Ivory Bridges: All In One

Ebook cover for the arc

How Kazuki’s people regathered under him, how Kazuki and Yohan come to know each other properly, and how Saizou came to terms with the reformed clan. Also features gleeful extrapolation from canon symbolism. Kazuki/Everyone, Juubei/Toshiki, Saizou/Juubei, Sakura/Saizou, and Yohan/Saizou’s sister.

This arc is dedicated to Jane, goddess of translations, savior of my sanity, purveyor of plot-bunny steroids.

The Flower and the Bird and the Wind and the Moon

Pre-canon. How Fuuga came to part, and how Kazuki came to leave. Angst, Fluff, Angst, I-4

Saizou named him Prince of Terror. Kazuki never objected. It was true enough, and if some of the terror that had lodged in his bones for years seeped out to touch the people they fought, the ones who threatened even the tiny corner of life he had managed to cling to here… well, perhaps that would mean less for him which was all to the good as far as he was concerned.

It had started when he opened the door to the Beltline. What he saw there swallowed even the terror of the night of his House’s death. By the time he found his way back out to the hard light of Lower Town’s day, it was running in his very blood. And yet, he knew that it would take more than the strength of terror to hold back the Beltline. What that might be, he didn’t know.

Two years later, he met Amano Ginji for the first time.

“I want to follow him.”

“But why?” Toshiki demanded, throwing his hands out. “Why should you surrender to this Amano without even a fight?!”

Kazuki sighed softly. He barely understood it himself; how to find words for others? All he knew was that, the first time he met Amano Ginji’s eyes, the band of fear and rage that had locked itself around his heart the night his family died had loosened a little. That was one of the things he didn’t speak of, though, so instead he said, “He has a good future in his eyes. I want to see it.”


He opened a hand palm up. “I won’t force anyone to follow where they don’t wish to go. You may consider Fuuga disbanded. All of you are free to go where you wish.” It wasn’t as if he were anyone’s leader. Not really. It would be a joke to think he was—a lord with a charred shell of a House behind him in ruins.

Juubei took a step toward him. “We’ll follow you, of course. But… are you sure of this man?”

Kazuki smiled, feeling again the touch of ease Ginji’s presence had brought. “Yes.”

Saizou was silent, arms folded, watching him.

In the end, two stayed and two left. Kazuki tried not to dwell on how much he missed them; he’d had no right to keep them, after all.

He believed that for years.

Kazuki watched with a rather jaundiced eye as the leader of the Fire Children sneered at Ginji. The Fire Children were a large gang, but they had perhaps three or four people of significant strength among them. Everyone else were hangers on. Hyenas following behind some rather scruffy lions to snatch at their leavings.

Ginji waited for the second bombastic challenge to be done with and said again, “You’re stealing from people in our territory.”

The Fire Children’s leader nearly stamped his foot and growled, “Who the hell cares about them?!”

At that, Ginji’s face finally hardened and lines of light crackled briefly around his hands. Kazuki frowned. That wasn’t necessary. Not for scum like this.

If Ginji lost his temper, though, that wouldn’t matter.

Kazuki stepped forward, out of the knot of Ginji’s people, to stand at his shoulder and cast a cold eye over the Fire Children. He didn’t see any need to waste patience or manners on them.

A stir rustled through their crowd, and Kazuki heard his name in it.

“Kazuki… Strings… Prince…” the rustle whispered, and they edged back. Kazuki turned his head to look at the leader, letting his bells chime, and had the satisfaction of watching him edge back a step, too.

Ginji was looking over his shoulder with a rueful smile. “Kazu-chan,” he said softly.

“You didn’t really want to fight them, Ginji-san,” Kazuki murmured, quiet but letting himself be heard. "Leave them to me." As he had rather expected, the Fire Children misinterpreted that entirely, and the whispers rustled again. “Terror… Follows him…” He smiled back at Ginji with a hint of mischief.

“Well,” the Fire Children’s leader tried to bluster over the noise. “Not like there’s anything worth going into those streets for anyway.”

Ginji rolled his eyes a bit as he turned back and Kazuki had to hold back an actual laugh. It had been a while since he’d laughed.

He’d forgotten how good it tasted.

Kazuki stood in the evening drizzle that had come on with sunset, looking up at the dark bulk that loomed above Lower Town. The Beltline. Babylon City. The answers were still there, he knew; he felt it like a weight in his senses. He hadn’t been able to reach it, when he’d been younger. Could he now? Was he strong enough, now, to find the source of wrongness in this place, and why his mother had sent him here?

Arms folded around him from behind, so warm it was shocking, and the faint light that accompanied Ginji’s presence nearly all the time now fell around them both. "You’re getting cold, Kazu-chan," Ginji murmured.

Kazuki let his questions go on a slow sigh and leaned back against Ginji. "I know." He tipped his head back to smile at his friend and leader. "Thank you for coming to find me." And drawing him back from the dark and cold of his thoughts, the way Ginji did for him so often.

Ginji’s answering smile was soft, the sadness in his eyes muted for a moment as they stood together.

Sometimes Kazuki thought he could stay forever, this way.

“I have to leave.”

Kazuki stared, feeling like he’d taken one of Ginji’s own blasts to the chest. Shocked and frozen and not sure whether he could even feel his heart beating. “Ginji-san…”

“Why the hell should you have to leave?” Shido demanded, disbelieving. “This isn’t because of that damn punk is it?”

Ginji wouldn’t look at any of them, just smiled, one of his sad smiles, the ones that could heal a heart or break it. Kazuki was starting to be afraid they’d all be broken by this one. “Not really. Midou just… showed me something,” he said quietly. “I have to leave Mugenjou. If I don’t…” He shook his head, and wouldn’t say anything more, no matter how they pleaded with him.

Three days later, he was gone.

“I don’t think I can stay.” Kazuki looked out over the buildings of Lower Town, the place that had been theirs for so long he’d fooled himself it would just keep on that way. He should have known better. “With Ginji-san gone… there’s no one but him I could follow.”

“Then why don’t you lead yourself?” Juubei demanded, behind him. “It wouldn’t be that great a change, and you’ve led before.”

“I can’t do that.” He wasn’t fit to lead, he didn’t deceive himself about that any more. If he had been, would his House have fallen? Would Toshiki and Saizou have left?

Would Ginji have gone?

“I’m not leaving here!”

Kazuki ruthlessly stifled his flinch at that. Juubei was his oldest friend, and if he wanted to walk a path apart from Kazuki now, Kazuki wouldn’t stand in his way. “Whatever you want to do,” he murmured.

When his only answer was the abrupt rustle as Juubei left, he leaned his forehead against the broken wall and wished just a little that he could still cry.

Three days later, he was gone.


Last Modified: Dec 26, 11
Posted: May 25, 10
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A Theme in Pentatonic – One

Post Infinite Fortress arc. Kazuki takes care of Juubei while he recovers from their fight, and they find their way back to each other—even if Kazuki still can’t entirely admit his place in the relationship. Drama, Fluff, Porn, I-4

Pairing(s): Juubei/Kazuki

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…

…following Kazuki.

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.

Last Modified: Feb 10, 12
Posted: May 26, 10
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A Theme in Pentatonic – Interlude One

Sakura and Kazuki reach an understanding of their own, though Sakura understands it rather better than Kazuki does at this point. Drama, I-3

Sakura walked with her hands clasped and her eyes down. She knew Makubex had run ahead with Juubei to leave her with Kazuki. Kazuki didn’t walk out with them very often, and Makubex had taken his opportunity promptly, leaving her with a meaningful look and a bright smile as he tugged Juubei off.

Sometimes, Sakura wished Makubex were a little less perceptive.

“Are you well, Sakura?” Kazuki asked, after they’d walked a few blocks in silence.

“Surely Juubei would say if I wasn’t,” she murmured, hoping to slip aside from this.

He only smiled. “Probably he would. Unless he thought it would worry me, of course. I still don’t see you very often, to check for myself.”

“You could come to visit.” It slipped out before she could catch it.

“I…” Kazuki hesitated. “I’m sorry,” he said, at last, low. “It’s just that Mugenjou pulls at me, when I’m here, and it pulls harder the closer I come to the center. To the Beltline,” he added, lower. “And Makubex is a good friend, he’s becoming a wise leader, but he isn’t Ginji-san, to hold that off from me just by being present.”

Sakura bowed her head. Perhaps she had no excuse to reproach him, even in her heart, because she’d felt the pull he spoke of, the temptation to exaltation or despair or both. And she remembered the ease of following Kazuki, of trusting her honor to the brightness of his spirit. Could she grudge him, that he needed that ease also? “Perhaps I will visit, instead, then,” she said softly.

“You’ll be welcome, always.” Kazuki’s smile was bright. “You, of all people.”

That, she hadn’t expected to hear, and the surprise of it made her start.

“Sakura?” He paused, turning toward her, concerned. “What is it?”

“I…” Her voice caught in her throat and she swallowed, but could find no words.

“Sakura.” Kazuki caught her hands and drew her over to some crates stacked by the wall, guiding her down onto one. He looked down at her with a faint frown. “Sakura, surely you knew that. You and Juubei have been with me from the start.”

She tugged her hands free and clasped them so he wouldn’t feel them trembling. “It had seemed, when you left, that we had no more claim on you.”

And she had hoped, for one bright moment, when he returned, when she saw that the bond between he and her brother was still so strong. But he had returned only to Juubei, it seemed.

She tried hard not to begrudge her brother that.

“Sakura!” He sounded so genuinely shocked that she looked up. “You have always had a claim on me. You always will!” Perhaps he saw her doubt, because he bit his lip. “Maybe it isn’t the same one that it used to be. But never doubt that you are one of those who will always be in my heart and have the right to call on me.”

His words settled over her shoulders like a blanket on a cold night, and suddenly she was smiling. It was a complete contradiction. He said that they were not bound as they had been. No longer liege and vassal. But in the same breath he spoke of her rights in the language of their childhood. “One of those?” she asked, still wanting the reassurance of hearing him say it. “Who are we?”

His smile was completely unselfconscious, warm as sunlight. “The ones who stood at my side and made this place a home instead of a prison,” he said, so gently that she blushed and lowered her eyes again.

It was enough. He might fear to say it, fear that it would pull him back into Mugenjou, but Fuuga was still his heart. They had not been abandoned after all. The knot in her chest that not even Makubex’s renewed smile had been able to undo completely loosened at last.

“Ane-chan,” Juubei called, reappearing at the corner of the road. She stood and brushed off her skirts.

“We shouldn’t make them worry.”

“If you ever find a way to stop him, do tell me?” Kazuki murmured ruefully, as they walked on.

Light-hearted with relief, she laughed.

Makubex was waiting for them at the corner too, with a satisfied smile. Warmed by their care, Sakura linked her arms with both Makubex and Kazuki, leaving her brother to trail behind them with a faintly bemused look.

The world felt right side up again. Her leader didn’t take nearly enough care for himself, and her lord refused to admit that he was, but that was all right. It would all be all right. She had a proper place, and knew it, and stood firm in it again.

Everything else could be dealt with in time.

Last Modified: May 26, 10
Posted: May 26, 10
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A Theme in Pentatonic – Two

After the Kami no Kijitsu arc, Juubei brings Toshiki home to Kazuki and the three of them fit themselves together with a little more honesty and understanding this time. Porn, Drama, I-4

Toshiki walked quietly beside Kakei through the familiar sounds of the Lower Town. “Makubex is everything you said he is,” he finally said.

“You’re content to help him, then?” Kakei asked, cutting to the heart with his usual bluntness. Toshiki’s mouth quirked, hearing it again.

Only for a moment, though.

“Is this what Kazuki wishes?” he asked, low. And he had to ask Kakei, because he hadn’t been able to get an answer out of Kazuki any time over the last few days. Kakei was quiet for almost a block.

“Kazuki will not stay to lead without Amano Ginji as his beacon,” he said at last, “but that does not mean he doesn’t wish our home safe and well. It pleases him that we support Makubex.”

“Lower Town’s new beacon,” Toshiki mused.

“Not so powerful a one that Kazuki will follow it, but worthy of our help.”

Toshiki smiled at the undertones he heard in that. Kakei would support Makubex all right, no doubt with all his strength, but there was only one person he would follow. And if that pleased Kazuki, well that was good enough for Toshiki, too. “All right,” he agreed, and paused on the streetcorner, looking around at the bright chaos. It took him back, and maybe that wasn’t a bad thing; maybe he should go back and try again. “I should find some place to stay, here,” he murmured.

Kakei cocked his head and Toshiki had, again, that odd new feeling, that blind eyes were measuring him, considering. “It’s good to stay close,” he said, finally. “Come back with me, for now.”

Toshiki stopped himself before he asked if Kakei was sure. Kakei was always sure, and if that got a little wearing it was also comforting right now. Familiar. He followed his old friend and rival down narrow alleys to broader streets into a tangle of shorter buildings with washing strung window to window overhead. On one side of a cracked concrete plaza they went up creaking iron stairs to an outside door in the top floor. Toshiki approved of the high ground. The rooms inside opened up, free and airy, half the interior walls knocked out long ago, much newer windows open to catch the breeze as evening came on.

Kazuki was standing in the middle of the second room, turning and smiling to see them.

“Juubei! Is Toshiki staying, then?”

“Yes,” Kakei said firmly, while Toshiki stood and stared.

“But…” He was trying not to sputter, and that didn’t leave him with much else to say.

“I said it’s good to stay close,” Kakei told him. “This solves the problem between us, doesn’t it?”

Toshiki was suddenly remembering exactly why he found Kakei’s habitual surety so frustrating. How was a person supposed to answer it? “I can’t…” he tried, only to be cut off by Kazuki’s hand on his chest.

“Do you object?” Kazuki murmured, knowing eyes holding his, and Toshiki flinched under that question, reminded now of exactly why he had followed Kazuki so long. That one question was everything he had tried to take by force from Kazuki, everything Kazuki had no need to force from him, laid bare as a drawn blade between them. He closed his eyes.


“Good. I’ve missed you.” Kazuki’s voice had no edge of triumph in it and Toshiki shuddered with the gentleness of his defeat.

“Let me stay,” he begged, softly. Kazuki had been the one to release him, but he had been the one to leave; he knew better now. If only Kazuki would take him up, it would never happen again.

“Of course you’ll stay.” Kazuki’s hands closed around his face and he opened his eyes to meet Kazuki’s, bright and pleased, forgiving him before he even asked, and his arms closed around Kazuki before he could think. When Kazuki only laughed, softly, he breathed again, light-headed at being allowed this.

He started a little when Kakei’s hands closed over his shoulders from behind, but they only smoothed across his back, stroked down his arms, palms open, and that wrung a wanting sound from him. It had always been love and hate both, between he and Kakei.

“You’re Kazuki’s knight,” Kakei murmured in his ear, as if he hadn’t noticed. “You’ll stay.”

This time the surety was entirely comfort.

Toshiki bent his head to Kazuki’s kiss, breath catching just a little as Kakei’s hands slid under his shirt and across his stomach. This was everything he’d wanted for years and he felt like the world’s own idiot for running away from it for so long. Even that thought unraveled, though, under the slow heat of Kazuki’s mouth and the small sound of satisfaction he made. He didn’t think, after that, just let them strip away clothes until he was caught between the heat of their skin, light-headed with the sweetness of just being here. Wanted. It was almost too much to take in when they nudged him back toward the bed and Kazuki’s eyes laughed at him.


“Yes.” Kakei settled onto the bed and pulled Toshiki down over him. That made him awkward again, for a moment, unsure how they fit, but Kakei’s hands were patient, stroking down his body, spreading him out, and when he felt the bed dip as Kazuki settled behind him he understood and shivered. Kakei’s hands smoothed the shiver away.

In fact… they were easing away all of the places where his muscles still ached and trembled, firm, knowing fingers pressing and stroking here and there until he was just about draped over Juubei’s body, breathing deep and slow.

“Kakei… what…?” he managed.

“Shh,” Juubei told him, hands still passing over him. “Your punishment was harsher than mine; you aren’t entirely recovered yet.”

“It was only what I deserved,” he muttered against Kakei’s neck.

“Don’t say that,” Kazuki said, quick and soft. “You didn’t deserve that.”

“You deserved to be thoroughly beaten for being such an idiot,” Kakei agreed, matter-of-fact, “but not to die.”

Toshiki couldn’t help laughing at that. “Juubei,” he sighed. Juubei just made a self-satisfied sound, and Toshiki snorted again. Comfort and annoyance; yes, he was home again.

“So,” Kazuki murmured, hands sliding up the back of Toshiki’s thighs. “Is our Toshiki ready for me, Juubei?”

Juubei’s hand settled at his nape. “He is.”

“Toshiki?” He could hear the smile in Kazuki’s voice, and it made his voice husky.


“Good.” That was nearly a purr, and Toshiki moaned as slick fingers pressed between his cheeks, rubbing firmly over his entrance. The touch wasn’t rough, by any means, but it told him that Kazuki didn’t intend to be terribly patient. The heat of that thought rushed up his spine like a river and set him panting softly.

“Please,” he whispered. “Kazuki.”

“Yes.” Kazuki’s voice was darker this time and an entreating sound caught in the back of Toshiki’s throat as strong, slender fingers pressed into him, again and again, working him open. They played his body with the same precision and grace as Kazuki’s strings until he was gasping, hips pushing up into the slow thrust of Kazuki’s fingers fucking him. Juubei caught his mouth and swallowed his moan as those fingers drove deep and twisted, and he shuddered as Juubei’s hips ground up against his.

Kazuki’s fingers withdrew and palms stroked up his back. “I always saw you, Toshiki,” Kazuki murmured to him. “I always knew you. I’m sorry I was careless of you, my friend.”

Toshiki groaned openly as Kazuki’s hands spread him open and Kazuki’s cock slid into him slow and hard.

“My Toshiki,” Kazuki said, husky, “stay with us.” The promise of being wanted, being Kazuki’s pulled a whimper he couldn’t be ashamed of out of him.

“Kazuki doesn’t leave things, not in his heart,” Juubei said softly against his ear, and Toshiki could hear perfectly well the relief in his even tone. It was what Toshiki felt himself, after all.

That and heat as Kazuki fucked him, slow and strong, never quite stopping, until he was panting, moaning against Juubei’s shoulder. “Please,” he begged, breathless, spreading his legs wider over Juubei’s hips, and gasped as Kazuki drove into him hard enough to rock his ass up in the air. “Please, yes…”

Kazuki’s hands closed on his shoulders, pressing them down, and his long thrusts turned faster, rougher. “Juubei,” he bit out, breathless.

Toshiki moaned as Juubei’s hand closed around both their cocks and stroked, sure and hard. It was too much, too good, caught and welcomed home between them, and he buried his face against Juubei’s neck, breath torn short as the heat took fire and pleasure wrung him out ferociously over and over again. The whole world was the press of their skin against his, their movement, his as he bucked and shuddered in their hold.

The sound of Kazuki’s moan sent an extra last shiver down his spine, and he thought he could have just sprawled there forever while Kazuki’s hands stroked slowly up and down his body. Juubei’s breath was coming quick now, though, and he mustered a grin as he reached down and batted Juubei’s hand aside, stroking him quick and firm until he arched under them.

Juubei, he was distantly amused to note, didn’t make any noise, and wasn’t that just like him. The thought made him snicker and Kazuki made an inquiring noise against the nape of his neck as he eased back.

“Nothing.” Toshiki took a few moments to untangle himself from Juubei, and he was glad when Juubei promptly pulled him down between them again. “So,” he said, finally able to wind an arm around Kazuki, finally, finally, “this is where you both live?”

“This is home,” Kazuki said quietly, reaching across him to tangle fingers with Juubei. “Will you stay?”

“Of course…” Juubei started, in his inarguable tone, only to be silenced by a look from Kazuki.

“I want to hear it from Toshiki,” Kazuki said, firm.

“I’ll stay as long as you want me. As long as you’ll have me.” Toshiki was light-headed with how much he wanted it; he couldn’t believe Kazuki even needed to ask.

But maybe that told him something he hadn’t realized about Kazuki. Who was smiling at him, soft and pleased.

“Welcome home, then,” Kazuki told him, and he had to close his eyes until he could catch his breath again.

“Yes. Yes.” He lifted Kazuki’s hand and kissed his fingers, and managed a smile that didn’t feel too shaky. “I’m back.”

It was a promise.

Working for Makubex was strange and familiar. Being back in Lower Town was familiar enough, and the basic business of keeping order hadn’t changed. The twisted things that came down from the Beltline were hideously familiar, and fighting beside Juubei was pleasantly familiar, though he missed the fluid chill of Kazuki’s strength behind them. It was good to have a purpose he could trust again, though. And it was good to go home, after all the fires were temporarily put out, and know that Kazuki or Juubei and sometimes both would be there.

He found himself smiling again, and only realized then that he’d stopped years ago.

Sometimes he thought he was the one of them who really needed a keeper.


He looked up from his rueful contemplation of the sky out the window and felt that smile tug at his mouth again. “Kazuki.”

Kazuki came to fold up on the couch beside him, running carelessly graceful fingers through Toshiki’s hair as he sat. “Is everything well?”

That casual caress still made him breathless and it took a moment to reply. “Everything’s fine. I like working with Makubex. It’s good…” he cut that thought off before it could get all the way out of his mouth. He was not going to whine in front of Kazuki.

Kazuki just smiled at him. “What’s good?” The brush of his fingers against Toshiki’s cheek drew the words out of him.

“It’s good to be needed,” he said, low, looking down at his hands.

