping not to tempt fate. So all he said, as Juubei’s hand slid down between his legs, was “Stay with me?”
“Forever.” The intensity of Juubei’s voice wrapped around him like another hand, and Kazuki let that touch carry him over the edge, moaning openly as pleasure swept through him, deep and slow and thorough.
The catch of Juubei’s breath, the way his head bent, made Kazuki smile, reaching up through the brightness of it all, to run his fingers through Juubei’s hair. “Juubei,” he murmured, low, and rocked up into the next thrust. Juubei gasped, body arching taut as he drove forward harder, and Kazuki made approving sounds. He pulled Juubei down against him as he started to relax, and murmured in his ear, laughing, “I said say to stay with me, didn’t I?”
He could feel the heat in Juubei’s face against his shoulder. “Kazuki!”
Kauzki laughed again and cuddled closer, happier than he could remember being in a long time.
And as long as fate and his enemies didn’t notice, perhaps he could keep some of it.