title: All That You Can't Leave Behind
fandom: Fushigi Yuugi
characters/pairings: reincarnation: Nuriko/Hotohori, Nuriko/Nakago, Miaka/Tamahome, one-sided Tasuki/Kouji, Tasuki/Chichiri, Chiriko/Kourin, Mitsukake, one-sided Tomo/Nakago, Yui, Amiboshi/Suboshi, Nakago/Soi, Yui/Tetsuya, Keisuke
rating: Teen/Mature
warnings: mentioned underaged sex, mentioned rape of an underaged boy, drinking, swearing, sex, angst, incestual implication, some bloodshed, crossdressing, and a happy ending
summary: The seishi have been reincarnated, and are coming together... and living in the same house.
notes: see notes

Part 3 - The Next Part

Saihitei came home to find Myojuan, Do-kun, and Houjun in the common area in a circle. Detouring to figure out what the strange noises and excitement could be about, he stopped short when he heard the distinctive mrowl of a cat.

A white cat with wide, light orange stripes, to be exact.

"What is that doing in my house?" he demanded, doing his best to look stern and authoritative.

There must have been enough of the emperor in him, because they all seemed to shrink away from him.

Myojuan gathered the small, wriggly ball of fur in his arms. "I always have a cat that I take care of, Sai-san."

"No. Not in my house." He added a slight glare to the look, for dramatic effect.

"But why not?" Do-kun was half-hiding behind his cousin, looking up at Saihitei with frightened eyes.

"Because. They smell. And make messes. No." Saihitei nodded once, to reaffirm his resolve. He did not like animals. He was not going to live with one.

"But Sai-san, Myojuan will train him well, you know? I'm sure it will be all right." Houjun, as always, was voicing reason for the house.

Saihitei deepened his near-scowl.

"Hey guys! What's up! Oooh! A kitty!!" Ryuen entered the house with his usual enthusiasm. He dropped to the floor in one fluid motion when he saw the cat. "Oh, Myojuan, he's so cute! What's his name?" He reached out to take the kitty, cradling him and teasing him with his long braid.

"Well, I was going to name him Chiri. But Saihitei doesn't want him in the house." Myojuan looked up at Saihitei with a definite twinkle in his eye. Saihitei did not like where this was going at all.

"What? Oh, no, Saihitei doesn't mind, do you?" Ryuen looked up at him, seemingly batting his long, exotic eyelashes at Saihitei. Tugging Saihitei down, Ryuen pushed the cat into Saihitei's arms. "You like cats, don't you Sai-kun? And look! He's purring! He likes you!"

Saihitei looked down dubiously at the purring mound of fur in his hands. The creature looked up at him with wicked yellow eyes. Saihitei narrowed his eyes. Clearly, the cat was part of some conspiracy...

Ryuen leaned back on Houjun, sighing. "Big, strong men holding little kittens are so sexy." He just sighed, watching Saihitei with the cat.

Saihitei started to pet the kitten cautiously.

The phone rang, causing Ryuen to leap up and exclaim, "I'll get it!" with his own sing-songy charm.

Saihitei frowned at the cat, and then looked up to see Myojuan smirking victoriously at him.

Myojuan began to clear his throat, so Saihitei just pushed the cat back into the medical student's lap. "Shut up. Just make sure that he doesn't make any messes. And try to keep him downstairs."

Brushing himself off, he made his way upstairs, ignoring the laughter he was leaving behind.

Another Saturday night, another night of suffering Ayuru to be in their house while Ryuen was getting dressed.

At least he wasn't smirking quite as much this time as did previously.

When Ryuen did bound down the stairs, carefully side-stepping little Chiri on the third step, he was decked out in shiny royal blue leather pants, a tight, sequined white shirt, and a long blue feather boa.

Houjun whistled and winked at Ryuen. "You look hot tonight, you know?"

Ryuen winked back at him. "I know."

Saihitei narrowed his eyes. There was something going on between those two...

"Wow, Ry-kun, you sure own a lot of leather." Do-kun looked up, impressed, from the weighty tome he was perusing.

"Hmph. Well, he should, considering the discount he gets." Ayuru was completely bored. These people were such nitwits!

Before any of the confused faces could start asking, Ryuen supplied, "My family owns a leather goods shop."

Taka was still confused. "I thought your parents had a clothing store?"

"They do. Leather clothing. You know, pants, vests, jackets, shirts..."

"Harnesses, cuffs, thongs, whips..." Ayuru supplied gleefully, poking Ryuen in his side.

"Like I said," Ryuen shooed Ayuru's hands away. "They sell leather goods. Chou's Specialty Leather Goods."

Taka's eyes went wide. "Your parents... own a leather shop?! They're into... leather?"

"It doesn't bear thinking about." Ryuen quietly warned.

Saihitei paled. Ryuen's parents were so... warm and friendly. Not at all the image of the leather couple. "But... they seem so nice!"

Ryuen grinned wickedly at him. "Appearances can be deceiving. So, anyone wanna join us, and by anyone, I mean, Saihitei, unless anyone wants to take a trip to the other side?"

Miaka giggled furiously. "Well, I want to join you, but Taka says I'm not allowed." Taka quickly put an arm around her.

"Oh, c'mon, spoilsport! I'd take good care of your little girlfriend!" Ryuen winked at Miaka, making her giggle harder.

Ayuru scowled at Miaka, then gave Taka an appraising look, just to annoy him.

"Er, we have plans. Or are going to make plans." Taka scowled at Ayuru.

"Saihitei?" Ryuen turned the full weight of his gaze to Saihitei, who was trying to stay out of the line of fire.

Clearing his throat, he tried desperately to come up with an excuse that wasn't lame.

"Sai-san and I were going to go to the foreign film showing at the University cultural center tonight, you know." Houjun piped up quietly, giving Saihitei a small smile.

"Oh." Ryuen actually looked a little disappointed. "Well, another time then. I have to drag you out one of these nights, if only to prove to myself that you are, in fact, gay." Ryuen than winked at a befuddled Saihitei, before turning and flipping his curly ponytail in Saihitei's face.

"Thanks," Saihitei whispered to Houjun after they had left.

Houjun smiled back. "No problem, you know, I guessed that you weren't ready for clubbing with Ry-kun. But you do know what this means, now, don't you?" Houjun grinned at Saihitei's blank look. "Now you have to go with me to the movie, so you don't make a liar out of me, you know!"

Saihitei laughed. "Hey, if that's the price I've got to pay..."

It wasn't so bad. The movie was in Chinese, so Saihitei was able to follow it well, and it was a political drama, so he was fairly riveted. On the way back home, Saihitei decided that it was time to purge at least one of the demons plaguing him.

"Um... Houjun?"

"Yeah, you know?"

"Uh... about Ryuen..."

"Yeah? You know, Sai-san, I wouldn't worry about Ryuen if I were you. He's very... Nuriko, you know? I'm sure that he's interested in you, you know?"

"Um. Maybe. Are... Are you interested in him?" Saihitei started to sweat. What if the answer was yes? What if Ryuen wanted Houjun? The two actually were good counterpoints to one another, it was easy enough to imagine the two of them together...