“Oh, Toshiki.” The breath of a laugh in Kazuki’s voice made him flush and it didn’t help when a cool hand on his cheek turned him back to face Kazuki. He only had a breath to take in the fond smile on Kazuki’s lips, though, before he could barely breathe at all. The weight of Kazuki’s presence, normally so smoothly concealed, intensified abruptly, singing in the very air around them. “Who am I?” Kazuki asked, quiet and cool.

Toshiki had to swallow before he could speak, and the name he spoke wasn’t his friend’s or lover’s. It was the name still feared down every street of Lower Town, the name of the one he followed. “Kazuki…”

“I don’t need anyone to protect me. Not Juubei, and not you.” Kazuki softened again, and the pressure of him eased. “But having people people I love close… that’s good to have.”

“You have it,” Toshiki promised, husky.

Kazuki smiled like the sun coming up. “Thank you.” His arms slid lightly around Toshiki’s shoulders, and Toshiki took a shaky breath, catching Kazuki tight against him.

“I’ll serve you with all my life, I swear it,” he murmured into Kazuki’s shoulder, reminded by that moment of open dominance of everything Kazuki was to him.

Kazuki pressed closer and whispered, “Just be with me. That’s all.”

Toshiki stilled, suddenly remembering the way Kazuki hadn’t looked at them when he’d told them they could leave if they wanted. “Was that…?”

Kazuki made an inquiring sound, drawing back a bit to look at him, and Toshiki shook his head. “Nothing,” he said, mouth quirking as he spread his hands against the slim line of Kazuki’s back, reassuring himself and… and maybe Kazuki too. “I’m just a fool, that’s all.”

He hadn’t seen.

“No more than any of us,” Kazuki said softly, and yes, now Toshiki thought he knew what that darkness in Kazuki’s eyes was.

“Kazuki…” he hesitated, but he honestly couldn’t imagine how this had happened. He lifted one of Kazuki’s hands and murmured against his fingers, “If you wanted us to stay, why didn’t you hold us by you?”

Kazuki shook his head sharply. “I couldn’t do that! How could I demand something like that?”

Toshiki blinked. The words fit together but they didn’t make any sense at all; wasn’t Kazuki their leader? Wasn’t it his right, the right they’d given him when they chose to follow him? He could feel Kazuki’s muscles tense, though, so he left it for now and only promised again, low, “I won’t leave again. Not ever.”

That made Kazuki relax and settle against him, and there was so much wonder in being allowed so close, in being wanted, that he set aside the oddness and just held him.

“Yes,” Kazuki sighed, hand sliding down Toshiki’s chest to rest over his heart. “Now you’re here.” He smiled up at Toshiki with a hint of teasing. “Now you’re mine.”

Toshiki smiled back, though he’d never been more serious. “Always.” There had never been a time when he wasn’t, however he’d twisted and betrayed that trust, and Toshiki promised all over, silently, that he would serve and stand by Kazuki until the day he died doing it.

And perhaps, his sense of irony couldn’t help pointing out, after. He’d done it once already, after all.

Even as Kazuki drew him down to a kiss, though, the thought lingered in the back of his mind that he should find out why Kazuki thought he didn’t have every right there was to keep his own people.

Last Modified: Apr 16, 14
Posted: May 27, 10
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A Theme in Pentatonic – Interlude Two

Toshiki needs evidence that he’s wanted and welcome by the one who brought him back to Kazuki. Porn, I-4

Pairing(s): Juubei/Toshiki

Toshiki knew what he wanted; he just didn’t know how to ask for it.

This would be a lot easier if it were Kazuki, but Kazuki had been away on work for the last two days and he and Juubei had never been good at saying what they meant, to each other. In fact, they usually had to have just finished beating the daylights out of each other or be otherwise under duress, he admitted to himself ruefully. So he took his time getting undressed for bed this evening, turning over possible approaches in his head and rejecting them one after another.

"Toshiki," Juubei said from behind him, "is something wrong?"

Toshiki turned to stare in absolute disbelief, at least until he spotted Juubei’s fingers hovering over his needle case on the dresser. Of course, if Juubei noticed he would think it was some kind of danger sign. He sighed. "No, it’s nothing like that. I just…"

Wonderful; how to finish that sentence?

Juubei cocked his head, giving Toshiki a very direct look for a blind man. "What?"

Toshiki took a breath and let it out. No way through but forward, and at least that was a way he was familiar with. He came to stand by Juubei, one hand against his bare chest. "Juubei. Take me to bed?" he asked, low.

Juubei was still under his hand for a moment, and then his own hand lifted to cup Toshiki’s jaw. "Is that what it was?"

Toshiki nodded.

"Is that what it’s been the past few times?"

Toshiki groaned, knowing Juubei would feel the heat of Toshiki’s face against his palm. He should have known. "You noticed?"

"I noticed you were… hesitant at moments. Even with Kazuki." Juubei’s thumb brushed the corner of his mouth. "I didn’t realize why. I hadn’t thought this would be something you wanted from me."

Toshiki let his head thump down on Juubei’s shoulder. "You annoy the hell out of me sometimes," he said quietly. "You always have. You’re too proud for words, you’re highhanded, you think you’re always right, and someone really needs to take that poker out of your ass. But you’re my friend, you’re the one I fight beside, you’re the one who brought me back." Very softly, he finished, "I want this."

"Then of course," Juubei said, as easily as that, and Toshiki let go a breath of laughter. When he lifted his head Juubei pulled him closer and touched his cheek again, finding his mouth.

The kiss started out slow, but Toshiki knew it wouldn’t stay that way; not with the two of them. They pressed closer, kissing deeper, tongues stroking and pushing against each other until they were almost swaying, wrapped hard around each other’s bodies, mouths locked together.

"Yes," Toshiki gasped, breaking away to slide his open mouth down the line of Juubei’s throat. This was what he wanted. Love between them had always been half a fight. Juubei growled in agreement and pushed Toshiki down onto the bed, following swiftly. Their hands stroked over each other’s bodies as if seeking holds, and Toshiki moaned as Juubei’s closed between his legs, firm and hot. He pulled Juubei in tighter, moving against him.

Juubei kissed him hard and said, husky, against his mouth, "Stop worrying. I won’t let you go."

A sharp shiver ran through Toshiki. "Juubei…"

Juubei’s free hand stroked up and down his back, slowly, sliding down to his thigh and back up, pressing, and Toshiki shuddered with the sudden release of tension. He needed to remember, he thought lightheadedly, that he was not the only one trained in hands-on techniques.

"I’m a healer first, even here and now," Juubei said, low, and Toshiki pressed closer, breath quick and light.

"I know. That’s why I asked."

"Ah." Juubei pressed him back against the bed and both hands stroked over Toshiki’s body, firm and confident. Toshiki could feel the pressure of Juubei’s touch in his very blood, demanding that his body give up its strain, its tension and fear, and he moaned as his body obeyed. When Juubei gathered him close again he was lax, muscles uncoiled, dizzy with the release.

"It’s…" Unlike his hands, Juubei’s voice was uncertain. "It’s good to know you need me. As I need you."

"Always." Toshiki laughed, husky. "I said it, didn’t I? You’re the one who brought me back."

"Yes. And I won’t let you go again. You have my word."

Toshiki pressed closer, reassured; apparently they could say what they meant after all, if they spoke with their hands. "Yes."

It was less frantic when they touched each other this time, slower and hotter, and his body was already taut with pleasure when Juubei’s fingers pushed between his cheeks, slick and slow. He buried a groan against Juubei’s shoulder, hands sliding down to grip the tight muscle of Juubei’s ass, rocking into that easy thrust. It felt good, sure and strong, something he could trust to without hesitation.

There was still such a thing as too slow, though, and finally he ground his hips against Juubei’s and gasped, "Juubei, now."

Juubei chuckled, breathless. "All right." His hands slid up the backs of Toshiki’s thighs to catch his knees and spread them wide, and then his cock was pressing into Toshiki’s ass, slow and hard.

"Yes." Toshiki’s arms tightened around Juubei’s shoulders. "Yes." He moaned as Juubei drew back and thrust in again, moving over him, fucking him hard and steady. The stretch and slide of it spilled heat down his spine, and he relaxed into it, into Juubei’s presence and solidity and care, the things he’d always cherished.

"With you," he gasped. "Always."

Juubei caught him closer. "Yes."

The sharper angle stole his breath, and he bucked up into Juubei’s thrust, and again, and moaned openly as pleasure flashed down his nerves, breaking through him like a wave. Juubei gasped, over him, and drove in deeper, again and again, and when the shudders of heat finally faded they were locked together, panting. Toshiki relaxed with a soft groan, and Juubei eased back from him.

"Mm, don’t go." Toshiki stretched out and pulled Juubei back down over him with a satisfied sound at his weight.

"I won’t."

They lay, twined together comfortably, and Toshiki settled the peace of the moment, of the things Juubei had promised him, into his heart where they wouldn’t get lost. This was his place, and he was wanted here. Needed. Valued.

And he would stay.

Last Modified: Feb 10, 12
Posted: May 27, 10
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A Theme in Pentatonic – Interlude Three

Kazuki tops Juubei, which is a new experience for Juubei though not an unwelcome one. Porn, I-4

Pairing(s): Kazuki/Juubei

Juubei was puzzled.

Moreover, he was puzzled by Kazuki, which didn’t usually happen. Well, hadn’t happened in years at any rate. And had certainly never happened in bed.

He listened, always, for what Kazuki’s body told him Kazuki wanted, and took some quiet pride in providing whatever it was. And being right. But today there was a tautness in Kazuki’s muscles as he stretched against Juubei’s body that was new, restless, unwilling to be soothed. “Kazuki,” he murmured, stroking his hands down the slim, strong line of Kazuki’s back, meaning to ask if there was something wrong, but the words were lost in a short gasp as Kazuki’s teeth closed on his throat. Not painfully, not roughly, but firm enough to mark him. Juubei tipped his head back, accepting it, and he had to admit the tingle when Kazuki closed his mouth there and sucked slow and deliberate was… good.

“Juubei,” Kazuki said softly against his throat, and hands settled on his shoulders and pressed him back, down against the sheets. Juubei eased Kazuki over him, gathering him close, and a shiver dragged down his spine at another nip. In fact, Kazuki’s mouth was moving steadily down his body, hot and wet, open-mouthed kisses and occasional bites that made the muscles of his stomach jump. Juubei spread his legs far enough for Kazuki to settle between them, though something in the set of Kazuki’s shoulders under his hands said that that was not all Kazuki wanted.

Juubei was really quite puzzled.

Not so puzzled that he didn’t respond when Kazuki’s mouth closed on his cock, hot and slow. The pleasure coaxed a low moan from him and he lay back, relaxing into the touch; that much he could tell Kazuki wanted from the way his hands stroked over Juubei’s thighs.

When long, slim fingers stroked further back between his cheeks, though, he couldn’t help starting.

“Ka… Kazuki?”

“Is it all right?” Kazuki asked quietly, fingers still but pressing gently against his entrance.

Juubei’s face turned hot. No wonder he hadn’t understood what Kazuki’s body told him. “I’ve… never…” he managed, stifled.

“I know.” Kazuki’s cheek rested against the inside of his thigh, and his fingers were poised to withdraw or… not.

If this was what Kazuki wished… The light press of Kazuki’s fingers there put a flutter in his stomach, and his voice was husky when he answered, “Yes.”

Kazuki made a distinctly pleased sound and his mouth closed over Juubei’s cock again, coaxing back the hardness startlement had stolen. Kazuki’s fingers slid away and when they returned they were slick, cool. Juubei held down another start with determination. He knew perfectly well that Kazuki was a gentle lover; Toshiki’s body told him that, over and over. There was no reason for alarm, no reason for his breath to stutter as Kazuki’s fingers rubbed his entrance hard and slow and eased gradually into him.

The feeling was unfamiliar but… good. Slick and slow, like Kazuki’s mouth on him. And if Kazuki wished this, then it was right. Gradually, his hips started to rock a little, down into the press of Kazuki’s fingers, up into the heat of his mouth. Kazuki laughed low in his throat and drew back to murmur, lips brushing Juubei’s head, “You take well to this.”

Juubei could feel his face getting hot again.

Kazuki’s fingers eased free and Juubei was half startled by the sound of protest that caught in his throat.

“Shh,” Kazuki soothed him, and strong, gentle hands urged him to roll over. “Almost ready now.”

Juubei found himself on top of two of the pillows, propping his hips up in the air, and buried the heat of his face in the sheets. “Kazuki…”

Kazuki’s hands slid up and down the backs of his thighs, spreading them apart, and finally stroked over Juubei’s lifted rear. “You look good like this,” he teased, lightly.

Juubei’s whole body flushed this time, heat tightening through him at the thought of Kazuki looking at him spread out this way. Of Kazuki enjoying looking at him this way.

Kazuki’s hands tightened. “I want all of you, Juubei,” he said, low and husky, and that shook Juubei more than anything else.

“You have me,” he whispered.

“Thank you,” Kazuki told him, soft, and the bed shifted under his weight.

When blunt thickness pressed against Juubei’s entrance, his breath cut short with anticipation and a hint of trepidation he would have denied to his dying day. Kazuki felt so big. He knew this worked, but… it felt so…

Kazuki pushed.

So thick. So solid, sliding inside him, stretching his muscles hard and slow, and he realized the gasping noises he heard were coming from his own throat. He understood perfectly now why Toshiki liked this so much, liked having Kazuki, and sometimes Juubei, inside him like this. It was so intense, so intimate, and the gentle care in Kazuki’s hands kneading slowly against his lower back was so sweet it unstrung him. He needed that care right now, was wholly reliant on Kazuki’s gentleness, and knowing that set his cheeks burning, wrung a moan from him.

Yes, Juubei,” Kazuki answered, panting. “My Juubei.” Kazuki drew back and pushed into him again, and again, and again, and Juubei shivered against the pillows, eased into pleasure by Kazuki’s hands on his body, relaxing and guiding him. The slow, relentless slide in and out pressed pleasure through him, made his nerves taut with sensation. When a hand reached under him to close on his cock, slick and firm, a shudder ran through him. Now he was moving with Kazuki, spreading his legs wider, yearning toward the pleasure building with each stroke.


Kazuki leaned down, grinding deep into him, and pressed an open kiss to the nape of his neck. “My Juubei,” he whispered, fingers tightening.

That was all it took, and heat struck down Juubei’s spine and burst, raking through him in quick, hard waves. He moaned openly, shocked by the feeling of Kazuki’s cock deep inside as his body tried to tighten. It felt like he was pinned in place. It felt wanton and hot, and drew the pleasure out and out for timeless breaths.

He lay, a little stunned, panting for breath as Kazuki closed his hands on Juubei’s hips and drove into him harder, faster, sending tingling shocks skittering down already sensitized nerves. Kazuki’s moan, the way his fingers tightened sharply, made Juubei shiver. When Kazuki’s weight settled against his back he made a soft sound of contentment. This was good, to receive this pleasure from Kazuki, to give way to his wishes and his care; this was right.

“All right?” Kazuki murmured, hands stroking down his arms, over his ribs, slow and easy.

“Yes,” Juubei said softly, hoping his tone would tell Kazuki what there weren’t words in the world to say. Kazuki’s lips curved against his shoulder so perhaps it did.

He stifled a grunt as Kazuki shifted back, sliding out of him, and his muscles twinged a little. Kazuki kneaded his rear gently for a few moments, which made him flush again but helped considerably. He was only a touch gingerly as he turned onto his back again and reached out for Kazuki, who settled against his chest with a contented sigh.

“My Juubei,” Kazuki repeated in tones of rich satisfaction, twining his arms around Juubei’s shoulders.

“Yours,” Juubei agreed quietly, hands tracing the lines of Kazuki’s body again, listening.

After all, he wanted to be sure he recognized this mood the next time it came.

Last Modified: Feb 10, 12
Posted: May 28, 10
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A Theme in Pentatonic – Interlude Four

Post-canon. After everyone returns from the Beltline, Sakura talks with Kazuki about what Fuuga is to him. Kazuki finally accepts it. Drama, I-2

Sakura had kept her word to come and visit them, and Kazuki was glad of it. She was usually the calmest thing in the apartment.

He settled next to her at one of the windows, chuckling as Juubei and Toshiki started arguing over the best way to contain the little gang that had sprung up a handful of blocks north, scribbling building outlines on a piece of paper and pulling it back and forth between them.

"Makubex can model the stability of that building for them in a few seconds," Sakura murmured. "But of course they won’t ask him to."

"I think they have more fun arguing," Kazuki agreed. "Even if it means they have to come home to do it where he won’t hear." He cocked his head at her curiously. "We’ve seen more of you, too, since then."

None of them spoke much of what they did and didn’t remember from their fight through the Beltline, but everyone knew what then meant.

She looked at him with a faint smile. "You called us back together."

"I didn’t mean to hold you, after," Kazuki murmured, half apologetic.

Her glance turned direct. "Didn’t you? After fighting so hard to reclaim us?"

Kazuki opened his mouth to insist that he wasn’t selfish enough to put his wants before theirs, only to close it again as he looked around the room. They were here, and not because he had demanded it. It wasn’t only his wish. Maybe it really was all right, even after all the trouble following him had brought them to.

"Kazuki-sama, you’re so stubborn," Sakura sighed, shaking her head. "I didn’t leave my childhood home only for my brother’s sake, you know."

About to protest the title she used, Kazuki tilted his head, surprised. Of them all, Sakura was the one he had asked the least of because she had always stayed by her brother; he had thought Juubei was her reason for being here. "What was it, then?" he asked, quietly.

Sakura looked down at her hands, fingers pleating her scarf. "My own honor." Her voice was cool and low. "I understand why our father chose to serve Fuuchouin still even under the Kokuchouin. He acted for the good of our whole House; that was his duty. Juubei won’t accept that, even now, but… Juubei has been bound to you and only you from the moment you met. If you hadn’t been the heirs to your Houses, if the world itself had been completely otherwise, he would still have dedicated himself to you." She looked up, and Kazuki almost leaned back from the purpose and determination showing under her habitual calm, deep as the ocean. "Duty wasn’t enough for me, though. And Juubei wasn’t the only one who watched you all those years. There is light in you Kazuki-sama. Light and joy. Nothing has destroyed that, not all of the fire and death and terror we’ve come through. I chose to follow that light and make that service my honor." She smiled, serene and immovable, very like her brother. "Do you understand now?"

In a way, of course, it made every kind of sense there was; Sakura was a true daughter of her House, and her honor was as iron as Juubei’s. Still… "What about Makubex?"

"I love Makubex like a brother. I will always support him." Her eyes fell again and she added, softly. "When it seemed that you… you didn’t wish our service, he gave us a place. His vision is a bright one, and I’m glad to do anything I can to help him reach it." She paused for a breath and her spine straightened, chin lifting to meet Kazuki’s eyes straight as a sword. "But you are my lord."

It was every bit as inarguable as Juubei’s insistence on staying at his side, and Kazuki couldn’t quite find it in him to protest the company he’d wanted so badly for so long. His smile was rueful, though; however traditional Sakura insisted on being she was rather overstating things. "You’ve chosen a lord without a House, Sakura. That’s in Yohan’s hands now."

Her gaze didn’t waver. "Kazuki-sama, what do you think this is?" She waved at the room, at the four of them, and Kazuki stilled, startled. She laughed softly, probably at his expression. "What did you think Fuuga was?"

"I hadn’t… thought," Kazuki murmured, staring wide-eyed at the past. For years, he’d thought only of the clan he’d lost, and of the fear that the tiny remains of his life and love would be taken too. And even when he faced Fuuchouin again and set his hand on it, well in the end he was not the one who could lead it in a new way and he’d placed it in the hands of one who would.

Sakura laid a hand over his and said again, with emphasis, "There’s light in you that doesn’t die. That’s what we follow."

In a way it felt like going back on his decision. As the head of his House and clan, he’d chosen to relinquish it, to give it into the care of its next lord. He hadn’t meant to save anything aside. And yet… This was not Fuuchouin. This was something new. He wasn’t the heir to the House, taking up his inheritance. He was just Kazuki.

And apparently that was enough to make a leader nevertheless.

"I’m very fortunate to have your wisdom, Sakura," he said softly, laying his other hand over hers.

"It is my honor." And if the words were formal, her tone was light again. He caught her eye and the flash of satisfaction in them, and couldn’t help laughing. At least, among his people, he had one who was willing to take her chosen lord politely to task, if it was needed.

That was really a very comforting thought.

Last Modified: Feb 10, 12
Posted: Jun 01, 10
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A Theme in Pentatonic – Three

Saizou has been watching Kazuki and the others only from a distance, and Kazuki finally corners him and convinces him that his proper place is with them again. Drama, Porn, Angst, spoilers vol 33, I-4

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.

Last Modified: Feb 24, 13
Posted: Jun 01, 10
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A Theme in Pentatonic – Interlude Five

Kazuki takes Toshiki to bed thoroughly, to reassure him and to work out his own understanding of what he is to Fuuga. Porn with Bondage, I-4

Toshiki liked being with Juubei, cherished the opportunity to feel wanted, needed. He liked it when Saizou was with them, because Saizou knew that sometimes you really did need to laugh, in bed. But sometimes it was good to belong only to Kazuki, for a while. That was how he thought of it, anyway.

He hadn’t realized that Kazuki knew that.

There really wasn’t any other way to interpret Kazuki’s smile this afternoon, though, or the glint of his eyes under his lashes as white teeth nipped the end of his string and long fingers slowly drew the first one out. There definitely wasn’t any other way to interpret it when the weave of that string caught Toshiki’s wrists and pulled them together over his head.

