Saiunkoku Monogatari: All In One

Welcome to my Saiunkoku Monogatari fic. Notes of interest: Many of these stories follow the source text in incorporating elements of hanakotoba, the Japanese flower language. Meanings are glossed at the end of individual stories, but, for those who are interested or wish to explore further, the most common sources I have used are below.

The alert reader will notice that any two hanakotoba sources contradict each other to some extent; I suspect this is simply the natural result of meanings having changed over time and from place to place.

Pollen for Dreams

A quiet moment between Ryuuki and Seiran, balancing between truth and pretending. Drama with Unspoken Romance, I-3

Character(s): Shi Ryuuki, Shi Seiran

“If you sent me a flower, what would it be?”

“Majesty.” Seiran said his brother’s title gently, an unspoken scolding, reminding Ryuuki that they shouldn’t speak of these things. His heart still turned over when Ryuuki lifted his head from Seiran’s knee and looked up at him, eyes pleading.

“Let me play pretend? Just for a little bit?” Ryuuki begged, and Seiran’s resistance fell all in a heap.

Really, it was himself he should be scolding, more often than not.

He could, at least, phrase things a little less dangerously, though. “If your brother had grown to rule,” he said softly, “when he sent you a flower I think it would be a daisy.”

Ryuuki’s breath caught and his words were husky. “Yes.” He caught up Seiran’s hand and his lips brushed Seiran’s fingers as he whispered, “If things had gone the way they should. If Seien had become my lord…” One hot tear splashed on the back of Seiran’s hand. “I would have been faithful to you all my life.”

Seiran looked down at Ryuuki’s bowed head and didn’t chide him for his slip. He rested his free hand on his brother’s shaking shoulders, quietly.

After a few gulps, Ryuuki’s voice came out steadier. “It hasn’t been time, yet, for the Emperor to send a flower to Seiran of the guards. But if I did… when I do…” He looked up, lips trembling but curved in a tiny smile. “When I do, will you be horribly embarrassed if it’s lavender?”

The jumble of Seiran’s emotions stopped his voice for a moment: tenderness for the sweet, vulnerable boy his little brother had always been; pleasure that Ryuuki still loved him, and fear for the same reason; shining pride in the mind that retained a ruler’s awareness, even while the man’s heart tugged in another direction. He lifted a hand to stroke Ryuuki’s silky-straight hair back from his damp cheek. “I will always be honored to be held in your heart, my Emperor,” he said softly, and leaned down to press a kiss to his brother’s forehead. After a moment he added, teasing, “Better that than a sunflower, after all.”

Ryuuki burst out laughing, probably at the image of Seiran marching blank-faced through the palace with a large and obtrusive yellow flower proclaiming someone’s love and respect for him. He rose on his knees to throw his arms around Seiran and pressed his cheek into Seiran’s shoulder. “Aniue,” he whispered. And, more softly still, “Seiran.”

Seiran rested a hand on his brother’s head, smiling, and refrained from protesting this time, either.

If he was honest, he would admit he was very happy to be both.

End

A/N: Flowers referenced: Daisy for faithfulness, Lavender for being held in the giver’s heart, Sunflower for admiration and love.


Truth and Courage

A might-have-been set during Ep. 15, as Shuuei takes a drunk Kouyuu home. Porn with Characterization, I-3

Pairing(s): Shuuei/Kouyuu

Shuuei made a note to himself to remember that drink unhinged Kouyuu’s knees as well as his tongue. “Come on,” he murmured to his friend, hitching Kouyuu’s weight up a bit more comfortably. “Just one more crossing.”

“We should go back for the bottle,” Kouyuu declared.

“No, no, not a good idea.” Shuuei caught his arm a little tighter around Kouyuu’s waist, tugging him along.

He was just thankful that Kouyuu was easier to steer when drunk than he was when sober. If his stubbornness had gotten any worse they really wouldn’t have made it back to Kou Reishin’s residence.

He was also thankful that the servants silently opened doors and directed them to Kouyuu’s rooms without waking the master of the house. Considering the unrestraint with which Kouyuu had spoken to both the emperor and Seiran, Shuuei thought it was probably part of his duty as a friend to prevent Kouyuu from saying whatever he might say to his father in this condition.

“We’re home,” he informed Kouyuu as a quietly amused servant closed the bedroom door softly behind them.

“I’m home,” Kouyuu growled, hanging from his shoulder. “You’re just annoying.”

“And I’ll be more annoying tomorrow, when you have a headache,” Shuuei promised, with a smile.

Kouyuu slumped back against the wall, the arm still thrown around Shuuei’s neck taking Shuuei with him. “You tease too much,” he muttered. “Haven’t any of those idiot women ever told you that?” And he pulled Shuuei down to a sloppy, off-center kiss.

Quite startled, Shuuei let him. Of the many possible responses to his teasing, this was one Shuuei had not expected out of Kouyuu. For one thing, if he were going to do this, shouldn’t he have done it months ago? For another, whenever Shuuei teased him or, in fact, anyone nearby with innuendo, Kouyuu blushed. It was charming, really; Shuuei had done it sometimes just to see what pretty shade of red Kouyuu would turn next.

Kouyuu wasn’t blushing now. And if his mouth seemed a little uncertain, the hand at the back of Shuuei’s neck was warm and steady.

Shuuei was still bemused when Kouyuu let him go. “I haven’t noticed any of the ladies are upset by teasing, actually,” he managed.

Kouyuu snorted. “Unperceptive and a tease.” He hauled Shuuei back down.

This time, at least, Shuuei was prepared enough to soften the kiss, to catch Kouyuu’s mouth properly and taste the sake on his lips, one hand curving around the back of Kouyuu’s head. He still wasn’t ready for Kouyuu’s mouth to open under his, and a ribbon of heat curled down his spine. Shuuei wasn’t entirely sure Kouyuu had found truth in the bottom of his bottle, but he’d certainly found courage there. If the bottle was where it had come from, though… “I wonder,” he murmured, resting his temple against Kouyuu’s, “if this is another of those times it’s my duty to restrain your extremes.”

Kouyuu’s fingers tightened sharply in the front of Shuuei’s robes. “Are you saying you were never serious?” he asked very quietly.

Shuuei hesitated; in a normal encounter, this really would be the time for a little teasing and hedging, to make sure no one got their heart broken. But it was Kouyuu pressed up against him, quiet and waiting. He closed his eyes, a tiny smile quirking his lips as he gave in to his friend’s unrelenting directness. “No, I’m not saying that.”

“Then the answer is ‘no’, you idiot.” Kouyuu’s voice was irate, even when this soft. “Honestly, use your brain.”

“What, now? Shouldn’t you be distracting me from that?” Shuuei laughed at Kouyuu’s growl, equilibrium restored by their usual roles. He plucked loose Kouyuu’s hair wrap, letting unruly, moonlight colored hair spill down the back of Kouyuu’s neck, the way it always seemed to want to.

Kouyuu made a lazy sound in his throat, swinging back to mellowness again—really, Shuuei would have to remember the effect sake had on him. “It’s not fair if it’s just mine.” He reached up and undid Shuuei’s hair clasp so delicately Shuuei barely felt it. He was reminded of how many long afternoons he’d spent in the archives, admiring the lightness of Kouyuu’s fingers on a brush. “Mm. Better.”

As Shuuei coaxed Kouyuu away from the wall and over to the bed, attempting not to step on any books along the way, he wondered how Kouyuu’s graceless approval could so easily make him smile for real. That was Kouyuu’s talent, though, wasn’t it? To make things real in a world built of deception and unspoken thoughts. His father had named him well.

Abstract thoughts were blown away on a gasp of breath as Kouyuu sprawled back on the bed and yanked Shuuei along with him. Kouyuu made a small oof.

“You’re heavy for someone who looks so thin.”

“It’s called refined, not thin.” Shuuei’s attempt at a dignified tone unraveled in a shiver as Kouyuu’s open mouth found his neck and Kouyuu’s tongue moved over his skin. “Kouyuu,” he murmured, voice rougher.

Kouyuu relaxed under him with a sudden, open smile. “You do mean it.”

Shuuei had to swallow hard at the unadulterated relief in Kouyuu’s voice. He stroked back Kouyuu’s hair gently. “Yes, I mean it.” He brushed a kiss over Kouyuu’s lips and added, “Honestly.”

“Don’t steal my lines,” Kouyuu instructed him, and Shuuei laughed.

A flush crept over Kouyuu’s face as Shuuei’s hands loosened sashes and ties and found Kouyuu’s skin. Kouyuu’s own hands were rougher, pulling open Shuuei’s robes, creasing the fabric as they clenched every now and then. Shuuei stroked his fingers up the inside of Kouyuu’s thigh just to watch him do it again, and chuckled softly.

“Yes, I thought you were new at this.”

“Oh shut up,” Kouyuu growled, color darkening on his cheekbones, and wound his fingers in Shuuei’s hair to pull him down to a silencing kiss.

The admonition was rather blunted when Shuuei closed his hand around the hard heat between Kouyuu’s legs and Kouyuu moaned openly into his mouth. And that was Kouyuu too—clear and pure in everything he did.

“It’s all right, Kouyuu,” Shuuei whispered, entranced by the flow of response and emotion across Kouyuu’s face. He hesitated a moment and added, against Kouyuu’s ear, “It’s real.”

A breath of a laugh answered him and Kouyuu’s hands slid up his back, pressing him closer. “Yes.”

Shuuei made a low, pleased sound as those hands slid back down, brushing slowly over his ribs, stomach, thighs, and then it was his turn to gasp and laugh as one found it’s way between his legs. No one had ever accused Li Kouyuu of being a slow learner.

As well they shouldn’t. Shuuei rested his forehead on Kouyuu’s shoulder, panting as those deft fingers explored and stroked and teased, and pleasure shivered down his nerves. “Kouyuu…”

“Hm?” Kouyuu sounded rather too amused, Shuuei decided distractedly.

His own hands on Kouyuu’s body faltered, tightened as lapping heat stole away his concentration and left nothing but feeling. Gentle fingers stroked his head and then closed firmly around him. “Kou— Ahh!” Pleasure tightened fiercely all through his body and rushed down to a single point of heat and he arched taut over Kouyuu, pulling him close to hold onto through the hot, wild surge of sensation.

It took him a few moments to recover his breath and remember what he was about and lean up on an elbow to look down at Kouyuu. When he did, he couldn’t help a snort of laughter; Kouyuu looked exceedingly smug. “Pleased with yourself?” he asked.

“Yes.” The smugness didn’t fade in the slightest.

The corners of Shuuei’s mouth curled. “Well then. I think it’s my turn.” He smoothed his hands down Kouyuu’s body, palms sliding over skin, slow and coaxing. Kouyuu unwound under his hands bit by bit until Shuuei almost expected him to start purring. Who would have thought someone so emphatically stand-offish enjoyed being touched so much?

Color crept over Kouyuu’s face as Shuuei’s hands slipped between his thighs, easing them apart. “Shuuei…”

Shuuei pressed soft kisses down the curve of Kouyuu’s neck. “It’s all right,” he murmured. Kouyuu made a noncommittal sound but settled back against the bed with a low sigh as Shuuei’s tongue traced his collar bone.

Shuuei kissed his way down Kouyuu’s body, and Kouyuu stretched under him with such thoughtless sensuality he couldn’t resist nipping gently at the smooth skin of Kouyuu’s stomach just to see whether he’d like it.

Judging from the way he arched up and his fingers tightened on Shuuei’s neck and shoulder, he did.

Shuuei felt half drunk himself on the openness of Kouyuu’s response, the low, rough sounds he made as Shuuei’s open mouth moved down his thigh. Shuuei was almost as breathless as Kouyuu, just watching him. The quick gasp when Shuuei closed his mouth around Kouyuu’s length drew a small, satisfied sound out of the back of his throat.

“Shuuei…” Kouyuu’s fingers stroked over his shoulders and down his arms, seeking and restless. Shuuei let his tongue find its own way over Kouyuu’s smooth, hot skin, watching Kouyuu from under his lashes as Kouyuu’s body relaxed and tautened. The edge of breathless want in Kouyuu’s moans made him shiver, and when Kouyuu finally arched and cried out, long shudders of pleasure raking down his body, Shuuei couldn’t help laughing softly in delighted answer.

He slid back up and settled himself comfortably along Kouyuu’s side, head propped in one hand so he could watch Kouyuu catch his breath and see his eyes when they opened again.

A little to his surprise, those clear, sharp eyes were only a little hazy, and the softness he had expected in them went deeper than he had thought it would. He contemplated that for a moment.

“You aren’t nearly as drunk as all that, are you?” he asked, finally.

The softness vanished in a grumpy glare. “Oh shut up.” Kouyuu rolled onto his side, turning his back as well as one could while lying in bed with someone.

Shuuei laughed and curled himself up against Kouyuu’s back, fitting their bodies snugly together and sliding an arm around Kouyuu’s waist. He took note of the fact that Kouyuu relaxed immediately and his smile gentled. Kouyuu was so prickly in defense of that pure heart of his. It was really rather adorable. Shuuei tucked the thought away to use later, when he wanted to tease Kouyuu.

For now, it was far more pleasant to feel how Kouyuu calmed, tucked in his arms like this. He pressed a kiss to the back of Kouyuu’s neck, still smiling.


His smile lingered in the morning as he left some water and an ice pack beside the snoring Kouyuu and tiptoed out. It lingered right up until the moment he stepped out the doors to find Kou Reishin “casually” enjoying the clean air on the walk outside his son’s rooms. The glint in the Secretary’s eye as he turned to look at Shuuei was enough to make even a warrior pause and swallow a little hard.

“Ran-shougun,” Kou greeted him. “I hear that you brought Kouyuu home last night.” Kou’s fan flicked open, sharp as a knife. “How good it is to know my son has such a solicitous and careful friend.”

Shuuei knew an order when he heard one, no matter how indirectly it might be given, and bowed. “Yes, Kou-shousho.”