That's when Saihitei realized that Houjun was rolling on the sidewalk, laughing himself silly.

"Never mind. Forget I said anything." Saihitei cursed himself as he walked away, quickly.

"Wait! Wait, you know! I'm sorry, Sai-san, I didn't mean to make light of your concerns, you know? It's just..." Houjun assessed Saihitei's cautious expression. Lowering his voice, "It's just strange, seeing the Emperor so unsure of himself."

Saihitei looked away. "I'm not the Emperor anymore, Houjun. And I wasn't always sure of myself before, either. But I had to seem as if I were..."

"I'm not going to deny that Ryuen is very attractive. But my feelings for him... I'm sure you can imagine what it was like to see him again, you know. The last time we saw Nuriko... It was such a relief to have him back. I'm just grateful to have his friendship again, you know. I don't want, nor would I seek, anything more, you know." Seeing Saihitei's relief, Houjun added, "Nor do I think that he would offer me anything more. Ryuen... has a way of acting around people that he is attracted to, that is quite different from the way he acts around people he isn't attracted to, you know."

"Really? He does?" Saihitei fretted. How had Ryuen acted around the people he... his guests? It didn't seem that different from the way Ryuen treated anyone else, or the way Ryuen treated him...

Houjun grinned, privately amused by Saihitei's naivete. The Emperor had been a naive young thing, too. "Oh, definitely, you know."

"How... how does he act around people he's attracted to? I haven't noticed..."

Houjun continued to smile. He tried to make it a benign smile. "Oh, you know, it's just... different."

"Hm." Saihitei wasn't convinced. But it did warrant some thought. Chichiri was always the person whose counsel was the most valuable to Hotohori. Though Saihitei had little opportunity to socialize with Houjun, he was sure the older boy was as trustworthy as ever.

Which meant that he wasn't interested in Ryuen.

Which was good. Very good.

Myojuan, Saihitei, Ryuen, and Taka were eating breakfast at the kitchen counter, because it was Tuesday and that's what they did for breakfast on Tuesday.

Genrou stumbled in, still half-asleep, and grabbed the cereal box from in front of Taka.

He was a little surprised when it didn't come with him as he headed for the counter to get a bowl.

"Hey! What the fuck?" Genrou pushed his wild bangs from his eyes.

"You people are always eating my food!" Taka looked like a man possessed of a deep, abiding fury. "And borrowing my stuff, and not returning it! You all suck! Do you know how much cereal costs!?? Just keep your hands off of my stuff!! Bastards!!"

With that, he leapt up, clutching his cereal to his chest, and stomped away.

Saihitei stared, mystified, as Ryuen barely managed to contain his laughter.

"What. The FUCK. Is his problem??" Genrou was now mostly awake, but was thankfully still too asleep to fight over Taka's cereal.

While giggling, Ryuen answered, "Hey, you try sleeping in the same bed as the woman you love, and NOT be able to touch her, and see how long you last. I don't suppose anyone wants to take odds on how long it is before Taka's head explodes?"

Myojuan snorted. "Which head? Frankly, I'm shocked he hasn't snapped already. I have to hand it to him, though, I wouldn't have been able to contain myself around my Shouka for this long."

Ryuen let out a derisive and prissy noise. "I wouldn't have wanted to."

Genrou stumbled to the table and took Saihitei's cereal.

Annoyed, Saihitei turned to Ryuen. "But, this is Miaka's purity we are talking about. Surely, she should be able to choose not to..."

"Absofuckinglutely." Ryuen kept his eyes on his cereal as he spoke with bitter conviction. "Which is why the two of them sleeping in the same bed is a bad idea."

"Oh, you have a point." Saihitei tentatively put a comforting hand on Ryuen's thigh, trying to make up for his blunder.

Genrou grunted out some cereal. "Still. No excuse for being such a freakin' asshole."

"It won't last long Gen-chan." Ryuen patted the hand on his thigh. "Pretty soon, Taka is going to flip out. Let's hope we can be there with popcorn to watch the show, eh?"

"As long as we are behind some bullet proof glass, then sure." Myojuan winked at Ryuen. "I'm just hoping that he doesn't take any bystanders down in his frustration."

"Poor Taka." Ryuen sighed. "It's really hard spending so much time with the palm of your hand."

Saihitei blushed. He didn't see what was so pitiable about Taka's position. After all, he wasn't the only person in the house who was frustrated.

Speaking of which, he really needed to get his hand off of Ryuen's thigh before he wasn't able to walk upstairs.

He'd take care of that after one more bowl, he decided.

"I'm so glad you guys were able to come, with your classes and all!" Kourin passed out drinks to everyone who had been able to come to Ryuen's first archery tournament of the term.

"We wouldn't have missed it for the world! Are there rules for spectators, or anything?" Miaka had finished her and Taka's drinks before Kourin had finished passing them all out.

"Just try to keep your voices down when the archers are shooting. It takes a great deal of focus." Kourin winked at Miaka.

"Shouldn't you be in school, little girl?" Ayuru suddenly appeared behind Kourin, putting his hand on her shoulder and winking at her.

Brushing his hand away with an impertinent smirk, Kourin handed Ayuru a drink. "Classes are over for the day, goofus."

"This is really exciting, Kourin-san! How many competitors will there be? Do you think Ryuen-kun has a good chance?" Do-kun was almost bouncing in his seat. Not only was he getting a break from his usual study schedule, but he was also getting to spend the afternoon with Kourin, who was now smiling at him brightly.

"Ryuen will win, silly! Ryuen always wins. He's going to go to the Olympics, and he'll win there too, because he's the very best in all the world!" Kourin sat down next to Do-kun, and poked him playfully in the side to illustrate her point.

"In your completely unbiased opinion, of course, right Kourin-chan?" Ayuru winked at Kourin as he sat down next to Saihitei, who inched away from him subtly.

"Of course I'm unbiased! Why, Ayuru-kun, do you know of anyone better than him?" Kourin gave Ayuru a saucy wink as she teased him.

Miaka cut off the teasing as quickly as she could. She could accept that Ayuru was a part of Ryuen's life; that didn't mean that she had to like it. "Did you come straight from school, Kourin-chan? Your uniforms are so cute!"

Taka, sensing an opportunity to tease his girlfriend, immediately piped in. "Which school do you go to again, Kourin? I forgot."

Kourin blushed. "I go to Jonan Academy, Taka-kun."

"Jonan? Really? Wow, you must be really smart... Wasn't that the school that you and Yui-chan wanted to go to, Miaka?" Taka put his arm around Miaka's waist and jostled her playfully.

She glared at him in return. "That was the school my mother wanted me to go to, as you well know. Idiot. But that school is really good, Kourin. Are the classes hard?"

Kourin shrugged. "I don't know. They seem hard. Ooh! There's Ry-chan!"

Just walking out, Ryuen waved up at the small cheering squad that had assembled. Then he got in to position and began to string his bow.

"Do your parents usually come to his tournaments, Kourin-chan?" Saihitei was impressed by Ryuen's serious demeanor. He even looked athletic and butch, in his sweats and tank, his hair pulled back and done in a tight braid.