“Kazuki?” he asked, abruptly breathless, holding very still. Not that he thought the strings would cut him, he’d been captured by Kazuki’s strings once, years ago, and he could feel they wouldn’t—nor let him go either. And that… that made his whole body taut and still and waiting.

“You like this,” Kazuki murmured, a statement not a question. His smile got a little wider as a shiver spilled through Toshiki, under his fingertips.

Toshiki had to swallow before he could answer, “Yes.” He moaned outright as the strings flashed and sang again and the net of them caught his thighs, lifting them, spreading them wide. By the time Kazuki delicately looped and fixed his string, Toshiki could barely move and he was dizzy with the rush of blood to his cock. Kazuki’s fingers stroking his entrance, slow and slick, made him shudder and moan.

“You’re beautiful like this,” Kazuki said, smiling at the breathless sounds Toshiki made as those fingers pressed deep into him.

“I’m yours, like this,” Toshiki gasped, muscles trembling as he tried to rock into the slow thrust of Kazuki’s fingers and couldn’t. Heat twined up his spine.

Kazuki’s eyes darkened. “You are, aren’t you?” he said, soft and thoughtful. It seemed an odd way to say it, but Toshiki was too dizzy with the feeling of being held and bound and touched like this to quite reason out why.

He couldn’t help whimpering when Kazuki’s fingers slid out of him. “Kazuki…” The hard stretch of Kazuki’s cock pushing into him made him groan, and the slow deliberate slide in and out of his ass told him that Kazuki intended to keep him right where he was for a while. “Please, yes,” he gasped, and the velvet huskiness of Kazuki’s laugh set him shivering.

Sensation closed around him like water over his head and he lost track of time as Kazuki drove into him slow and strong, gentle hands stroking over the taut muscles of his chest and stomach, sliding down to squeeze his ass firmly now and then, and spread him wider. Wound in Kazuki’s strings, he couldn’t do anything but take it, feel it, know that he’d given himself completely into Kazuki’s hands and they had closed on him.

It was that knowledge, the sweetness of it, that finally became more than he could take, and he cried out, broken and breathless, as slow-drawn pleasure snapped into fire and wrung out every nerve he had like a rag. He felt like he was going to melt with the heat of it, and when Kazuki’s steady fucking finally turned rough and fast he didn’t even have the breath left to moan.

He lay panting and dazed as Kazuki slowly released him. When Kazuki unbound his wrists, only to close his hands around them, fingers stroking gently, Toshiki flushed. “How did you know?” he asked, a little uneven.

“Mm.” Kazuki settled against him, thumb sliding over the inside of his wrist. “I was recalling the other day what you looked like, the first time we met. Do you remember?”

Toshiki snorted. “Of course I remember. I challenged you, and you toyed with me. Though I didn’t figure out that’s what you were doing until the end.” The end, when the delicate figure nearly dancing just beyond his reach had laughed, bright and pleased, and sent strings singing out to bind him in place so easily it had undone him.

“I wanted to watch you,” Kazuki pointed out, “of course I drew it out. But I was thinking of how you looked at me, then.” He was quiet for a moment before he said, low, “Should I have held you by me, when I turned to follow Ginji-san? Should I have demanded that?”

Toshiki’s breath caught and he had to close his eyes against the knowledge of the difference that would have made. “Anything you commanded, I would have done,” he said, husky.

“I knew that.” Kazuki’s voice was tense. “That’s why I didn’t. Should I have?”

“I…” Toshiki swallowed and spoke his heart. “Yes,” he whispered. “Please. That’s past, we can’t change it, but please. Hold me by you.”

Kazuki breathed deep, in and out, shoulders relaxing, and nodded. His hands tightened on Toshiki’s wrists. “You’re mine,” he said, quiet but sure. “I won’t open my hand again.”

Toshiki wasn’t ashamed of the sound that pulled out of him. Kazuki lifted his head and smiled down at him.

“I had thought there was a difference between having you like this,” he drew a finger down Toshiki’s chest, “and leading you. But there isn’t, is there?”

“Maybe for some people, but not for me.” Toshiki’s mouth quirked. “Not for any of us, really.”

Kazuki closed his eyes and asked, softly, “Truly?”

Toshiki had to wonder what Kazuki was really asking. He thought about what Kazuki had just told him, the reason he hadn’t commanded them back then; thought about the fire in Kazuki and the terrifying edge it used to have; thought about his own old rage, and the assurances that had finally quieted it. And then he tugged his wrists gently loose from Kazuki’s hands and wrapped his arms around him.

“We won’t leave you,” he whispered against Kazuki’s hair. “Never again. We won’t let anything drive us away from you.” He smiled wryly. “Not even you.”

Kazuki’s breath caught against his shoulder and slim, strong arms locked around him in answer. “Toshiki…”

“I’m sorry we didn’t see,” he said, soft. A faint laugh shook Kazuki.

“None of us saw. Can we forgive each other?”

“Already done.” How could he do anything else? Kazuki took such care of him, had given him so much. How could he not return every bit of that he could?

They lay together in comfortable quiet until the sound of the front door, and the others returning, roused them to smile at each other and get up and go out to help make dinner.

Last Modified: Feb 10, 12
Posted: Jun 02, 10
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A Theme in Pentatonic – Four

Sakura wants Saizou to stop holding back from them, and from her in particular; it takes some coaxing, but she eventually succeeds in style. Drama, Angst, Porn, spoilers vol 33, I-4

Pairing(s): Sakura/Saizou

Sakura was more impressed with Saizou the more she watched, after he returned to them. He was very smooth about turning attention aside. Today he was egging Juubei and Toshiki on with a laugh to a contest of who could strike most accurately at the greatest distance. It was hard to even spot the moment when he eased himself out of the competition and stood back.

No wonder he had hidden his troubles from them so well for so long.

That wouldn’t do now, though. The Kokuchouin no longer held his heartbeat and will hostage. There was no reason for this any more, and it would do him no good to continue the habit. She expected Saizou would deny he was doing it if the others confronted him directly, though, especially if it was Kazuki.

That left her. Just as well, perhaps; they had unfinished business, he and she.

Sakura slipped up beside her quarry on soft feet until she was close enough to be heard by no one else when she asked, “Why do you hold yourself apart from us, Saizou?”

He stilled, laughter dying, eyes turning dark and distant though he didn’t look at her. “Is shame so hard to understand?”

“No harder than forgiveness,” she pointed out. She sat down beside him on the broken wall he’d been watching Juubei and Toshiki from, hands folded in her lap, and waited. Saizou couldn’t hide from her after what they’d been through, and eventually he would realize the sense of that.

“It isn’t that I don’t want to believe it,” he finally said, quietly. “I just don’t understand. I stole your bodies and bound your wills. Your very hearts! I set you against your allies. And you forgive me for that, just this easily?”

Sakura was quiet too for a little, marshaling the words she needed. “It’s true. You did that. But you didn’t do it for ambition or hatred. You did it to save all our lives.” She looked up at his hard profile. “Toshiki thinks it was only justice, considering he did much the same to Kazuki; he’s almost grateful to you. And you healed Juubei’s eyes, which no other technique could have done. And above all,” she laid a hand on the one he had clenched, “you didn’t bind our hearts. You held them safe, inside your own.” He ducked his head a little and she smiled. “Yes. How else could we have seen what was in your heart? I knew; that was why I spoke, and told Kazuki why you had done all that.”

“But that doesn’t make up for…” he started softly, and she cut him off, brisk.

“No. It doesn’t. Nothing could. But we forgive you anyway.” When he finally turned to look at her, eyes wide and defenseless behind his glasses, she let her smile turn teasing. “There’s only one thing I haven’t forgiven you for, out of all that. And that’s the uniform.”

He turned red, and she smacked him on the shoulder with the backs of her fingers.

“I thought so! It was your idea!” She’d had her suspicions when she realized the thing left her bare from hips to the bottom of her breasts.

He turned redder and looked everywhere except at her. “So, I, um, I guess now you’re going to tell Juubei and I’d better get ready to be a pincushion, huh?” he asked, meekly.

Sakura sniffed. “I don’t need my little brother to look after my honor or avenge my slights. I can do that myself.” Now he looked genuinely alarmed, and Sakura made a thoughtful sound, head tilted as if considering the appropriate retribution. He slid off the wall onto his knees, hands clasped entreatingly.

“I’m so very sorry, I honestly am, I don’t know what I was thinking. The curse seal must have been affecting my brain or I’d have never done it, I swear,” he said with becoming earnestness.

Sakura gave him a cool look, ignoring the fact that her brother and Toshiki had both stopped their little game and were staring. “Well. I suppose I might let you make it up to me.”

“Anything you say; anything at all,” he assured her.

“Very well, then.” She couldn’t entirely stifle the smile that crimped the corners of her mouth. “Kiss me.”

Saizou stared up at her with his mouth open.

“You did say anything,” she pointed out.

“You… but… Sakura,” he murmured, hushed.

She smiled softly and held out a hand to him. “I’m waiting.”

He took her hand slowly, wondering eyes never leaving her face. “Yes, ma’am,” he finally said, husky, and leaned up on his knees. Long fingers touched her cheek softly and she bent her head to meet him. The kiss was soft and reverent, and he ducked his head after, pressing another to her hand. She stroked his hair gently and gave her brother a steely look over his bent head.

Juubei blinked and turned back promptly to his contest with Toshiki, and Sakura relaxed, pleased.

That was that taken care of, then. She’d certainly waited long enough.

Saizou knew Sakura was getting impatient. She was too well-bred to show it openly, but they’d grown up in the same kind of houses and it was there to see in the angle of her head when he hesitated to put his arm around her, in the way she turned toward him and then looked up when he was slow to take the invitation. They both understood it.

So when he finally gathered his courage to ask, he didn’t need to explain. He’d brought some fresh strawberries to the pretty, airy apartment she kept high enough up the central building of Mugenjou to catch the breeze and see the sun. He watched her easy grace as she washed them and sliced a few, and remembered that same grace turning away countless men with such indifference few of them even managed to protest before she was out of sight, and he finally had to ask.

“Why me?”

Her knife paused against the cutting board for a moment before she made the last two slices and turned to wash the blade. “Because you see all of me.”

That wasn’t the kind of answer he’d expected and he blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

She smiled over her shoulder as she took down a plate for the strawberries. “Most men, especially here, only see that I have curves. They don’t see any more of me than that. That’s boring.”

Saizou looked away guiltily from the curve of her breast against her arm and cleared his throat. “I imagine so.”

She didn’t even seem to notice, and went on calmly. “But the men who do come close enough to know me… well. To Toshiki, I’m almost as much of a sister as I am to Juubei. And Kazuki respects my strength, he honors my council, but he doesn’t look at surfaces at all.” Her voice softened and turned low. “He sees deeper. And that’s as it should be, but… the surface is real too.” She stroked a hand down the line of her hip. “This is me, also.”

Saizou had to swallow. “It is,” he agreed.

She looked up at him and smiled. “That’s what I mean. You look at me and see both. I like that.” Her gaze fell to her fingers, which were re-arranging strawberry slices more precisely than was really necessary, and she murmured, “Do you?”

“Do I…?” Saizou’s brain finally kicked in and he blinked. “Do I like it? Of course!” He’d kind of thought the thing with the uniform made that obvious—more obvious than it should have been, but people who thought they were going to die before they could be pounded for their temerity did crazy things.

He could see the breath she took before she looked up, chin lifted, and said, “Show me.”

That hit the off-switch on his brain again for a few moments. When he spoke his voice was husky. “Show you? That I like it?”

She colored a little, but her eyes were level. “Yes.”

He crossed the kitchen quickly, catching up her hands. “I’m sorry,” he murmured ruefully against them. “I shouldn’t make you doubt yourself when it’s only me I’m doubting.”

“Do you doubt your welcome?” she asked softly. When he shook his head she stepped closer. “Then what else matters?”

He had always known that Sakura was the one with the brains. He should, he thought, rely on them more often. The thought was distant, though; most of his attention was taken up with the faint sweetness of strawberries on her fingers.

Show, hm?

Sakura’s eyes widened as he drew one of her fingers into his mouth, lapping the strawberry juice slowly off it. “Oh.” Her flush deepened.

“You’re beautiful, Sakura; all of you,” he said softly against her fingertips. “I would be honored to show you how beautiful you are in my eyes.” Conscience twitched at him and he paused. “You, ah… you really don’t mind? I mean, Kazuki…”

A spark of amusement lit her smile as she looked up at him. “Kazuki-sama has a generous heart. I’m sure he won’t mind sharing.”

This was so manifestly true that he almost forgot she hadn’t answered his actual question. “Yes, but I mean, you’re sure you won’t mind…?”

Her smile gentled and turned serene. “I’m part of Fuuga too, you know.”

Yes, and this did seem to be the pattern of their little House. Saizou gave up and smiled back. “Okay, I’ll stop asking silly questions.”

“Good.” She caught his hand and stepped backward, toward an open door and the corner of a bed that showed through it.

Saizou followed her.

Sakura slid out of her dress and turned her back to Saizou. “Will you undo this for me?” A glance over her shoulder showed he was blushing a little, which charmed her quite unreasonably. Saizou’s diffidence could be frustrating, but she was more than willing to put up with that when it also made his fingers, undoing her bra, so light, so careful. She leaned back against the warmth of his bare chest with a soft sigh as he slid the straps down her arms.

“Sakura,” he murmured against her shoulder, husky, arms closing around his waist.

She rested her head back against his shoulder so she could whisper in his ear, “One more thing to go.”

His laugh puffed warm against her skin and he slid his hands obligingly down to her hips and eased her panties down. She liked it very much that Saizou knew how to laugh at all these little games. She liked it even more when his hands slid back up and over her stomach, up her ribs, to stroke her breasts slow and gentle. The touch sent enticing little shivers down her body to strike heat between her legs, and she made an approving sound.

Saizou released a shaky breath and she turned to twine her arms around him. “Shh,” she murmured. “It’s all right. You’re one of us, Saizou; you’ve always been one of us, even when it hurt you so much you wanted to die from it.” She held him tighter as he tensed. “We are Fuuga. Be with us.” She leaned back and smiled. “Be with me.”

He closed his eyes for a breath, smile turning fragile and soft. “Gladly.”

She backed toward her bed, hands sliding down his arms to catch his hands and pull him after her. That made him laugh, and the tension was gone from his movement as he settled onto the bed with her and drew her close. Sakura felt like purring with satisfaction as they traded slow kisses, twined together on her rumpled sheets. The reverence of his hands on her made her breath catch and the open wonder in his eyes made her press closer, torn between offering passion and offering comfort.

When his tongue slid down her collar bone to dip between her breasts she decided passion was appropriate.

“Saizou…” She gasped as his hand stroked down her stomach, muscles shivering under his palm, and long fingers slipped delicately down between her legs.

“Sakura,” he whispered against her breast, husky, fingertips easing between her folds. She moaned softly as he stroked her, light and sure, and pleasure tightened low in her stomach. He followed every shift of her body as if she’d spoken aloud, fingers now firmer, now lighter, now dipping down to tease inside her, fingers sensitive and sure.

There were definitely advantages to a lover from the Fuuchouin clan.

This lover of hers certainly knew what he was doing, and seemed determined to pleasure her. His mouth closed on her nipple and she arched, pressing up into the wet heat of his mouth. His fingers slid further into her, deep and slow, and hers flexed, digging into his back as her breath caught. She gasped out loud when he dragged his fingers back up, stroking slickly over her and rubbing slow, and her nerves tingled in response.

Saizou.” She wound a leg around his hip and pulled him down against her, catching his low laugh in a demanding kiss. “Now.”

“Yes, my noble lady,” he teased, and gasped when she nipped his lower lip in retaliation. “Sakura…”

She rocked her hips up, smiling to feel his hardness against her. “Now.”

His agreement this time was heartfelt. She laughed softly and spread her legs wider, sighing with the pleasure of his weight over her, savoring the lean solidity of him, letting her hands wander over the line of his shoulders and down his back to feel the flex of his rear as he pressed into her. The thick, solid slide of him inside her eased the taut hunger his fingers had started and she moaned, pushing up to meet him.

He would have gone slow, but she didn’t want that right now and let her whole body flex, rocking up wantonly, taking him deeper, driving their pace faster. Saizou groaned and caught her closer, body answering hers. “Sakura!” His long, driving thrusts finally answered the heat in her and she gasped as pleasure started to build again.

“All of you,” she said against his shoulder, starting to pant for breath. “All of you, Saizou.”

He kissed her, hot and passionate, in answer, and she tightened her arms around him, kissing back just as open and hungry. She wrapped her leg around him, grinding against him, and shivered with the first crest of pleasure. Saizou thrust deeper and she bucked against him, gasping as sensation turned bright, swept out through her and clenched her body tight. Saizou’s breathless moan made her smile and she reached up to run her fingers through his hair as another wave of pleasure rippled through her. She was starting to relax when he stilled over her, gasping, shuddering, and she gathered him close again.

They lay for a while that way and she carded her fingers through the length of his hair in back, trailing down his spine.

“Thank you,” he finally said, breath tickling her throat.

“Mm. Thank you too.” She kissed his forehead. “You’re not going to be so difficult about it next time, are you?”

His shoulders shook with a laugh. “No. I promise I won’t.”

“Good,” she said firmly. “Because you belong to us, and I’m not having any more of this foolishness.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he murmured, meekly enough except that she could feel his lips curve against her shoulder.

Well, that was Saizou. And he wanted her, wanted this, after all.

His arms tightened around her and she settled against him with a pleased sigh.

Last Modified: Feb 10, 12
Posted: Jun 03, 10
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A Theme in Pentatonic – Interlude Six

Saizou needs to know that Kazuki accepts all of him, and Kazuki is perfectly pleased to show him. Porn, Fluff, I-4

Kazuki was humming as he climbed the apartment stairs and slipped in the front door. It had been a good day to be an information broker. He was considering getting a nice cup of tea when he spotted Saizou, sprawled on the couch as if he’d been dropped there.


Saizou opened one eye and smiled. “Kazuki.”

“How is your family?” Kazuki asked, cautious. Saizou’s visits to Toufuuin didn’t normally wear on him this much.

Saizou waved a reassuring hand. “Oh, everyone’s fine. My sister, especially.” He stretched out his legs and groaned.

Kazuki’s concern dissolved in a laugh. “Did she demand a match?” He’d heard a lot about Toufuuin Toshi over the years.

Saizou smiled up at him, ruefully, as he came to perch on the arm of the couch. “I like to think she was being charitable, actually, and helping me work off stress. Or I could be completely wrong, and she just wanted to kick my ass for being gone so much.”

“Saizou.” The worry crept back. “You know I never want to separate you from your family…”

“Of course I know that,” Saizou told him, voice gentle. “And I’m less separated from them now than I used to be.” He leaned his head back again and looked up at the ceiling. “Yohan left them pretty much alone after he’d gotten me, but I never wanted to remind him more than I could help.” His mouth quirked. “Ironic, that the last thing he ever promised me was to protect them as part of Fuuchouin. In return for services rendered, of course. At least he’s still done that.”

Kazuki could almost taste the bitterness of Saizou’s words when he spoke of his “services” to Yohan. He reached out to brush his fingers through Saizou’s hair, seeking to soothe. “That’s over now.”

Saizou closed his eyes under the touch. “I suppose so,” he said quietly.

Which told Kazuki, once again, that it wasn’t over. Of all his people, Saizou had been the most viciously wounded, even worse than Kazuki had been himself he thought, and more insidiously. He slid off the arm of the couch and down into Saizou’s lap, sliding his arms around him and pressing close; this comfort at least he could offer.

Saizou started at his weight, but it was only a breath before arms closed tight around him, half-desperate in their strength. “Kazuki,” Saizou breathed against his hair.

Every protective impulse in Kazuki urged him to gather Saizou to him, to hold and reassure him, but Kazuki knew from personal experience that protection wasn’t always what was needed. This time, instead, he made himself relax and lean into Saizou’s chest, let himself be cradled in Saizou’s arms. The catch of Saizou’s breath told him he was right. “I always trusted you,” Kazuki said softly. “And I was never wrong.”

Saizou caught him closer with a rough sound in his throat. Kazuki rested his head on Saizou’s shoulder, content to be here, to accept the shelter of Saizou’s embrace. When Saizou lifted a hand to touch his cheek, Kazuki smiled up at him and nestled closer. The tenderness of Saizou’s touch, of his mouth on Kazuki’s when he lifted Kazuki’s chin and kissed him, made Kazuki’s heart catch and his breath flutter in his chest.

And this was what Saizou needed. To know he could still offer tenderness and care, to know Kazuki accepted it and wanted it. And he did. Oh, he did.

“Kazuki,” Saizou whispered against his lips, and drew back to look at him. “May I have the honor?” he asked, formal and courtly in the way that always made Kazuki blush. It was such a contrast to Saizou’s usual jesting.

“Of course,” Kazuki murmured back, lashes lowered, and gasped softly as Saizou caught him up in his arms and stood, carrying him through to the bedroom.

It took rather a long time for Saizou to undress him, since he paused at every turn to scatter kisses down Kazuki’s shoulders, across his chest and down his stomach, to caress his hips and thighs and press a slow, open mouth to the inside of his knee. Kazuki was panting by the time Saizou finally got around to his own clothes, and felt like his whole body must be glowing with the pleasure of Saizou’s touch. Feeling the length of Saizou’s body against his, finally, as Saizou gathered him close, made Kazuki moan. Saizou caught the sound in a slow, gentle kiss, and another, and another until Kazuki was more breathless than before.