Kou smiled, folding his fan gracefully. “Good.”

Next time, Shuuei reflected as he made for the gate as quickly as possible without actually running, it might be his turn to need a drink first.

End


May We Be Truly Thankful

Shuuei has an encounter with Seiran, one evening and comes away with a new appreciation of the Emperor he has. Drama, I-4

Character(s): Ran Shuuei, Shi Seiran

Shuuei was on his last round for the night, making sure his imperial charge was in his room, alone, asleep, and not gallivanting off into the night to pick peonies for Shuurei or anything equally foolish, when he spotted the shadow lingering under the trees that shaded the pavilion in summer.

The shadow had silver hair.

Shuuei did his best to sneak up on Seiran and was mildly disappointed when the man didn’t even start at Shuuei’s voice breathing in his ear. “Watching over both of them, are you?”

Seiran didn’t look around. Nor did he show any signs that he’d been up since before dawn, following Shuurei, and had probably just jogged back from Kou Shouka’s residence after seeing her home. “It’s my duty,” he answered, calmly.

Shuuei chuckled. “And here I thought it was mine, at least where the Emperor is concerned.”

“Is it?” Seiran murmured, turning his head at last to regard Shuuei. In the half light his eyes were far less soft than they were by day. They gleamed, sharp and piercing. Shuuei straightened quickly.

“Of course it is.” And why did he sound as though he was acknowledging an order?

“For a son of the Ran clan?” Seiran tipped his head to the side. “It was an unusual involvement in politics, wasn’t it, for you to accept his flower? I suppose joining the military reconciled your bothers to you coming to the capital. At least long enough for you to get your foot in the door.” It was Seiran’s turn to lean against the tree, crossing his arms. “A Ran dancing the dance of the Court. Who could have predicted?” Those gleaming eyes narrowed. “Probably not even Ryuuki.”

The weight of Shuuei’s armor pressed over his shoulders, and it still felt like he was being stripped naked. And not in a pleasant way. His voice was low as he answered. “I did accept his flower, though. And I will serve him.”

Seiran’s smile was fierce, completely at odds with the formal courtesy of his words. “I’m sure you will serve him very well, Ran-shogun.” His steps were absolutely silent as he slipped away through the trees, and Shuuei stood for a long time, looking after him.


When Shuuei got up the next day, he lit an extra stick of incense for his ancestors’ spirits.

“For the fact that Ryuuki is my Emperor, and not Seien,” he murmured. “Deeply thankful. Truly.”

He did rather hope it wasn’t really his grandfather’s voice he heard in the back of his head snorting, It’s your own damn fault for getting involved, boy!

He knew that. And he’d been prepared, really he had. It just seemed prudent to show his gratitude that he was serving a sweet and sometimes silly, though quite intelligent, boy, instead of facing those cool, assessing eyes he’d seen last night.

Really, quite thankful.

End

A/N: Peony is for shyness, and Ryuuki giving it to Shuurei would be as unsuitable as all of his extravagant presents to her are.


The Road Not Taken

The point of divergence from canon, when Seien chooses blood over peace. Drama, I-3

Character(s): Kou Shuurei, Shi Seien

Seien sat on the steps, silently, watching the family. The lady was sitting up on a tree branch, laughing brightly down at her daughter’s protests that she wanted up in the tree too. It was good, if a little strange, still, to sit in the sun, warm and safe with nothing to worry about.

Even stranger, truth be told, to watch the sweetness of how this little family acted toward each other. The hand that the lady set on her daughter’s head, as she finally descended and leaned down to laugh with the girl, made Seien flinch, his own hand closing tight. He could remember his brother’s fine, soft hair under his palm.

He remembered very clearly that Ryuuki had been the only one he could touch like that.

Did he dare to see Ryuuki again? To go back, even to visit in secret? It had been almost two years. But… Kou Shouka said that the fighting between his older brothers had gotten even worse, though it hadn’t come to swords yet. Seien’s mouth tilted; none of them but him had ever really favored the sword, anyway.

Did he have any right to go back, when he couldn’t even protect himself, much less Ryuuki, against the weapons their brothers and the concubines did use?

He hugged one knee to his chest, sighing. He probably didn’t. He should probably take the gift of his life and forget what he had been, and dedicate himself to what he still could be. To the people who had saved him. His lips moved silently, shaping the name Shuurei-chan had given him. Seiran. He smiled a little.

Perhaps he should just trust Shouka-sama’s strength to protect Ryuuki, and be only Seiran. There was a certain peace in that thought, a peace that went well with this sunny garden, and these people. Only a few people; the only ones to cup his frostbitten self in their warm hands until he thought maybe his blood was flowing again.

Surely even he could manage to protect that few.

Shuurei-chan’s laugh blended, in his ear, into Ryuuki’s, the bright laugh that only he ever heard. A sweet sound, for his sweet brother, totally at odds with what the Imperial Court had become.

Let alone what it might become soon.

Seien thought of Ryuuki in that court, and his back straightened. No. No! It would just be cowardice to abandon his life now. He had been given power, by the hand of Heaven, and his father. Surely that meant he had a duty to use it!

If he didn’t, who would? He thought of the bandits back in Sa and a corner of his mouth tried to curl up in a snarl.

“Seiran?” A small hand tugged at his sleeve and he looked down to find Shuurei-chan looking up at him with innocent, concerned eyes. He took a long breath and smiled at her, laying a hand on her head.

“Thank you, Shuurei-chan.”

He would protect his brother, and he would protect this girl. He would take this kingdom and guard the precious things it held from the rot inside it.

Shuurei patted his hand comfortingly and offered him a clover from the bunch in her fist. When he took it she nodded, satisfied, and ran back to her mother, who was busy shooing away disturbed bumble bees. Seien tucked it into his tunic and rose to go back inside and find Shouka-sama.

There were plans they needed to make.

End

A/N: Clover is for luck.


The Road Not Taken, Omake

The Great Secret is Revealed! Humor, I-1

Character(s): Kou Shouka, Shi Seien

Seien found Kou Shouka out in the pavilion on the pond, and came to stand before him, shoulders straight.

“Seiran,” Shouka-sama greeted him with a smile. “Isn’t it a lovely evening?”

“Yes,” Seien said quietly, “but I have something I have to tell you. I’m afraid…” he looked aside for a moment, “it isn’t as lovely.”

“Ah?” Shouka-sama’s brows rose. “Well, tell me, then.”

Seiran took a long breath. “I haven’t lied to you, but I haven’t told you the truth either. The truth…” another breath, “is that I am Shi Seien, the second Imperial prince.”

“Oh yes.” Shouka-sama nodded agreeably. “I know.”

The evening’s first cricket chirped in the dead silence.

Seien felt like he’d just run into a stone wall—an invisible one. Carefully he repeated, “You know?”

“Of course. But you didn’t seem to want to tell us your name when we found you, and it would have been rude to insist.”

“Rude,” Seien said flatly, staring at Shouka-sama. The man just smiled, and Seien was seized with a sudden suspicion. “Shouka-sama… are you teasing me?”

“Would I do that?”

“Shouka-sama!”

End


The Wind Cries

Shouka and Seien talk, some secrets are revealed, and Seien gets a shock. Drama, I-4

Character(s): Kou Shouka, Shi Seien

“Seiran, do you have a moment?”

Seiran blinked as Shouka-sama appeared silently in the door of his rooms just as Seiran tiptoed past. “Of course.” He wasn’t actually sleepy yet, and followed curiously as Shouka-sama led him to a seat at the antechamber’s small table. Shouka-sama sat down across from him, resting clasped hands against his chin. Seiran waited, watching the master of the house in the flickering candlelight.

“Seiran—” Shouka-sama hesitated, “Seien. Do you know who I am?”

Seien tipped his head, puzzled. “Kou Shouka, eldest of the Kou clan’s main lineage, though the leadership of the clan went to your younger brother,” he recited from years-ago lessons on history and politics.

“Ah.” Shouka-sama seemed to slump a little and scrubbed a hand over his eyes. Seien frowned; clearly there was something more. He cast his mind back, stumbling a little in his thoughts as he tried to set aside the raging chill of the year before this one and look closely at the bright, smooth memories of his years in the palace. The foolish, innocent confidence of them made him wince away a bit, but he could find nothing there to explain the tight line of Shouka-sama’s mouth.

“I suppose I shouldn’t have expected you to be told.” Shouka-sama sighed and straightened. “I am also,” he said quietly, looking down at his laced fingers, “the Black Wolf.”

For a moment Seiran couldn’t place the name, and then he could and started upright, staring. “You… but…!” How was it possible? Shouka-sama moved gracefully, to be sure, but… He was strong, yes, he had lifted Seiran before with no sign of strain, but…!

Surely someone that deadly should show it, the way it showed in his brothers’ eyes, or in Meishou’s smile.

But wouldn’t that be the most deadly of all, a corner of his mind noted, to seem utterly harmless? Was that not, after all, what he and his partner had done, among the Satsujinzoku?

Seien wet his lips and swallowed. The Black Wolf. The Emperor’s assassin. “Why are you telling me this?” he asked, husky.

Shouka-sama stopped looking taut and looked blank instead for a moment. “Oh!” He waved his hands. “No, no, you’re in no danger at all! It’s not like that!”

Seien couldn’t help slumping a bit with relief. He knew he was exceptional with a sword, but the stories of the Black Wolf were… daunting.

Shouka-sama made a slightly exasperated sound and rose to come around the table and lay his hands on Seien’s shoulders. “I didn’t take you in just to have you handy to kill,” he said briskly. “I took you in to care for you as a son of this household.”

Seien’s eyes widened as he stared up at Shouka-sama, struck utterly breathless by that matter-of-fact warmth. “Shouka-sama,” he whispered.

Shouka-sama smiled faintly. “I told you this so that you would understand what it means when I say that the Emperor sent me to find and guard you.” His hands tightened for a moment on Seien’s shoulders. “And when I say that I no longer need his command to do it.”

Wetness in Seiran’s eyes made the candlelight waver even more as he blinked it back. His voice trembled with the intensity of feelings too wild to contain—hope and fear and a rushing warmth he’d never thought he would feel again. “Shouka-sama…”

Shouka-sama’s eyes were dark and sober. “I always knew who you were. And I know, better than you think, what kind of choices are before you. So I’m telling you now: choose your path. Any shadows you see along it,” a small smile, “will be mine.”

Seiran bent his head. “Thank you.” He was dizzy with the strangeness of it all, of being offered protection. And, far more than that, of trusting in the one who offered.

Shouka-sama’s hand rested on his head for a moment. “You should be off to bed, then. Growing children need their sleep, and Shoukun will scold me if I don’t let you get it.”

Seiran laughed, and if it was a little damp neither of them mentioned the fact. “Yes, Shouka-sama. Good night, then.”

“Good night. Seiran.”

Seiran paused and looked back and bobbed a nod before closing the door behind him.

End


Paper Dust

Seien sneeks a look in on Ryuuki and gets a lesson from Shouka into the bargain. Drama, I-3

If Seiran had been the one in charge of guarding the palace, he thought, he’d have had a few words to say to the soldiers who patrolled the place.

He’d been tucked up in the eaves of the Archives all day, having come in over the roofs—the red roofs, for heaven’s sake!—and not a single guard had looked up yet. If this had been the forest, they’d all have been dead without any bandits having to bother coming down out of the trees.

A soft, light voice from the open window below him distracted him from such dark thoughts, and Seiran smiled. Ryuuki sounded happy today.

The Archives were the only place he dared try to catch a glimpse of his brother. Unlike the guards, Ryuuki was alert as any wild animal. It was only here he relaxed a little, in the quiet of Shouka-sama’s little domain.

“Shouka, Shouka, look! I copied the whole thing!” Ryuuki held up a scrap of paper proudly, showing off his careful brushstrokes.

“And a very good job, too.” Shouka-sama leaned over Ryuuki, one hand resting, gentle and light, on Ryuuki’s shoulder. Seiran’s thoughts darkened again as he caught sight of the soft bandage, showing under the neck of Ryuuki’s robes, that Shouka-sama was being careful not to touch. If any of their elder brothers ever passed near while Seien was moving through the palace, he swore they would regret it. Briefly. They would have to be dealt with somehow, and shared blood…

Well, sharing blood meant something different to him, these days.

“Shouka, is this true?”

Seiran blinked, brought back again by the sudden thoughtful edge to his brother’s voice. Ryuuki ran a small finger down one column of characters.

“Do the eight enlightened ones really still live among us and keep watch over the country?”

“That’s what legend tells us.” Shouka smiled down at Ryuuki. “And the temples, too.”

Ryuuki sniffed. “They aren’t doing a very good job, then. Everyone complains, all the time, about how hard it is to run things, and how everyone is making trouble for everyone else.”

“Ah, well.” Shouka-sama leaned back against the windowsill. “The enlightened ones can only help us. They can’t just take over the country; that wouldn’t be right.”

“Why not? I mean, if they’re enlightened.” Ryuuki leaned his chin in his hands, eyes wide and curious. Actually, Seien was rather curious what Shouka-sama would answer, too.

“All our tales of them, from the very beginning, tell us that, enlightened as they are, those eight served the emperor,” Shouka-sama said quietly. “That is their part. It is the emperor’s part to rule and lead. And he can only be one person, in this one place. He can’t take care of more than a handful of people, directly.” Shouka-sama smiled. “I suspect some emperors forget they have more than the people right here to care for.”

Seien flushed hotly, even though he was hidden up in the eaves and Shouka-sama wasn’t even talking to him.

Well… maybe wasn’t talking to him.

“But the enlightened ones, not being rulers, why they can go wherever they need to, to care for the country.”

“Oh.” Ryuuki considered this for a long moment, nibbling on his lip. “Okay. I think I see.”

Seien softened helplessly, touched all over again by his brother’s brightness, his sharp mind and pure heart. He would protect Ryuuki.

