Kazuki felt a stray breeze brush his cheek and sighed. Saizou seemed determined to be the most troublesome one of all for him.
Juubei had been the first to detect him shadowing them, never coming close, only watching, but never leaving them. Kazuki had tried, once or twice, to drift closer, but every time Saizou slid away. Thinking about it, Kazuki didn’t suppose he was actually surprised.
Part of him had always known that Saizou felt differently about their past than he did. That Saizou wanted his clan back. He had been the one, after all, to suggest that Kazuki form a new House. Once Sakura pointed it out, Kazuki could see perfectly well what Fuuga had been. At the time, though, that knowledge had been one of the things he turned his face from.
So he also understood why Saizou held back now, why he couldn’t trust the thing he most wanted. Kazuki had lived the same way for a long time. Kokuchouin had forced Saizou to plant the seed of falseness in his hope for a new clan, claimed he could save Kazuki only by betraying and defeating him, and Saizou had been burned too painfully to even try grasping hope again. Kazuki knew that mind so well it hurt.
And he would not let Saizou stay there, not even if it meant flexing his own old burns. He would be what he needed to be.
“Kazuki-san?” Makubex had paused to look back at him, smiling, eyes questioning.
“I was just contemplating the view,” Kazuki murmured. “Go on ahead a bit, would you?”
Makubex stilled for a moment before smiling a bit wider. “Of course.” He caught Toshiki and Juubei and drew them along with him, a quick glance bringing Sakura after, trotting out into the plaza behind the building where they lived. Kazuki wondered, ruefully, when Makubex had started looking so much like Ginji to him. They both had that vision that a leader needed. Kazuki drew a slow breath; despite Sakura’s insistence, he had a hard time feeling he had any of that himself.
Perhaps, though, he could borrow some of it from their example.
He watched them. It had been his purpose for so long it came naturally now, though now he watched from the shadows. As was only fitting, really. He still wasn’t sure if this was his prize or his penance, but he couldn’t bring himself to stop; not even when every hand Kazuki laid on Kakei’s arm, every smile he gentled for Uryuu, made Saizou’s heart tug. The heart he’d given for Kazuki. To Kazuki.
That part hadn’t hurt. To die for Kazuki’s sake was more than he’d deserved by the end. What hurt was being alive again. Alive to see Kakei’s simple confidence that Kazuki would permit his protection despite being the strongest of them all. To see the flush of pleaure on Uryuu’s face whenever Kazuki asked even the simplest thing of him. To see Sakura’s smile as she sat beside Kazuki and he listened to her words. The worst were the nights, the ones when he couldn’t quite keep himself from seeing, from hearing the way Kazuki sighed as he stretched and relaxed into Kakei’s hands, the way Uryuu gasped as he surrendered himself to Kazuki. The way Kazuki laughed as he knelt over them.
Kazuki was the prince Saizou had named him, no question. He was ally and clan lord and liege to the Eastern House. Part of Saizou told him he should be there with Kazuki, that he was heir to one of the daylight schools and belonged at his clan lord’s side under the sun. But all those years as a changeling, vanquished and stolen by the shadows, answered that this was his place now and he had no right to call Kazuki his lord.
“How long were you planning to stand there watching?”
Saizou’s head jerked up, startled. Kazuki stood with his back to him, head cocked, apparently watching Uryuu playing tag across the plaza with Makubex while Kakei and his sister looked on tolerantly.
“Saizou?” Kazuki murmured. “I asked you a question.”
Saizou winced. He supposed he’d put this particular weapon in Kazuki’s hands himself, admitting his love and loyalty in such an undeniable way. “As long as I can?” he tried anyway, hoping against all just desserts for mercy.
Kazuki’s head tipped down a little. “And if I tell you that you no longer can?” he asked quietly.
It took Saizou a few moments to unlock his lungs and speak after that. “Then I will not,” he said, husky, and stepped back deeper into the shadows, swallowing pain as best he could.
“Saizou.” Kazuki turned at last, and the irritation in his tone made Saizou’s stomach turn over. “Come here.”
Saizou wavered for a moment on one foot, startled. “Kazuki…?”
“I said,” Kazuki said, soft and sharp, “come here.”