“My heart,” Saizou whispered between kisses. “My lord. My love.”

Kazuki twined his arms around Saizou and gasped as long fingers slid down his back and further down between his cheeks, caressing and stroking his entrance. “Saizou…”

“I always loved you,” Saizou said in his ear. “Always, I swear it.”

“I know. I knew.” Kazuki shivered as Saizou’s fingers eased away and returned slick and cool. “Saizou, I love—ahh…” Saizou’s fingers, opening him, were slow and sure, almost unbearably slow and sure.

“Thank you.” Saizou smiled down at him, soft and happy, and kissed him again, swallowing another low moan as his fingers pressed in again, deeper.

Kazuki let himself go, gave himself up to Saizou’s hands and the pleasure they brought, and the bright wonder in Saizou’s eyes was more reward than the pleasure itself. When Saizou finally settled against him and pressed into him, Kazuki was so warmed, so relaxed he barely felt the stretch of it; all his senses were caught up in the easy slide, the gentle care of Saizou’s hands, the tenderness of his kisses. It was almost too much for any one person, and he couldn’t do other than answer with everything that was in him, all the passion and all the pliancy. When pleasure spilled over it was just one more strand of heat and sweetness in what Saizou had woven between them.

Saizou gasped against his mouth and caught him closer, stilling, and Kazuki made a pleased sound, hands stroking down Saizou’s back. Slowly, slowly, the heat eased, and Saizou’s hands caressed him back into cool, stroking the last tremors from his body and leaving him cradled against Saizou’s chest, quite relaxed.

Eventually Kazuki regathered enough breath and thought to murmur, “You have remarkable self control.”

Saizou’s chest moved under his cheek as he chuckled. “I have remarkable inspiration.”

Kazuki colored a bit at that, and snuggled closer.

Saizou added, quieter, “And I’ve wanted for so long to use that self control to bring you pleasure and not harm.”

Kazuki looked up at him, reaching up to stroke back fair, damp hair. “You bring me pleasure just being beside me.” He had to smile as he admitted, “This pleasure was especially impressive, though.”

It was Saizou’s turn to blush, and Kazuki curled up in his arms, satisfied with a job well done.

If he had to do it again, he wouldn’t object, of course.

Last Modified: Feb 10, 12
Posted: Jun 03, 10
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A Theme in Pentatonic – Coda

Fuuga celebrates Spring and the new year together. Absolute Fluff, I-3

It had been years since any of them had celebrated the seasonal festivals, but this year Kazuki demanded everyone come along to one of the city shrines for Setsubun. If they were a proper House together, they should act like it, and for all of them propriety included tradition and the festivals.

He’d had to threaten Juubei with a celebration at home, with Juubei playing the Oni, before he agreed, but once they were in the middle of the laughing, shoving, shrieking crowd Juubei lost his stiffness and shoved back with a will. Kazuki laughed as much at that as at the scramble for thrown candies.

They all fetched up, panting and disheveled, at the edge of the crowd, for once focused on nothing more momentous than comparing who had caught what, and brokering trades of favorite sweets. Sakura leaned in Saizou’s arms, laughing as Kazuki stole sweets out of Juubei and Toshiki’s piles while they dickered.

"There," Kazuki declared, as they found a bench to sit on and eat, in the chilly falling evening. "Wasn’t I right about coming out to this?"

"I still don’t know why you insisted," Juubei half-grumbled.

"To regain our future," Saizou supplied, catching Juubei’s hand to lick off the sticky ends of his fingers. Juubei and Sakura both blushed at that, Kazuki observed with some amusement.

"Regain our future?" Toshiki asked.

"The past is gone," Saizou said softly, leaning back under the shadows of the trees. "It can’t be returned. But the future… that we can create or relinquish by our own actions. Once you’ve let it go, you need to work to get it back again."

Kazuki slid an arm around him and pressed close. "We’re touching it again now," he whispered.

Saizou smiled and held him as the other three gathered in around them, close and warm. "Yes. We are. And I’m more grateful to you than there are words to say, for that."

Kazuki touched Toshiki’s shoulder, laced his fingers with Juubei’s, looked up to meet Sakura’s smile. "I couldn’t touch it without all of you."

"Then walk forward to it," Sakura said, soft and clear, "and we will be with you."

Kazuki nodded. It was the beginning of spring, and a new year, and he finally felt there was a way forward there to be found.



Last Modified: Feb 10, 12
Posted: Jun 04, 10
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Cat’s Cradle – Chapter One

Post canon. Kazuki wants to build a relationship with Yohan. Yohan wants to find a new way forward for his clan. Saizou wants to escape the fear of his years with Yohan. And his sister wants everyone to be reasonable for a change. Contains spoilers for Saizou’s backstory in vol. 33 and Yohan’s in vol. 36. Drama, Fluff, I-3

Kazuki didn’t think it was his imagination that this spring was more beautiful than any he remembered. Circumstances might be adding shine to the season, to the faces around him that looked up at the clearing light and the drifting petals, but they were circumstances everyone shared, that everyone felt even if they didn’t quite know the reason. He wondered a little whether Yohan let the seasons of the Beltline turn, let himself see and feel this.

He wondered things like that a lot these days.

Did Yohan let the changing season touch his House, was he learning happiness now, had he let go that crane, the child’s paper wish, and taken up a Fuuchouin’s bell for his strings? As the breeze came up, touched with sun and green, Kazuki wondered. And he could find out, of course. There was no reason he couldn’t visit Yohan; they were neighbors after a fashion. More importantly they were brothers.

He also wondered whether Yohan would see it that same way.

It was the flowers that decided him, finally. A few irises had taken hold in one corner of the plaza outside the apartment building where the cement had cracked and water pooled, a striking composition by the hand of nature itself, and they reminded him of Yohan’s taunt about flower arranging and their mother’s death. At the time it had only been meant to enrage him, but looking back he thought Yohan’s faint regret when he said he couldn’t arrange flowers had been genuine.

Well of course he couldn’t! He’d been raised in Kokuchouin, and Kazuki very much doubted if the fine arts of the main house were taught there. Koto, dance, flower arranging, calligraphy. Though, his mouth quirked at the memory, Yohan had clearly learned to compose poetry one way or another.

Kazuki knew those things, though. And surely it wasn’t too late.

It was just as well, perhaps, that the others were out today. Kazuki left a note saying that he had gone to visit his brother and would be back shortly, and walked out into the bright day to cross Lower Town and climb upwards.

He understood the nature of the Beltline much better now than he had at fourteen. The monsters there were shadows of the souls that lived in the place, and he felt neither fear nor satisfaction in clearing them from his way. On this trip he saw only a few people he thought might be real, and they didn’t come close, fading away into the Beltline’s fluidity. He concentrated on his path and it wasn’t too long before the steps of Yohan’s compound were under his feet.

The trees were still in summer leaf here, but at least it was the small daytime moon overhead and no flowerless petals skirled past him on the wind. It was a start, he supposed.

The doors opened as he reached them, with no hand on them, and Kazuki smiled. Yohan knew he was here. He followed the path that presented itself through gardens and over pools, through stands of pine that had not grown on the main house grounds; and yet the place was familiar. He wondered if Yohan had created a home here that was both the omote and ura compounds. That would be a hopeful sign, he thought.

At last he reached a room with its screens standing open, overlooking a low waterfall beyond. Yohan sat alone looking out at the water, still and collected. “Aniue,” he said quietly.

“Yohan,” Kazuki returned, smiling.

“Why have you come?”

“Because I wanted to see my brother again,” Kazuki said gently, coming to sit beside him, setting down the small box he’d brought along. Yohan looked at him, solemn and wary but with a shadow of hope at the back of his eyes that gave Kazuki heart. “Besides, there’s something I wanted to bring you,” he continued, opening the box and lifting out the small arrangement of iris, water, and stones.

Yohan actually blushed. “I didn’t…” he started quickly and then stopped, not looking at Kazuki.

“I know that already.” Kazuki set the flower quietly before them; as deeply as the Phoenix had touched Yohan’s heart, he’d known then that Yohan had lied about their mother being the one dead “flower” he had arranged beautifully. “It’s spring.” He touched Yohan’s shoulder gently. “What does the poet’s heart say of that?”

After a moment, Yohan said, softly, “In the spring chill, / as I slept with sword by pillow, / deep at night / my elder brother came to me / in dreams from home.”

That caught at Kazuki’s heart with the hint that he was indeed welcome here. “You are home now. And courage and friendship come to you and bloom for you.”

Yohan reached out and touched a petal lightly. “Truly?”

“Life changes us, just as the seasons change the flowers.” Witness the fact that after just five minutes in Yohan’s company the language of Kazuki’s childhood was coming back to his tongue again. He smiled. “Truly.”

Yohan darted a quick, uncertain glance at him, and back at the flower. “I thank you,” he murmured.

“There’s no need.” Nor could Kazuki think of better thanks than being able to sit with his younger brother this way. Remembering his earlier thought, he added, “Did you ever learn the koto?”

Yohan’s mouth tightened. “No.”

“Would you like to?”

Yohan finally looked up at him, startled. Kazuki waited, patient, while Yohan regathered his composure. “I would like that,” he finally said, and looked back down at the flower. “Aniue.”

This time the title had less of the bitterness that flavored Yohan’s every word about the past, and Kazuki cherished the shy hint of acceptance in it.

That was more than enough to compensate for the argument he was sure would break out at home as soon as he told them he intended to visit the Beltline more frequently.

Kazuki flexed his fingers, making sure the ivory picks were secure on his fingertips. “The more you hear, the more you’ll be able to play music by ear, but the way we speak of it is in numbers.”

Yohan gave him a sidelong look. “Numbers?”

“Mm.” Kazuki smiled. “One for each string. Listen. One.” He plucked the first string. “Two. Three.” Up the rank he went, and then stilled the strings with his hand. “And if I say ten-nine-eight, five…?” He played the little turn quickly.

Yohan blinked, tilting his head. “Oh.”

“Here.” Kazuki scooted over, patting the tatami in front of the koto.

Yohan was stiff, at first, prone to plucking the strings too hard, but by the end of the day he could run up and down the full tally of thirteen strings and make them ring clear. Better still, his shoulders had stopped stiffening each time Kazuki set his fingers over Yohan’s to guide them.

Yohan frowned faintly at his fingers, touching thumb and index finger together as if testing the sensation, which Kazuki expected was just a bit numb from the pressure of the picks. “Does it have application?”

Kazuki firmly stifled a sigh. He shouldn’t expect to undo the habits of years in a handful of days. “Several different ones, I would say. Here. Rest your fingers on the strings down at the end.” He shifted around back in front of the instrument and thought for a moment. "Midare Rinzetsu", he decided; he thought Yohan would like the energy and sweeping runs of it better than the slow, melancholy sweetness of the simpler compositions Kazuki had first learned.

It took concentration; it had been a long time since Kazuki had played regularly, and Yatsuhashi’s music was always a challenge. He didn’t look up until the last notes, measured and resonant. When he did, though, he smiled. Yohan’s expression was distant, fingers still resting lightly at the base of the strings, but there was a tiny breath of wonder in his voice as he sighed.

“It really does feel just like our strings.” He blinked and looked up at Kazuki. “This is why you always speak of the song of someone’s technique.”

“Exactly,” Kazuki agreed softly.

“I didn’t know.”

It was only an observation, with no particular emotion in it, but it twisted Kazuki’s heart all the same. “That was wrong. How can anyone be expected to understand our arts without this?” Kazuki bent his head over his hands, resting on the strings. “It’s been wrong for so long.”

Yohan’s voice turned dispassionate again. “I expect the division started here, actually.” At Kazuki’s startled look, he gestured at the instrument. “The left hand and the right are both necessary, but they do very different things, don’t they?” The distance in his tone turned darker. “And while the right hand strikes the notes and draws the eye, it’s the left that controls the sound.”

“Yes,” Kazuki said slowly. “I wouldn’t be surprised. But both hands are needed, and no one could play if they ignored the left hand techniques.” A sudden thought came to him and his mouth quirked. “Well, then, perhaps the new song of Fuuchouin will be a bit more… modern.”

He bent over the koto again and struck the opening of Sawai’s “Yume”. This time he listened to more than just the music, and smiled at the sound Yohan made as his left hand flashed over again and again to pluck the strings, melody weaving back and forth between his hands.

When he sat back this time, he had to shake out his left hand. “I like Sawai’s compositions very much,” he said, breathless, sweeping his hair back, “but they’re very demanding!” He smiled at his brother. “I believe you can master it, though.”

Yohan flushed just a little and concentrated on rearranging his sleeves, and Kazuki let it go, satisfied that Yohan had heard what he meant.

Another day, another lesson. Yohan’s touch with the picks was getting lighter, and Kazuki thought about that as he listened. Yohan had yet to even attempt one of the more passionate compositions, gravitating instead toward the delicacy of the oldest, most abstract music.

“Yohan,” Kazuki said softly, as his brother finished, “what is it you fear?”

Yohan’s head came up quickly, and his eyes were wide. Kazuki shifted around to sit beside him, arm around him. “Everyone has their own style, their own favorite music,” he continued, feeling Yohan’s tension, “but there’s music you refuse even to attempt. The music,” he finished, quietly, “that would take from what’s inside you and set it free on the air.”

Yohan laughed, soft and harsh. “Do you really think that’s wise, Aniue?”

“I do.”

Yohan glanced at him, still tense, but a little less rigid, perhaps startled by Kazuki’s firmness.

“This is where our arts began,” Kazuki touched the koto’s strings, “but setting our passion into these strings will draw no blood. What is there to fear?”

“Myself.” Yohan looked away, hair slipping down over his face. “I doubt someone like you understands that.”

Kazuki was quiet for a moment, and his voice was cool and light when he spoke, drifting over the memories he never lingered on willingly. “You were not the only one marked with the stigma, little brother. I know that fear. But that seal is lifted now; it’s the passions every one of us deal with that you face now.” His lips quirked. “If they weren’t, you wouldn’t hear their reflection in that music you won’t touch.”

Yohan was still for a long breath. “Everyone?”

Kazuki softened at the innocent unknowing of that question. “Everyone.” He drew Yohan closer and murmured, “You’re no demon. You never were. You’re a child of the world, like all of us.” He shook Yohan gently. “So stop trying to escape from life. Both hands are necessary, remember? Pain and joy both.”

Yohan looked up at him, and Kazuki’s brows rose. He expected the flash of startlement at his rather peremptory tone; he’d meant to rock Yohan out of his habits of thought a bit. What he hadn’t quite expected was the flash of yearning, of… happiness? Yohan looked down again before he could be sure.

“Yes, Aniue,” he murmured.

Kazuki had more than usual to think about as he left that day.

Kazuki sat with his hands folded and listened to Yohan play.

Another might have wasted time in wonder that, after a mere few months, Yohan was able to play complex compositions with such firm skill. In fact, when Kazuki had considered that at all, he had wondered how frustrated Yohan must be that his progress had been so slow. The cleansing of the stigma had thrown a blanket over the absolute purity and simplicity of Yohan’s perception and art, had left his brother uncertain, and his temper the same sometimes.

No, what caught Kazuki’s breath short today was the way Yohan played.

Yohan had obeyed him, so meekly it had taken Kazuki aback, and chosen a composition that showed his heart. “Tori no You Ni” demanded a light hand and could easily have been turned into another performance of delicate technique. Today, though, Yohan played with his eyes half closed, swaying with the force of the music. The force of his strike, the timing, the clarity and vibrato he drew from the strings wrung Kazuki’s heart. There was grief in the song, wild and passionate, rushing like the wind under straining wings. There was wanting, so intense it almost tore the constraints of the strings themselves. Yet they held.

When Yohan finished, he turned his face quickly away from the instrument and Kazuki rose and came to wipe away the dampness on his brother’s cheeks. “This,” he said gently. “This is what the koto teaches us.”

“This…” Yohan swallowed and said, husky, “this is the Phoenix.”

“It’s the source of it, yes.” Kazuki stroked his hair back.

And then he frowned. This close he could see dark smudges starting under Yohan’s eyes. “Yohan, have you been sleeping poorly?”

Yohan waved a hand shortly. “I don’t have time to sleep right now. I need to re-learn half my own techniques, and half the servants with the cursed seal don’t want to be freed, and…” He broke off blinking as Kazuki touched a finger to his lips.

“In other words, you haven’t been sleeping enough.” Kazuki shook his head at Yohan. “You have to take better care of yourself than that.”

“In what time?” Yohan asked flatly.

“Right now.” As Yohan just stared at him, Kazuki smiled and gathered him closer. “No one will disturb you while I’m here, will they?” He tugged gently until Yohan rested against him, stiff and startled. “So sleep. I’ll see nothing happens while you do.” He eased Yohan down to his lap, smiling as Yohan looked up at him, apparently at a loss.

“Aniue… But…”

Kazuki trusted his intuition and scraps of experience so far and said, very firmly, “Hush. Rest now, little brother.” He knew he was right when the stiffness when out of Yohan, and settled Yohan’s head comfortably in his lap. “Sleep.” There was so much he couldn’t restore to Yohan, but this he could give—an elder brother to watch over him.

He stroked Yohan’s hair gently, steadily until Yohan’s eyes closed, and his breath finally evened out into sleep.

Kazuki had less experience than Yohan with imposing his will on the Beltline, but he focused intently on the quiet, the isolation, the sunlit calm of this room, on turning away all worries and concerns. And, as minutes slid by and the sun moved slowly across the tatami, warming them, the only sounds were running water and the light, shifting song of birds beyond the screens.

The sunlight was slanting downward, and the air was cooling before he heard the scuff of feet out in the hall, and an approaching voice.

Finally found you, honestly Yohan it’s not like you have to hide…”

Kazuki snorted softly to himself as Maiya slid a screen aside.

There you are!”

“Maiya. Quietly,” he said, low.

She looked at Yohan, curled up asleep, and pressed a hand to her lips. “Sorry!” she whispered. Slipping in she closed the screen silently. “You actually got him to sleep?”

“He certainly needed it.” And he wasn’t exactly blaming Yohan’s people, but his voice was cool on the observation.

Maiya sighed, folding down to the tatami, long sleeves flipped expertly out of the way. “I know. We do try. He just doesn’t listen.” She smiled wryly, looking down at him. “Well, not to us anyway.”

Kazuki was quiet at that confirmation that he wasn’t imagining things. Yohan really did seem to want Kazuki to guide him, and even scold him, like an older brother. Well, Kazuki thought he could do that; he was very glad to, in fact, to reclaim this little bit of what they might have had. He smiled down at Yohan, stroking back his hair again.

“I… never did get a chance to thank you.”

Kazuki looked up at that, brows raised. Maiya was looking down at her hands.

“You saved us. All of us, in the end.”

“That was my duty as the head of this House at the time,” Kazuki said quietly.

“I know. Even so.” Maiya set her hands on the tatami and bowed profoundly. “For Yuuri’s life and mine. For the soul of our brother and Master. For the existence of our very House. I thank you most humbly, Kazuki-sama.”

“And for the care you’ve taken of my brother, I thank you as well,” Kazuki told her gently, and smiled when she looked up, eyes wide. “Only continue to stand by him, and that will be all the return I could ask.”

She ducked her head again, and murmured, husky, “I will.”

Yohan finally stirred, rubbing his eyes. “Maiya?” he yawned, and sat up blinking. Kazuki steadied him with a hand on his shoulder.

“Good morning!” Maiya chirped, and Kazuki had to swallow a smile at the distinctly exasperated look Yohan gave her. If nothing else, she would surely help him learn to deal with people a bit less formally.

“What is it, Maiya?”

“Ah. Well.” Maiya coughed delicately. “You do remember that Gorou-san wanted to speak to you?”

Yohan sighed. “I remember.” From his tone he would rather not.

“Something troublesome?” Kazuki asked, sympathetic, tugging Yohan’s kimono and haori back into order.

“Since I have yet to work out exactly what it is he wants, I don’t know yet.” Yohan sounded irritated by that, too.

“Well, perhaps it will be something cheerful like marriage candidates,” Kazuki soothed. And then had to laugh at the horrified look Yohan gave him, eyes flicking ever so briefly to Maiya. “And when you’ve chosen, I’ll teach her the Phoenix,” Kazuki teased gently.

“I… I’m sure it isn’t that,” Yohan managed past his unaccustomed flusterment.

“You’re evil Kazuki-sama,” Maiya said, admiring.

“Only in a good cause.” Kazuki relented, smiling. “Whatever it is, I’m sure you’ll deal with it well.”

Yohan collected himself. “Will I see you Friday, then?”

“Of course.” Kazuki leaned over to press a quick kiss to Yohan’s forehead. “And before that, if you need me.”

That made Yohan color just a little. “Thank you, Aniue,” he murmured.

Kazuki rose, pleased with his new insight and the opportunities it offered to protect and cosset his brother. “For now, though, I should get home before the others worry so much they come looking for me.”

Maiya grinned at that, looking past his shoulder. “Too late.”

Kazuki blinked and looked around and sighed. Indeed, Juubei was standing in the open screen across the room. “Juubei.”

“You weren’t back at the usual time.”

“I am perfectly capable of walking here and back without coming to any grief,” Kazuki pointed out, though he knew quite well that this simple fact would have no impact on Juubei’s protectiveness. Juubei didn’t dignify the observation with an answer, simply waiting for him quietly. Kazuki shook his head, giving in. “Take care of Yohan, Maiya,” he directed, in parting.