And if that meant protecting the whole country, to give Ryuuki and Shuurei a safe place to be, well, he’d do that too.

End


Peaches and Thorns

Shoukun and Seien talk about freedom, and she gathers a promise from him. Drama, I-3

Character(s): Kou Shoukun, Shi Seien

“Tou-sama, higher! There’s another up there!”

Seiran laughed softly as Shouka-sama helped his daughter stand on his shoulders to reach the last ripe peach in a tree.

“She’s so fearless, that girl!” Shoukun-sama thumped down on the steps beside him, her own basket already full.

“After watching you climb those trees, that shouldn’t be a surprise, Shoukun-sama,” Seiran told her. He couldn’t help the faint edge of scolding in his voice; sometimes Shuurei’s innocent fearlessness truly terrified him, and her parents wouldn’t be there to protect her forever.

Sometimes he wondered how long he would be there.

A cool hand on his cheek made him start. “You’re drifting again,” Shoukun-sama scolded back.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured.

She sighed. “My little Seiran.” Very quietly she added, “If the palace will be such a cage to you, I will be sad to see you walk back in and pick up your chains again.”

Seiran looked up, helplessly, into deep, beautiful eyes. “I don’t know anymore. I…” he looked away, “it didn’t used to be.” But that had been when he was a silly, bright-eyed child, before he’d been shown what filth humans could be.

Before he’d been shown he was just like them.

And it was so terribly easy, now, to imagine the faces of his elder brothers when he remembered the wet slide of his sword cutting flesh. So easy. What would the glittering poison of the Court be to him now? A cage? Or truly his natural place?

Shoukun-sama sniffed. “Well, perhaps it isn’t cages they keep hunting hawks in, but they aren’t free, all the same.”

Seiran bit his lip. She saw so much, even the things he never wanted anyone to see. “Maybe I’m the kind of hawk they give up on and abandon because it can’t be tamed,” he said, voice low.

“Oh, what nonsense.” She ruffled his hair as he stared at her. “You’re quite tame with us.”

Seiran smiled, shy and rueful; that was true.

“Perhaps I should kidnap that little brother of yours and keep both of you here,” she added, thoughtfully.

His breath caught in flash of such wild wanting it blinded him for a moment. “Shoukun-sama, please don’t tease,” he begged. He didn’t think his heart could stand much of that.

She just looked at him for a long moment, and finally sighed. “So be it. Will you promise me something, then?”

“Anything.”

“So quick to let a woman take advantage of you!” she laughed, but then sobered. “You don’t have to be very tame, you know. But let others help you to protect what is precious.” Her fingers touched his cheek again. “Promise me.”

Seiran opened his mouth to protest and then closed it. She hadn’t said to let anyone else do it for him; just to let some people help. “I promise,” he said softly.

“There’s my Seiran. And here’s your reward.” She pressed a peach into his hand.

Seiran looked down at it and smiled wryly. “Are you secretly the leader of the eight enlightened ones, handing over peaches of immortality?” he asked, and really thought he might only be half joking.

Shoukun-sama laughed softly. “Oh, I’m something much worse than that. But don’t worry; I wouldn’t do such a thing to you.” He looked up, puzzled, but she only shook her head and touched his hair. “It will be all right, Seiran. Just remember your promise.”

He bowed his head under her hand. “I will.”

He would let others help. If they were worthy to protect precious things. If he could trust them with the task.

He didn’t expect to find many of those.

End

A/N: The leader of the Eight Immortals of Chinese legend is often depicted holding one of the peaches of immortality, a standard legendary fixture themselves.


Dragon’s Whisker

Civil war erupts, and Seien returns. Drama with Angst, I-4

Seiran was playing catch, in the garden with Shuurei, when a roar went up from the streets nearby. He started to his feet, reaching out to catch Shuurei’s shoulder; he’d heard sounds like that before, from the throats of men charging with weapons in their hands.

“Seiran?” Shuurei’s eyes were wide, and he gathered her closer, tense.

“It’s all right, Shuurei-chan.” He would make it be all right. He had no wish to be the Whirlwind again, but to protect Shuurei…

“Yes, it’s all right.” They both relaxed as Shouka-sama stepped out from under the garden trees to join them. “I barred the gate behind me as I came in.”

“Shouka-sama, what’s happened?” Seiran asked quietly.

His foster-father looked more weary than Seiran ever remembered seeing him. “It’s a riot. Two of the city merchants got a tip from someone in Civil Affairs about a load of barley coming in, and they bought it all up.” His smile was worn. “Reishin is furious, of course, but the Department of the Military refuses to give him any support to repossess the food, and when the people saw what prices were being charged…” He looked toward the noise, which now had smoke starting to rise over it.

“What is Shou-taishi thinking?” Seien burst out. “Even if the Emperor is too ill to deal with this, his councilors aren’t!”

Shouka-sama’s mouth tightened. “I… am not sure what he’s thinking, anymore,” he said, voice low. “I have considered that it might be time to ask him.”

There were screams in the roar of voices, now, and Shuurei flinched from the sound, drawing closer against Seiran, looking up at them both with wide eyes. “Is it…” she had to stop and swallow, “is it really going to be all right?”

Seiran’s arm tightened around her shoulders, and he looked over her head at Shouka-sama. His foster-father’s brows lifted at whatever expression was on Seien’s face. “It will be all right.” Seien said, low and definite. “And when you go to see Shou-taishi, Shouka-sama… please take me with you.”


Seien stood in the shadows, in the snug, dark clothing Shouka-sama had given him for the swift, cautious trip to this office. It was a distastefully familiar kind of clothing, but it served its purpose; Shou-taishi had mostly ignored him as he listened to the two men speak. Seiran had listened, and now he was staring at Shou-taishi with disbelieving eyes.

“It is the Emperor’s command,” the man reiterated, hands folded calmly on his desk.

Shouka-sama sounded just as outraged as Seien felt. “But you must know what’s happening to the people!”

“If the country cannot cleanse itself, better it die.”

The evenness of Shou’s voice, set against the memory of the harsh crowd roar, was too much for Seien, and he stepped into the light. “How can it cleanse itself when no one leads it? When the people with strength won’t use it? How can he demand such an idiotic thing?!”

Shou’s brows lifted. “Shouka, you should teach your people bett—” He broke off, frowning, looking more closely at Seien.

Seien growled and pulled off the muffling scarf he had worn for the trip here. Shou-taishi sat back, slowly, eyes fixed on him.

“Seien-koushi.” A wintry smile was all the welcome he offered. “You’ve gained some awareness of politics, since you’ve been gone, I see.”

Seien slashed a hand down, as if to knock away the comment. It wasn’t politics he recognized, here and now. “I didn’t expect to see bandits in charge of this city, but what else do you call that?” He pointed out the window where fires were starting to glow in the dusk. It looked a whole lot like the work he’d seen from the murderous bastards who’d found him years ago, and now everyone he cared for in this world was in the middle of it. He glowered at Shou. “What do you call yourself for letting it happen?” he whispered.

“I call myself a servant of the Emperor.” Before Seien could snap at this, Shou pushed himself up from the desk, turning to look out the window. “Before sense or mercy or life itself, I am the servant of the Emperor.” He clasped his hands behind his back and snorted. “And just what do you think you can say about this, in any case? A prince exiled for treason, who has broken his exile and returned in secret from the throne and the ministers alike? How can you say you care for this Court?”

The words stung all the more for being indifferent, without malice. And true enough. Seien drew himself up. “I don’t give a damn how many times vipers bite each other,” he answered roughly. “I do care who else will be caught in their thrashing around. And if cutting off the snakes’ heads now will stop them, then I’ll do it.” Seien swallowed both distaste and some cold anticipation. It would not, after all, be the first time.

“Hmm.” Shou-taishi turned his head to glance back at Seien. Seien thought there might have been a shadow of a smile on his face, and he rocked back, wary. “Well, then.” Shou directed a rather sardonic smile at Shouka-sama. “Bring him along and meet me in the Emperor’s rooms.”


Shou-taishi and Shouka-sama knelt by the Emperor’s bedside. Seien did not. He had begun to, twelve years’ habit not worn away by a few years gone from court, but the light in his father’s eyes and the color of his skin had frozen him still.

“You’re not sick,” he whispered.

Shou looked up at him in an interested way, but Seiran hardly noticed. He know what illness and death looked like, now, knew them closely and well; he saw neither in his father’s face.

The Emperor met his eyes for a long moment before turning his head to gaze up at the ceiling. “I am not,” he agreed. “But the courts are.”

“So it’s true.” Seien pulled in a hard breath past his clenched teeth, a hiss of rage. “Why didn’t you just kill them yourself, then, and not set the entire country on fire to burn out a few?!”

“Some clans have tried that, you know,” his father remarked, conversationally. “It didn’t work. It only sets a bad precedent.”

“Well, you could do it now, surely!” Seien spread his hands, half pleading. He had thought to do it himself, after the Emperor’s death, but that was clearly a long way off and there was no more time left. “They’ve given you a reason now, haven’t they?”

“And who,” his father asked, softly, voice completely, dreadfully neutral, “will step into the place left empty, when they are gone?”

Abrupt fear struck through Seien like lightning. Time was entirely run out; he had to make his own move now, and make it blind. He was shaking, mouth dry, eyes fixed on the Emperor’s face. Completely unsure whether he was about to die for his answer, the death he had escaped five years ago, but entirely sure it was better for him to take this cup of poison than leave it for Ryuuki, he whispered, “I will.”

The Emperor looked down to meet his eyes and then, oddly, at Shou-taishi with a tiny, crooked smile. Shou met the Emperor’s eyes for a long breath and finally, slowly, nodded. The Emperor closed his eyes with a sigh.

Shou turned a calculating look on Seien. “Very well. I’ll see to stopping the chaos and putting down the princes. Go with Shouka, Seien-koushi. In a little while we’ll be able to announce your return.”

Seien nodded, silent, rather dizzy with the speed of this reverse. He knelt briefly to his father, fighting not to wobble as he stood again and followed Shouka-sama out.


They were back home, inside the gates, before either of them spoke.

“Are you all right?” Shouka-sama asked gently, resting a hand on Seien’s shoulder.

“I…” Seien swallowed, closing his eyes. “I…”

“Ah.” It was the understanding in Shouka-sama’s voice that broke Seiran down, and he didn’t resist when Shouka-sama tugged him closer—only shuddered, burying his harsh sobs in the black fabric of Shouka-sama’s shoulder.

They stood for a long time, that way, in the dimness under the half-stripped fruit trees.

End


Finding Home

Seien is re-introduced to the court. Familes are reintroduced to each other. Drama with Fluff, I-4

It was harder than Seien remembered, trying to pace in court robes. He kicked his over-robe aside one more time and swung his sleeves in frustration. “Can’t we go in yet?”

Sou-shougun watched him in completely unmoved amusement, arms crossed. He looked like he could be one of the pillars that held up the roof. “We’ll enter when the time is right, Seien-koushi.” He raised a dark eyebrow. “You used to know your strategy better than this.”

“If the idea is to have me accepted as easily as possible by the Court, again, why make a production of my return in the first place?” Seien grumbled. He wanted this to be happening faster.

Ryuuki was waiting in there.

Sou-shougun snorted. “Oh, stop being an idiot, boy! You know it has to be seen that your return is accepted and welcomed.” His mouth twisted. “By the Emperor, at any rate.”

That sounded enough like his old teacher that Seien relaxed a little and smiled up at his temporary guard. “And by his advisors?” he asked, lightly.

Sou-shougun’s moment of silence told Seien that his real question had been heard. Sou nodded, slow and firm. “And by us as well.”

That quiet tone drew Seien up straight and he inclined his head with the imperial dignity he’d had no use for in nearly seven years. “Thank you, Sou-taifu.”

And then a bell sounded inside the hall, and it was time.

Seien paced down the hall, between whispering rows of officials and courtiers, eyes fixed only on the Emperor. He knew his foster-father was here somewhere. He knew his brother would be, as well. But if he looked for either of them he didn’t think he’d be able to hold himself together. In this moment, he needed to be only the Prince, for the Court.

He knelt at the foot of the steps, waiting. He paid little attention to the words of pardon and welcome that Shou-taishi declaimed in the “ailing” Emperor’s name, only waiting, enduring, until the last flourish of that old voice told him it was time to rise, to climb the steps, to kneel again at the Emperor’s feet and take his father’s hands, completing this bit of theater.

The gold glint of his father’s eyes was wry, as their gazes met. Seien snorted a little and whispered, “Are you satisfied?”

“Probably only in death,” his father murmured back through still lips. “But this will do for now. Rise. Greet the inheritance you’ve agreed to take, my son.”

Seien’s jaw tightened, but he did stand and turn to face the Court. The roar that greeted Shou-taishi’s gesture of acclaim was distant in his ears; it reminded him of the sound of the riots, a year and a half ago. He knew his face was still as he looked out over them.

And then his gaze crossed the far corner of the dais and caught on a small figure in purple and the wide, wide eyes fixed on him. The world snapped back into focus and Seien smiled. Ryuuki lit up like the sun rising and abandoned ceremony and dashed to fling himself into Seien’s arms.

Arms that were held out for him, and all the watching eyes could just be damned.

Seien caught his brother close, burying a brilliant smile in soft, bright hair. “Ryuuki,” he whispered. “I’m back.”

“Aniue…!” It took a few long, shuddering breaths, but Ryuuki finally lifted his face, eyes wet and shining, to smile breathlessly up at Seien. “Welcome back,” he managed, voice wobbling.

Seien smoothed back Ryuuki’s hair tenderly and kept an arm around him as he turned to face the Court again; he could feel Ryuuki was still shaking.

This time, looking out over the people he had agreed to rule, his eyes were clear.


Seien finally managed to chase out all his new attendants and settle down on the side ledge in his new rooms, laughing, pulling Ryuuki down to sit in the curve of his arm. His brother hadn’t let go of his sleeve once since they’d left the hall. “I’m not going anywhere, Ryuuki. Not this time,” he promised.