That tone reversed his direction before his brain caught up with the rest of him, and he stepped, halting, out into the light. Kazuki was, he reflected ruefully, nothing if not ruthless when he thought there was cause. Saizou smiled, wry and crooked, and murmured, “I am here, my Prince,” acknowledging the accuracy of Kazuki’s chosen approach.
Kazuki sighed, sounding rather exasperated. “I never thought you would be the most stubborn one. Do you really not trust my forgiveness? Or theirs?”
“Do I really deserve it?” Saizou shrugged. “I… don’t think so.”
“You gave your life to protect mine,” Kazuki told him gently. “More than that. You gave your very soul, for years. What kind of leader would I be to you if I failed to acknowledge that?”
The clarity of those words, of Kazuki’s vision, were like a punch to the chest. “When I said that people would fear your gentleness,” Saizou said, quick and breathless, “I didn’t know the half of it.”
Kazuki considered him for a moment, calm as he was in the heart of battle, and when he moved the grace of battle was in each step he took toward Saizou. Like any of the fools before him, Saizou was caught by that beauty and stood unguarded as Kazuki laid his hands on Saizou’s shoulders.
“If this is the only way you’ll hear me, very well.” The soft voice bound him like Kazuki’s strings would have, unable to move. “I order you, then, to come forward and stand beside me. You gave yourself to my service long ago, and I do not release you.”
Shock unstrung Saizou and he sank down to his knees, staring up at Kazuki. He knew, heir to the main house or not, that Kazuki had never wished to retake that place. He’d said it often enough, that he was no longer the lord of Fuuchouin. But for this, for him, Kazuki had laid his hand on that mantle again. Saizou bent his head, outflanked and overwhelmed, and answered low and rough, “Yes, lord.”
“It’s a very different House we have, here,” Kazuki said gently, resting one hand on his head. “But I love it all the same, and I won’t leave one of my own wandering in the dark.”
Saizou pulled in a harsh breath and let it out, shaky. Gentleness and strength, yes; those were what had always bound him to Kazuki—guard against one and fall to the other, turn to the second and be utterly conquered by the first.
Willingly conquered, he had to admit.
“So, are you done lurking?” Kakei asked from behind them, perfectly casual, and Saizou snorted as he pulled himself to his feet.
“Yeah, I suppose I am…” His eyes widened. “Wait. Wait, you. Um.” Shit; Kakei didn’t need his eyes to spot a person, even now he had his vision back, and it was possible Saizou hadn’t concealed his presence as thoroughly as he should have—had he known all this time, that Saizou was watching? Watching… everything?
Kakei looked back at him, completely bland and expressionless, and Saizou clapped a hand over his eyes. The wicked edge in Kazuki’s laugh only confirmed it.
“Aw, look, he’s blushing!” Uryuu grinned and elbowed him in the ribs.
“Shut up,” Saizou told him, heartfelt.
“What?” If anything Uryuu’s grin got wider. “I thought you liked listening to me.”
Saizou made a pathetic sound. They really did intend revenge: they were going to kill him of embarrassment.
“Well!” Kazuki linked his arm through Saizou’s lightly, not that he fooled himself that he’d be able to get away. “Why don’t we talk about that, then?”
He was doomed, Saizou decided fatalistically as he was surrounded and chivvied off toward an apartment building he knew very well by now, listening to Kazuki’s soft laugh and Uryuu’s shameless suggestions and Kakei’s distinctly smug silence and Sakura’s fading giggles as she and Makubex strolled on.
Willingly doomed, he had to admit.
In the end, they spent more of that first night talking than anything else. They held him the whole time, hands stroking gently over his back, fingers lacing through his, but mostly they just lay and spoke of what had happened after he’d died.
He still couldn’t quite take it all in. He could believe that Juubei would put himself between Kazuki and the Kokuchouin siblings, and even that he’d survived doing it. That was actually the easy part. That Kazuki had defeated Yohan, though…
He stared up at the ceiling and decided he needed coffee before thinking more about that. Easing out from between Kazuki and Toshiki he pulled his jeans back on and went looking for the kitchen.