Maiya looked back and forth between Kazuki and Yohan, thoughts moving behind her bright eyes. “Of course, Kazuki-sama,” she agreed, leaning over to twine her arm through Yohan’s. When Yohan glanced up at Kazuki and failed to pull away, she and Kazuki exchanged a look of understanding and complicity. Maiya, Kazuki was satisfied, would borrow Kazuki’s name as often as necessary to make Yohan take care of his health at least.

Kazuki swept up Juubei as he left, well pleased with the day’s progress.

Gradually, Kazuki had started to see more people than Yohan, when he visited, sometimes Maiya or Yuuri, sometimes someone from one of the surviving cousin branches who nodded to him uncomfortably, sometimes one of the silent Kokuchouin retainers. Today the man who opened the gates for him was startled out of his usual unobtrusive quiet to stare at Juubei, pacing at Kazuki’s shoulder.

“This really isn’t necessary you know,” Kazuki said one more time as Juubei followed him into the summer green of the Fuuchouin compound.

“We can hardly guard you, as is our duty, if we aren’t with you.” Juubei paused by one of the outer pavilions. “I can wait here if you wish, though.”

Kazuki sighed, running a hand through his hair. It was about time he started binding the length of it back again, he noted absently. “I should leave you to Maiya’s company.” Juubei gave him a perfectly bland look and Kazuki couldn’t help a laugh. “Oh, all right.”

He left Juubei in the outer gardens and went to find Yohan. He found his brother in one of the inner rooms, today, looking out across a small, raked courtyard, hands folded on his knees.

“Aniue. May I beg a favor of you?” Yohan asked, more formally than he usually spoke these days.

“Of course.” Kazuki settled beside him, curious. Yohan’s face was very still.

“Spar with me.”

Kazuki took a breath. In a way, he’d been expecting this for weeks; their conversations over the koto had always turned, sooner or later, to the application of the Fuuchouin arts. To the distinctions and interrelations of the omote and ura techniques. “If you wish.”

“I don’t entirely know where I stand anymore,” Yohan said quietly. “You’re the only one strong enough to test that against.”

“I understand.” Kazuki stood and held a hand down to his brother. “We can both find out.”

And he did understand. For those first few weeks after he’d sealed away the stigma, when he was younger, he’d felt as though he couldn’t quite see properly any more. As though nothing was exactly where he’d thought it should be. As memory had faded, he’d forgotten the disorientation too, but it had come back to him after the recent troubles, after he’d wakened and then rejected the stigma. He truly wasn’t sure what he himself was capable of now, and as they walked out, beyond the delicate groves of trees to an open, grassy ring, he wondered how this would end.

They started slowly, with the simple barriers and direct strikes that children of the clan might use. Both of them controlled those techniques easily, only just touching each other when a strike slipped through. As they moved faster, turning around each other, they worked up the scale of complexity and one strike and counter built on another and sang through the air around them, Rain to clear the Mist, the Red Bird to ward away the Comet, strategy and power twining together into a single strand. It was intoxicating and, even as Kazuki felt his art wavering on the edge of his ability to grasp, he was almost laughing.

Yohan, though, was frustrated; Kazuki could see it in the tightening of his mouth, the tension in his forearms as his control, too, faltered. One moment his attacks were hard enough to push Kazuki’s strings back but too hard to slip past; the next they flowed through like water, like light, but too slow to catch him.

Kazuki hesitated, hand poised to form the Flower Dance, looking a question at Yohan. Were they ready to try the final scroll? In answer Yohan’s hand flashed up, sending the form darting for him first. Kazuki breathed and stepped into it, and threw the Whirlwind back at him.

Both of them were bleeding by the time they regained their stances.

Kazuki felt none of the crushing power that had marked Yohan’s strings the last time they’d fought, but moment by moment Yohan’s fingers steadied and, slowly, the line of his mouth relaxed. Kazuki nodded to himself and pushed harder, faster, spinning the Empty Moon around his brother. A breath passed as it closed.


When the countersurge of Yohan’s strings undid the sphere, Kazuki laughed out loud even as Yohan’s strings closed around him in turn.

Kazuki shook back his hair as Yohan released him, and went to catch his brother in his arms. “You watched me for a long time, didn’t you?” he murmured as Yohan stiffened, startled.


“You didn’t use the black strings at all today,” Kazuki pointed out. “Only the omote techniques.”

Yohan shrugged. “It never made any difference to me where a technique came from; they were all the same.”

“Once you saw them, yes.” Kazuki smiled as Yohan’s eyes shifted, even it it was a bit sad. “I was the only one you could have learned most of that from.” He shook his head as Yohan started to speak. “I’m honored to teach you. It’s my job, after all; you’re my heir, aren’t you?”

Yohan opened his mouth and closed it again, eyes a bit wide. “Aniue.”

Kazuki rested his hands on Yohan’s shoulders. “Better now?”

Yohan actually smiled a little. “Yes.” He glanced down and back up, collected but Kazuki could read the shyness in his reserve now. “May we do this again?”

“Of course,” Kazuki told him gently.

He was sufficiently distracted by his pleasure at this development that he didn’t think what it would look like to Juubei when he emerged from the House scuffed and bloody, and had to spend a solid five minutes talking him down. Juubei didn’t quite mutter under his breath, but he looked like he wanted to as he briskly sewed up the cuts before letting Kazuki go another step.

“You’ve seen me in considerably worse shape from training, when we were younger,” Kazuki pointed out, wincing a bit but holding still.

Juubei actually glowered at him and Kazuki sighed, resigning himself to another few days of overprotectiveness. As Juubei led the way back down the steps of the Fuuchouin House, back stiff, though, Kazuki paused, attention caught.

“Kazuki?” Juubei looked back, as though he was contemplating carrying Kazuki home bodily, but Kazuki didn’t mind that at the moment.

He reached up and touched the delicate leaves of the maple that grew by the steps. They were just barely tipped with autumn red.

“It’s all right,” he told Juubei, softly. “Everything’s all right.”

Last Modified: Jan 25, 11
Posted: Jun 07, 10
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Cat’s Cradle – Chapter Two

Saizou has to find some way for his House to be a part of the Fuuchouin clan when he can’t bring himself to face or follow Yohan, who now leads it. Drama, I-4

Saizou trudged up the stairs of Yohan’s compound, trying to not think and just admire the falling leaves instead. He was also trying not to curse himself out loud for an idiot, and a pathetically spineless one at that, which at least helped distract him.

His nerves were practically twanging.

Fortunately, Kazuki was already nearly at the gates, as Juubei had said he would be.

Unfortunately, Yohan and Maiya and Yuuri were all with him.

“Saizou?” Kazuki stepped forward, frowning.

He swallowed down his nerves and waved a hand lightly. “You’re usual escorts were called away, so I came instead. Makubex needed them rather urgently, and Sakura kind of told Juubei off for hesitating, so they went.”

The frown got deeper. “He shouldn’t have asked you to come!”

“Oh, he didn’t.” Saizou grinned. “Just looked all nobly conflicted, the way he does you know, and I couldn’t take the brooding any longer so here I am!”

Kazuki and Yohan gave him such identical looks, sober and piercing and too perceptive for anyone’s good, that he twitched before he could stop himself. The urge to kneel down in greeting to Yohan scraped against the urge to pull Kazuki behind himself and attack. Both were well out of date, but he’d had them for a long time after all. He could feel his smile tilting grimly out of his control.

He relaxed minutely as Kazuki came to him, steps light, understanding in his eyes. “Well, then…”

Yuuri snorted. “Not even going to say hello to your betters? Your manners have gone to hell.”

It was the last little snowflake, floating down on the mountain of Saizou’s self control, and in a breath it all came crashing loose.

Faster than thought his feather was between his fingers and his strings flashed out, slamming Yuuri back against the nearest wall and binding him there. When he shouted and struggled to reach his own bells, Saizou pulled the strings tauter.

“I am no longer constrained to tolerate you, and if you wish to know who is the superior I’ll be very happy to demonstrate,” he said, flat and cold. His fingers itched for the ura techniques, with the urge to spin his strings into a spear and drive it through Yuuri’s stomach and pay back just a little of the hell the past eight damn years had been.

“Saizou.” Kazuki’s voice cut through the ice of his rage, soft but unyielding, calling him back.

One breath, and another, and he made his fingers relax, called his poised strings back. He turned on his heel, leaving Yuuri tied up right where he was, and stalked back to Kazuki’s side. “As my lord wishes,” he said, low and clear. He wanted everyone present to know exactly where he stood, and what Yuuri owed his continued existence to, because it wasn’t Saizou’s own patience!

Kazuki smiled up at him, just a bit rueful, and rested a hand on his shoulder. “Yes.”

“Wow, Saizou is actually really strong!” Maiya put in, chirpily, trotting around Yuuri’s trussed up body for a better look, and Saizou rolled his eyes. Well, he’d always known she had a really low sense of humor.

“I did tell you,” Yohan murmured. Saizou looked around to see him reach out and lay his fingers on Saizou’s strings, damping and loosening them until Yuuri slid down to the ground, coughing. The sight lit a spark of vengeful satisfaction in his heart.

Yohan’s glance chilled it again.

“So, do you intend to withdraw the Eastern House from the Fuuchouin?” Yohan tipped his head as if merely curious. “Or will you give your House over to another leader? Now that you serve another, yourself,” he added, nodding to Kazuki.

Saizou froze.

He hadn’t thought. He’d known Kazuki had given over Fuuchouin to Yohan, and he’d never thought. His heart had said it was all over, that everything was all right now, but he’d placed Toufuuin under Yohan, and Yohan, not Kazuki, was the clan lord then and now.

The clan lord he, the head of Toufuuin, couldn’t serve any longer.

“You will withdraw them, then?” Yohan asked, watching his face.

But Kazuki had no wish to rule more than their tiny House of Fuuga, now. How could he demand Toufuuin leave their clan with no place to go?

But he couldn’t abandon them. He couldn’t, the very thought clawed at his heart. His sister, his aunt, his little cousins, the old councilors who had supported him as their lord even while hell was breaking loose… “I can’t,” he whispered, and there was a certain cool sympathy in Yohan’s eyes but no mercy, and the familiarity of that sent a shudder down his spine.

“Enough,” Kazuki said sharply, shaking his shoulder a little. “Surely there’s a third way,” he added more gently as Saizou stared down at him.

Yohan opened his hand, palm up. “If Toufuuin is content to have no place in the Fuuchouin councils, well enough for them. But the other Houses will begin to ask about it soon.”

Saizou took a slow breath, eyes fixed on Kazuki’s, on the hope they held out. “Let me consider this,” he said, suitably formal if a little hoarse. Yohan made a careless gesture of agreement, but it was Kazuki’s smile that made Saizou’s chest unclench. “After we get home. Which we should do soon, or Juubei will come up here after both of us.”

Kazuki nodded and bid Yohan farewell and drew Saizou out the gates and down the steps as Maiya got the groggy Yuuri back on his feet. Shock and satisfaction and fear chased themselves through Saizou’s head and he stayed close to Kazuki all the way home.

He’d known it would be trouble, to come up here.

When Juubei and Toshiki got home, Saizou was still sitting on the couch staring at the ceiling. Toshiki took one look at him and went to fetch down the sake cups.

"Saizou," Juubei started, already sounding guilty, and Saizou sighed and looked down.

"You didn’t ask me to go, I chose that myself, and you couldn’t have changed my mind once I decided, so none of that."

Juubei closed his mouth with a snap and Saizou’s lips quirked. He didn’t often use that tone with any of Fuuga, but he was the eldest of them, and, like Kazuki, he’d been raised to command, if only his own House. "Better."

"What happened?" Toshiki asked, passing out filled cups.

Saizou let his head thump back again.

"Yohan says Toufuuin needs to send someone to the clan council soon," Kazuki supplied, leaning forward from where he’d been cuddled against Saizou for hours to pour for Toshiki in turn.

"And I can’t," Saizou said quietly. "I can’t face him; not yet." Maybe not ever. He didn’t know.

"Here’s where those hidden techniques could actually come in handy," Toshiki murmured dryly. At their startled looks he waved a hand. "Well, if you could create a string duplicate, the way Maiya can, and send that in for you…"

Saizou chuckled at that. "If only."

"Wait," Kazuki said, straightening. "Perhaps that’s a good idea."

"Excuse me?" Saizou blinked at him.

"Not a string doll, no, but could you send a proxy in your place?" Kazuki’s eyes turning brighter. "Surely there’s precedent enough for that."

Juubei made a thoughtful sound. "Indeed, there is. My own family has done that on occasion, when the head of the House is too old or incapacitated to easily attend on the Fuuchouin, and sends his heir to act for him."

"Is there anyone from Toufuuin you could send to act in your place?" Kazuki asked.

"Maybe," Saizou said slowly. "It would have to be someone who could hold their own, and also not get too carried away and promise the House to things without checking with me." He started to smile, shoulders loosening as he told over the possibilities in his head. "That might just work." He finally took a swallow of the sake. "I’ll speak to my family."

“Don’t be silly Onii-sama,” Saizou’s sister said composedly from her seat at the low table beside Sakura. “Of course you can’t deal with him. I knew that already.” She took a delicate sip of her tea, hands folded genteelly around the thin ceramic. “It will have to be me.”

“You are the most impertinent snip ever to breathe air,” he told her, ignoring the way Sakura and Kazuki were both stifling laughter. “Are you sure everyone agreed to this, or did you just steamroller the lot of them? Again.”

She gave him an injured look he didn’t believe for an instant. “Everyone agreed, even Great-uncle Keiji. Our aunt is needed to run the House and school while you’re away. And the twins don’t want to do it.”

Saizou snorted at that. His aunt’s two little boys would agree to anything that would give them more time to play, and while he thanked whatever beneficent providence had kept them out of the compound the night the Kokuchouin attacked, he really hoped they’d grow up eventually. He didn’t doubt Toshi had told them being the acting head of the House would be a great deal of troublesome work.

“I’m your nearest blood, and I have the strength and right. Stop arguing, Onii-sama,” she directed.

Saizou sighed. No one ever won when Toshi really set her feet over something. “All right, if he agrees to this it’ll be you.”

“Good. More importantly, though,” she set her tea down and looked at him, sober. “Are you sure this is wise, Onii-sama? This is the man who destroyed the main house and half our own. Will we really still follow him?”

“It wasn’t Yohan who destroyed the main house,” Kazuki said quietly from where he stood at the window. “Not alone.”

Toshi frowned a little. “Well, no, it was all of the Kokuchouin, but…”

“Kokuchouin was the hand. But the force that destroyed us was our own fate.” Kazuki had that distant expression he got whenever he spoke of this, the one that made Saizou’s heart ache. “For three hundred years, the Kokuchouin were the shadow sacrifice of the Fuuchouin. Every death, every curse passed to them.” Kazuki turned away from the window to look at them directly and Saizou heard Toshi’s breath catch under the weight of those clear, sad eyes. “No fate can be evaded forever, though. And finally the fate of Fuuchouin burned through our shadows and returned to us. I mourn my family, as I have for eleven years. But the responsibility was ultimately our own.” He smiled, tiny and heartbreaking. “So will you not meet Yohan yourself and open your heart to judge what kind of clan lord he will make now?”

Toshi bowed over her knees. “As you say, Kazuki-sama.” Her voice was steady but Saizou could see the way her sleeves trembled and recalled that she’d never met Kazuki before either. She was composed when she straightened, though, and Saizou had to hide a proud smile when she looked up. “Onii-sama?”

“He isn’t seeking destruction any more,” he said quietly. “It isn’t for fear that I can’t follow him now.”

Her eyes slid to Kazuki and her nod was perfectly understanding. “Of course. Well, go make introductions, then, and I’ll handle it.”

That was his little sister all over. “Tomorrow,” Saizou specified, just to keep her from having her own way in absolutely everything. It was a big brother’s job.

Toshi sniffed, not fooled for a moment. “Slowpoke.”

On reflection, maybe Yohan and his people deserved her.

Today Saizou was alone as he walked the halls of the new Fuuchouin house, and when he reached a room standing with its screens open to the inner garden, Yohan was alone too. It was a courtesy he hadn’t entirely expected, and when Yohan welcomed him, quiet and formal, he felt the tug again—the helpless conviction that, in another place and time, Yohan would have been a leader he could gladly follow.

He settled across the mats from Yohan and took a breath. “I cannot abandon my House,” he started out. “They have trusted me to lead them, and I cannot simply give that over to another’s hands now.” Another breath. “I do not wish to sever my House from the Fuuchouin clan. We are of Fuuchouin, part of that whole. I will not break that circle.”

Yohan’s listening stillness turned shadowed for a moment, but he nodded, accepting Saizou’s reasons.

Another breath, deeper this time. “At the same time…” And now even formal language failed him. It couldn’t contain this. Saizou closed his eyes, hands locking on each other as he remembered the ice and irony of Yohan’s eyes watching his struggle to save Kazuki by betraying him, knowing its futility. “I can’t,” he whispered. “I can’t. I served you under duress for too long. It would always be between us.” He managed a shaky smile. “And do you really need a head of Toufuuin who can’t help hesitating every time you give an order or even suggestion?”

“It would make things more difficult,” Yohan allowed. “So? Have you found a third way?”

Saizou swallowed down the chill memory that seemed lodged in his throat. “Another of my House will act for me. My sister will attend clan functions, meet with you and the council.” His mouth quirked up crookedly. “As if I were very ill but not dead yet, as Juubei put it.”

“An acting master of Toufuuin.” Yohan cocked his head, and Saizou thought there was genuine amusement in his faint smile. “I think that will be acceptable, yes.” The old irony glinted in his eyes for a moment. “And if the Western House and the council think that it’s only because of your bond to Aniue, well they’ll understand that too.”

Since that was the conclusion his own sister had reached, Saizou figured he was right. And if that meant that no one but the two of them ever knew the whole tale of hate and love and hope and cruelty that had bound he and Yohan together for those years, well Saizou was perfectly happy with that. He bowed slightly, as much as he could bring himself to which wasn’t much. “I will bring my sister to meet you, then.”

“Saizou.” Yohan was gazing out over the garden. “You love Aniue?”

It was one of those Yohan questions that was really a statement, so Saizou just waited for the rest of it.

“How?” Yohan looked back at him, suddenly looking very eighteen, and Saizou had a truly horrible moment of wondering whether Yohan was about to ask him to explain the facts of life. In preference to his foster siblings, which, actually, Saizou could completely understand…

“How did you know?” Yohan finished, softly.

Saizou let his breath out. That was a complicated question, too, but not nearly so horrifying. “I suppose it was love at first sight, after a fashion. Well,” he added, relief making him babble a bit, “it was ‘wow she’s cute’ at first sight. I kind of mistook Kazuki for the Fuuchouin daughter. Right up until I asked for a match with the heir and the cute girl bounced on down, all smiles.” He smiled ruefully. “I like to think that surprise put me off my stride a little, but the truth was Kazuki would have defeated me outright if he hadn’t been having so much fun with the match itself. He was grinning the whole time. I guess it was the smile that caught me first.” He pressed a hand over his heart. “I wanted to see him again. I did, a few times. And when everything came apart…” he flinched from those memories, of Yohan’s terrifying strength brushing past every attack and defense, of running like a rabbit. “Well. When I found him again, he still had that smile. He made a place for himself and the rest of us, carved it out of the chaos and kept it safe for us. He made a home with that smile, with his heart, with the way he saw and knew each of us, and I couldn’t turn away.”

And that was more truth than he’d quite meant to speak to Kazuki’s brother, who was looking outright wistful for once.

“Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he really is strong enough to command obedience, if he wanted to,” Saizou added, easing toward the less loaded side of the question. “Even when he’d suppressed the stigma, no one dared cross him.” Saizou snorted softly, remembering the times he and the others hadn’t even gotten a chance to step in because their opponents were busy cowering already. “Not even us, when you get down to it. It’s just a good thing Kazuki is a kind man, you know, because not a one of us has been able to defy or disobey him for as much as two whole days put together.”

“Yes,” Yohan murmured. “I saw that. At the time, it was just one more thing to try to break.” He was quiet for a moment before adding, “I didn’t succeed.”

Saizou took a long look at Yohan, sitting quiet and still with his head bent, watching his own hands on his knees, and remembered all the moments when Yohan’s pain and conflict had matched so well with his own that he’d almost screamed with the unbearable sympathy it had roused in him. “You have some of that, too,” he said, low.

Yohan looked up at that, brows raised. Saizou sighed.

“You remember how I was with Yuuri and Maiya, right?” He smiled, tilted, at the shadow of distaste that twisted Yohan’s expression. “Yes, it was pretty sickening, sucking up to them, playing the clown. But by throwing away my dignity I kept my pride, secret in my thoughts and heart. You, though…” He took a long breath and let it out. “You let me keep my dignity, even guarded it from them sometimes. It was my pride you broke between your fingers. And you wouldn’t have been able to do that if you hadn’t seen to the heart of me, the same way he does.”

Yohan’s eyes were shadowed. “I see,” he said slowly.

Saizou stood. He didn’t think he could take very much more of this. “I will bring my sister to greet you,” he said again, reaching for the shield of formality, and turned to leave.


He glanced over his shoulder, but Yohan was looking out at the garden again.

“Your sister’s pride will come to no harm here,” Yohan said, sitting with straight shoulders again.

After a moment, Saizou smiled a little. “I have faith that it will not.”

And if his faith was mainly in Kazuki and Toshi herself, at the moment, perhaps it would come to be in Yohan too, a little, by and by.

Saizou walked beside his sister, occasionally giving a brief lecture on the nature of the Beltline as they hiked upwards.