"Mm, for the really big ones, but Ryuen wouldn't let them come to every one. I'm the only one he lets come to all of his competitions. He doesn't even like it when Ayuru comes to all of them." The pride in her voice was completely evident.

"Wow, that sounds like an honor, Kourin-chan!" Saihitei winked up at her. "So you are the only one who ever goes to all his competitions? Lucky girl..."

Kourin blushed and giggled. "Yup! Only me! Well, for a while, his psychotic stalker girlfriend was coming to all of them, but she hardly counts for anything."

Ayuru snorted, muttering under his breath, "That stupid bitch."

Saihitei was almost speechless with surprise. He hadn't realized that Ryuen had exes.

Miaka spoke up before Saihitei could compose himself. "Ryuen's ex-girlfriend?"

Kourin rolled her eyes. "Yeah. Although she doesn't even really count as a girlfriend, really." Kourin elaborated when she got four pairs of blank stares. "See, she and Ryuen weren't dating or anything, but she wanted to be with him. So, she told him that she was pregnant. And of course, he freaked out. Rokou told him to give her the money for an abortion and be done with her. Rokou can be such an ass. Mom and Dad kept trying to tell him that he wasn't responsible for her, but he's an honorable boy. Sorta. So he moved in with her, and they were supposed to be this happy couple or something. Then, a couple of months later, when she would have started to show or he would have gotten suspicious of the complete lack of any symptoms of pregnancy, he came home one day to find her in the bathtub in tears, saying that she had had a miscarriage. So, for four more months he stayed with her because she was a total emotional train wreck. Then, her sister came to visit one day before she had gotten home, and Ryuen was entertaining her until she got back. So, they were talking, and Ryuen mentioned something about her recovering from the miscarriage all right, and her sister was all, what miscarriage? And so Ryuen was all red faced, saying, well, see, I got her pregnant, but then she had a miscarriage, and the sister was all, um, no she wasn't! Satomi and I get our Depo shots together every three months!"

"I don't understand," Saihitei interjected. "Was she mixed up when she thought she was pregnant?"

Kourin rolled her eyes. "She was never pregnant! It was just a trick to get Ryuen! Of course, he moved out that day, but she kept following him around for months after that! It was sad, really."

"Wow." Miaka's eyes were as wide as saucers, but she was trying to keep her voice quiet since the archers had begun. Ryuen was still preparing, though. "Why did she stop stalking him? Did he get a restraining order or something?"

Kourin giggled. "My big strong brother? Take out a restraining order against a girl? Please! No, but eventually Ayuru-kun decided to explain a few things to her, and then she stopped." Ayuru puffed up, obviously proud of himself. Kourin turned to Do-kun, speaking in a mock-conspiratorial tone of voice, "You don't want Ayuru-kun explaining things to you!"

Ayuru grinned, his eyes glued to Ryuen as he stretched out his bow and his arms targeting. Most of the other archers had already let out a few arrows, but Ryuen seemed unconcerned with anything but what he was doing.

Saihitei turned back to Kourin, wishing that if he had to ask things like this, that at least Ayuru wouldn't be around to witness and humiliate him. "Um, so was this Satomi girl the only 'serious' relationship Ryuen-kun has ever had? Or has he had other girlfriends or boyfriends?"

Ayuru didn't bother to conceal his chuckles.

"Mm... well, he had a few girlfriends and boyfriends in high school, but I don't think any of them count as 'serious' because he never dated any of them exclusively. And of course, Satomi doesn't count as a serious relationship because she was just a lying whore. But he did have a boyfriend. They lived together for six months, right Ayuru? He's on the archery team too, two people down from Ryuen. Kei. See? He's got the light brown hair and face like a porcelain doll?"

Saihitei frowned. He didn't think the boy's face was that pretty...

"Ooh!" Miaka cooed. "He's so cute! I bet he and Ry-kun looked so hot together!"

Taka rolled his eyes. "You and your gay boy fixation..." Miaka promptly thwacked him in the ribs with her elbow.

Kourin winked at Do-kun over Miaka's and Taka's interaction. "Yeah, they were great together, but then they broke up suddenly. I don't know why. Do you, Ayuru?" She poked him accusingly with her toe.

Ayuru affected an innocent expression, badly. "He probably just got sick of waking up to the same face every day, Kourin-chan."

Kourin snorted, dissatisfied. "There has to be more than that..."

"Is it normal for Ryuen-kun to take so long to take his first shot?" Do-kun was watching his housemate with rapt attention. He had never participated in athletics much himself, despite his parents' urging, and was fascinated that the lithe and small boy could be so talented in a sport.

"He's getting his focus. Or something. Don't worry, when Ryuen gets started, he goes fast." Kourin nodded her conviction.

Sure enough, after taking a few more deep breaths, and few more moments of concentration, Ryuen let fly his first arrow. It sailed perfectly towards the target, landing in the center circle. Shortly after that, he let fly the rest of his allotment, all of them landing squarely in the center.

After a few more rounds, a quick awards ceremony, and enough time for Ryuen to gather his things, he was coming over to their group. Saihitei couldn't help noticing with some distaste that Ryuen and that Kei person seemed to exchange words and brush hands as they finished up.

"Look. They gave me this shiny gold round thing." Ryuen held up his 1rst place medal, before putting it around Kourin's neck, kissing her on the cheek. "Nifty, huh? Just for showing up..."

Kourin blushed as Ayuru knocked Ryuen's shoulder in a masculine fashion. "Nice job, Ry-chan. Maybe all these rumors I've heard about your skills weren't all lies..."

"Wanted to cut class today, huh, Ayuru-kun?" Ryuen spoke sympathetically.

"That was so awesome, Ry-chan! You were so much better than all the other archers! It wasn't even a competition, really!!" Miaka's voice and enthusiasm went back to normal levels with a vengeance, after spending so much time being quiet.

Ryuen blushed, his eyes darting back and forth to all the amused and offended participants and bystanders. "Thanks, Miaka. Well, I did my best, at any rate..."

"It was really great to see you in action." Saihitei's voice was low and calm, catching Ryuen's eyes and eliciting a genuine smile.

"That was really impressive, Ryuen-kun. Was it hard to learn?" Do-kun's eyes were bright as he watched the older boy.

"Nah. Not really. Have you ever shot an arrow?" Do-kun blushed deeply, shaking his head no. "C'mon."

Ryuen got up, motioning for Do-kun to follow him. He set up an arrow for Do-kun, and told the boys cleaning up to stay out of the way for a minute. Gently guiding Do-kun's aim, and giving instructions, Ryuen stood behind as Do-kun let the arrow go.

"I hit it! I hit it!" Do-kun jumped up and down with excitement, as his arrow wobbled precariously on the very rim of the target.

"You sure did. Good job, Do-kun!" Ryuen ruffled the boy's hair, smiling down on him. "Hey," as he turned to the rest of the group, "how about we go out for some ice cream? Anyone up for it? Mom and Dad aren't expecting you back right away, are they, Kourin-chan?"