Obviously, he thought as he watched his brain-helper brew, it was true. After all, here they all were alive and with all parts attached and everything. And without any trace of the black thread; he’d checked that, as surreptitiously as possible. Which brought it all down to this Phoenix technique Kazuki spoke of, the true heart of Fuuchouin, the hidden heart. Down to Kazuki’s heart and how all-encompassing it was.
Actually, when he thought of it that way, it all made perfect sense. It was never Kazuki’s power alone that made him truly terrifying. Saizou sipped his coffee and contemplated that truth. If Kazuki’s mercy could gather even Yohan to him, perhaps Saizou wasn’t as much of a stretch.
He looked up and had to smile. Kazuki stood in the door of the kitchen, rubbing sleep out of his eyes, holding a robe around him. Even just woken up, with his robe falling half off one shoulder, Kazuki managed to look elegant and poised. “Hey. Just thought I’d get some coffee.”
“Mm, good idea.” Kazuki came and stole his mug for a sip, giving him such a teasing look that Saizou laughed; he’d never seen Kazuki quite this relaxed.
“Well, all this did some good for you, at least.” He brushed his fingers against the cut ends of Kazuki’s hair and finally said what he’d been wanting to say ever since he’d seen it. “This wasn’t necessary. It isn’t as though you ever lost to me.”
“At the time, I thought I had lost everything to you,” Kazuki said softly, eyes darkening for a moment.
Saizou was quiet for a moment, thoughtful. “You cut your hair for the loss of your people… but not for your family?”
Kazuki’s smile was crooked. “I couldn’t fight for my family. But for Fuuga,” he reached up to touch Saizou’s cheek, “for you, I could.”
“I’m honored,” Saizou murmured, a bit rueful. It was true. To be Kazuki’s target or his treasure, either was an honor.
“You’re being foolish,” Kazuki corrected in a firm tone. “Even then… even then I still believed in you.”
Saizou flinched a little.
“Was I wrong to?” Kazuki demanded, holding his eyes. “It was for my sake, from first to last. Do you think I’m cruel enough to hold that against you still?”
“Of course not.” Saizou ran a hand through his hair, trying to find words for why Kazuki’s faith in him could still hurt. It was times like this he remembered how much younger Kazuki was.
“Then stop this nonsense,” Kazuki told him and pulled him down to a kiss.
Saizou made a startled sound; even having watched them, he wasn’t quite prepared for Kazuki to offer him this intimacy so easily, so quickly. His hands came up to Kazuki’s hips to steady him and one found skin instead of cloth. Kazuki’s robe wasn’t belted, he recalled hazily. “Kazuki…” he half protested against Kazuki’s mouth.
“Hmm.” Kazuki drew back and looked at him with a thoughtful light in his eye. Finally he smiled in a way that made Saizou downright nervous and backed up a few steps, enough to bring him into the light from the window.
His robe was very definitely not belted.
Saizou swallowed eyes helplessly drawn to the lean, elegant lines of Kazuki’s body, framed in the folds of soft, red cloth and lit by the morning sun. “Kazuki…” he tried again, husky.
Kazuki smiled, gentle and sweet and perfectly ruthless, and held out his hand. “Come here, Saizou.”
Saizou gave himself up for lost. If Kazuki wanted him there was no way he’d be able to resist. He followed Kazuki those few steps and sank to his knees on the cool tile floor looking up at the beauty of him, hands sliding up Kazuki’s legs to find his hips again. Kazuki looked entirely pleased, and ran his fingers through Saizou’s hair.
Saizou didn’t have any more words; instead he bent his head and closed his mouth over Kazuki’s cock, shivering with the soft sound Kazuki made. He’d had dreams like this, even years ago, and scolded himself in the morning. Kazuki had been too young, and Juubei would have carved out his liver with a spoon, quite rightly.
Now Kazuki was positively purring, rocking forward into his mouth, and the slide of his cock between Saizou’s lips made Saizou moan himself. His hands slid over the curve of Kazuki’s rear, up the line of his back, back down to stroke his thighs, and the flex of Kazuki’s fingers in his hair, the weight of him on Saizou’s tongue, was making his jeans extremely tight.
He closed his eyes, just feeling the texture of Kazuki as he sucked harder, listening to the breathless gasps of pleasure above him and enjoying the knowledge that he was the one coaxing them out of Kazuki. That knowledge was enough to eclipse everything else, and so it took him a moment to process it when Kazuki’s hands eased him back.