“These, for instance, are not real.” He pointed to the approaching shadowy robes. “You have to pay attention to intent.” There were an awful lot of them, though. He wondered, as they worked their way through, whether Toshi herself was drawing attention. For this meeting she was dressed, not in a maiden’s long sleeves and bright colors, but in the quiet layers of a grown woman and the long, silvery-fair hair they’d both gotten from their mother was tied at her neck with a single ribbon; demure as she looked, though, determination and pride lit the air around her. In this place, she was practically a beacon. Privately Saizou also thought she was fighting with especial ferocity to defend her new finery; she was always like that about new clothes.

“Does he live up here because he secretly wants to be a hermit?” She leaned against a handy pillar to catch her breath and straighten her haori.

“Actually, I think this is the only place he’s ever really felt at home.”

Toshi stopped and turned to stare at him, eyes wide. “Onii-sama…”

Saizou’s mouth tightened. He’d said it already; it wasn’t for fear that he couldn’t serve Yohan. He just knew too damn much. He sent his strings flashing past Toshi’s shoulder to cut apart the last robe and turned back to their path. “Let’s go.”

He was twitchy about this whole thing. This was his little sister, after all, and it was Yohan he was about to introduce her to! He tried to quiet his own mind by observing her objectively, noting the firmness of her step, the maturity of her willingness to take up this duty for their House. It kept getting lost, though. This was Toshi; he’d seen her as a toddler, running down the hall in nothing but soap suds after escaping from her bath; he’d surprised her in front of a mirror, when she was eight, making faces in an attempt to find a way to smile without showing the dimple she hated; he’d stolen her hair ribbons to teach her fast reflexes and tickled her until she shrieked and flailed because sometimes she was just too serious for her own good. She couldn’t possibly be ready for this!

Here they were, though, at Yohan’s gate, and clearly expected as Kokuchouin retainers bowed them inside.

Yohan was waiting for them in one of the outer rooms.

Saizou watched the two of them while he performed the formal introductions. Yohan looked perfectly calm, though maybe a little withdrawn; Toshi had a faintly worrying set to her jaw. Sure enough, once they’d both expressed their pleasure in meeting at last, the bow she gave him was the one she would give the head of a strange House, not her own clan lord. Yohan raised a brow at Saizou, and all he could do was turn a hand up helplessly. Toshi obviously had her own agenda here.

“You are welcome within Fuuchouin,” Yohan prompted her.

“I am most pleased,” Toshi murmured. “But before I accept I must ask you something.”

Both brows went up this time. “Even though the head of your House has already chosen this?” Yohan sounded curious, even a bit amused.

“Onii-sama is Master of Toufuuin. I will follow the path he chooses for us,” Toshi said composedly. “Onii-sama is also too forgiving for his own good sometimes, and I saw some of what happened to him while he served you these past few years. So I must ask you: where do you mean to lead Fuuchouin now?”

“Ah.” Yohan laid his hands on his knees and looked out the screens rather than at them. “I intend to bring the fourth House into the light.”

Toshi’s shoulders stiffened. “You wish to uncover the hidden techniques?”

Yohan shook his head briskly. “No. Not that.” His voice turned soft and distant, and sent a chill up Saizou’s spine. He’d heard nothing but that tone for a long time. “The hidden techniques were created as the ultimate weapons of war. They care nothing for grace or beauty—or the soul of the user. Only effectiveness. Let them remain hidden.” He took a breath in and turned back to them. “No, binding those techniques to one of the Houses was where Fuuchouin took the wrong turning. They corrupted the true strengths of the Kokuchouin and left the other three Houses unbalanced.”

Toshi sat back, staring at him. “Unbalanced?”

Yohan cocked his head at her. “The mark of the Eastern House is speed, yes?” When she nodded he tapped a finger on the floor. “Speed.” He traced a circle clockwise, naming the quarters of it. “Speed, grace, strength…” He tapped the fourth quarter. “And the mark of the fourth House, it’s true mark, is ‘endurance’. To endure the dark and cold just the same as the warm sun, and live on.” His eyes darkened. “That was corrupted when the hidden techniques were given into the Kokuchouin’s hands. Their endurance was turned toward eternal darkness and death, the reverse of their true strength.” He lifted his hand and spread it. “Without endurance, the other Houses fly away, ungrounded; cut off from the light, Kokuchouin sinks ever down until there is nothing but pain and terror left. We have seen what fate that tempts,” he finished quietly.

Toshi was quiet, contemplating her hands, folded in her lap. Saizou couldn’t blame her; he felt breathless. Was this the turn Yohan’s thoughts had taken since Kazuki touched his heart and breathed life on it again? It was… stunning.

“What, then, would become of the hidden techniques?” Toshi asked slowly.

Yohan’s mouth tightened but he answered evenly, “Let those come to it who choose it. Those who are willing to become the shadow of our Houses in order to guard them. Not children.” Those last words sharpened abruptly, though Yohan relaxed again when Toshi nodded vigorously.

“Yes. Not children. Only those who have already mastered the techniques of one of the Houses.” She paused for a considering moment before nodding firmly and looking up at Yohan. “One of the four Houses.”

He actually smiled at that, and Toshi smiled back, and they both actually looked their ages though Saizou wasn’t fool enough to say so to either of them. Maybe they would all get through the day without any catastrophes at all.

“Well then! There’s only one thing left.” Toshi’s smile turned downright sunny. “I’d like a match with you.”

A yelp of protest escaped Saizou before he could stop it and his sister gave him a stubborn look. “It’s the only way I can be completely sure, Onii-sama.”

Yohan, damn him, had that glint of amusement in his eyes again. “You are one who believes that the soul is revealed in battle?”

“Of course.” Toshi lifted her chin, sitting straight and proud. Saizou buried his face in his hand with a faint moan. A little voice in the back of his head pointed out that she sounded an awful lot like he had when he’d challenged the Fuuchouin heir and met Kazuki for the first time. He told that voice to shut up.

“Well.” Yohan glanced between them. “I have no objection. Provided the head of your House consents.”

Saizou caught Yohan’s eye and had to breathe through a rush of panic. Yohan had promised to guard his sister’s pride.

He wouldn’t hold back.

And, yes, Yohan was good enough to defeat Toshi without killing her. Possibly even without injuring her much. But Toshi was strong and determined, and maybe even faster than Saizou was. She wouldn’t make it easy.

“Onii-sama?” Toshi said quietly, and it was the level calm in her eyes that broke him down. She knew. And she was still determined to do this.

Saizou swallowed. “I consent,” he managed, low.

Yohan nodded and rose. “Come, then.” He led them out through the gardens to an open ring littered with the signs of previous matches—splinters and broken ground and shattered stone. Saizou watched as his sister shed her haori and outer kimono, and tried not to hyperventilate. Toshi was serious about this. She unfastened a feather from her hair ribbon and stepped out into the ring.

Yohan drew a bell out of his sleeve. “Very well then, let us begin.”

Saizou watched them, biting his lip hard. He tried to tell himself this was just another sparring match, and a friendly one at that, but couldn’t quite get past the fact that the last time he’d seen Yohan fight he’d gone down without a ripple under that overwhelming, ruthless strength. The memory tightened his throat and made his fingers shake until he twined them together, white-knuckled. There was no sign of the black strings or the hidden techniques today, he told himself as strings sang and flashed across the open space.

Toshi stumbled and blood ran down her arm, and Saizou bit down so hard his lip bled too. He couldn’t interfere; this was Toshi’s decision, and she was still focused on Yohan, eyes bright and sharp. She drew her strings back in and sent them out again in the Butterfly, slipping and floating through Yohan’s barrier. He caught them short and reflected them back with the Mountain Lake, and she cast a dazzling Sunrise in Spring with a second feather and spun aside under its cover. Yohan turned with her, smiling faintly.

So was Toshi.

Saizou took a deep breath, and remembered the way Kazuki had wrung him out their first match, and how much fun he’d thought that was, and sat on his hands. Literally, since if Toshi caught him toying with his feathers he’d be her next target.

It was a hard life being a big brother.

There was blood running from more than one cut when Toshi set her feet in a stance that caught his heart and spun her strings out around her in the Dance of the Green Dragon. That was the last technique he had taught her, before he hadn’t dared any longer for fear the hidden techniques he’d learned would corrupt what he showed her. The signature of Toufuuin.

Yohan nodded a little and his strings flashed and glimmered into the Dance of the Red Bird.

Toshi smiled outright at that and lunged. Strings rang and caught, seeking to cut, seeking to reflect.

And Yohan wove a new shape from a second bell. It filled the space around the Red Bird, and Saizou had never seen it before, but there was only one thing it could be.

The Dance of the Black Tortoise.

Toshi’s strings struck and were deflected, and Yohan’s strings closed down, binding her in place. Toshi seemed too busy staring to entirely notice, and Saizou couldn’t blame her.

“Oh,” she said softly, as Yohan released his strings. “It’s… beautiful.”

Yohan held up his hands, a bell caught between the fingers of each. “Grace and endurance.”

“Yes.” Toshi’s smile turned brilliant. “Yes, I see.”

Yohan contemplated his bells for a moment. “The Black Tortoise I found in the scrolls. There is one more Dance I hope to discover, though, one I’ve only seen mention of. Never a description yet.”

Toshi sucked in a breath. “The dragon of the center…”

“The Yellow Dragon.” Yohan nodded. “We will see.”

Toshi drew herself up, torn clothes and dripping blood and all. “It’s a good path you’ve chosen. I will be most pleased to follow it.” She bowed to him, this time as to her clan lord.

Yohan’s faint smile flashed again, maybe a little softer this time. “The acting Master of Toufuuin is most welcome.”

Saizou forced his knees to hold him up and stood. “I’m delighted we all agree, now can we maybe go get washed up, Toshi?”

“Maiya,” Yohan called.

Maiya popped out of the trees across from Saizou, and almost gave him heart failure. “Yes?”

“Ask Kakei-san to attend us please.”

She caroled agreement and vanished back through the trees with a wave. Saizou, noting the way Yohan very nearly rolled his eyes, grinned briefly. And then he caught his sister’s expression.

Toshi stared after Maiya, wide eyed. “She… Her, um… clothes. Are missing?”

Yohan sighed. “Maiya thinks it’s amusing to dress like a character from one of her manga.”

Toshi contemplated this and finally turned to give Saizou a suspicious look. “You never mentioned this, Onii-sama,” she stated rather ominously.

“You get used to it after a while?” he offered.

“Hmph!” She tossed her hair and stalked back toward the house, only slightly impaired by a limp.

Yohan gave Saizou a puzzled look. “What was that?”

Saizou sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Toshi doesn’t like thinking her big brother looks at girls. Ever. It’s a sister thing.”

“I see.” Actually, Yohan looked even more puzzled. Not that Saizou could blame him, really. They followed Toshi more slowly and with less stalking, Saizou collecting Toshi’s haori and kimono on the way. By the time they caught up she was sitting on a bench in the outer garden having her last cut sewn up. Yohan’s physician gave him a quick look over and nodded with professional satisfaction before bowing himself out.

“You should hang your clothes up properly, you know,” Saizou told her, shaking out her kimono and holding it up for her to put on. “And don’t lift your arm that high, you’ll tear the stitches!”

“Oh, stop fluttering, Onii-sama,” Toshi huffed. “You sound like Juubei-san.”

Saizou opened and closed his mouth a few times. “I do not.”

“You do so.”

“Do not.”

“Do so!”

Their exchange was interrupted by Maiya’s peal of laughter. “You see, now,” she told Yohan, “that’s what siblings sound like.”

Yohan eyed her like he would a patch of quicksand in his path. “Maiya…”

“She’s only teasing,” Toshi seemed moved to reassure Yohan, smiling as she shrugged into her haori.


“I like you,” Maiya declared to Toshi. “You got Yohan to smile. He doesn’t smile often enough.”

Toshi blinked. “Oh.” She glanced between the laughing Maiya and the now extremely deadpan Yohan. “I’m… glad I could help?”

“I will be pleased to see you here whenever you wish,” Yohan told Toshi in a very firm changing-the-subject tone. Toshi collected herself, recalled to the formalities.

“I will be honored to attend, at your word.” They exchanged parting bows and Toshi nodded to Maiya after a moment’s hesitation, and turned toward the gates.

Saizou paused in the act of following her and looked back. “Yohan.”

Yohan stopped looking after Toshi and looked at him inquiringly.

“You deserve Toufuuin’s service.”

Yohan was still for a moment and then rose swiftly and came to Saizou. He lifted a hand to brush his fingertips across Saizou’s forehead, and Saizou hesitated, the instant urge to jerk away fading. That motion… that was an unbinding. There was nothing left to unbind, though, nothing except… except memory. They looked at each other for a long moment and Yohan finally murmured. “I’m sorry.”

Something inside Saizou loosened. Maybe it was memory after all. “Thank you,” he said, husky.

When he turned to follow his sister out the gates and back home, he found he wasn’t as worried, anymore, about what future she would find here.

Last Modified: Oct 18, 10
Posted: Jun 08, 10
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Cat’s Cradle – Chapter Three

Kazuki watches Yohan and Toshi draw closer, and contributes some maneuvering in the background to move things along. Drama, Fluff, I-3

Kazuki had expected to see more of Saizou’s sister, as Toufuuin’s acting Master came and went from Yohan’s home. What he hadn’t expected was to see her at Yohan’s instead of his home.

When he visited Yohan to find he and Toshi pouring through some ancient scrolls, he was only surprised. When he found them out in one of the winter-bare gardens, experimenting with forms, he was amused. When he found her arguing vociferously with Yuuri over whether the object forming techniques should remain hidden, and Yohan watching with quiet interest, he was impressed with her dedication.

When he found her listening to Yohan play koto he started to wonder.

“Trading more techniques?” he asked as Yohan closed the piece, stepping softly into the room. Both of them started a little, looking around, and his brows went up; Yohan always knew when someone else was in his house.

Toshi shook her head ruefully. “It wouldn’t do any good. I don’t play; I was just listening.”

Kazuki blinked. “You don’t?” He knew not all the Houses were as strict in their training as the main House was, but he’d thought everyone at least learned koto. It was the root of their art, after all.

“Oh, I have the basic skills,” Toshi waved a hand. “I can follow a written piece of music well enough I suppose. But I just don’t have the ear for music the way you two do.”

Yohan promptly looked out the screens, coloring faintly, and Kazuki stifled a smile. “That must have made training frustrating for you,” he said, drawing attention away from his brother’s embarrassment at being complimented, even indirectly.

Toshi’s dimple flashed as she smiled. “It was. So I argued with Otou-sama until he let me do something else for basic dexterity exercises.”

Yohan looked back around at that. “What did you do?” he asked, head tilted curiously.

“Well… here, I’ll show you.” Toshi uncoiled a string and looped it around her hands. Her fingers flashed back and forth through the string and she pulled her hands apart to show a squared web of strings between them. “This is the butterfly.”

Kazuki looked again and saw the broad upper wings and the narrow lower ones. “String figures?”

She shook it loose and her hands darted together again. “And this is the koto,” she grinned.

Well, Kazuki supposed it was a good dexterity exercise at that, though he couldn’t imagine it was as good for fine control as playing. Yohan, though, was looking at Toshi thoughtfully. “You normally go faster than that, don’t you?”

It was Toshi’s turn to color. “When I’m practicing seriously, yes. Onii-sama wouldn’t agree it was good training until I could make a figure faster than he could get one of his strings into it to stop me.” She looped the string around her hands again and paused for a breath.

This time Kazuki could barely see her fingers moving and the string sang as her fingertips plucked and shifted it. All in a flash, the long string closed into an oval knot between her spread hands. “That’s the tortoise,” she murmured, holding it up.

Yohan smiled, faint but true.

Toshi coiled her string up and asked them to play koto again, and Kazuki obliged. But he remembered that smile.

The next time Kazuki visited Yohan, though, the young woman he saw there was not Toshi. As he came out into the inner garden, he found Yohan in rather stiff conversation with someone Kazuki decided, after a minute’s thought, might be a cousin on his mother’s side, a girl a few years younger than Yohan with the same straight, heavy hair their mother had.

“Aniue.” There was a definite note of relief in Yohan’s voice, and Kazuki was fairly sure the girl heard it too.

“I must be keeping you from your business, forgive me,” she murmured, not looking up. “I should be going.” She bowed and shook her long sleeves back into place with a gesture that made Kazuki nostalgic.

“Not at all,” he told her kindly. “It’s good to see you and know you are well.”

A slight gesture from Yohan brought a Kokuchouin retainer to escort her out and Yohan sat down on the engawa with a thump, careless for once of the disorder of his robes.

“What’s this all about?” Kazuki asked, amused.

“They really are trying to marry me off!” Yohan drove a hand through his hair. “It started with Gorou, who wants me to marry a Kokuchouin girl to mix the bloodlines again, and then Takeo and Akihito decided it should be a Fuuchouin girl instead, and the lot of them have been dragging every girl they can find out here to parade past me.”

Kazuki managed to turn his laugh into a cough but Yohan glared at him anyway. “I ought to tell them I’m going to marry Maiya,” he muttered.

Kazuki sat beside him, setting down the bundle he’d brought, and leaned back to enjoy the early summer sun. “She is one of the people who’s closest to you, after all,” he agreed, though he was reasonably sure Maiya was too much Yohan’s sister to be his wife.

“And she’s a warrior,” Yohan added, frowning in the direction the girl—the latest girl apparently—had left. “None of these will even look at me!”

“You are the clan lord, after all,” Kazuki reminded him gently. “And they were undoubtedly raised to know what’s proper.”

Yohan frowned down at his hands. “I don’t want a wife I could ignore.” As their mother’s council had been fatally ignored, hung unspoken in the air between them.

“Maiya would certainly not stand for being ignored,” Kazuki murmured, seeking to lighten the shadow over his brother today. To his surprise, that shadow only deepened.

“I frightened her, though,” Yohan said, low.

Kazuki frowned and wrapped an arm around Yohan, drawing him close. “What do you mean?”

Yohan was silent for long moments. “It was when you were coming through the Beltline, last winter,” he finally said. “All I could think of was that you were coming, at last. And I would kill you. Or you would kill me. It didn’t matter to me which, then. If I’d killed you, I’d just have died after, because there would have been nothing left. I was… I felt… intoxicated with it. And I kissed her. I’m not even sure what I was thinking, any more.” He took a deep breath and let it out, shaking. “And I frightened her.”

Kazuki’s eyes had been widening all through Yohan’s speech, and now he turned and pulled his brother tight into his arms. “I expect so, yes,” he said quietly, breath stirring the fine, fair strands of Yohan’s hair.

“These proper, retiring girls they bring to show me,” Yohan whispered, “they’re afraid already.”

“Someone will come who isn’t afraid,” Kazuki said firmly. If he was right, someone already had, after all. But he wasn’t sure enough of that to say it yet. He stroke Yohan’s hair back and tipped his chin up. “Do you want to spar, today?”

Relief flickered in Yohan’s eyes again. “You brought flowers, though,” he said, glancing at the package Kazuki had set beside them.

“The calla and water lilies will bloom for a while yet,” Kazuki told him. “And even when they don’t, there will be other flowers.” He smiled. “Sometimes I think that’s the true lesson of ikebana. There will always be flowers still; they just won’t be the same ones.” Now that Yohan had finally agreed to let Kazuki teach him this, it would keep.

“Then yes.” Yohan closed his eyes for a moment. “Please.”

Kazuki pulled him up off the engawa and toward the practice grounds.

Their matches were a joy to Kazuki, especially now that Yohan had regained his balance and his mastery of their arts without the stigma. The song of Yohan’s strings was light and fierce, now, not dampened by despair. Today they played out a match of subtlety and maneuver, rarely striking directly, layering form on form to create attacks from blind spots. The last one Kazuki only escaped by casting down the Comet to break it, and he spread his hands, laughing.

“My loss.”

Yohan was smiling again, relaxed. “In a way.”

Kazuki refastened his bells and ruffled Yohan’s hair. “Stop fishing for compliments, little brother,” he scolded. “You’re still stronger than I am.”

Yohan’s smile quirked and he murmured, “In a way, Aniue.”

Kazuki was still smiling when he made his way into the outer gardens, expecting to find Juubei there. What he found, though, was the girl he’d met this afternoon in low-voiced conversation with a woman at least ten years older.

“…should have seen the way Yohan-sama smiled at him,” the girl was whispering. “I’ve never seen anything like it!”

The woman sighed. “As if it weren’t bad enough that we have the memory of their mother to compete with. I’ve heard this before, that Kazuki-sama has grown to be Hana-sama alive again.” She looked up to see Kazuki standing at the foot of the bridge and her eyes widened. “Kazuki-sama!” She bowed, hastily but with grace. The girl was more flustered and nearly lost a shoe, turning to make her own bow. Kazuki returned it, politely ignoring both the gossip and their discomposure. As the woman rose he finally recognized her as a second cousin he’d met sometimes during festivals; the girl must be her younger sister, then.

“Megumi-san, it’s good to see you again after so long,” he said, as if he hadn’t heard a thing.

“And you as well, Kazuki-sama,” she murmured, cheeks red. She nudged her sister aside as Kazuki crossed the bridge, and he left them to recover their composure.

He didn’t turn toward the gate yet, though. He headed back around the compound, though the trees, to find Maiya.

If she couldn’t ward this genteel assault off directly, he was fairly sure she’d still be perfectly willing to interrupt these would-be marriage interviews in her own inimitable fashion, and he had no intention of leaving his brother to deal with this alone.