“… okay.” Ryuuki’s answer was muffled in his shoulder, and Seien’s smile softened.

“Ryuuki…” He lifted his brother’s chin, looking him over closely, now that he had time. Ryuuki looked better, this year, than Seien had ever seen him, healthier and neater, starting to fill out, eyes bright and interested.

Not often as bright as they were right this moment, admittedly.

“I’m sorry it took me so long to make it back,” Seien said, soberly.

“It’s all right. I knew you’d come back someday.” Absolute trust filled Ryuuki’s voice and wrapped warmth around Seien.

“Yes.”

Ryuuki nodded, happy with this. And then he looked around with a faint frown. “Oh. It’s getting late…” He nibbled his lip and leaned closer to Seien.

Touched by a hint of mischief Seien asked, “So, is it time to go see Shouka-sama, then?”

Ryuuki blinked, but seemed to take it for granted that, of course, his big brother knew everything. “Yeah!” He bounced to his feet and went to the door to peek out before nodding and silently gesturing Seien to come.

Seien was fairly sure they made an amusing sight, two princes, gaudy in purple, tiptoeing through the palace, avoiding their own guards, to go visit the Archivist like a couple of children hoping to steal sweets from the kitchen.

The strangest part was that it was… fun. He hadn’t expected that, when he’d thought about his return.

As soon as the Archive doors closed behind them, Ryuuki went running down the halls, pulling Seien behind him, to burst into the library room. “Shouka, look! Aniue is back!”

Shouka chuckled as he furled a scroll. “Yes, I saw.”

“Aniue? But… Seiran?”

Seien’s head whipped around to stare at the girl sitting at the window table. “Shuurei-chan?” She looked as bewildered as he suddenly felt. What was she doing here?

“Oh yes.” Shouka-sama smiled with perfectly ruthless calm. “Since Shuurei would be alone in the house, now, I thought it would be better for her to visit me more often.” He laid a hand on his daughter’s head and told her, “Our Seiran is also Seien-koushi.”

Shuurei’s eyes got big and she stared at Seien. He winced. Sure enough, it only took a few seconds for Shuurei-chan to start frowning. “You didn’t tell me.” Now she was downright glaring. “Seiran, you didn’t tell me!”

He raised a placating hand. “I’m very sorry, Shuurei-chan, it just…” Hadn’t seemed like a good idea to burden her with, but, knowing Shuurei-chan, he probably shouldn’t say that.

“Aniue.” Ryuuki tugged on the arm he still had possession of. “What do they mean? Seiran?”

Seien pulled in a long breath, trying not to feel harassed, and glowered briefly at his foster-father. “Ryuuki.” He knelt so that they were eye to eye. “Shouka-sama took care of me, while I was sent away from the courts. And,” he turned his head to include Shuurei, “because it was dangerous, the family called me Seiran, so no one would know who I was.”

Ryuuki and Shuurei eyed each other.

Seien sighed and held out his free hand to Shuurei, who hopped down from her chair to come take it. Ryuuki pressed closer against his side, and Seien tightened the arm around him, comfortingly. “Now, you two. Shuurei-chan, this is my younger brother, Ryuuki. Ryuuki, this is Shouka-sama’s daughter, Shuurei.” He smiled hopefully. “So, while Shouka-sama was taking care of Ryuuki, I was taking care of Shuurei.”

Shuurei looked at Ryuuki curiously. “Tou-sama was? I suppose the Emperor, your father, had work he had to do, didn’t he. But… couldn’t your mother?”

Seien felt Ryuuki flinch against him, but before he could decide what to do, Ryuuki looked down at his toes and muttered, “Don’t have a mother.”

“Oh.” Shuurei-chan’s eyes turned dark. She bit her lip and reached out her free hand to take Ryuuki’s. “I’m sorry. I don’t either.”

“Oh.” Ryuuki looked at her, and then at Shouka-sama, and then at Seien, bright eyes clouding with dilemma. “I guess… it’s time to give everyone back to the right family, then.”

Shuurei frowned ferociously for a moment, in thought, and then nodded, triumphant. “We can share!”

Ryuuki stared at her. “Really?”

“Really,” Shuurei stated firmly, and added in her best lecturing tone. “That’s what people do in hard times, just like the relief measures the government has when there’s a famine somewhere.”

Seien chuckled, as the two children smiled at each other, pleased with their pact, and looked up at Shouka-sama to see what he thought of being traded like a bushel of rice.

Shouka-sama wore his most serene smile. “Yes, I think that will work out. Don’t you?”

Seien blushed a little and gathered both the younger ones close. He knew Shouka-sama was tweaking him, gently, over how much he relied on the children’s love, their purity—on the fact that all of this was, in the end, for them because he certainly couldn’t see much else in this filthy world that deserved his sword to guard it.

But perhaps that was all right.

End


The Color of the Phoenix’s Tail – Part One

Seien works, sometimes reluctantly, at fitting himself back into the courts. So do some other people. Drama, I-3

Being heir seemed to Seien to be one trouble after another, but there were occasional good points.

He looked down at the familiar black sheathe in his hands and smiled crookedly. “Not making a presentation of it this time?” he prodded Shou-taishi.

“Why should we?” the man shot back, “it’s already yours, after all.”

Seien slid Kanshou through his sash without answering; they both knew he’d been stripped of it pretty formally when he was exiled. If Shou didn’t want to remind the Court of that, though, Seien had no real argument. He had turned to go when another thought pulled him up short. “What about Bakuya?”

“What about it?” Shou blinked innocently at Seien’s narrow look. “Your father bestowed it on you and you bestowed it on your brother. Unless he’s dropped it in one of the fish ponds, he still has it.”

Seien barely dignified that with a nod and left to find his brother.

He was accosted on the way, of course; he was seriously considering taking to the roofs to make his way across the palace grounds, lately, except that it would be a lot of trouble in court robes. “Secretary,” he greeted the man, shortly.

Sai trotted along beside him, matching his strides with surprising determination for someone who clearly didn’t see much exercise. “Seien-koushi. I’m so glad I found you, I wanted to tell you: I was dining with some of the undersecretaries just the other night and much talk turned on everyone’s fears that you have no wife or consort.”

What fears? Seien wondered with a bit of exasperation. He’d barely been confirmed as heir, and if he’d had a wife any earlier, they’d all have been afraid about that, too, wouldn’t they? And what made any of them think he could stomach any such thing?

“Now, it would be the easiest thing in the world for me to call my daughter to court, lovely girl…”

“I’m afraid I’m not interested,” he cut the man off briskly. “Good afternoon, Sai-dono.” He took the next turning of the walk, even though it meant a detour. At the next corner he snuck a peek back, hoping Sai wouldn’t be following still. Some of the marriage-minded officials could be very persistent.

Instead he surprised a tight, dark look on Sai’s face that was horribly familiar. It wiped away almost instantly into a smile, but Seien had to swallow in a dry throat.

Sai had looked exactly the way Seien’s brothers had, when he was presented with his swords. He thought about that all the way to the Archives.

Reluctant as he was to give Shou-taishi any more chances for sly amusement at his expense, perhaps he needed advice on this.

When he arrived in the library, though, he had to stop brooding and laugh. Ryuuki and Shuurei had taken over sorting and shelving scrolls, leaving Shouka-sama with, apparently, nothing to do but sit at his ease in the sun and watch them.

Of course, Ryuuki immediately abandoned his task to come catch Seien’s hand and beam up at him. “Aniue, we’re helping out!”

“I see you are.” Seien cast a quick eye over the scrolls, brows lifting just a bit. Those looked like monthly department reports; he’d found quite a few of them on his own desk, recently. Had Shouka taught the children enough to understand how to file these? “Well, I hate to take you away from your job,” he told his brother, “but I wondered if you wanted to come and train with me?” he set one hand on Kanshou’s hilt, and Ryuuki nearly glowed.

“Yes!”

Shuurei looked up at that. “Ryuuki,” she scolded, “you didn’t finish your last scroll, or re-wrap it.” She frowned at Seien. “You shouldn’t encourage him to be careless, Seiran—” She broke off, small teeth catching her lip. “I mean…”

Seien came to lay a hand on her head. “It’s all right. You can still call me Seiran, if you want.”

“And Ryuuki can finish his scroll while I get his sword,” Shouka-sama put in, standing.

“Shouka-sama, we can send one of the pages for it,” Seien protested as his foster-father moved toward the door. It was a rather long way back to the imperial pavilions from here.

Shouka-sama laughed. “Oh, it’s just in the next room.” He smiled at Seien’s expression. “This is the place to keep treasures, after all, and Ryuuki wanted it to stay safe.”

Seien wondered if it was natural to feel so warm, so happy.


He was not in as good a mood, two days later, when Shou-taishi strolled into his office, waving a letter. “So, you want to speak with someone who can tell you about Sai, do you?”

Seien looked up from the pile of past reports from provincial governors that he’d been making his way through on Shouka-sama’s recommendation, and sighed a bit wearily. He felt like he was drowning in politics. “If they can do so clearly and directly, yes.”

Shou had the gall to laugh. “I think Ro can do that.” He waved another older man in. Seien eyed him warily, but this one looked reassuringly solid and no-nonsense. Unlike Shou. Good. “Ro-dono is an undersecretary of Protocol.”

Seien sat back, arrested. Sai’s own assistant was supposed to give him a straightforward story on the man? “Please have a seat, Ro-kanri,” he murmured.

“What was it your Highness wished to know about Protocol?” Ro asked, settling himself as Shou-taishi left again and closed the door behind him.

Seien was too tired to waste the proper time on indirection. “I believe I may have made an enemy, in Sai,” he said, frankly. “I hoped you could tell me just how bad the results are likely to be.”

Ro’s eyes sharpened; in direct contrast his tone was casual. “Would you happen to know the occasion of the Secretary’s animosity?”

Seien snorted. “Well, I assume it was when I told him I had no interest in meeting his daughter.”

Ro looked at him levelly for a long moment. “Refusing out of hand was not, perhaps, the best decision,” he rumbled at last.

Seien blinked. “But no one can honestly think I’m enough of an idiot to duplicate the Emperor’s mistakes with his concubines.” If anything could put a man off women for good, it was watching all of that going on while growing up.

Ro, taking a sip of tea, sputtered into his cup. “You are… very straightforward, Highness.”

Seien leaned back with a sigh. “And I suppose that won’t do. No one in this place can be straightforward, can they?” He looked away, trying not to slump; he would give so much to be able to talk to someone about work and politics without all this interminable dancing around.

“Not often,” Ro answered. Seien looked back, surprising what might have been a hint of sympathy before the man’s expression turned severe again. “So think well, when it comes time to choose your own advisors. They will be the only ones.”

After a moment, Seien nodded; however much he hadn’t wanted to deal with it again, he did know the rules here. “I understand.”

“Very well then. As for the Secretary, what you may expect is efforts behind your back to discredit any work you accomplish; he’s a coward…”

Seien listened and made notes to himself and smiled faintly as Ro-kanri thoroughly violated his own dictum that only personal advisors would speak straightly to the prince.

Seien made a note of that, too.

TBC


The Color of the Phoenix’s Tail – Part Two

Shuuei and Kouyuu pass the Exams and meet the princes. Drama, I-3

Shuuei

Shuuei leaned on the rail outside his newly-assigned department and smiled. “So, here we are. Real live officials.”

“And even as an official, I can’t get rid of you,” Kouyuu grumbled. He did not, however, stop leaning back on the rail beside Shuuei.

“Why would you want to get rid of your best friend, the one who’s always ready to help you out?” Shuuei asked, innocently. “Or help you back to where you were trying to go, anyway…”

“Shut up!”

When Kouyuu’s growling and Shuuei’s laughter both subsided, Shuuei added, “Hey. Did you notice the Prince, during the ceremony?”

Kouyuu raised a brow at him. “Which one?”

“Seien, of course,” Shuuei told him, patiently. “The one we’re going to spend most of our lives serving?”

“Supposing nothing else happens to him,” Kouyuu muttered. “What about him?”

“Didn’t it seem odd to you?” Shuuei pressed. “I don’t think he changed expression once, the entire time. Ryuuki-koushi was definitely bored, but Seien…” He trailed off, not sure how to express what had disturbed him.

“So he’s better at ceremonies.” Kouyuu shrugged. “He’s what? Seven years older? It isn’t surprising is it?”

Shuuei braced his elbows on the rail and clasped his hands, staring out over the trees. “It was more than that. He seemed so distant; as though none of it meant anything to him, even though we’ll be the officials serving under him the longest.” Half to himself he murmured, “I wonder what happened while he was in exile.”

“Maybe he was somewhere cold and his face froze that way.” Kouyuu snorted. “What, did you not like having someone not paying attention to you?”

“It just seemed strange,” Shuuei said, lightly. “My brothers say he didn’t used to be like that. So I wondered what happened.”

“Mm.” Kouyuu frowned. “I do remember hearing something—about him disappearing?”

“Completely,” Shuuei confirmed. “My family tried to find him, but there was no trace. He set out and then just vanished.”

Kouyuu waved a hand, dismissing the mystery. “He was probably taken somewhere secret for his own safety. The imperial family is like that. It’s amazing any of them survive.” He tilted his head at Shuuei. “Why are you so interested in him, anyway? You can bet our positions won’t involve him for a good long time.”

Shuuei smiled, a bit crookedly. “Oh, well. I was trained to be his supporter, from the time I was little, you know. And then the clan thought not, but then there was the trouble a few years ago, and here I am after all.” He laughed and stretched upright. “Maybe it’s destiny.”

Kouyuu was suddenly smirking at him. “Oh, so you’re Seien-koushi’s intended, huh? No wonder you’re so interested in him.” The smirk became an outright grin. “Should I get you a red veil to celebrate your next promotion?”