"I can call them. Ice cream sounds good!" Kourin already had her phone out.

Miaka had already figure out the three best places in a ten-block radius to get ice cream.

Ayuru kissed Ryuen, "Count me out, sport, I've had enough family fun for today. Nice job."

"Thanks, Ayuru. Have a good one." Ryuen swatted Ayuru on the bum as he was walking away.

Saihitei folded his arms across his chest.

Still, at least now they didn't have to pretend to be social with Ayuru.

After getting ice cream, Ryuen found a little park where they could sit and eat it. Taka had his arms full of various cones and treats, but it wasn't long after they were seated that Miaka relieved him of his load.

"Miaka-piggy!" Ryuen teased. "Where do you put it all? Do you have some sort of magic charm that you can stash all that stuff in?"

"Silly boy! I don't stash it anywhere, I use the energy!!" Which Miaka proceeded to demonstrate by bouncing over to him and jumping on him, wrestling him to the ground.

Ryuen was too clever for her though. He kept his ice cream as far away from her as he could.

"Miaka-chan! You spend too much of your time around boys! Look how unladylike you've become, wrestling with my brother like that... Of course, you also spend a lot of time with Ry-chan, so I don't know exactly why you are so unladylike..." Kourin daintily licked at her cone while playfully chastising her friend.

Miaka collapsed in a fit of giggles. Too much quiet and sugar had made her just plain silly.

Sillier than usual, at any rate.

Ryuen shook his head as he scooped off the top of the cone with his tongue. Do-kun had to poke Saihitei to remind him to eat his own cone. Ryuen pulled his gym bag closer and dug out something from one of the pockets.

"Since it's such a beautiful day... time for pictures!!" Ryuen grinned from ear to ear.

Everyone else shied away.

"Do you go anywhere without a camera, Ry-kun?" Taka wanted to hide behind Miaka, but his little girlfriend was trying to hide behind him, so he couldn't.

"Of course not! If I did, I might miss something!" Ryuen pulled off the lens cap and began adjusting the focus.

Kourin inched closer to the center of the circle, pulling on Do-kun's arm. Fixing her skirt and vest, she flipped her long violet hair so that it covered her shoulder. "I'm ready for my close up, Mr. DeChou."

Chuckling, Ryuen snapped a few pictures of his sister and Do-kun, even allowing her to lean over to kiss Do-kun's cheek. Once.

"Enough of that now... Though Do-kun does have a pretty blush, I've got it now... a little room betwixt the two of you, please!" Do-kun wasn't sure if Ryuen was kidding or not. His glare suggested not. Do-kun scooted over.

"Ok! Taka, stop being such a baby. Let me take some pictures of you and the future Mrs. Pennypincher!" Ryuen stuck his tongue out at Taka, who then proceeded to make faces at Ryuen.

Ryuen quickly snapped some pictures, preserving Taka's attempts at riling Ryuen.

Saihitei just leaned back, giggling over the scene. It had been so long since he had felt so much a part of things... Since his last lifetime, when he was a seishi. He remembered most fondly the times when he had been able to leave the palace to aide his priestess, and the journeys and adventures they had all shared.

With Nuriko... whom he had always taken for granted...

"Stop it, Saihitei." Ryuen was looking down at him, his camera tilted away. "You had such a lovely expression on your face, and then you went all melancholy. It's a bright sunny day! It isn't the time for sad memories." Ryuen smiled, brushing away the locks of chestnut hair that the wind had blown over Saihitei's face.

Then he took some pictures of Saihitei's shocked expression.

Kourin giggled as she hugged Do-kun's arm. "I think Saihitei would make a wonderful model for you, Ryuen! He's so pretty, like a girl! You could easily get a job with any fashion magazine with pictures of him in your portfolio!"

Ryuen took a few quick pictures of Saihitei's embarrassment before turning to Kourin. "Saihitei has better things to do besides sitting around looking pretty, Kourin-chan! Besides, you know I don't use models. They're annoying, and brainless... Besides, who wants to work for a fashion magazine? I. Am an artist." With that, he flipped his braid and struck a pose with his nose stuck up in the air.

Kourin and Miaka fell on themselves with giggles.

While Ryuen was shaking his head at the two girls, Saihitei attempted to slip the camera out of his hands. Ryuen turned to Saihitei, pulling on the camera.

"What do you think you are doing?"

"I thought... perhaps you'd want someone to take your picture for a change. After all, you have so many pictures of everyone else, you need more pictures of yourself." Saihitei was rather proud of himself for thinking of that right off the top of his head.

"That's sweet. And lame. Give me my camera back, Sai-kun." Ryuen grinned as he gave the camera another tug.

Saihitei grinned back. And held onto the camera.

Ryuen smirked and got a wicked gleam in his eye. He leaned in, still holding the camera, and began to tickle Saihitei viciously.

Miaka yelped with excitement and joined in, turning it into an all-out tumbling match.

Taka got nervous when he saw someone's arm roughly over Miaka's midsection, so he tried to separate them.

That just made things worse.

"The sad thing is," Kourin turned to Do-kun, "we're the young ones in this group!"

"That's the sad thing everywhere I go." Do-kun spoke with solemn assurance.

"So, do you like college? Are the classes challenging?"

"Well... I do a lot of private study. My parents wanted me to go to a much more exclusive university, but I really enjoy the social aspects. Especially this year, living in the house with everyone. Why, I could fill volumes with what your brother alone has taught me!"

Kourin giggled, cutely. "Yeah, my twin is certainly a mind expanding experience!"

Do-kun looked at Kourin, confused. "Twin? But he's older than you, isn't he?"

"Oh, yeah, I just meant, lots of people call us that since we look so much alike. Used to annoy Rokou no end, how close we were and how much people assumed that we were twins."

Do-kun turned from the writhing mass of bodies to their side to Kourin, puzzled. "Well, there is a family resemblance, sure, but you two don't look that much alike."

Kourin's eyes widened. "You don't think that we look alike?"

"Well..." Do-kun examined her face objectively. "You are both very pretty, with similar builds and coloring. But, his hair is more a true purple, whereas yours has more rose in its undertones. The bone structure of your face is less rigid than his, the lines of your face are much less sharp. Your mole is about twelve millimeters more off center, and two, or maybe three, degrees higher than his. Also, your shoulders are rounder, your hips more distinct, and overall you are far more feminine in body structure than he is, naturally. You are more petite, also natural since you are female and he is a male, but proportionally speaking, you are more petite than he is. Your eyebrows arch higher than his do, and your mouth is fuller than his as well."

Kourin looked like she might cry. "Do-kun...!" Before either of them could react, she leaned over and kissed him, clutching the collar of his shirt.

"Hey! HEY! Break it up! Break it up!" Ryuen wiggled out of the pile and scrambled over to his sister and Do-kun. "This is a family park, for goodness' sake!"

"Ry-chan!" Miaka giggled from under Taka and Saihitei. "A minute ago you tried to put your hand down Taka's pants!"

"Like I said, a family park, and that was all in family fun. But no more of this!"