One of the things Kazuki treasured most were the moments when Yohan relaxed for him, enough to sleep. Sleep was a demonstration of both trust and hope, for his little brother, and the sweetness of having Yohan asleep in his lap made Kazuki’s entire world soft and bright. It didn’t happen very often, even now.

Yohan had started out, today, insisting he was fine, but Kazuki had kept an eye on him as he guided Yohan through the little steps and choices of creating a flower arrangement and had seen the droop in his shoulders. Once the delicate stalks of lavender were arranged in their holder, he’d insisted that Yohan rest and Yohan had finally agreed. So when the door slid open, as Yohan’s sleeping weight rested against his shoulder, he looked up with a frown, ready to warn off whoever dared to intrude.

Toshi stopped one step into the room, fingers pressed to her lips. It was a long moment before she managed to drag her eyes away from Yohan, long enough that Kazuki started to smile, and when she finally did she pointed to herself and back to the door, head tipped in a question.

She probably didn’t even realize she was nibbling her lip, or that so much tenderness was plain to read in her eyes. It was that that decided Kazuki and he shook his head with a smile and freed one hand to pat the tatami beside him lightly. She crossed the room on tip toes and sat beside them silently.

“Yohan doesn’t always sleep enough,” Kazuki murmured, breath barely stirring the air of the room.

“He drives himself,” Toshi whispered, frowning. “Only… it’s him so it doesn’t seem that way.”

Kazuki smiled, pleased with her insight and sad at the truth of it. “His skill and power let him accomplish things no one else can, sometimes even with ease. But that doesn’t mean he drives his heart any less hard, pursuing those things.”

“Yes. Yes, that.” Toshi’s hand reached toward him for a second before she caught herself and tucked it back into her sleeve.

“I’m glad to know someone else visits, who will care for him.” Toshi blushed at that, and Kazuki caught back a chuckle before it could disturb Yohan. “You have your brother’s protective streak. I imagine it will stand you in good stead.”

Toshi looked at him sidelong. Kazuki hid his amusement carefully. She was opening her mouth, probably to ask if he was teasing, or how much he knew, when Yohan stirred against his shoulder and rubbed his eyes.

“Aniue?” he murmured.

“Yes.” Kazuki stroked back his hair, fingers gentle. “And Toshi, too.”

Yohan smiled, small. “I thought so.” He sat up, drawing his robes straight again, and he and Toshi looked at each other with pleased expressions.

Kazuki was starting to wonder if the entire world except him was blind, that no one else seemed to have spotted this going on. “Well, now that your research partner is here, shall I leave you to it?” he asked, lightly.

“Oh, you don’t have to go, Kazuki-san,” Toshi said quickly, but Kazuki noticed that Yohan hadn’t answered and smiled.

“No, it’s all right. I don’t want Juubei to worry if I stay too long.” He leaned forward and kissed Yohan’s forehead and rose. “Take care of him,” he added to Toshi in parting, meeting her eyes for a moment and watching them widen.

“I will,” she promised.

Kazuki left them to it and made his way back out through the house, satisfied.

Kazuki had, so far, been mildly amused by the clan’s efforts to find Yohan a bride, mostly because Yohan himself had been more exasperated by it than anything else. At the end of the summer, that changed.

He didn’t find Yohan out in the gardens, or in the room by the waterfall, or even on the training ground, and finally went in search of Maiya instead. He found her outside one of the interior rooms, sitting beside a barely open door and chewing her lip. She looked up as he approached and he stiffened at the worry on her face. She beckoned him closer, pressing a finger to her lips. Kazuki settled silently beside her and peeked through the door.

The first thing he saw was Yohan’s back, and the things he’d learned in the last year made him frown; Yohan was tense, shoulders too straight to be anything else. Looking past that, Kazuki’s brows went up. In a half circle around Yohan sat the Fuuchouin councilors. Toshi sat to his right and Seifuuin Koshijirou to his left; between those two were the three surviving Fuuchouin elders and their new Kokuchouin compatriot.

“It would be reassuring to all if you took one of the Fuuchouin girls as wife,” Fuuchouin Takeo was saying, persuasively. “Surely if you wish to repair the breach between the Houses that would be the best way.”

That argument Kazuki hadn’t heard before, and he frowned. How long had they been pressuring Yohan on those grounds? He drew a string out delicately, not letting his bell chime, and cast it through the door to Yohan’s ear. “I’m here for you, if you wish,” he whispered down it.

Yohan’s shoulders relaxed a fraction and he nodded, as if to Takeo. “It would do little to reinforce the unity of the clan if it is evident that my Fuuchouin wife and I never speak.”

“It would lend legitimacy, at least,” old Seiji grumbled, and Kazuki’s mouth tightened. He stood and nodded to Maiya, who knelt, grinning, and slid open the door for him to step through.

“And what cause do any have to question the legitimacy of my heir and successor?” he asked, settling back to the tatami beside Yohan. And, carefully, just a bit behind him. He lifted his brows in calm question at the councilors, who gaped back at him.



"When did you…"

Through the sudden, chopped off babble, Takeo said, “Your heir, Kazuki-sama?”

“Indeed.” Kazuki smiled, serene. “You may say that, during the previous ten years, I was the proper Master of Fuuchouin. But I have given over that responsibility to my younger brother. He has even completed the Kachoufuugetsu,” he added, just to prick them.

He could see Takeo and Akihito shift uneasily, reminded of Yohan’s strength and ability to master techniques he had only just seen, and felt the tiniest bit revenged for Yohan’s tension.

“A proper succession should have been approved by the clan’s councilors,” Seiji said, gruff.

“Well, then, what is left but for you to approve?” Kazuki asked, and sat calmly while the debate ran aground for a silent moment on the double edge of his question.

Finally Takeo sighed. “What you say may be true. But, Kazuki-sama, a child of the hidden House…”

Kazuki felt Yohan drawing taut again, beside him, and he’d had more than enough of this. He rose, smooth and abrupt, and stood over them. “Yohan is the child of my mother and my father,” he stated, cold and low. “What do you imply?”

They started back from him, even the head of Seifuuin. They remembered the sweetness of the child, no doubt. But he was not a child any longer. He had been, for ten years, Kazuki of the Strings, the Prince of Terror, most feared of the four kings of Lower Town, and he had no intention of tolerating this foolish obstruction.

Finally Yohan stirred and looked up at him. “Aniue,” he said, quietly.

Kazuki looked down and saw the faint light of amusement in Yohan’s eyes, though none touched his face. He sniffed and settled back to his knees. “Very well.”

And if any had doubted that Kazuki had truly given over rule of the clan into Yohan’s hands, they should not doubt it now.

“My honored elder brother has been a long while among rough elements,” Yohan murmured in his most formal periods. “And he is now unaccustomed to having his will crossed.”

Kazuki choked down a laugh at the irony of such a statement from Yohan, of all people, but it did its job. He could see the councilors’ expressions changing as they really looked at him, at his clothes even, which were very much not traditional or formal—as Yohan’s were. As they thought about what kind of clan lord he might make now. Yohan had a talent for this kind of maneuver, Kazuki thought with pride.

Takeo cleared his throat. “I intended no insult to Hana-sama, I assure you, nor does anyone doubt Yohan-sama’s birth.”

Kazuki followed the advantage while they had it. “My brother is blood of Fuuchouin, the highest of Fuuchouin, and yet raised among the Kokuchouin. Who else could possibly heal our clan? Who else would have the knowledge and the compassion to to do?” And if Yohan was still new to his compassion, well more shame to the clan that it took that long for anyone to show it to him.

“Even so, it would soothe the clan if he had a wife of Fuuchouin rearing,” Akihito murmured, and Kazuki started to wonder if he really would have to do something drastic to one of them to break through this stubbornness.

Before he could decide how to convey the offer to Yohan though, Toshi, who had been quiet so far, interrupted, slapping a hand down to the tatami beside her knee. “I will hear no more of this!”

Kazuki blinked, wondering for one shocked moment if she was actually going to put her own intentions forward here and now.

But no. She rose and stood in front of Yohan, facing the elders. “Kokuchouin Yohan is the Master of Fuuchouin and the lord of this clan! Toufuuin has acknowledged him and will tolerate no more of this insolence!”

“Are you so sure of your brother’s feelings in this?” Akihito asked sharply.

“I speak with his voice, in this as in all else,” Toshi shot back with such iron certainty that Akihito subsided. “Toufuuin follows Yohan-sama.” She gave Koshijirou a narrow look, and he gave her back a sardonic smile.

“Our clan lord is the strongest wielder of our arts living,” he observed. “Seifuuin follows him.” Obviously his tone added.

“I have no intention of challenging the Master of my House,” Takeo started, exasperated.

“Then you will say no more of this,” Toshi cut over him. “Your council has been heard. Now be silent.” She stalked to the outer door and threw it open, pausing in the doorway to glance imperiously over her shoulder. Koshijirou bowed to Yohan and joined her with a smirk at the elders, who, after a few glances back and forth, gave in and followed. Toshi saw the last of them out of the room, turned and bowed to Yohan, and closed the door after her very firmly.

“Well,” Kazuki said after a moment. “She knows how to get things done.”

“She does,” Yohan said, low, looking aside. Kazuki turned and gathered him close, protective.

“How long has this been going on?” he asked against Yohan’s hair.

“Ever since I refused the last woman less than twenty years my elder they found to parade in front of me,” Yohan sighed, leaning against Kazuki’s shoulder wearily. “A few weeks.”

“At least Toshi sympathizes,” Kazuki offered.

Yohan laughed softly. “She complains whenever one of their visits interrupts one of ours, at any rate.”

Kazuki hesitated, but who else was going to speak with Yohan about these things? “She likes you, I think.”

Yohan looked up at him, startled. “She… does?”

Kazuki really couldn’t help smiling at his surprise, and stroked his hair back gently. “She visits almost as often as I do, doesn’t she?”

“She helps me research some of the lost techniques.” It was more a question than a statement, though.

“And she talks with you. And she listens to you play. And she defends you from your unwanted suitors,” Kazuki added.

Yohan actually blushed. “You really think so?” he murmured, fingers fidgeting with the edge of Kazuki’s sleeve.

“I’m almost positive.” And he was definitely positive that Yohan liked her back, which seemed a much better start than he had with any other candidate.


Kazuki smiled, satisfied that he’d done his duty as a big brother. Now he just wondered when one of them would manage to bring the topic up.

Last Modified: Jun 09, 10
Posted: Jun 09, 10
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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

“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.


“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.

Last Modified: Feb 08, 12
Posted: Jun 10, 10
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Cat’s Cradle – Epilogue

Kazuki teaches Toshi the Phoenix, and she finds a new beginning for the whole clan in it. Drama, Utter Fluff, I-4

Kazuki walked through the house grounds as evening fell, nodding to the little knots of people he met. They bowed and murmured his name respectfully, but without the edges of fear or hope or anger so many had shown at the beginning of the week.

Almost all of the four Houses that remained were here for the celebrations surrounding Yohan and Toshi’s wedding; Kazuki was fairly sure Yohan had extended the compound even further than usual for the occasion. There had been feasts and receptions and, this being the Fuuchouin clan after all, competitions every day. Maiya had distinguished herself, and not only because she had nearly caused her opponents apoplexy when she casually stripped down to her fighting array. Even without the hidden techniques, her skill at the binding forms that Yohan said were the hallmark of the Northern House was outstanding. There were even murmurs starting about reconstituting the Thirteen Strings—Maiya among them. Saizou had trounced Seifuuin Koshijirou in their own match, which seemed to satisfy both of them. Toshi had fought three of her own House to a standstill, and Kazuki had had to smile at the approving sounds the onlookers to that match had made. Fortunately, Toshi hadn’t seemed to catch any of the details, most of which concerned what strong children she would bear.

And Kazuki… well, Kazuki had had a match with Yohan.

They were accustomed to each other after a year and more of training together, of course; that hadn’t been the point of this fight. No, this had been a demonstration for the clan. They had worked up through the simpler techniques all the way to Kachoufuugetsu, and when Yohan had reversed the Empty Moon onto him, Kazuki had yielded. The watchers had been silent, after, maybe shocked, maybe frightened, until Kazuki had laughed and caught Yohan up in a hug. The shock and fear hadn’t survived the sight of the clan lord flushed and flustered and having his hair ruffled. Yohan had given Kazuki a distinctly exasperated look, after, but softness had lurked behind it.

Now it was the last evening of the celebrations, and Kazuki had one more duty to fulfill before it was over. He was looking for Toshi.

He found her in one of the inner courtyards, brushing the sleeves of yet another outfit straight, and had to chuckle. “If I can delay your appearance for just a little while,” he called to her.

“Kazuki-sama!” She paused and came to look up at him with a glint of mischief much like her brother’s. “I suppose I should say Onii-sama, now.”

“I’d be quite pleased if you did. It’s a good moment for it, I believe; before you go out, I need to show you something to keep for the family.” She cocked her head at him, questioning, and he waved for her to walk with him.

“There is a technique that appears in none of the regular Fuuchouin scrolls,” he said quietly as they paced through the halls and out into the gardens. “It has been a hidden technique of its own, passed down among those who marry into the Fuuchouin main house. It’s called the Phoenix.” He glanced at her, curious. “Have you and Yohan found any mention of it in your researches?”

She shook her head. “Nothing.”

Kazuki nodded, not entirely surprised. “My mother, in her wisdom, taught it to me and so preserved it for the moment it would be most needed. I give you her words to me: Flowers are beautiful, but they can only abide in one place. The wind in nimble, but it has no will. The moon gleams from on high, but it has no warmth. However, birds not only shine beautifully, but have freedom and agility… They fly freely of their own will, and because of their warm wings, they can soar as high as they wish.” Kazuki stopped beside one of the pools and turned to Toshi. “It is not an art of strength, but of compassion and resolve. And now the heart of Fuuchouin comes to you.”

She nodded solemnly, eyes fixed on him as he took a bell between his fingers. He showed her the steps of it, so deceptively simple, and guided her from one to the next until she cast the Phoenix up into the sky and he could feel that it was right.

Toshi stood in the shadows of the trees, looking at the feather between her fingers. “This form… to complete it could take my life,” she said softly.

“If necessary, yes,” Kazuki agreed, voice steady.

“But what if…” She chewed her lip. Finally her chin lifted. “Yes. Kazuki-sama, please come with me.” She spun around and set off through the grounds toward the main court where Yohan and the heads of the Houses were waiting. There she waved off the compliments and smiles that met her and plunged into a whispered conversation with Yohan, hands shaping the air. Yohan listened and frowned and nodded, and finally rose and came with Toshi to Kazuki.

“Aniue,” he said. “Toshi wishes to give a gift to our clan. Do you approve?”

Kazuki could only imagine one thing she might want to do, and stared at her. “Toshi…!” He didn’t dare even look at Saizou, who was already eying his sister suspiciously.

“It can be done,” she insisted, eyes alight. “I know it can be done.”

Kazuki pressed his lips tight. “Give me your word that if it doesn’t go as you think it will, you’ll break off.”

Toshi nodded. “I promise. I’m not courting death at my wedding, honestly!”

Kazuki sighed; the glitter in her eyes still made him nervous, but she had given her word. “Very well. I approve.”

Yohan and Toshi moved out into the open center of the court together. Murmurs ran around the perimeter as people noticed the bell and feather in their fingers. Saizou started making his way around the edge to Kazuki, frowning faintly. Toshi lifted her head and raised her voice to be heard by all.

“There are many who could not be present to celebrate with us; but they are not gone.” She held out her hand to Yohan, in the sudden silence, and he wove his strings out around her in the taut framework of the Yellow Dragon. Kazuki’s eyes widened with sudden understanding, and he leaned forward, watching Toshi gather her strings within that enfolding, magnifying resonance and cast them upwards. The song of them, actually audible, spilled over the watchers and beyond, though the entire compound.

And the Phoenix descended.

And the Dragon rose to meet it.

Kazuki pressed a hand to his mouth, eyes blind with sudden tears. He could feel his mother’s presence, and his father’s, and those who had watched over him growing up. Saizou’s arms closed around him and he turned to bury his head against Saizou’s shoulder, feeling the hitch of quick, choked breaths in Saizou’s chest. His family was here, and he had their blessing.

He blinked his eyes clear and looked up to see the glimmering presence of the Dragon and Phoenix whirling together over the clan. Yohan and Toshi were standing below, in each other’s arms. As the forms they’d called together faded, Kazuki heard soft sobs and the swell of softer words, laughter, remembrance, not only in the court but from the rooms and gardens beyond it. As Yohan and Toshi moved back to the platform where the heads of the Houses and their councilors sat, Kazuki watched people part before them and bow deeply, ungrudgingly to them both. “It will all be well,” he said softly.

“Yes,” Saizou agreed, as Juubei and Sakura and Toshiki slipped in through the crowd to find them. “It really will.”

Kazuki met his brother’s eyes across the court, as his little House gathered around him, and smiled, open and free.

It would all be well.



A/N: The translation of Kazuki’s mother’s description of the Phoenix is by Jane, direct from the manga.

Last Modified: Feb 10, 12
Posted: Jun 11, 10
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Cat’s Cradle – Appendix

I extrapolated a good deal about the Fuuchouin style and clan history based on what little we are shown in canon. The appendix lays out the history and symbolism I came up with.

I extrapolated a good deal, based on canon, and thought it would be well to post an overview of the result.


Canonically, we know that there are multiple branches of the Fuuchouin clan and style. There is the main house, the Fuuchouin, also referred to as the "omote", the front or face. There are the Kokuchouin, also referred to as the "ura", the back or hidden. There are the Western and Eastern branches. We know that the family name associated with the Eastern branch is Toufuuin. The family names are written as follows, translating 風 (fuu) as "grace" for ease of reading.

風鳥院 (Fuuchouin): House of the Bird of Paradise, or, more literally, of the Graceful Bird.

黒鳥院 (Kokuchouin): House of the Black Swan, or, more literally, of the Black Bird.

東風院 (Toufuuin): Eastern House of Grace.

We also know that, during Kazuki and Saizou’s fights, both as children and as adults, they use techniques named the Dance of the Red Bird and the Dance of the Green Dragon, respectively.

We know that the Houses have hallmarks to their style, that the main house focuses on beauty and grace, that the Western style focuses on strength, and that the Eastern style focuses on speed. (see Voodoo Child 14)

We know that the Phoenix is a secret technique, handed down among the women who marry into the Fuuchouin main house.



Based on the pattern of names above, I have assumed that the family name associated with the Western Fuuchouin will be 西風院 (Seifuuin), the Western House of Grace.

Four Beasts, Four Houses

The Green Dragon and the Red Bird are two of the four cardinal guardian beasts found in Chinese astrology and myth and imported into Japanese literature. The Green Dragon is the beast of the East and the Red Bird the beast of the South. Based on this, and on the characters who use those two techniques, I have made two assumptions. One is that there are two other Dances within the Fuuchouin clan repertoire: the Dance of the White Tiger (the western beast) and the Dance of the Black Tortoise (the northern beast). The other is that the four Houses of the clan are symbolically and perhaps philosophically aligned with a beast and direction to each. The Eastern Fuuchouin are seen to use the Green Dragon. This suggests that the main house, represented by Kazuki using the Red Bird, is aligned with the South.

If this is so, it gives the Western Fuuchouin the White Tiger, and places the Kokuchouin in the North with the Black Tortoise.

Ura and the North

Based on the assumption above, and the hallmarks of the three styles that are noted in canon, I also extrapolated that the hidden techniques of the black strings were not the original hallmark of the Kokuchouin. The hallmarks of the other three have some relation to their symbolic beasts. The Red Bird of the South is a creature of elegance and grace, for example. The astrological associations of the tiger and dragon (metal and water) have led to them becoming a common metaphor in the martial arts for straightforward attack versus the indirect, which lines up reasonably well with strength versus speed.

Thus, the mark of the Kokuchouin style should be something having to do with the associations of the Black Tortoise. These are longevity, stability and wisdom; winter; and water. Based on this, I made the supposition that the hallmark of the northern style is endurance. Following this logic, the Kokuchouin must, at one point, have been an integral part of the Fuuchouin circle of Houses and had their own regular scrolls and techniques. The techniques of the black string, then, must have been, at first, not associated with any one House, and only placed in the keeping of the Kokuchouin later, thus turning them into the ura, or hidden House and apparently displacing their traditional style.

Four Principles

This is total extrapolation, based on the foregoing. I needed to figure out what the four Dances might actually do, so I decided that, logically, they should express the spirit of their quarter and particular style. It’s hard to imagine an attack that expresses grace or endurance, though, so I reached a little further. The techniques we see in canon seemed to me to divide into four basic functions: bindings that capture, strings that cut like Rain Shower, strings that strike like Comet, and deflections like Jade Shield. I aligned these with the four hallmarks of the Houses, resulting in: East/speed/cut, South/grace/deflect, West/strength/strike, North/endurance/bind. Thus I assume that the Dance of the Green Dragon is a powerful cutting technique while the Red Bird is an equally powerful deflection, which explains why they cancelled each other out both times.

Dragon and Phoenix

Now the fun part. First of all, the Red Bird of the South is not the Phoenix. Those are two different mythological entities. The Phoenix is a more inclusive creature, showing all five of the cardinal colors, and has been used to represent the Empress during imperial periods.

About those five colors. There are actually five guardian beasts that can show up, to go with the five elements of the Taoist cosmology. The fifth is earth, in the center. This is associated with the Yellow Dragon, who is used to represent the Emperor.