“I wouldn’t laugh if I was you,” Shuuei told him mildly. “Isn’t that Yu-kanri, over there? He probably has another invitation for you.”

Kouyuu’s eyes got a little wild. “Ah, I, I should start work right away!” He strode off, in the opposite direction from his new duties, nearly running.

Shuuei leaned back against the rail, chuckling, as his friend fled.

Kouyuu

Kouyuu dashed down a covered walk. He’d abandoned dignity and started running two courtyards back.

It had been months since the Exams, and they were still after him!

After another two turnings he dared to stop and catch his breath and look around, trying to figure out where he’d ended up.

“Ah, is that Li-kanri?”

Kouyuu panicked and darted through the nearest arch, flinging himself back against the wall, out of sight. He waited, tense, while whichever daughter-laden official was outside shuffled around and finally walked off again making puzzled sounds. Slowly, he let his breath out.

“Who are you?”

Kouyuu jumped at the question and his head snapped around. He was poised to run again before the youth of the voice registered and he managed to relax before he actually sprinted off.

Then his eye took in the quite distinctive gold and silver hair of the two people in the courtyard, and the equally distinctive paired black and white fittings of their swords. Fate, he decided, hated him.

“Seien-koushi, Ryuuki-koushi! I’m very sorry.” He bowed quickly, eyeing the edge of steel Seien-koushi had turned toward him and the way the Prince had pushed his younger brother behind him. A bit cautiously, he added, “I didn’t mean to intrude; please forgive me.”

Rather to his relief, Seien relaxed. “It’s no problem.” He cocked his head at Kouyuu, looking a bit bemused. “Running away from something?”

Kouyuu flushed. “It’s just… invitations,” he muttered. “Daughters.”

“Oh.” The syllable was heavy with sudden understanding. Come to think of it, Kouyuu supposed the Prince probably got at least as many of those as he did.

Ryuuki-koushi tugged on his brother’s sleeve, wide-eyed. “Seien-aniue, are they going to chase me like that, too?” the boy asked, worried.

Seien’s smile softened so quickly that Kouyuu couldn’t help staring. The Prince petted back his brother’s hair. “A little, I’m afraid. I can’t keep them away forever. But don’t worry; I’ll keep you safe.”

Ryuuki nodded, and the shining trust in his face as he looked up at Seien-koushi made Kouyuu’s throat unaccountably tight. He swallowed against it.

And then he had to blink as the young prince turned to him and smiled, bright and generous. “Aniue has trouble with them all the time. You can hide here until they’re gone.”

“That’s… very kind of you, your Highness,” Kouyuu murmured, startled. He hadn’t been prepared for an imperial prince to be so… nice.

“Ah, there you are.”

Kouyuu choked as Shuuei popped up on the other side of the courtyard. How did Shuuei always find him?!

“Ryuuki-koushi, Seien-koushi, I do apologize for the interruption.” Shuuei bowed with infuriating grace and strolled across the court to catch Kouyuu’s hand. “Come along, Kouyuu, Sho-kanri will be annoyed if you’re late again.” With a last, sparkling smile at the elder prince, he towed Kouyuu out.

“Are you sure you’re not just flirting with him?” Kouyuu growled, red-faced.

Shuuei just laughed. “Not yet.”

TBC


The Color of the Phoenix’s Tail – Part Three

Shuurei likes her life but wants it to be something more. Drama, I-3

Shuurei rested her chin in her hands and sighed. Normally, something like the Council record on the table in front of her was her favorite kind of thing to read, telling all about how the officials who ran the country struggled as hard among themselves as any soldiers to reach the best conclusions and policies they could. And, at first, she’d been delighted to come to the palace with her father and play in the Archives. It had been even better when he’d let her help out with sorting the records, and let her read anything she wanted. Now, though…

“Oh, I see!” Ryuuki exclaimed, across the table from her. “So Finance balances all of the other departments, really… “

Now, it was just reminding her that she wouldn’t ever get to use this knowledge. She sighed again.

“Shuurei?” Seiran came to stand beside her, leaving his own scrolls. “Is anything wrong?”

She mustered a smile for him; Seiran always worried so much when she was upset. “No, it’s all right. I was just…” her voice wavered a little, despite everything she could do, “wishing I could be an official and do something good with all this.”

Seiran’s worried look softened into sympathy. “I wish you could, too,” he said, softly. “I think you’d do a better job than most of the officials we have right now.”

“Mm.” She swallowed and managed a slightly better smile. “It would be nice to really belong here.”

Ryuuki, watching them with a small frown, brightened up at that. “Oh, that’s easy. When we grow up, I’ll marry you, Shuurei, and then you can always be here.”

Shuurei picked up one of the books and hit him over the head with it. Gently, of course; she always took good care of her books. “Stupid,” she declared. “If I got married to you I’d be stuck in the inner courts forever and ever and never get to do anything.”

Ryuuki gave her a hangdog look, hands protectively over his head. “It was just an idea.”

She glowered at him, and Seiran laughed. “Well, even if it is a little selfish of me, it’s nice to have you here to help us,” he said. His smile tilted ruefully. “You’re both better at this than I am, still.”

It was Ryuuki’s turn to lean his chin in his hands. “So, we just have to find a way for Shuurei to stay, and then we can both always be here to help you, Aniue.”

Seiran looked happy enough, at the thought, that Shuurei stopped glowering and smiled at Ryuuki again.

She did wonder just a little, though, if staying here was really the right thing to do.


Shuurei stared down at the vegetables she was chopping, not really seeing them.

She felt strange, lately. Restless. Angry over nothing, sometimes. She caught Tou-sama and Seiran looking at her in worried ways. Maybe she just needed something to do—but what? If she cooked any more, all three of the men wouldn’t be enough to eat it all. She could only clean for so long at a time before boredom made her want to scream. And Seiran had insisted on hiring workers to fix the roof, so she couldn’t teach herself to do repairs.

She bit her lip, knife slowing. There was that young woman she’d heard the other day while she was out shopping. The woman had said that her employer, Kochou, really needed to hire more young women. And she’d mentioned the district; it wasn’t too far away.

Shuurei had liked the way that young women had held herself—tall and confident. Maybe if Shuurei had her own work, not just work borrowed from the men, she’d feel like she could walk that way too.

“Right! I’ve decided,” Shuurei told the empty kitchen. “I’m going to get a job of my very own!”

And then maybe they’d at least be able to hire someone to take care of the garden, without letting Seiran use imperial money on it.

She turned her attention properly back to her chopping, humming with the pleasure of having made a decision. She should remember how much that helped, for next time she felt out-of-sorts.

TBC


The Color of the Phoenix’s Tail – Part Four

Shuuei transfers, Kouyuu broods, Ryuuki gets a new friend. Drama, I-3

Shuuei

Kouyuu dropped his brush, staring at Shuuei. “You’re what?”

“I’m transferring.” Shuuei leaned back and looked out the window of Kouyuu’s office. “I think I’ll be more suited to the military.”

And Koku-daishougun had caught him practicing with Sou-taifu and pounced on him like a wolf on tasty prey, and he still wasn’t positive that Sou-taifu hadn’t set the whole thing up. But he wasn’t saying that part; it would be bad for his image.

“But you’re about to be promoted!”

“Was I?” Shuuei smiled. Perhaps that explained why he was transferring to such a high starting rank. He’d let Kouyuu find that out on his own, though.

“Well,” Kouyuu sniffed, picking up his brush again, “at least I won’t have to see as much of you.”

“Oh, don’t say that,” Shuuei purred, and laughed as Kouyuu glowered at him.

He didn’t want to lose his favorite friend, after all. Where else would he find someone this pure?

Or this much fun to play with?

Ryuuki

“Thank you, Shouka-sama.”

Ryuuki watched with interest; Kouyuu was one of the only people who came to the Archives who was respectful to Shouka or stayed to talk with him. Today, though, he seemed a little distracted.

“I’ll come back for the second set of these,” Kouyuu said quietly, laying a hand on a stack of books.

Ryuuki was bored, and Shuurei wouldn’t be here until much later; today was her afternoon on that job she wouldn’t talk to any of them about. So. “I’ll help with them,” he piped up, coming to take the second stack.

“Oh.” Kouyuu blinked at him. “Ah. Thank you, Ryuuki-koushi.”

“It’s okay. Aniue won’t be out of the Council for hours yet, probably.” Ryuuki hitched up his stack and stretched his legs to match Kouyuu’s strides down the halls. He glanced at the distant look on Kouyuu’s face and decided against asking him what he was brooding over. “Why do you call him ‘Shouka-sama’?” he asked instead.

“He’s Reishin-sama’s older brother,” Kouyuu explained. “Reishin-sama respects him very much.”

“Reishin,” Ryuuki murmured, trying to place the name among the horde of officials he was just starting to keep straight these days.

“Kou Reishin, the Secretary of Civil Affairs.” Kouyuu smiled, the way he did sometimes that made him look a lot younger and nicer than usual. “I came here to serve him.”

Ryuuki cocked his head; he heard something in Kouyuu’s voice. Something that seemed kind of familiar. “Did he save you?”

Kouyuu stopped short, staring. “How… did you… ?”

Ryuuki shrugged. “You sound the way I feel about Seien-aniue. Aniue saved me. I just wondered.”

Now Kouyuu’s eyes were a little strange. “What did he save you from?” he asked slowly.

Ryuuki looked away, shoulders hunching. He didn’t like remembering those years. If he did, then he remembered the dark, and if he remembered the dark he’d have to ask if he could sleep in Aniue’s room tonight… He started at a hand on his shoulder.

“Never mind.” Kouyuu squeezed gently before drawing back to balance his stack of books with both hands. He looked like he understood about bad memories. Ryuuki nodded, relieved, and they walked on quietly.

A few halls later, Kouyuu started to turn left and Ryuuki stopped, startled. “Aren’t we taking these to Finance?”

“Of course.”

Ryuuki pointed right. “Finance is this way.”

Kouyuu flushed and then glowered and then stomped past him and down the right-hand hall. “Why do they keep moving these halls around?!”

Ryuuki couldn’t help laughing, no matter how Kouyuu glared. When he caught his breath he ran after Kouyuu and paid more attention to guiding their turnings.

“So… what should I do if I want to serve Aniue?” he asked, discreetly nudging Kouyuu left.

Kouyuu glanced down at him, expression softening again. “Well, first I suppose you should learn how the courts work, so you can advise him well and do the things he needs done.”

Ryuuki nodded, intent. “And then?”

“Learn the people.”

Ryuuki thought about this as he slipped ahead to open the right door. It made sense. “Can I… ask you about things?” He ducked his head a little, glancing up at Kouyuu; he didn’t want to be a bother and make Kouyuu want to get rid of him like almost everyone else always had. He breathed a sigh of relief as Kouyuu grinned at him, companionably.

“Sure you can.”

Ryuuki grinned back. “Okay.”

“Ask later, though,” Kouyuu added, as he reached for the next door. “The Secretary of Finance is a little short on patience.”

Ryuuki nodded and tiptoed in after Kouyuu, setting himself to watch and learn. For Aniue.

TBC


The Color of the Phoenix’s Tail – Part Five

Seien is learning how to deal with the ministers. Drama, I-3

Character(s): Shi Seien, Shou Yosei

Seien sat beside Shou-taishi, listening to the ministers debate, and practiced looking calm.

“… the merchant clans are starting to move their operations, of course the province has petitioned for Imperial aid!”

“Upkeep of towns and roads has always been a local responsibility!”

“Oh, always? What money was it that built the canals, then?”

The two ministers glared at each other, nearly baring their teeth. Seien sighed; some days he felt more like a nursemaid than any kind of ruler, even one in training. Keeping the ministers away from each other’s throats sometimes reminded him quite a lot of trying to keep a five-year-old Shuurei from dunking herself in the fish pond.

Fortunately, he’d found ministers responded fairly well to much the same cajoling that had worked on her.

“Gentlemen,” he said, voice soft, “let us hear all of the reports before we seek any decision.”

The ministers settled back grumpily, letting the poor provincial official reporting to them talk again.

Actually, Seiran thought, Shuurei would probably love it if she could be here. He could just see the sparkle in her eyes as she rolled up her sleeves and waded into the argument. He could see her standing here with her hands on her hips, scolding everyone like a miniature mother about how skimping on money to repair a roof only meant spending more on ruined floors and furniture. For a moment, he had to fight to keep his smile calm. Thirteen years old, and the girl was already wiser than most of the men in this room.

Well, he could at least bring her wisdom here.

“Kei-jirou,” he turned to the representative from Finance before anyone could start arguing again. “Is it possible to project how much repairing these roads would cost in another three years?”

“Three years?” Kei flipped through his papers and named a figure that made the minister who had suggested such a delay turn pale. Seien nodded, flicking a look at the Secretary of Public Works.

“And there would, of course, be the lost revenue to deal with, as trade slows down in that province.” He hid satisfaction behind his smile as Kan started chewing on the end of his brush. The senior minister for State was also looking thoughtful.

“There’s also the cost of cleaning out bandits, after,” the Secretary for the Military put in. “They thrive when travel is difficult, and the provincial Governor would surely call for help with that since,” he cut a glance at the minister most against the whole thing, “that’s his undeniable right.”

Seien relaxed. With a majority of the Secretaries plus the Minister of State, he could carry this. Carry it without the assistance of Shou-taishi, that was, who was leaning back in his chair and not helping at all. He seemed to get some obscure enjoyment out of leaving Seien dangling with his ambiguous and partial authority, letting him piece together consensus on his own. It did, Seien had to admit, make for stronger policies. He had mostly stopped resenting it.

Mostly.

He still thought he’d give almost anything to have a few more thoughtful, competent officials around here, to help him take care of all the children.

As the officials who would be his grumbled themselves into agreement, he made sure to keep smiling soothingly at them, and tried not to wonder if it would help if he offered them sweets as an incentive. It had always worked on Shuurei, and it was one of the only bribes he could currently produce out of his own resources. He stifled a sigh and tried not to glare at Shou.