"Ry-chan. You are being stupid." Kourin glared at her brother.

"Kourin-chan. It's my duty to protect my little sister. There are all sorts of bad people out there, and you need someone who's dated them to keep you safe."

Kourin giggled, and called Ryuen a freak.

Do-kun heaved a sigh of relief that Ryuen wasn't going to kill him.

Not yet, at any rate.

Then he put his hand to his lips.

Kourin kissed him...

When Ayuru showed up at their door that Saturday night, he wasn't alone. Fortunately, it was Houjun who answered the door, because if it had been Taka, he most likely would have slammed it in their faces.

Ayuru yelled up the stairs to Ryuen, "Hey! Ry-chan! Get your cute little ass in motion! I have a special surprise for you!"

Ryuen's voice wafted down the stairs, "Keep your pants on for now, Ayuru-chan! Perfection can't be hurried!"

"Take your time, Ry-chan." Bu Koutoku yelled up. "We wouldn't want to rush you."

"Koutoku-kun!! Is Shunkaku there too??" Ryuen sounded elated.

Shunkaku put his arms around his twin brother's waist, and rested his head on his mirror's shoulder. "And where else would I be, Ry-kun?"

"I'll be down in a minute!"

Koutoku looked around the room, smiling. His eyes rested on Miaka for a bare moment before he turned back to Ayuru. "Where are your manners, Ayuru-kun? Why don't you introduce us?"

Ayuru snorted with dignified disgust. "They aren't my friends."

Shunkaku rolled his eyes and plopped down on the couch next to Miaka, who was slowly being strangled by an overprotective Taka. "Hi! My name is Bu Shunkaku, and this is my twin, Koutoku!"

Miaka couldn't help smiling. Even though she was sitting next to Suboshi, it just... wasn't him. Both of the twins were dressed for clubbing, their short hair stylishly misarranged and slick looking, their clothes tight and revealing. They'd been... affectionate with one another, like now when Koutoku sat on the back of the couch to put a hand on his brother.

They were the same, but different.

Smiling, Miaka quickly introduced the twins to the house, all of whom were a bit more hesitant in their kindness.

"So, how long have the two of you known Ryuen?" Miaka loosened Taka's death grip so that she could speak.

"Oh..." the twins looked at each other, a devilish look passing between them, "Ayuru... introduced us about, what was it? Two years ago?"

"Ryuen is a LOT of fun." Shunkaku added with a wink.

Saihitei felt bile rise up into his throat.

"Hey hey! How is everyone? Shun, 'Toku, how come I haven't seen either of you for so long??" Ryuen... made his entrance. "Ayuru said tonight was special, but he didn't mention you guys were coming too!" Ryuen swatted Ayuru's arm, playfully, while Ayuru took his time appreciating Ryuen's appearance.

'Toku eyed Ryuen slowly. "Nice pants, Ry-kun."

"You like them?" Ryuen turned so that his side was facing the twins. The leather pants that he was wearing had laces running up both sides, and the laces left a little more than an inch of flesh exposed. They molded to his body perfectly, until they met his boots. The front was done up with laces, too, although for decency's sake, there wasn't anything exposed there. They were low, just barely clinging to his hips. His shirt continued the laces theme, also being done up the side with laces that didn't pull the fabric tight enough to touch, and the laces in the front were undone, leaving a wide portion of his chest exposed. The bottom of the shirt was a good few inches above the top of the pants, leaving his belly button exposed. The sleeves were attached to the shirt with a few ties. His hair was done up in a bun, with lots of curled strands and ribbons trailing down his back. "They're new. I had to wait until my parents weren't in the store to buy them, though, because they said they were indecent. Can you imagine?"

Shun snickered, before reaching out to trace the line of laces down one thigh. "Parents can be so unreasonable!"

Saihitei thought his heart would explode, his veins would pop out, or his brain would implode. Or all three.

"So, I guess we're ready... Saihitei, do you want to join us?" Ryuen turned his brown-rose eyes to Saihitei, melting him.

Saihitei cleared his throat, trying to form coherent thought, or at least tear his eyes away from Ryuen's pants. "I... I don't think I'd have anything to wear." Stupid! he thought to himself. How will that get you out of going? Why do you want to get of going?? Look at him! And he's going to be dancing, and moving his hips...

Ryuen blinked twice, and then laughed. "You don't have to be dressed like this!" He motioned down, displaying his body. "I'm sure we can find something acceptable in your closet! C'mon!" And he took Saihitei's hand and dragged him up the stairs. Not that Saihitei minded too much, considering the fact that he now had a pretty keen view.

'Toku watched them go, licking his lips. "Um... I think I'll help Ry-kun dress Saihitei-san."

Ayuru frowned. "But weren't we going already?!"

"Don't be such a sourpuss!" Shun laughed at the older boy, winking. "The more the merrier, right?"

Upstairs, Ryuen was learning new things about Saihitei.

"Your room is huge! How come I didn't know this room was so big!!"

"Well..." Saihitei tried to remind himself not to slip on his own drool. "This is my house. So, I get the master bedroom."

"Oh, nice walk in closet, Saihitei-san!" Saihitei hadn't even noticed 'Toku before. He frowned as the young man entered his closet.

Before Saihitei could even object, Ryuen and 'Toku were riffling through his clothes.

"Are these pants tight?" Ryuen had pulled out a pair of black jeans, giving Saihitei a critical look.

"Um... pretty tight, I guess."

"All right, these pants then."

'Toku pulled out a flowing white silk shirt. "Ooh, you have to wear this shirt!"

Ryuen eyed it. "That will do. You have boots, right? Black? Ok, then, you'll need some accessories. 'Toku, fix his hair while I get some things from my room."

Saihitei was left with a smirking 'Toku. "Don't worry about me, Saihitei-san, I don't mind, you just get dressed, and I'll get your hair ready."

Saihitei scowled, but fortunately, he was still a quick-change master. 'Toku was mildly disappointed, but soon had Saihitei sitting with his back to him as he brushed out his long, chestnut main.

"Mm, Saihitei-san, you have such beautiful hair. Do you have any ties to hold it back?"

Pulling out a small box where he kept such things, Saihitei tried to make conversation with the boy. "Um, so you and your brother are friends of Ayuru-san's?"

'Toku chuckled. "Sometimes. He's kind of a jackass, but he can be a lot of fun, too."

'Toku's cryptic tone made Saihitei wonder. "And you and Ryuen..."

'Toku smiled. "You like him, don't you?" He spoke gently, as he pulled hair from Saihitei's temples, winding it artfully. "Don't worry, Saihitei-san. Ryuen is just a friend of Shun's and mine. He's really a sweet person. Don't let his confidence fool you, deep down, that boy is all heart."

"I know." Saihitei relaxed. For some reason... he wasn't bothered by the former Seiyruu seishi.

Ryuen came back in, instantly admiring 'Toku's handiwork. "Ah, nice job, 'Toku! You are such a wizard with hair! 'Toku and Shun are going to open a hair salon, you know, Saihitei."