“What…?” He looked up at Kazuki, panting a little.
“I want more.” Kazuki took his shoulders and tugged him up. His eyes danced as he undid Saizou’s jeans and Saizou couldn’t help the shiver of relief that ran through him. “Turn around,” Kazuki murmured.
Saizou blinked and turned, and realized that he’d been edged right up to the kitchen table. “Um…?” Kazuki’s hands settled on his shoulders and pressed him down and his breath caught. “Kazuki…!”
“Do you not want this?” Kazuki asked gently, hands stroking up and down his bare back.
“No, I… That isn’t… I just didn’t think…” Actually, now that he was thinking of it, Saizou’s brain might just be melting. “But I mean, are you sure?” Kazuki’s hands were still stroking his back, soothing, and when he glanced over his shoulder Kazuki was laughing silently.
“I’m very sure.” Kazuki’s hands slid down to ease Saizou’s jeans down off his hips and Saizou’s eyes widened as the thickness of Kazuki’s cock slid between his cheeks. “See?”
Saizou shuddered, subsiding the rest of the way down to the table. “Yes,” he agreed, husky. “It’s just…”
“Shh.” Kazuki leaned over him and pressed an open-mouthed kiss to the nape of his neck, sending another shiver trailing down Saizou’s spine. “You’re mine. You have all of me.”
That undid him, and yes, it was really no stretch at all to imagine that Kazuki’s compassion had conquered Yohan too. He put his head down on his arm and said quietly, “Yes. Please.”
The rustling of cloth he expected, and the warm slide of Kazuki’s palms over his ass. The low click of something glass being set down, though, puzzled him enough to look around and when he saw the open jar sitting beside them on the table he just stared. “You… planned this?”
“Well, we didn’t get around to it last night,” Kazuki told him, bright and innocent, as slick, cool fingers stroked against him. Saizou laughed helplessly into the crook of his arm until they pressed in and his breath caught.
Kazuki was gentle about opening him up, and it wasn’t until Saizou was panting again that his fingers started to move differently. The sheer fact of having Kazuki’s fingers inside him was momentous enough that it took him a while to understand why those movements plucked at his nerves. The ripple of fingertips as they drew back was what Saizou finally recognized, and groaned as electric response tightened his body.
Those were the motions to control strings.
“Mm. I thought you might like that.” Kazuki sounded pleased, and his fingers twisted in the gathering motion for Autumn Rains, curved at the angle that set a barrier. Every stroke and gesture was from an enclosing technique, and Saizou moaned with the rush of heat that realization brought.
“You don’t need to capture me any more,” he gasped, “I’m yours.” Hell, he’d been Kazuki’s since they met.
“Good.” Kazuki’s voice was low, now, and Saizou swallowed, anticipation crinkling down his nerves as Kazuki’s fingers drew back. The press of Kazuki’s cock, hard and big against his entrance, pulled a wanting sound out of him.
Kazuki held him steady against the table and fucked him, rode him, slow and hard, and Saizou’s thoughts broke up into little bits. He remembered the brightness of Kazuki’s eyes, that first meeting, and the sharpness that surfaced when they fought; Kazuki’s rare ease with Fuuga, the moments when the bleakness around his mouth smoothed away; his own hunger as he watched Kazuki move, watched all the arrogance of Lower Town fall before him. Every thrust twined him tighter into the grip of that grace and strength, and it was right, it was finally what he’d wanted from the start. He moaned openly as pleasure spilled over and swept through him like the tide, fierce and hot. Kazuki’s gasp fell over him like sunlight, and the sudden roughness of Kazuki’s rhythm, driving into him, trailed extra ripples of pleasure down his nerves.
He made a low sound when Kazuki finally eased out of him, and Kazuki settled against his back again, arms sliding around him. “I’m so glad you’re back,” Kazuki murmured against his shoulder.
Saizou rested his cheek against the table, smiling for real, for the first time in far too long. “Yeah. Me too.”
Even if he was recalling, belatedly, that Juubei and Toshiki were two rooms with no doors away, and that Toshiki was probably going to tease him unmercifully, and that he probably didn’t really deserve all this. He was still glad.