At this rate, he was going to wind up looking forward to that damned throne.

End


Turning Storm

Shuuei is selected as Prince Seien’s bodyguard, and the two get acquainted. Drama, I-3

Shuuei had been flattered but not hugely surprised, when Shou-taishi came to talk to him about a new assignment. He was, after all, one of the rising stars of the palace military. He worked quite hard to be. He’d expected it to pay off. Now, though, he had to wonder just what Shou-taishi had really been thinking.

So, apparently, did the Prince.

He stood, silent and attentive, watching as Seien-koushi eyed Shou-taishi warily. “I don’t need a personal guard.”

“Just because you can trounce almost anyone with that sword of yours doesn’t mean you don’t need a guard,” the old man told him briskly. “You’re a prince. If you don’t get into any more trouble, you’re going to be the Emperor. You don’t have enough time to always be thinking of your own defense.” He waved at Shuuei, standing beside him. “Ran-shougun is one of the best, himself.”

Shuuei smiled with his best balance of professional and friendly as Seien-koushi’s glance raked over him; no sense fanning the fire Shou-taishi was cheerfully building. Shuuei made a mental note that Shou-taishi seemed to like antagonizing the Prince. He should find out why.

“One of the best, to guard my back?” Seien-koushi asked with a lightness that Shuuei didn’t believe for an instant. “What a nice change.” He and Shou-taishi smiled at each other, just a little too toothily for comfort. The Prince pushed up to his feet and came around his desk, sharp eyes focused now on Shuuei, dismissing Shou-taishi entirely. “Show me.”

“Of course, your Highness,” Shuuei murmured.

As Shuuei followed Seien from the room he thought he caught a faint chuckle from Shou-taishi.


Seien led the way out to one of the small, closed courtyards, glancing around at its emptiness and nodding with satisfaction. “This will do.” He turned, drawing his sword with a smoothness that made Shuuei’s nerves sharpen. “Come.”

Shuuei drew his own sword and did as he was told.

The first few exchanges were cautious, leashed, testing. They were also silent, which might not bode well for an easy working relationship but was more or less what Shuuei had expected. Seien-koushi wasn’t known for social chatter. Those passes were not, however, anywhere near the level Shou-taishi had implied the Prince could reach, so Shuuei pushed a little harder, testing back.

Seien-koushi’s mouth tightened, and he threw the attacks back with no apparent trouble. Shuuei gave the Prince his most charming smile and pushed harder still, pressing Seien back off balance for a moment. Shuuei nodded to himself and paused, prepared to draw back and see whether the Prince wanted another round.

He almost missed the change.

In the instant that Seien wavered, guard starting to fall open, his eyes cleared, blanked. Shuuei didn’t even have time to frown with his puzzlement before he was the one on the defensive, pushed back and back again by the Prince’s attack.

The part of his mind that wasn’t alarmed was impressed. Seien had precision so sharp it could only be called finesse, yet his style was driven by such wild force Shuuei felt like he was being attacked by a flailing berserker. Only much worse, because, of course, the Prince wasn’t flailing at all. Even in his rare practice sessions with Sou-taifu, Shuuei had never felt anything like it. It was nothing like what he had expected from the reserved, courteous Prince that the Court knew.

This time, it was his foot that came down a fraction off, his balance that wavered, and Seien didn’t hesitate. At all. He came in to kill, sword slashing up toward Shuuei’s bared throat. Steel rasped as their swords locked. Shuuei strained to hold his block, a breath from being disarmed. It took him a moment before he could speak.

“Seien-sama,” he murmured, voice low, calling the Prince to come back from wherever he’d gone.

Seien stepped back from him abruptly, eyes shuttered again just as quickly as that.

Shuuei sheathed his sword slowly. His blood was singing with the heat of the fight, and his mind was whirling with speculation.

For years, now, he had thought his initial task for his clan was no longer necessary. The most capable prince of them all was going to take the throne, and Shuuei didn’t need to do anything to insure it. Now… now, he thought perhaps his job wasn’t done yet.

It was, however, good that he had transferred to the military; fewer people would suspect what he was doing, that way.

Seien was still watching him, silent and breathing fast.

Shuuei’s lips quirked. “Shou-taishi was certainly right that you don’t much need anyone else’s sword to guard you from attackers,” he admitted. “But I hope, my prince, that you will allow me to guard you from this.” His gesture took in their match just finished, the blood that had come very close to being spilled.

Seien’s surprise made him look younger for a moment. “You…” and then that cool guard was back up. “Why?”

“Because I’m rather taken with the idea of doing right by my country?” Shuuei offered.

Shuuei didn’t know why his answer had made the Prince’s mouth twist.

Yet.

He’d find out.

“Try again,” Seien told him, voice dry.

Shuuei considered the wild rage that had just come at him behind that sword, and compared it with the ice-slick face Seien showed to the Court. That was not the combination of a man who trusted easily. He was going to have to take another risk, he thought, to reach his task. “Because you are the ruler Ran has always supported,” he answered, quietly. “Because I was sent here for you. Because you need someone who knows your temper to stay your hand.” He spread his hands and waited to see if honesty would move his prince.

After a long, silent moment, Seien inclined his head. “Well. Let us see.”

That was probably as good as he could hope for, for now, and Shuuei smiled ruefully and bowed. “Yes, your Highness.”

He would have to write his brothers and tell them he had found his place after all.

End


May It Concern

Shuuei writes a letter to his family about what he’s just discovered. Humor, I-2

Character(s): Ran Shuuei

My Dear Most Honored and Respected Elder Brothers Who Almost Got Me Killed,

I write to you to urge greater caution, in the future, when planning expeditions like the one you sent me on a few years ago. I have recently come into possession of proof that, had the trip been completed, you would have had one less little brother.

And then who would have taken care of Ryuuren, when he bothers to visit?

Shuuei considered his opening and nodded. Guilt and threat in equal measures; his family would appreciate it.

This would likely have been even more speedily true had I attempted to deliver the expedition’s goods while the subject of the transaction was still in the initial circumstances that occasioned the journey.

Shuuei paused again and ran that over in his mind a few times. It seemed sufficiently vague and confusing to be safe—at least, as safe as it ever could be, admitting to having tried to kill the now-heir-apparent. And if it ever did come to the Prince’s attention, well, all Shuuei had to do was point out that it had been done for Ryuuki’s sake, and he probably wouldn’t die.

In short, even I couldn’t have done it. This has, of course, turned out to be a felicitous fact in the end, but I felt you deserved to be in possession of all the facts so that the next clan decision is less potentially catastrophic.

Know that you have, as always, all my regard.

Ran Shuuei

Shuuei stowed the scroll for travel and tied its box firmly. He would give it to the couriers that evening, he thought.

It was always good to let his family know he was still doing well.

End


Feed Them On Your Dreams

The Emperor is dying; Seien talks with both his fathers. Drama with Angst, I-4 (Significant Novel Spoilers)

Don’t You Ever Ask Them Why

Seien sat beside the Emperor’s bed, looking down at his father. The man looked pale and sunken, small in the middle of his crisp sheets and soft blankets. “So. You called your fate to you.”

The Emperor’s mouth quirked at one corner. “It looks that way. Or perhaps the gods think it’s your time and I’m just in the way.”

Seien almost flinched, catching it back at the last moment; that was close enough to the way he often thought of himself, just a placeholder, really, to make his stomach twist with the thought that he and his father were more alike than he’d thought. The Emperor vented a short half-laugh, about as much as his body would allow him by now, and closed his eyes.

“You want to know something,” he stated.

Seien’s fingers tightened around each other; it was true enough, he didn’t come here for any other reason.

And that, in a way, was his question.

“Will you tell me, now,” he said, low, looking down at his clasped hands, “why you didn’t pay more attention to your family?”

The Emperor smiled at the ceiling. “You resent me for that.” It wasn’t a question.

Seien’s anger made his voice a growl. “You spent years and years fighting to reunify the country, to break the power of the great clans until imperial law ruled everywhere again.” His control slipped and he slammed a hand against the wall. “And you almost lost it all just because you ignored what was happening in your own inner courts! Why?!”

The Emperor managed a sigh. “I doubt you’ll understand yet, but all right.” His eyes, already detached, turned still more distant. “There was a woman I loved. Strong and beautiful as the sun. She shared my dreams for our country.” He was silent for a long moment, thin fingers tracing over the covers. “She died for them.” The curve of his mouth had become bitter. “I could barely look at any other woman, after that.”

Seien frowned. He could almost understand that, but… “So you couldn’t care for our mothers. What about us? What about your sons?”

Very quietly, his father said, “You weren’t hers.”

Seien stared for a long moment. “And that’s why you let them build factions and scheme and betray and poison the courts, the city, nearly the whole country?” He took a long breath, trying to settle his roiling stomach, and still couldn’t make his last words come out as more than a harsh rasp. “Did you think your kingdom would be a good funeral offering? Was that it?”

“I did say you probably wouldn’t understand,” the Emperor murmured.

Seien made a disgusted sound.

“I think everyone should be allowed one great foolishness in their lives,” his father added, reflectively.

“Not the Emperor!” Seien snapped, utterly incensed that such selfishness had almost destroyed the peace, the world, of Ryuuki and Shuurei.

At that, his father looked at him directly, smile growing. “Well, perhaps you’ll be able to keep your own foolishness out of how you rule, then.”

“I will.” Seien knew it was probably foolish to tempt fate by saying such a thing, but he was determined that it would be true.

The way his father laughed still made him uncomfortable.

“Take the throne with my blessing, then. My son.” The Emperor reached out, and the weight of years and empire poised over Seien’s shoulders pressed him down to his knees to accept it.

And Know They Love You

Seien sat on a stone, under the bare branches of an inner court garden, and drew up his knees to rest his forehead on them. A bit of damp chill struck up from the stone, through the rough cloth of his robes.

The rites were over; the funeral procession was complete. Tomorrow, everyone would call him Emperor. Tonight, he desperately wanted a shred of quiet in which to catch his breath and brace himself.

The rustle of footsteps nearby almost made him whimper.

“Seiran.”

Warm relief washed over him, and he lifted his head. “Shouka-sama.” And then he had to pause, startled. Shouka-sama was barely visible against the tree trunks, in the dusk, all in snug black, rather than mourning.

“There are things you have not been told about how the previous Emperor reigned.” Like his figure, Shouka-sama’s voice nearly disappeared into the breeze through the garden. “I would like to tell you, now that I can.”

Seien was quiet for a moment. Shouka-sama could only have come here dressed like this to let Seiran know, without words, just what tales he wished to tell. To let Seiran deny it, if he wished.

Part of him did wish, but most of him was wary enough to want to know everything; he might need it.

“Tell me.”

“I came to the capital when I was ten, because the Emperor looked on my clan with disfavor, to see if there was any way to save them. That was when I joined the Wolves. A year later I was given my first target: my great-grandmother.”

Seien started, eyes wide and shocked. Even with everything he knew, he had not expected that.

The soft voice wound on through the sounds of rustling branches. “That was the price of my clan’s survival—the life of its true leader. The one person bright and strong enough to challenge the country’s ruler.”

Seien shuddered. Even through his chill sickness, though, ran a thread of hot fury that the Emperor had failed to apply that ruthlessness to his own family. How had he dared become so hard and then fail?

He listened, in the growing darkness, to Shouka-sama’s list of bloody tasks he’d done in the Emperor’s name. Finally it fell silent and Seien unwound from the rock and reached to catch his foster-father’s hands.

“Thank you.” He pressed those hands to his lips, brief and hard. “For doing it. For stopping it.” He looked up, meeting Shouka-sama’s burning eyes. “For telling me.”

“You are the Emperor, now,” Shouka-sama said quietly.

Seien stilled, caught by the things Shouka-sama wasn’t saying—the offer he didn’t quite speak aloud. His foster-father gave him a tiny smile, agreeing that Seiran heard the silence correctly.

“Shouka-sama…” Seiran’s voice shook. If he asked, he would be spared more blood on his hands. Shouka-sama would soak his own in still more, to save him from that.

“You’re family, too,” Shouka-sama told him gently.

Seiran closed his eyes, and let the dark quiet of the evening wrap back around them, letting himself rest in his living father’s protection.

Tomorrow would be time enough to walk back into the light.

End

A/N: The story and section titles are taken from the lyrics of “Teach Your Children”, by Graham Nash.


Still Air

Seiran wakes Ryuuki from a nightmare and is convinced to stay and comfort him. Smut ensues. Porn with Characterization, I-4

Notes: Contains consensual sibling incest.

Pairing(s): Seiran/Ryuuki

Darkness.

Stifling darkness and the almost-silence that meant there was no one near him, no one with him, but people nevertheless. People beyond his reach, walking around out in the light, forgetting him, leaving him.

“Haa!” Ryuuki started up with a harsh gasp, eyes wide trying to see something other than darkness.

And there was light.

Light and warm, strong hands on his shoulders.

“Majesty, wake up, it’s all right.” Seien was sitting on the edge of the bed, calling him, eyes dark with worry. A tiny lamp was lit, glowing just beyond the curtains.

Tension washed out of him so fast it left him shaking. “Aniue.” Here, with the darkness pressing so close, Ryuuki didn’t want to hold back or bite his lip and bear it all. He kicked away the tangle of his covers and burrowed into his brother’s chest. Seien caught him with a soft, rueful sigh.

“All right, Ryuuki.” The usual, maddening formality dropped from Seien’s voice and he leaned back against the alcove wall and gathered Ryuuki close.

Ryuuki had to blink back wetness from his eyes, shivering a little with relief that Seien would be Seien for him, tonight, and hold him until the fear went away. He crept a little closer, almost into his brother’s lap and sighed as a strong, comforting hand petted his hair. Cold years melted away and left just the two of them, and the warm assurance of his brother’s touch.

“You should have someone stay with you, since she has other work, now,” Seien murmured. “Not those girls you spend time with, either,” he added, in a sharper tone. “Someone you can trust.”