'Toku laughed. "If my girlfriend lets me." Elaborating at seeing Ryuen's arched eyebrow. "She's beginning to think we should get serious." He wrinkled his little nose. "And she thinks that maybe working with Shun everyday isn't such a hot idea."

"And will you let her stop you?" Ryuen sounded disbelieving.

"No." 'Toku laughed. "But she can be very persistent."

Saihitei wanted to ask, but before he could figure out which of the three million questions he had was the most pertinent, Ryuen was leaning in front of him.

"This will not do." Ryuen shook his head and began to unbutton Saihitei's shirt. Saihitei blushed and stammered, before he realized that Ryuen had undone all but one button in the middle, leaving the flowing silk mostly open. "There, much better. Now, let's roll the sleeves up some... and this necklace and this bracelet will finish you off!"

Ryuen completed Saihitei's outfit with a long, gold and silver beaded necklace and bracelet set. Saihitei fingered the necklace uncertainly. "Um, isn't it a little... girly?"

Ryuen snickered. "Well, sweetie, so are you. Ok, now a little artistic touches to here and there..." Ryuen produced his makeup case.

"No. I am not wearing makeup." Saihitei spoke firmly and authoritatively.

"Not much, no. Just hold still..." Ryuen quickly applied some black eyeliner, just enough to really make the gold in Saihitei's eyes stand out, and some lip gloss and lip liner, just enough to make Saihitei's mouth irresistible.

Which 'Toku noticed. "Man, I so want to kiss you, you are so lovely!"

Saihitei blushed, turning away.

Ryuen giggled. "Ok, my work here is done. We're ready to go!"

Saihitei grabbed his wallet, and tried to think of a good reason not to be going. But while his mind was coming up with perfectly good reasons why he couldn't go out that night (he had a dentist appointment! he needed to balance his checkbook! he was going to volunteer to help feed starving orphans!), his libido was jumping up and down with bliss because Ryuen was still holding his hand.

Everyone gave him a sympathetic look as Ryuen dragged him out of the house, trailing behind a severely annoyed Ayuru and the affectionate twins.

He was too busy watching Ryuen's ass move in those pants to see the look.

Ryuen and he fell in step behind the other three, Ryuen holding Saihitei's hand in both of his as they walked. Saihitei felt dizzy and weak in the knees, his stomach churning and his blood pounding in a staccato rhythm than made his heart quiver.

He squeezed Ryuen's hands and ignored everything else.

Ryuen was busy chatting away about the club they were going to, the neighborhood it was in, why Saihitei had never been there before, how was Saihitei sure that he was really gay if he never took in any of the culture, and how they could spruce up Saihitei's wardrobe for subsequent outings.

Saihitei cleared his throat and worked up the courage to speak.

"So, um, is the music there..."

"Oh! That's the best part! There's supposed to be this great dj there tonight, some English duo or whatever. It's supposed to be really techno or something."

"Cool." Saihitei's eyes widened when he saw Shun put his hand in 'Toku's back pocket. "What is the deal with those two?"

"The twins? They're... an interesting pair. 'Toku is the elder, by about two minutes. He's a heterosexually identified bisexual, usually has some girlfriend or another, very mature, feels responsible for his 'younger' brother. Shun's more... irrepressible. He's a homosexually identified bisexual with a real brother fixation. He adores his older brother, plain and simple. Not that 'Toku doesn't love him back, but... if 'Toku let them, Shun would just stay with 'Toku forever. But he knows that isn't possible, and he's accepted it. He's seriously ADD, with some impulse control issues, and a major inferiority complex. They're... fun." Ryuen said the last bit with a wry smile and an extra swing to his hips, making Saihitei frown.

"You've... um, dated them?"

Ryuen smiled up at Saihitei. "No. But I've slept with them."

Saihitei's eyes widened. "Both of them? They didn't mind?"

"Heck no! I slept with one, then the other, then both... actually, I've been with all three of those boys at once... Now, that was a lot of fun!"

Saihitei gaped. "How... How does that even work?"

Ryuen's brow furrowed. "What, you mean like, interpersonal interrelationship-wise?"

"No, like, physically. I mean, I pretty much understand how sex works, but isn't it... awkward... having all those extra people?" Saihitei tried to visualize it. His brain realized too late that visualization involved a naked Nakago. Then he shivered.

Then he realized that Ryuen had stopped dead and doubled up with laughter.

Hurt, he pulled his hand out of Ryuen's grasp and tried to move away from him.

"Oh, Saihitei! I'm sorry, I didn't mean to laugh, honest!" Ryuen hurried to grab Saihitei's arm, hugging it tight before leaning up to kiss Saihitei's cheek. "You are just so sweet! I forget sometimes how... innocent you are."

Saihitei blushed, feeling childish. "I suppose I seem rather foolish to you."

"On the contrary." Saihitei was stunned into looking straight into Ryuen's eyes by his quiet tone. He was nearly blown away by the raw admiration he saw. "I find it very... appealing. Really, I respect the choice you made with your body, Sai-kun. It... was never an option for me. I think it is very courageous of you, you know."

Saihitei was speechless, numb. He wanted to throw himself at Ryuen's feet and beg the beautiful man to take him and keep him forever.

"We're here." Ayuru's harsh voice broke the spell Ryuen had woven over them.

Saihitei glared at the smirking blonde before looking over the club.

The line outside the place was long, an anxious horde of wildly dressed men, rough looking women, nervous couples, jittery wide-eyed youths, and disdainful twentysomethings. The club itself had a silver exterior, with sharp lines of neon lights in rainbow colors fanning over the facade. It looked trendy and expensive.

Saihitei began to move to where the line was forming, but Ryuen walked straight up to the bouncer. Shun snickered, and stage whispered to Saihitei, "Ry-chan never pays cover charges. And almost never pays for drinks."

Saihitei quickly saw why. Ryuen slithered up to the beefy guy at the door, a sure grin dancing on his lips. With a voice of pure honey, his fingertips tripping up the mounds of muscles on the guy's chest, "Heya Motoki-san. How's it goin'."

The beefy guy gave Ryuen an appraising look as the lithe man artfully arranged his body for the best viewing. An appreciative smile twitched his lips. "Better since seeing you, Ry-kun."

"Can I come in?" Ryuen batted his eyelashes playfully.

The beefy guy looked Ryuen over slowly, then gave a quick glance to the rest of the party at the door. "I don't suppose you'd be willing to cover for all of them?"

Ryuen grinned, before inching his body closer to the beefy guys. Making his way up while pressing his hands to the man's flanks, he reached up until he was on his tiptoes, his head bent back, his mouth slightly open. The man reached out and took Ryuen's face, kissing him roughly, one hand reaching down to squeeze Ryuen's perfect ass.

Pulling away, Ryuen grinned. "They all have money." Then he went in, swinging his hips just enough to make everyone at the door's mouth water.

The inside was frantic. It was all Saihitei could do to catch up to Ryuen at the bar. The place was already nearly wall-to-wall with gorgeous people, the music pulsing and pounding, the sweat in the air making each breath dense with the sense of being surrounded and engulfed.