Thus, for a truly united clan, there should be a fifth Dance, and the nature of that technique should match the association of the element of earth: unity. The principle I chose to go with this Dance was, in a way, the first one Kazuki mentions; when he fights Akame, the thing that allows him to win is his understanding that it’s the vibration imparted to the strings that gives them strength. Thus, the principle that runs under and unites the other four is vibration or resonance. In accordance with my assumption that the Fuuchouin lost their balance, their unity and harmony as four Houses, when they assigned the Kokuchouin to the hidden techniques, I also posited that the Kachoufuugetsu, the ultimate technique that expresses the Fuuchouin’s valuation of beauty above all, was something that replaced this earlier Dance. Originally, my theory goes, what the heir to the clan had to demonstrate was his understanding of unity and balance, not simply of beauty. The conflict was probably embedded in the clan’s origin, of course, given that the main house, the source of the entire clan, is named for the Bird of the South, the graceful and elegant bird. The primacy of the southern aspects simply swung too far and unbalanced the whole.

When the center has returned and the Dragon and the Phoenix are united, in the persons of the couple who lead the entire clan, they should produce perfect harmony.

Invented Techniques

There are only a few string techniques named in canon, really, so I had to invent some more.

Butterfly: Similar to Flower Dance though not as powerful, this technique sends strings slipping on sidelong vectors, like the flight of a butterfly, to get through a straightforward defense or attack.

Mountain Lake: An advanced defensive technique that reflects, rather than simply blocking, the opponent’s attack, as perfectly as the water of a still lake reflects an image.

Sunrise: In the best tradition of Getbackers Physics, this technique sets strings to reflect the available light at the opponent, blinding them to one’s movements. Sunrise in Spring is the particularly Toufuuin variation, which does so very quickly, creating a flash more than a glare.

Flowing River: Deflects an attack upward, just as a river swirls at the bends, and strikes through the space thus created like the fast current in the river’s center. (This is essentially Yang style’s Fair Lady, only with strings.)

Winter Gale: This is a two-pronged attack; even if it does not bind, or freeze, the opponent it is meant to blind them with a wall of strings, as with a heavy snowfall, so they can’t attack accurately.

Blossoming Plum: This is an offensive technique meant to be used while under attack, just as the plum blossoms while the winter frosts are still hanging on; it takes momentum from the opponent’s attack to strike more strongly.

Night Forest Web: This is a defensive technique designed to entangle the opponent’s strings, as one is entangled in the spider webs spun at night while walking through a forest.

Last Modified: Jun 11, 10
Posted: Jun 11, 10
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Cat’s Cradle – Omake One

Something that might have happened the second time Kazuki goes to visit Yohan, as both Juubei and Saizou are wound up over the fact. Saizou discovers a very useful way to distract Juubei and himself. Porn, D/s, I-4

Pairing(s): Saizou/Juubei

Saizou wanted to pace. Unfortunately Juubei was already taking up most of the room.

"How could he go back up there?" Juubei demanded of thin air, and possibly any gods who might be listening, and whirled to stalk back across the room. "What is Kazuki thinking?"

"He did win last time, you know," Toshiki pointed out from the couch where he was sitting with his feet tucked up. "He says Yohan isn’t focused on destruction anymore."

"And none of us know what he is focused on," Juubei growled. "On top of that, he’s still living in the middle of the Beltline! The whole thing is dangerous!"

Saizou scrubbed his hands over his face. He kind of wished he could have an attack of screaming nerves himself, not because he thought Kazuki couldn’t make short work of anything he encountered in the Beltline but because he did know Yohan. Unfortunately, his sense of duty, which he swore got him in more trouble than his sense of humor ever had, insisted that something had to be done about Juubei before he exploded. Or took off after Kazuki. Possibly both. "Juubei," he said, standing to catch Juubei’s arm as he paced past again, "that’s enough. You know perfectly well Kazuki can handle anything up there."

"Can he handle Yohan?" Juubei snapped, shaking free of his hand, and an answering snap ran through Saizou as Juubei put his finger right on Saizou’s own greatest fear.

He caught Juubei’s shoulders and swung him around until his back hit the wall, and held him there. "I said that’s enough." His voice was low and hard, driving down his own reservations along with Juubei’s. "Kazuki doesn’t want us trailing along up there, so we won’t. Nor will we make the kind of fuss that says we doubt his judgment and ability. Is that understood?"

Juubei was staring at him, eyes wide. "Saizou…"

"I said," Saizou said quietly, "is that understood?"

After a frozen moment, Juubei swallowed. "It is." His voice had turned husky, and Saizou noted with some interest that he was a bit flushed. Come to that, he supposed he hadn’t shown this face to any of them since the betrayals and heartbreak of the winter. He hadn’t thought it was called for, and half expected that it would remind the others of things they didn’t really want to think about.

He thought he had a pretty good idea why Juubei was responding to it now, though.

Well, they could both use some distraction…

He tightened his grip on Juubei’s shoulders, pinning him against the wall, and leaned in to kiss him.

Juubei didn’t know where this was coming from. The only thing he could say with any surety was that the levelness of Saizou’s voice, the unsmiling line of his mouth, the ruthlessness of the hands that had pinned him so abruptly, all shook him, reached down into him and turned him hot and breathless. The kiss took firm possession of his mouth, and he heard a low, wanting sound in his own throat.

"Yes," Saizou said quietly, drawing back. "I think that will do." He stepped back, releasing Juubei to lean against the wall, and crooked a finger. "Come with me." He led the way into the bedroom and Juubei took a breath and followed him.

Saizou stripped off his clothes, unhurried, and the easy confidence of every gesture fixed Juubei’s eyes on him—at least until Saizou turned, mouth quirking, and raised a brow at him. Juubei flushed, hands fumbling now and then as he undressed. Saizou paced back to him and closed a hand on the nape of his neck. "So?"

A shudder ran through Juubei at that sure grip, and his voice was unsteady when he answered, "Yes."

Saizou smiled faintly and nodded to the bed. "Lie down, then. Face down."

"What…?" Juubei found the breath to ask, and lost it again when Saizou’s hand tightened.

"Do as I say," he said, low and even. "You know I won’t harm you, Juubei."

Heat clenched his stomach at the stillness and calm of Saizou’s expression and Juubei went to lie down as he was told, head spinning. Saizou’s weight dipped the mattress as he settled beside Juubei, stretched out half over him. One lean arm snaked around Juubei’s chest, fingers spread over his heart, and Saizou reached up past Juubei to the bedside nook. Juubei buried his head in his arms as glass clicked and rattled, breath coming short. Long fingers pushed between his cheeks, slick and cool, massaging his entrance hard, and he moaned. Saizou was usually a slow, gentle lover, but his touch didn’t coax this time, it demanded; it required that his muscles relax and yield. It scorched his senses, being handled this way, and he didn’t even know why.

"Kazuki rules us gently," Saizou said in his ear, so conversational that it took Juubei a moment to make sense of the words. "He commands little, when he could command everything." A soft laugh huffed against Juubei’s neck. "Of course, we give him everything without that, our loyalty, our hearts, our lives. Our obedience." A shiver ran down Juubei’s back and he gasped as Saizou drove two fingers deep into him. "You, especially. You were raised to serve, Kakei Juubei, and Kazuki has always known he’s your master." It was three fingers, now, working in and out of his ass, stretching him hard, and Juubei moaned into the sheets. "It was a friend he needed most, though, for all of the time he’s known you, so he doesn’t think to command you; especially you." Saizou raked his teeth slowly over Juubei’s earlobe, fingers driving deeper, and Juubei was panting hard for breath now. "I’m not Kazuki; I’m not your lord. But I can promise you this. Here and now, your body and your mind will both answer to me."

His fingers thrust into Juubei’s ass hard, and twisted, and his other hand slid up to gently pinch Juubei’s nipple, and Juubei bucked helplessly between his hands as sensation and response pulled his nerves tight. "Yes!"

"Good." Saizou kissed the back of his neck gently. "Up on your knees."

Juubei was shaky as he pushed up onto his knees, and bent to rest his head against his forearms, panting. Saizou moved behind him, pushing his knees wider and wider until it was only Saizou’s hands wrapped around his hips that steadied him.

Those hands tightened and Saizou held Juubei still as his cock pushed in, hot and hard. Juubei gasped for breath against the sheets, dizzy as Saizou’s words echoed through his head, promising. Saizou’s hips flexed against Juubei’s ass, driving him in deeper. "Stop thinking. Just feel."


Saizou’s voice turned cool and level. "Juubei."

That tone tumbled Juubei back down into raw heat and he moaned openly, trembling under Saizou as Saizou fucked him hard and sure. The iron control of Saizou’s pace made him whine as pleasure coiled tighter and tighter, low in his stomach; he could barely move, spread out like this, hips caged in Saizou’s hands, only feel the slide and burn as Saizou’s cock worked in and out of his ass. He was shaking, lightheaded with panting for breath, when Saizou finally took one hand off his hip and reached down to wrap it around his cock.

"Nnn!" Juubei’s hands fisted on the sheets, hips jerking helplessly into the pleasure of that strong hand sliding over him.

"Let go," Saizou ordered, voice hard, and Juubei nearly screamed as heat flashed through him in response and wrung him out, wild and rough and ruthless, and he surrendered to it. Saizou’s pace finally broke and he drove into Juubei fast and hard, drawing the shudders of pleasure out and out until Juubei was panting hoarsely, whole body shaking. When Saizou finally let him down against the bed he could only groan faintly.

Saizou chuckled, breathless, and worked slow hands over Juubei’s ass and thighs, kneading them. "Better now?"

This, of all things, was what made Juubei’s face heat, the inarguable evidence that Saizou had done this to take care of him. "Yes," he said softly.

"Shh." Saizou settled over him, warm and solid, caging Juubei down again though more gently. "It’s my place to look after these things. Now go to sleep."


Saizou’s voice was kinder this time, but just as authoritative as before. "Do as I say, Juubei."

Drifting already in the aftermath, Juubei finally decided what was going on; Saizou was his elder, and spoke as such. Of course he submitted, as was only proper. "Yes, Saizou," he murmured, eyes sliding closed.

Saizou smiled ruefully as Juubei drifted into sleep and rubbed his back gently. Juubei was probably going to be just a little sore after that. He’d been a little rougher than he’d planned to be, but it had been so good to find that release of tension in answering Juubei’s need. To forget his fears for Kazuki in making Juubei forget his. And he couldn’t help a satisfied grin at how thoroughly he’d made Juubei forget. He curled around Juubei, hand stroking up and down his body absently, and let himself doze too.

At least until he heard the front door open and close.

"Toshiki?" Kazuki’s voice drifted through the bedroom door as Saizou fished his pants off the floor and pulled them back on. "Where did Juubei and Saizou get to?"

"They decided to distract each other," Toshiki said dryly. "At length. Loudly too."

"Hey, at least it worked," Saizou protested, slipping out and closing the bedroom door behind him. A quick once-over showed Kazuki was smiling and at ease, and he tried to hide how much that made him relax. From the tilt of Kazuki’s smile he didn’t think he was wholly successful.

"For a second there, I thought it was going to work by the two of you getting into a fight, not bed," Toshiki snorted. "I still can’t believe you just ordered Juubei to calm down and he actually listened."

Kazuki’s brows went up. "Ordered him?"

"And then into bed," Toshiki added as Saizou cleared his throat and tried not to shuffle. "Which also worked. I was speechless, which may be why they apparently forgot I was still here."

Saizou could tell he was going to have to make that up to Toshiki some time soon.

"It worked?" Kazuki looked half disbelieving and half amused; and, under that, perhaps just a little disturbed.

Saizou shrugged, a bit self-consciously. "Juubei needed someone to do it, and you weren’t here." And he needed to defuse Kazuki’s worry. He came to Kazuki and sank gracefully to his knees, turning one of Kazuki’s hands over to kiss the palm. "Will you forgive my presumption, my Prince?" he murmured.

Kazuki laughed softly at this bit of flamboyance. "Well, since it seems to have calmed him down, I suppose so."

"My lord is gracious." Saizou grinned up at him.

And that was the secret, of course. Saizou let it be half a game, with Kazuki, so Kazuki didn’t worry about losing his friend inside his vassal. It was all a matter of balance.

Saizou tipped his head at the bedroom. "He’ll probably be even calmer if you’re the one who wakes him up."

"Probably," Kazuki agreed and leaned down to tip Saizou’s head up and drop a kiss on his forehead.

"That was fairly impressive," Toshiki admitted as Saizou came to drop into one of the armchairs. "What I saw of it."

Saizou laughed; so that was it. "I’ll remember to invite you next time, I promise."

Toshiki smiled. "Do that."

Saizou eeled around to sprawl comfortably over the chair. The underlying problem of Yohan and his unpredictableness hadn’t been dealt with, and he honestly couldn’t see how it might be, but at least he had another card in his hand for fixing the immediate problems.

He’d have to remember how Juubei responded to that tone of voice.


Last Modified: Feb 10, 12
Posted: Jun 14, 10
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Cat’s Cradle – Omake Two

An alternate way it could have gone, the first time Kazuki makes Yohan take a nap, supposing that Maiya didn’t show up until considerably later. Porn, Drama, light D/s I-4

Warning: Contains consensual sibling incest.

Yohan woke slowly.

He was warm, and the light through his eyelids was soft, and his pillow was a very odd shape… oh. That was right. Kazuki had made him sleep.

He rubbed his eyes and looked up, sleepily, and yes, his brother was looking down at him with a gentle smile and there were fingers stroking his hair back from his face. “Aniue.”

“Feel better now?” His brother leaned down to drop a kiss on his forehead.

Perhaps because he was still half asleep, impulse became action without thought and Yohan lifted his face so that the kiss met his mouth instead. Kazuki made a startled sound even as his hand cupped the back of Yohan’s head to steady him. “Yohan?” he murmured, drawing back.

Thought woke again, urging caution, but desire had woken also with that soft brush of lips, the same desire he’d fled rather than admit after their battle. But Kazuki was here now, in any case, and Yohan wanted so much. He leaned up on one hand, laying the other on his brother’s chest entreatingly. “Aniue… please?”

After a long moment Kazuki’s hand rose to curve around his jaw, lifting his chin, and Yohan couldn’t help the way his breath cut short in a rush of want. Slowly, watching him, his brother leaned down again to kiss him, gentle and easy, and Yohan leaned into the kiss, lips parting under Kazuki’s. The invitation was taken and Yohan made a soft sound, half hope and half pleading, as his brother’s kiss deepened.

He wanted this so much.

Kazuki reached out to gather him closer until Yohan was half lying against his chest, haori sliding down his shoulders. And pliant. Utterly pliant in his brother’s arms. When Kazuki’s hand urged his chin up further, Yohan let his head fall back, and when his brother’s lips traced down his bared throat he gasped, a shiver running down his body.

“Yohan,” Kazuki murmured, lips brushing his throat, “did you want me to take the clan back from you?”

It was the question and the desire he’d run from at the time, and it shook him now. “I don’t…” he whispered, voice taut with the arch of his neck. “There are so many things I want to do. To change. But…” His brother kissed his throat again and he gasped, shaking. “For now… just for now, please. Please, Aniue.”

He had been conquered, in that battle. Beyond technique and skill was the heart, and when the heart could no longer drive all skill failed. Kazuki had conquered his heart, and given no quarter. And in his brother’s conquest, he had tasted the sweetness of being guided and commanded by his brother’s will and love. The sweetness of belonging and shelter and rest.

“Please,” he begged, hands sliding up to cling to Kazuki’s shoulders. “Just for now…”

His brother’s fingers slid into his hair, cradling his head, and Kazuki kissed him, deep and intent. “Yes,” he said quietly. “For now, then.”

Yohan relaxed into the kiss with a sigh, surrendering to his brother’s care and guidance, and kissed back soft and open. Kazuki’s hands stroked down his arms, over his back, drawing him close and holding him, and Yohan moved with them willingly.

“Do you want more than this?” Kazuki murmured against his mouth, and Yohan flushed hot at the thought.

“Yes,” he breathed, and Kazuki smiled.

“We’ll need some place with a bed, then,” he said, low, holding Yohan against him. “Because I’m not going to lay you down on the bare tatami. And,” he added, “we need something to make it easier for you.”

Yohan made a breathless sound, shivering, and his brother laughed softly.

“Come, then.” He straightened Yohan’s clothes with gentle hands and pulled him to his feet. “Show me.”

Yohan led the way through the house to his bedroom, still flushed with the way Kazuki kept a hold of his hand, fingers twined through his. Once the door was closed behind them, Kazuki caught him close again, kissing him deep and slow, loosening his robes to slide them down his shoulders. He shivered at that, at the long, knowing fingers that traced over his bare shoulders and chest. “Aniue…” He couldn’t quite meet his brother’s eyes.

“So shy.” Kazuki took his chin and tipped it up again, holding his eyes. “There’s no need.”

The command in that simple gesture set Yohan trembling, and he swayed against his brother. “Yes, Aniue,” he whispered.

Kazuki kept him occupied with kisses as he pulled loose belts and ties until Yohan stood with all his robes in a heap around his feet. “Now, then.” He pushed Yohan gently down to the bed and stepped back, shedding his own clothes swift and graceful. The line of his body, as he returned to kneel over Yohan and press him down, made Yohan’s mouth dry; he knew his own strength was second to none, but the sheer grace of Kazuki’s movement stopped his breath. His brother’s hands stroked down his body, slow, and he shivered with the intensity of simply feeling that on his skin. Kazuki gathered him close, one hand supporting the curve of his back as he arched up helplessly into the sleek heat of Kazuki’s body against his.

"Shh," Kazuki murmured to him. "Now you need to trust me, and relax for me, little brother." One hand kneaded the small of Yohan’s back, easing the building tension in him, and Yohan obeyed with a shaky breath. He lay pliant against Kazuki’s chest as his brother searched through his bedside nook, and turned his face into Kazuki’s shoulder. He gasped at the first touch of warm, slick fingers, and Kazuki held him closer.

Those fingers circled his entrance, slow and gentle, until his breathing evened and his body relaxed, and it was his brother’s patience and care that made his face heat as much as the first slide of fingers inside him. "Aniue…"

"All right?" Kazuki asked softly, cradling him close. Yohan nodded, not looking up, and his brother chuckled. "All right, then." Still soft, but more commanding he added, "Look at me."

Yohan looked up, breathless, and moaned as his brother caught his mouth, kissing him hot and deep and intent. The answering heat in his body turned sharp as Kazuki’s fingers pressed in again and he gasped, trembling in his brother’s arms with the unexpected surge of pleasure.

Kazuki kissed Yohan again and again as his fingers moved in and out of him. The sensation of being touched inside made Yohan flush, and Kazuki worked him slowly until Yohan was moving with him, until they were twined tight together, and Yohan was kissing back and making wanton, pleading sounds low in his throat. He didn’t have to control himself; he knew his brother would judge their pace, would know when he was ready. All he had to do was surrender to Kazuki’s hands, and that was such an unspeakable relief that he was dizzy with it.

"Now," Kazuki murmured, finally. Yohan made a faint, protesting sound as Kazuki slid around behind him, but subsided, soothed, when his brother’s arm wound around him and drew him back snugly into the curve of Kazuki’s body. "It’s all right," Kazuki said softly in his ear as he guided Yohan’s leg up and forward, spreading him a little open. "I have you."

"Yes," Yohan agreed, low, and shivered at the feeling of Kazuki’s lips curving against his nape. And then Kazuki was pushing into him, and he was gasping, clutching the sheets as he was stretched, pushed open, filled. It was shocking. It was incredible. "Aniue!"

"Shh." Kazuki rocked just a little, in and out of him, holding him tight, and Yohan shuddered with the sensation. "All you have to do is follow. I’ll take care of everything." One hand stroked down Yohan’s stomach to close between his legs.

Yohan moaned with breathless submission to Kazuki’s word, and let his brother’s hands guide his body until he was spread out half on his stomach, gasping with each driving thrust, rocking into his brother’s strong hand. Kazuki took him slow and sure, until his nerves were singing like strings under a master’s touch. Pleasure wanted to speed ahead, but Kazuki’s touch held him back, let the heat build slowly, until Yohan was panting under it with an edge of desperation.

"If your heart needs someone to rule and protect you," Kazuki whispered against his ear, "remember that I’m still your elder brother." His mouth closed on Yohan’s neck and he sucked hard enough to raise tingling heat.

Hard enough to mark.

Yohan cried out as pleasure broke through him, a storm of heat striking again and again as his brother gasped against his shoulder and drove into him harder, faster. It was good, so good, to be held so tight, to feel Kazuki’s body over his, and he lay, panting, until Kazuki shuddered and stilled.

After a long moment, Kazuki kissed the back of his neck and eased them apart, turning Yohan gently and gathering him back into his arms. Kazuki stroked his hair and cradled him close. "It’s all right."

Yohan realized that his eyes were wet.

Kazuki kissed the tears away and rocked him slowly. "You are my beloved brother and I will always be here, to guide and support you in whatever way you need," he murmured.

Yohan’s breath hitched again and he nodded against Kazuki’s shoulder. It was a while before he could stop crying, though. Kazuki held him through it all and dried his face on a corner of the sheet. "Better?" he asked with a soft smile.

Yohan nodded; he did feel better, wrung out but at peace. "Thank you, Aniue," he said, husky.

Kazuki pressed a soft kiss to his forehead. "Hush."

Yohan smiled shyly and did as he was told, and lay quiet and content in his brother’s arms as the evening drew in.


Last Modified: Feb 10, 12
Posted: Jun 14, 10
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