“They did keep my secret,” Ryuuki offered, blushing a little with the pleasure of hearing that protective edge in his brother’s voice.

Seien tapped Ryuuki’s nose with a finger. “If they were interested in helping you, they’d have told you a little more about women and you wouldn’t keep making yourself so foolish in front of Shuurei.”

Ryuuki was blushing for real, now, half with embarrassment and half with sneaking enjoyment of Seien scolding him properly, the way an older brother should. “Oh.” He curled up against his brother’s shoulder, pensive. “I wish it could be you. I wish…” old pain and newer knowledge tangled in his heart and mind and he closed his eyes and whispered. “I wish it could have been you all along; instead of them.”

Seien’s hand on his hair stilled. “Ryuuki?”

Ryuuki looked up at the brilliant, beautiful older brother who had been first and only in his heart for so long. “You would have shown me. It would all have been right, with you.” It would have been safe and right and good, and not a string of masks the way it had been with all the other men and women in his bed.

After a long moment, Seien’s eyes softened and his palm cupped Ryuuki’s cheek, thumb stroking gently over his cheekbone. Ryuuki’s eyes widened.

“Seien-aniue?” Hesitantly, not sure he was reading that softness right, he reached up and touched Seien’s lips with his fingertips. “You… Would you?”

Seien looked down at him for a long breath, eyes dark, before he lifted Ryuuki’s chin and kissed him slowly. “If it’s what you want, Ryuuki,” he murmured against Ryuuki’s mouth.

Ryuuki relaxed against Seien’s chest, lightheaded with the feeling of being held and touched by the one person he knew, knew without a second’s question, he could trust absolutely. His voice shook a little with it. “Please.”

Seien’s arm tightened around him in answer, and his fingers threaded into Ryuuki’s hair, tipping his head back to deepen the kiss. A soft, wanting sound caught in Ryuuki’s throat as he opened his mouth for Seien. It was so good to be sheltered by this strength again. And Seien understood that, the way he understood everything, Ryuuki knew he did, because he held Ryuuki firm and close even as his other hand eased Ryuuki’s robe down his shoulder and Seien’s mouth moved down Ryuuki’s throat and over the bared skin. Heat threaded through him. “Ohhh…”

“Easy,” Seien murmured in his ear. “Ryuuki.”

Ryuuki shivered with the quick cascade of sensation as Seien brushed the robe off his other shoulder and it slid down to tangle softly around his arms, and the coolness of Ryuuki’s hair swept over his bare back in contrast to the warm strength of Seien’s hand sliding up it. “Seien-aniue,” he whispered, his own hands spreading against Seien’s chest.

Having cloth under his hands was starting to be annoying.

He looked up at Seien, pouting a bit just for effect, and tugged on the shirt. “Seien-aniue…”

Seien laughed, low and husky, and the sound was enough to make Ryuuki’s breath go a little faster. “You want to touch?” Seien set Ryuuki back a little and slid out of bed to stand beside it, smiling. Ryuuki’s lips parted soundlessly as sky-bright eyes captured and held him while Seien stripped off his clothes, not really hurrying about it. Ryuuki’s mouth was dry; the tiny quirk of his brother’s lips made his stomach do strange things. He reached out as Seien slid back onto the bed, wanting to follow the sweep of all that sleek, powerful muscle with his fingers. Seien gathered him back up, and this time his kiss turned Ryuuki’s bones to water. Ryuuki was perfectly happy to melt against Seien’s chest, now bare and warm, and let his brother take his mouth, one slow, wet kiss at a time.

“You’re warm,” Seien murmured to him. Ryuuki made an agreeing sound against Seien’s lips and then a more breathless one as Seien’s fingers slid down his back, under the robe still draped off Ryuuki’s arms, and between his cheeks. His brother’s lips curved.

“Oh… Seien-aniue…” Ryuuki let his head fall to Seien’s shoulder, panting softly against his brother’s neck as Seien’s fingers stroked him slow and gentle. It was really going to happen; Seien-aniue was really going to let him be this close.

“Ryuuki?” Seien’s tongue slid over Ryuuki’s ear making him shiver. “We need something…”

It took Ryuuki a few moments to gather his wits enough to point at one of the tiny alcoves behind the bed curtains. “The blue jar.”

Seien’s fingers pressed into him, slick and slow, and his breath turned into gasps; he was glad for the solidity of Seien’s shoulders under his hands, because he needed something to hold onto while his body stretched hot and open. Seien touched him gently until Ryuuki was draped against him, panting.

“Ready?” Seien finally asked, voice low but somehow not soft.

Ryuuki looked up at his brother, flushed, hearing a layer of darkness in his brother’s voice, deeper than he’d ever heard it while they were both children. This was Seien grown and fiercer, stronger—strong enough to hold and shelter even the Emperor, and that thought made his breath catch. Even he could hear the yearning in his voice when he whispered “Yes.”

Seien drew him closer, until Ryuuki was pressed against him, legs spread over his lap. Ryuuki shivered a little as Seien’s hands swept down his back, firm and slow, over his rear and down his thighs, pulling him closer still. It was exactly what he wanted. Seien’s lips moved down Ryuuki’s throat as his hands gripped Ryuuki’s rear and tilted his hips up until Ryuuki laughed and had to clasp his hands behind Seien’s neck to keep from falling backwards. The feeling of Seien’s mouth curving against his skin made heat curl in Ryuuki’s stomach.

“We could just lie down,” he suggested, breathless.

“Mm. I want to hold you, though.” Seien lifted his head to smile at Ryuuki, and Ryuuki softened helplessly in the warmth of it. In his brother’s arms was definitely one of the best possible places to be.

Seien shifted against him and Ryuuki stopped thinking and just felt as Seien pushed into him, slow and hard, hard enough to leave him gasping as his brother slid inside.

“Aniue!”

Seien’s hands moved up his back, strong and gentle, palms stroking and soothing. “All right?”

Ryuuki relaxed into the support of his brother’s hands, moaning. “Oh yes. Aniue…” It was so good to feel Seien this close, so right to be held this gently, this powerfully. Seien rocked against him and Ryuuki let himself go into the heat of his brother moving inside him.

Threads of memory twined themselves around the rush of sensation as Seien took him, so slow and sure: the straight stillness of his brother, standing beside the water; the sudden brilliance of his smile and the quick, warm pleasure, in Ryuuki’s chest, of having that smile shown to him—only to him; the way Seien’s swift, fierce grace with a sword could set Ryuuki trembling; the sweetness of his brother’s hand on his hair as he was folded into the safety of his brother’s arms.

With that last memory, past and present met and ran into each other, and the feeling of Seien’s fingers running through Ryuuki’s hair made him cry out, body drawing taut in his brother’s arms. Another thrust, strong and deep, and pleasure spilled over. Shudders of heat raked through Ryuuki’s body, and the low, rough sound of his brother’s voice, calling his name, made him so breathless with the joy of it all that he had to laugh.

The strength of Seien’s arms, drawing him in tighter, and the force of Seien’s last thrusts, were soothing. He was safe and cared for and held by the one person he knew loved him. He could relax.

For a while they just leaned against each other, breathing deep and slow, and Ryuuki thought he might never stop smiling. When his brother finally laid him back down against the sheets, Seien was smiling too.

“Think you can sleep now?” Seien asked, petting back Ryuuki’s hair.

“Yes.” The bubble of happiness in Ryuuki’s chest made him feel warm and peaceful. He reached up to touch Seien’s cheek. “Will you stay with me?” he begged.

Seien sighed, but he was still smiling as he placed a soft kiss on Ryuuki’s forehead. “Yes. I’ll stay the night.” He settled down beside Ryuuki and tucked him snuggly into the curve of Seien’s body. “Sleep, Ryuuki.”

Ryuuki obediently closed his eyes. “Yes, Aniue.”

Tonight, he was sure, his dreams would be good.

End


Blue and Red

Shou searches out more helpers for his newest imperial acquisition. Drama, I-3

When Shou Yousei stopped in to see how his newest Emperor was doing, he expected to find Seien in a bad temper. The boy seemed to compensate for his smooth public face by snapping in private, at least until his brother or the Kou girl showed up.

He did not quite expect what he found.

“Look at this!” Seien brandished a file as if he’d like to throw it. “This is what you call a working government? They leave out half the details, a good third of them have no sense of how to organize their words, and how am I supposed to tell whether they’re concealing things or just bad at reporting?!” He glared at his handful of paper fit to set it on fire, and added, “Most of their handwriting is dreadful, too.”

Yousei couldn’t help a chuckle. Who’d have guessed the boy would be such a perfectionist? “I suppose you could make them do it again until they get it right,” he suggested. The vision of agony and outrage among the lazier officials was one to warm the heart. To warm his heart, anyway.

“Then I’d never find out what’s going on this month,” Seien noted acidly. He dropped the files back on his desk and fixed Yousei with a narrow eye. “You’re supposed to be in charge of these people; can anything be done?”

“Hmm. Perhaps.” He smiled as Seien eyed him. He was actually quite pleased the boy was finally learning he couldn’t do everything himself, but needling the royal family was one of his few remaining entertainments and he had no intention of stopping.

Before he could prod the Emperor any more, though, a muffled thumping interrupted them. It sounded rather like someone knocking on the door with his toe and Yousei’s brows rose as he reached back and opened it. The door revealed a stack of paper above a long, blue court robe.

“This is all of them,” the stack announced, edging carefully in the door. “Ryuuki-sama is still looking for the last of two years ago.” The stack thudded down on Seien’s desk, revealing an unusually rumpled Ran Shuuei.

Seien sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “All right.” He gave Yousei a distracted wave of dismissal, already reaching for the top scroll. “Soon, if you please, Shou-taishi.”

“Of course,” Yousei murmured and took himself out, closing the door behind him.

Then he leaned against the wall and had a good laugh. He hadn’t seen a Ran that discomfited in decades. This emperor looked like one to keep, which was a good thing; breaking in new ones was so wearing.


Kou Reishin looked at Yousei steadily over the edge of his fan. “And you want Kouyuu reassigned to assist our new Emperor?” The fan flicked like a cat’s tail. “Why are you asking me, instead of him, Shou-taishi? You certainly don’t need anyone’s approval to reassign an official.”

Yousei snorted. “Don’t play that game with me, boy. He’ll do exactly as he thinks you wish, and you won’t wish unless you think it will be a good place for him.” He cradled the tea he’d been offered in his hands; the heat felt good against his knuckles.

“And will it be good?” Reishin looked out the window with a fine show of disinterest.

“If he makes it good.” Yousei lived by that philosophy, though a great many officials here at court seemed to miss it. “He already knows Ryuuki-sama, doesn’t he? Don’t worry, your boy will fit right in.”

“Hm.” Reishin’s eyes were cool. Finally he snapped his fan closed. “Kouyuu will retain his rank as my assistant,” he declared.

“Done.” Yousei figured he’d gotten off easily, really, though Protocol might kick a bit over this.

Reishin waved at him. “Go ask Kouyuu, then.”

Yousei had to smile, as he left. Reishin might think he concealed his care for that foundling of his, but for such a manipulative man to let a son and underling have his head so completely? That was the telling point.

Yousei should know, after all.


“Shou-taishi!” Seien looked downright indignant. “This is completely unacceptable! You can’t just drag him away from Reishin-dono.”

Yousei bit back a grin as Reishin’s boy suddenly looked a lot less stiff and formal, and those young eyes of his softened with pleasure. He’d thought these two would get along well, with their strenuous notions of loyalty.

Seien was still carrying on. “And what am I supposed to do if Reishin takes offense?”

A very good point, Yousei had to admit. No one held a grudge or got revenge like the Kou. “You don’t trust me to have thought of that?” he prodded, and had to stifle a laugh as Seien snorted. Well, better this than that the boy rely on him too much, at this stage.

Kouyuu finally stepped forward. “It’s all right, Majesty.” He actually smiled. “Reishin-sama agreed to this. So did I.”

Yousei rolled his eyes at what an afterthought the boy made that last bit sound. At last his new Emperor stopped glaring at Shou and paid attention to his prospective advisor instead.

“You’re sure?” Seien sat back, anxiety and relief flickering behind his eyes. “Another experienced eye on these reports would be very welcome.”

Kouyuu spread his hands. “I am a civil official, and you’re the Emperor,” he pointed out. “I’m at your service.”

“Hm.” Seien smiled faintly. “Well, if nothing else, Ryuuki won’t have to go as far to visit you.”

“Ah. You, um, know about that.” Kouyuu clasped his hands, looking faintly nervous. As anyone would, who had ever seen Seien with his brother, to be sure. Even Yousei kept his hands off Ryuuki.

“I know everything that has to do with my brother.” Seien smiled, a bit crookedly. “Now it’s my government I need to find out about.”

The prospect of a meaty job to sink his teeth into gave Kouyuu back his composure immediately. “Of course.”

Yousei left them bent over Seien’s stack of papers and took himself out without waiting for thanks. He didn’t expect any, not yet.


“So?” Enjun asked, pouring tea for all of them. “How is our Emperor doing?”

“Settling in nicely.” Yousei sipped appreciatively. “If we’re lucky, Ran and Li will give him some practice at actual leadership.”

Sou snorted. “I still say it would have been easier to put him in charge of a military expedition or two.”

“You just wanted to go along on those yourself,” Yousei observed, and chuckled as Sou shrugged, not denying it.

“And it’s officials he has to learn how to lead,” Enjun added with a thin smile. “As opposed to herd.”

“A difficult lesson,” Yousei murmured into his cup. “But one every Emperor has to learn. So we’ll find a way to teach him.”

Enjun laughed. “Ah, that’s our Shou, all right. Don’t you ever think of anything but the good of the throne?”

“I think of a good drink.” Yousei lifted his cup and bit back a sigh at the flash of warmth and anger in Enjun’s eyes. “We were lucky, though,” he added casually. “This time we had two excellent candidates to rule. It’s almost a shame they can’t both be emperor, really.”