Ryuen was half-leaning over the bar, 'greeting' the bartender. He quickly had two drinks in his hands, one of which he handed to Saihitei before he dragged him up the stairs to stand at a railing overlooking the dance floor. The twins and Ayuru soon joined them with their own drinks, Shun keeping one arm around his brother's waist, his chin resting on his brother's shoulder.

"It's pretty wild tonight!" Ryuen yelled, looking excited.

"Yeah?" Saihitei tried to yell back.

"We should get down there." Shun yelled, holding his brother tight. He slammed his drink down fast. "So many tasty treats!" His other arm snaked to his brother's front. 'Toku reached up to hold onto the arm across his chest.

"Mm... Let's see if we can get towards that dais. I want everyone to see us dancing." 'Toku turned to kiss his brother, before letting his own drink slip down his throat.

"We going?" Ayuru finished his drink, and turned his gaze to Ryuen. Ryuen raised his glass, touching Saihitei's. When he was finished, Ayuru took the back of Ryuen's neck in his hand and kissed him hard. "Let's try to stay together tonight, hm?" There was some hidden light in Ayuru's eyes, just barely visible in the throbbing light of the club.

Saihitei wilted.

Ryuen made as if he were thinking, then turned to Saihitei. Reaching up to kiss him gently on the lips, he took Saihitei's hands. "Shall we?"

Ayuru narrowed his eyes, and followed.

In the light, and the music, and the bodies, it was hard to keep track of where one was. Saihitei stayed as close to Ryuen as he could, holding onto his hand, but Ryuen wouldn't be held. He was moving and dancing and flirting...

They had been the center of the dance floor, everyone else making room for their group, for Ryuen. No one in their circle was exactly unattractive, but Ryuen was fluid. He moved with the music, his hips gyrating as the laces strained against his tempting flesh...

One boy after another after some girl and then another boy orbited Ryuen, dancing with sexual abandon with the fey man, his purple hair slipping out of its bun by strands, swaying with his body.

Saihitei found himself in a corner, watching.

He wanted to be the one Ryuen gazed up to, the one whose hands slipped over Ryuen's hips, but he hadn't been able to keep Ryuen's focus. More than a dozen or more men had tried to come on to him, but he slipped away, like a scared mouse to the shadows.

Still, even just to watch... To touch, to hold, was for dreaming, but to watch, to see Ryuen moving, so free, so happy...

Saihitei watched the twins on the dais dancing with some African man who could hold them both in his arms easily. Ayuru was close by them, with his hands down the pants of some freshman-looking boy.

Saihitei hoped the boy was a freshman. In college.

He had momentarily lost track of Ryuen, but he knew that wouldn't last long. Ryuen was like one of the pulsing lights that barely illuminated the club. He was easy to notice.

Especially when he was tugging on Saihitei's arm.

"Why are you in the shadows?" Ryuen glared at Saihitei, his hand on his hip.

"I... wanted to take a breather." Saihitei felt the air leave him. Ryuen was transcendent here, in the sweat and smoke, his beauty magnified by his passion and energy.

"Sai-chan... Fine. But your breather is done now. Dance with me?" Ryuen smiled at Saihitei as his hand squeezed Saihitei's arm.

And so they went down, Saihitei trailing after Ryuen, until they were in the middle of the dance floor.

It didn't matter how many people were there with them, for Saihitei, the universe was Ryuen, the light, the music, and the feel of him under his hands. The way Ryuen moved next to him, bumping against him and rubbing into him.

Saihitei felt like he was being giving new life.

Other hands intruded, but Saihitei pushed them away and pulled Ryuen closer and closer, pressing him tight against his own body, Ryuen's mouth near Saihitei's neck making his pulse quake with the wet feeling of breathing.

It was nearly like they were in love.

The music changed, the pace switched, and Ryuen pulled back from Saihitei but Saihitei couldn't let go. Leaning down to cover his desperation, Saihitei asked Ryuen, "I don't suppose there is someplace quieter that we can go to talk?"

Ryuen grinned at him, took his hand, and lead him away. They wound through the throng until they reached the back of the club, where the restrooms were. Saihitei, still new to the club life, was a little... taken aback to find that while the bathrooms were brighter, the music was just as loud and the men inside... were not making use of the facilities in the traditional sense of the term.

Ryuen lead them to an empty stall, and closed the door behind them. Saihitei was pressed up against the wall, with Ryuen leaning on him languorously. Ryuen took his time settling himself against Saihitei, running his hands up and down Saihitei's sides. For his part, Saihitei griped Ryuen's naked waist and held on as if he were afraid that Ryuen would slip away from him.

Running his lips up and down Saihitei's jugular, Ryuen whispered, "What did you want to talk about, Sai-chan?"

His brain had long since decided not to function.

"Ryuen..." Saihitei let his fingers press into Ryuen's warm flesh. His body was so soft and pliable...

Ryuen reached up on his toes and took Saihitei's earlobe in between his teeth, letting the flesh slip out slowly. "Mm, yes Sai-chan?"

"I... I want to... I need to..." Saihitei pulled Ryuen closer to him, their bodies touching.

"I know, baby. It's ok, really. Whatever you want, it's ok..." Ryuen opened the last button on Saihitei's shirt and opened it, kissing and licking his way down to Saihitei's nipple.

Saihitei gasped, throwing his head back and hitting the wall. He dug his hands into the back of Ryuen's neck, where all his hair was falling down.

Ryuen lifted his head up to kiss Saihitei, their lips toying with each other until the lack of oxygen made it necessary to separate. Ryuen let his hands wander over Saihitei's stomach and chest and back, making Saihitei want to scream and beg.

"Please, Ryuen... no." Saihitei wasn't even sure what he was saying.

Ryuen stopped immediately. Putting his hand up to Saihitei's face, he spoke clearly. "Do you want me to stop, Saihitei?"

"No. Yes. I... don't know." Saihitei was confused, scared. He wasn't sure what he was saying or what he was supposed to say.

Ryuen stepped back a half step, still holding Saihitei's face. "What do you want, Saihitei?"

You. You, forever and always, please, in every way, I love you I need you, please, love me too, I want you to love me, too... "I... please, can we go somewhere? I... don't think this is the best time or place for this..." Saihitei tried to pull Ryuen closer.

Ryuen let Saihitei move him and inch closer. "Place for what? Saihitei..."

"I don't think we want to start our relationship in the bathroom of some club..." Saihitei tried again to pull Ryuen in, needed to kiss him...

Ryuen stepped back. "Relationship? Saihitei... wait, we're having fun, aren't we?"

Saihitei wrapped his arms around Ryuen and pulled him in for a light kiss to stave off the confusion. "Ryuen... Of course we are having fun. But don't you ever want more?"

Ryuen snapped back. "More? Than what? Saihitei... I don't think that you know what you are saying..."

How can I know what I am saying when you are there, so willing and beautiful, gods, I want you... "I would be so good for you, Ryuen. Please..."

Ryuen's eyes widened. "Good for me? What does that mean?"

Saihitei shook his head, feeling like he was free falling. "I... I... Ryuen! What are you doing to me?"

Ryuen shoved Saihitei away. "I didn't do anything to you, Saihitei. I think we've misunderstood one another. I should go."

"No, please, don't..." Saihitei wasn't above begging this one time, but it was already too late. Ryuen ripped the door open and walked out. Much to the disappointment of the next pair of boys waiting for a quick one, Saihitei pulled the door closed quickly and dug his fists into his eyes.

How had things gone so wrong? Everything seemed to be going so right, and then it all just... spoiled. He had thought that his dreams were coming true. He had thought that after so long, he and Ryuen would finally be together, and he and his love would never again be parted or misunderstand one another...

For a moment, he had held everything he wanted and needed and desired and loved, and it had slipped right through his fingers.

All his dreams, all his hopes, all his prayers...


Isn't that what happened last time? I put all my heart into a dream, and when the real thing was before me, I let it get away from me. I blinded myself with a fantasy, and ended up hurting everyone I cared about as a result. I didn't even accomplish anything with my death... I wasn't the one to clear the way for the Shinzaho or save the lives of dozens of citizens, or kill our enemy... I'm being punished. My last life was a dismal failure, and I'm being punished for it now.

He dragged himself out into the club, heading back up to the railing where he could see the dance floor. He found the twins and Ayuru quickly, all of them in a tangle in the corner.

And he saw Ryuen. Dancing seductively between a man and a woman, both of whom were helping themselves to Ryuen's exposed flesh.

Saihitei left.

When Ryuen got home then next morning, shortly after dawn, he didn't notice Saihitei on the couch watching infomercials.

"Did you have a good time last night?" Saihitei was still in the same clothes as last night, hadn't even gone upstairs to wash his face or brush his hair. Ryuen looked disassembled. His clothes were hanging off of him, hastily tied back on, and his hair fell down over his shoulders and back, a large purple mess. He had large blue-purple streaks under his eyes telegraphing his exhaustion.

And when he heard Saihitei speak, he nearly jumped out of his skin.

"Waited up for me, Sai-san?" Ryuen didn't turn to look at him.

Saihitei got up to try to face Ryuen. "I'm sorry if I offended you, Ryuen, I know I said all the wrong things last night, but I only wanted to offer you..."

"What, Saihitei?" Ryuen turned to him, his bloodshot eyes blazing. "Something better? You know what, I did have a good time last night. The couple I went home with was adventurous and exciting. I'm 21. What other time in my life am I going to be able to have fun like that?"

"But, Ryuen, do you even know their names? Anything about them? Do you really think that in 10 years you will be proud of last night? Wouldn't you rather have a chance at..."

"I don't need you in my life, Saihitei, making me feel like a whore. I'm going to bed." Ryuen left, his bitter tone leaving Saihitei flat.

Ryuen washed his face, brushed his teeth, changed into his way too big white oxford shirt, and slipped into bed. His hair was pulled back, but it still stank of sweat, smoke, liquor, and sex.

It was repellent.

He hugged his pillow to his chest and squeezed his eyes shut. It would take at least an hour to wash his hair if he wanted to get the smell out, and he was tired now.

He felt cheap.

Behind his eyes, he could see the peaceful gardens of the palace from his last life, and the smell of orchids and lilacs wafted just out of his reach. It was that night, during the time when Miaka had gone back to her world to recover from her illness. It was so hot that his room in the palace was stifling, and he couldn't sleep.

Now that he was a seishi, and relieved of his duty to the harem, he could wander the gardens at will, so he decided to cool off by the pond.

Even out of doors, it was hot and humid, and it was late and he was so tired and sweaty... He decided to just slip into the water quickly to cool off. He had been feeling rather proud of himself and his ingenuity as he wrung his hair out, when he heard a noise on the footpath. Startled, Nuriko jumped, clutching his thin robe to his body, desperate to make sure that his form was hidden.

When the Emperor stepped out from behind the bend in the trees, Nuriko almost dove straight into the pond to hide his embarrassment. Nuriko began to panic. There was only one path that lead up to the pond, and besides that single thatch of trees, there was only clearing. Had Hotohori seen him naked? Nearly naked? Nuriko could feel his blood pressure rising. Neither Hotohori nor Tamahome had said anything to him about his... secret since they had discovered it. But then, they had both been so consumed with Miaka's absence. Would Hotohori be offended by what he saw, if he saw anything?

"Nuriko." Hotohori sounded surprised. "What are you doing here so late?"

Nuriko clutched at the neck of the robe, making sure that he was still decent. "Um, forgive me, Highness, if I've disturbed you, ah, I was only cooling off... The gardens are so lovely and cool..."

Hotohori smiled. "Yes, they are... And you do not have to refer to us as highness, Nuriko. We are fellow seishi, are we not?"

Nuriko smiled back hesitantly. "Ah, well, of course, Hotohori-sama." He tugged at the hem of his robe, wishing that it were longer. "Are you... were you enjoying your walk, Hotohori-sama?"

Hotohori glanced over the pond, making Nuriko fret. "It is... a beautiful night, we must admit. Nuriko, how is Tamahome? We have not seen him."

Nuriko rolled his eyes. "Tamahome is in shock from the loss of Miaka. He wanders about in a daze."

"He must love her very much to be so affected by her absence." Hotohori spoke with quiet pain.

Nuriko winced. "He... would be a wiser man if he knew that. But he will be fine, he just needs time to adjust."

Hotohori gave Nuriko a sharp look. "And you? Do you care about Miaka's absence at all? Do you miss her even a little?"

Nuriko flinched. "Well... I haven't been up nights moping or trying to eat the royal place settings, sire." His voice was sharp and to the point. "Of course I miss her. But she will return, she promised us. Miaka may be a bubble-headed twit, but she's faithful."

"We're sorry, Nuriko." Hotohori lowered his head. "It's just been so long... We did not mean to be short with you, or imply that you did not care."

"So long? Really? But, she had to go to a whole other world! Maybe the journey takes a long time, we don't know. She hasn't forgotten us, you can be sure of that." Nuriko wanted to pat the Emperor's hand, but since he was using one hand to hold the robe closed tight and the other to keep it at knee length, he didn't feel he could risk it.

"That's true." Hotohori looked at Nuriko with wonder. His gaze lasted long enough to make Nuriko lower his eyes. "We had not considered that. You are certainly right, though. Thank you, Nuriko. You have eased our heart's worry."

Nuriko beamed, his smile lighting up his face with a radiant joy. Once again, Hotohori stared at his fellow seishi, causing him to lower his eyes, but his smile did not dim in the least.

"The night wears on, Nuriko." Hotohori rose to leave. "We shall retire. Pleasant dreams."

Nuriko sighed after the Emperor. There was no doubt that his dreams that night would be pleasant. "And to you. Hotohori-sama."

Ryuen clutched the pillow frantically, pretending not to cry.

notesPart OnePart Two • Part Three • Part FourPart FivePart SixPart SevenPart EightPart NinePart TenPart ElevenPart TwelvePart ThirteenPart FourteenPart FifteenPart SixteenPart SeventeenPart EighteenPart NineteenPart TwentyPart Twenty-OneEpilogue