The heat hidden at the back of Enjun’s eyes turned calculating, and Yousei stifled his flinch harshly. If this is truly what you wish, I will take you there, he told his friend in the silence of his heart. But oh, Enjun, couldn’t you have chosen another way?

The head of the Sa clan was not choosing another way, though, and Yousei listened to his companions chuckling over the idea of co-Emperors, and steeled himself. He would follow both his promise and his heart, and if it killed him to do it, well. Perhaps he would not regret that.

End


Comfort

Seiran helps Ryuuki relax from his responsibilities. Written for Porn Battle, with the prompt: Seiran/Ryuuki, Domination/submission, “If things had gone as they should…if Seien had been my Lord…” (Yes, it’s rather circular for me to write it; oh well.) Porn with Characterization, I-4, D/s

Notes: Contains consensual sibling incest.

Character(s): Shi Ryuuki, Shi Seiran
Pairing(s): Seiran/Ryuuki

By late afternoon, Ryuuki was drooping over his work. "Is it very bad of me to wish that Aniue had become Emperor instead of me?" he asked, mournfully.

Seiran looked up from the tea he had brought, laughing softly. "It isn’t bad of you." He tilted his head, hands stilling as he regarded Ryuuki thoughtfully. "Do you need to take a break?"

Ryuuki made a wistful noise and Seiran smiled. "Very well, then." He set aside the tea set and settled comfortably on the raised seat under the windows. Ryuuki’s eyes widened a little as his brother’s whole bearing changed, turning straight and open and confident, the way it had been years ago.

"Come here, Ryuuki." Seiran held his hand out, and the command in his voice made Ryuuki’s breath catch. He came, obediently, and laid his hand in his brother’s, kneeling on the seat beside him. Seiran smiled, slow and pleased, and pulled, and Ryuuki gasped as he was tumbled down into Seiran’s lap in a dishevelled sprawl.

"Aniue…"

"Stay right there," Seiran said softly, in his ear.

Ryuuki shivered and did as he was told, leaning against Seiran’s chest with his robe falling open over his parted legs. A moan caught in his throat as Seiran’s fingers slid over his bared thighs, stroking them further apart. He panted for breath, leaning his head on his brother’s shoulder as Seiran’s hands pulled his robes further open, baring more of him to be touched by sunlight and his brother. This was the way it should be. "If things had been the way they should," he whispered, "I would have served you. Obeyed you always."

Seiran’s lips curved, against Ryuuki’s throat. "You obey me now, little brother."

Ryuuki moaned again as Seiran’s hand closed on his cock, strong and knowing. It was the middle of the day and this was his outer room. Anyone might come and see him, spread out and disordered over Seiran’s lap and being fondled so openly. But Seiran’s order held him where he was as Seiran’s hand worked between his legs and heat curled through him.

And that was as it should be. For a little while, they could set the world right again.

Seien ruled him absolutely, and always would, and that was just the way Ryuuki liked it.

 

End


If Only

Seiran can’t really help giving Ryuuki anything he needs. Second fic written for Porn Battle, with the prompt: Seiran/Ryuuki, Domination/submission, “If things had gone as they should…if Seien had been my Lord…” Porn with Fluff, I-4, D/s

Notes: Contains consensual sibling incest.

Character(s): Shi Ryuuki, Shi Seiran
Pairing(s): Seiran/Ryuuki

"Ryuuki? You shouldn’t be out here in nothing but a sleeping robe."

Ryuuki looked up from watching the dark water over the rail of the pavilion and had to smile. Seiran wasn’t wearing any more than he was. "Doesn’t that go for you, too?"

"I only came looking for you, not to stand out, contemplating the reflection of the moon." Seiran came to stand beside him, winding a warm arm around him.

"I just couldn’t sleep," Ryuuki murmured, leaning into his brother. "Do you ever think… what if everything had gone like it should?"

For a long moment there was no answer; when it came it made Ryuuki shiver because the voice beside him was Seien’s, sure and firm, the voice of a leader. "You rule well. Don’t doubt that."

Ryuuki ducked his head. "I don’t." At least not too often. "I just…" He turned, resting his hands against Seiran’s chest, head bowed. "I wish I could have seen you rule. Served you as my Emperor." Demonstrated, every day, what his brother meant to him.

"Ryuuki." Seiran’s voice was husky in the silvery dark. Intimate, and Ryuuki flushed a little to think that. He looked up with wide eyes as Seiran’s arm tightened around him, pulling him close.

"Aniue…"

Seiran’s hand cupped his cheek, thumb brushing over Ryuuki’s lips. "Be still."

A shiver of heat ran down Ryuuki’s spine and he swallowed, silent, as his brother ordered. He couldn’t help a small, breathless moan, though, as Seiran tipped his chin up and took thorough possession of his mouth. He could see Seiran was smiling as he drew back.

"Turn around."

A swift shudder ran through Ryuuki as he did, and found himself caught between a pillar of the pavilion and the breadth of Seiran’s chest against his back. Another shook him harder as Seiran’s hands moved slowly over his body, loosening his robe, sliding down his stomach to take him firmly in hand.

"Perhaps you can see enough, this way, to satisfy you," Seiran purred against Ryuuki’s bare shoulder, gathering Ryuuki’s robe up over his hips.

Ryuuki moaned, clinging to the pillar for support at the feeling of Seiran’s cock sliding between his cheeks. He made a wordless, entreating sound, flushed in the darkness.

"Stay there," Seiran commanded softly, stepping away toward the benches and the table with it’s unlit lamp. Ryuuki did as his brother said, breathless and heated as he stood exposed to the night breeze and his brother’s pleasure. And then Seiran was pressing against his back again, hands closing on Ryuuki’s hips, and his cock was pushing into Ryuuki, slick and hard and relentless.

Ryuuki moaned, unable to catch his breath as Seiran thrust into him again and again, strong hands holding Ryuuki still for it. The warmth of his brother’s body, caging him against the pillar, the coolness of the breeze on his bare skin, the heat of Seiran’s cock stretching him open and filling him over and over, they all twined together into pleasure that wrung him out mercilessly and left him panting. He made soft, pleading sounds as Seiran drove him up against the pillar harder, tiny shocks of heat still dancing down his nerves.

Seiran groaned against Ryuuki’s shoulder, his last thrusts so hard they made Ryuuki’s breath catch. Even once he stilled, he held Ryuuki in place, hands stroking over him. "Sometimes," he murmured at last, "I wish this could be all there was. Just you and me."

"Yes," Ryuuki whispered, husky and wanting.

Seiran’s arms closed around him, drawing him back snugly into the shelter of his brother’s chest. "Since we can’t have this all the time, remember that we can have it some of the time." He turned Ryuuki to face him and kissed him, slow and deep.

Ryuuki leaned into it, mouth open and soft under his brother’s. "Yes, Aniue."

 

End


Deeper than Love

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

Friendship

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

Ensei felt very in need of the drink.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He hoped he wasn’t lying.

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

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

Blood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shou had the nerve to smirk. "Indeed."

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


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

That was about to change.

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

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

The colors were purple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let them remember that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End


A Brighter Shade of Red

Crossover of Saiunkoku Monogatari and Fushigi Yuugi. Shuurei has a friend and advisor who is apart from the capital’s politics; Yui has a place for her abilities and a lover who reminds her of them. Drama with Romance and Porn, I-4

Character(s): Hongou Yui, Kou Shuurei
Pairing(s): Shuurei/Yui

Yui curled up on the bed, one hand propping up her head, and watched Shuurei pace the room, sleeping robe fluttering around her ankles.

"And then! And then! He said we couldn’t do anything about Haruki, even if he is taking bribes, because he has a patron from the Heki clan, and I should know that the Heki are going to be the deciding voice in the land redistribution this year!" Her brown eyes snapped like sparks; Yui felt she might warm her hands at that fire of Shuurei’s, melt the ice out of her bones, where it had settled years ago.

In any case, she could help feed it. She pursed her lips, paging, in her mind, through the scrolls she had read—she’d thought at first just to have something to do. "Well, you know I haven’t gotten through as much of your historical law as I’d like, so there may be a contradictory precedent I don’t know about…"

Shuurei turned to her with wide, hopeful eyes, and Yui chuckled.

"The Heki own a lot of land rights outside their province, yes, but isn’t it all subsoil rights? If another block were to buy up the topsoil leases, then that would take effective control of the land away from the Heki, wouldn’t it? I’m sure I read about this just a little while ago."

Shuurei stood still, clasped hands pressed against her lips, eyes suddenly wide. "Oh. Oh yes. And then it wouldn’t matter how the redistribution went, because the usage rights would already be tied up. I wonder… if the Emperor could regain control of that land this way it would pull more power back from the great families… " She nodded decisively. "I’ll write to Uncle, tomorrow, about supporting that."

"Always thinking about the bigger picture." Yui smiled at her. "That’s why you’re a politician and I’m not." Actually, the political tangles here still made Yui’s head spin sometimes.

Shuurei snorted at this, impatient as always with anything that sniffed of self-deprecation. "Just one of the best law scholars in the capital. Even if almost no one but me knows it yet." Shuurei picked up her discarded hairbrush to finish brushing out her hair.

Yui shrugged, smiling. "I always thought I might want to go into law, when I was younger. I like having the chance to do it, now."

Shuurei looked over her shoulder, gentle now. "Maybe that’s why you came here."

Yui turned over on her back, looking up at the ceiling. "Maybe. Who knows." Her mouth quirked. "Besides, possibly, Riou." Who she tried to stay away from. She dealt with mysticism even worse than politics, these days.

Shuurei sighed, running her fingers through her loose hair. "Riou came to talk to me again yesterday. He thinks I’ll stop caring for politics and such ‘little things’ sooner or later." She sat down on the edge of the bed with a glum sigh. "Probably sooner, according to him."

"I think he’s dreaming," Yui said dryly. "I’m grateful enough he placed me with you, when I first came here, but honestly. I can’t imagine you ever not caring about this." More softly, "About your people." It was one of the things that fascinated her enough to stay here with Shuurei—her care, her idealism and ruthlessness, each passing effortlessly through her hands in its time, like juggled balls.

Shuurei tangled her fingers together. "I can’t either," she said to them, "but… I’m…"

Yui silently cursed Riou for stirring up Shuurei’s doubts again. She reached out and pulled Shuurei down to her. "Shhh. Whatever your mother was, you’re you." She kissed Shuurei softly and smiled. "See?"

Shuurei laughed, finally relaxing, winding her arms around Yui. "I’m so glad you came," she said, muffled, against Yui’s shoulder.

"I think I am, too," Yui whispered into the darkness of her hair.

Shuurei leaned up on an elbow, eyes wide with mock alarm and sparkling. "You think? That won’t do at all!" She pressed closer against Yui and kissed her back, considerably more sensually, open and unselfconscious.

Yui made a soft sound, lips parting, hands sliding down the full curves of Shuurei’s body under the robe. "Going to convince me to be more enthusiastic?" she asked, husky.

Shuurei, who was always at her best with a challenge, downright grinned, hands busy with the tie of Yui’s sleeping robe. "I think so, yes."

Yui laughed. Having met Kochou she didn’t wonder any more at Shuurei’s boldness and humor about this. And then she moaned softly as Shuurei’s hands stroked over her skin.

She had never told Shuurei, and she never would, that whatever Shuurei’s heritage was, it did change her. Her hands reminded Yui a little, just a little, of being touched by a god, a glow of rightness and presence that wasn’t physical but still heated Yui’s body.

Just enough to calm Yui’s lingering hunger and let her feel this world properly.

"Ahh…" Yui’s breath deepened and she arched up into the wet heat of Shuurei’s mouth on her breast. "Very convincing," she gasped.

"Mm?" Shuurei’s tongue stroked her nipple. "And this?" Slim fingers slid down between Yui’s legs, touching her gently.

Yui was losing track of the game in the pleasure, but managed to whisper, "Very glad to be here," before the sweetness curling down her nerves distracted her entirely. She spread her legs wider, lifting up into the touch, and Shuurei kissed her, murmuring soothing half words, fingers rubbing slow and easy, coaxing and gentle, the way she’d always touched Yui from the first moment they’d met and Shuurei had gathered up her hands in welcome.

Shuurei’s fingers dipped into her and slid back up, bold and slick, and Yui gasped, hips rocking up. She loved Shuurei’s ease with their bodies. It sank her down into the heat, into a feeling of safety as Shuurei’s familiar, mortal and human curves pressed against her and dark hair slipped down to brush her cheek like another caress. "Shuurei," she breathed, arms tightening around her as pleasure curled tighter and tighter and finally broke through her, hot and strong and open.

Shuurei held her close until she sighed and relaxed back against the sheets. Yui nuzzled the curve of Shuurei’s neck and murmured, "You know I’ll stay with you." She hadn’t missed the tiny flicker of darkness in Shuurei’s eyes before teasing covered it.

Shuurei blushed a little, soft and happy, and snuggled up against her. "I know. It’s wonderful; thank you."

"Mm, thank you," Yui returned, and they laughed together, light and breathless.

Sometimes, when Yui ran her fingers through Shuurei’s sleek, dark hair, she remembered Miaka leaning against her, Miaka’s hands reaching toward her. But when Shuurei smiled, warm as the sun and twice as brilliant, dragons and gods and the dimmed day-to-day world that came after washed out of Yui’s mind, and she, too, was very glad she had come to this place. A place where the eyes of the person who touched her saw beauty and wisdom, not fragments and foolishness. It made her think she might become what Shuurei saw.

She held Shuurei closer and murmured against her ear, "Do I get a bedtime story tonight?"

"Of course." Shuurei hooked a leg comfortably around Yui’s. "What do you want to hear about?"

"Tell me more about the Chancellery…"

End

A/N: The author would like to note that this story is entirely the fault of Lys ap Adin, fic enabler extraorinaire.