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 21 - Acceptance

Sai sat uncomfortably on the edge of Ry's bed. His bare toes curled in the soft carpet in front of the bed, his fingers clenched in the side of the mattress. He watched as Ry pulled out a box from the back of his closet. Ry was wearing only a pair of loose jeans, his purple hair falling over his shoulders, his brown-rose eyes fixed on the contents, a small smile growing across his face.

"Um, Ry, I'm not so sure..." Before Sai could form an objection, a small blackish object got tossed in his lap. His stomach did a little flip when he picked it up and discerned that it was a pair of leather-wrapped handcuffs.

He swallowed hard, his eyes fixed on the cuffs.

"Don't worry, darling. You can trust me." Ry came to sit on Sai's lap, straddling his legs. Sai knew that he was hiding something behind his back, but he didn't want to know what it was. "It's a beautiful afternoon, we can hear the birds and the kids down the block through the open window... What could be better than getting tied down and fucked?"

Sai would have made some sort of comment in response to his love's wicked grin, but he was too busy being kissed, his back inevitably arching to the bed, his fingers reaching to touch the soft hair that was falling about him.

Ry started to kiss a line down Sai's chin, leading to his neck, which brought his lips to Sai's collarbone. There, he was hindered in his movements by Sai's shirt. Fortunately, that problem was easily dealt with as he used his tongue and teeth to open the buttons one by one. He was just popping the last button when he pulled Sai's hands out his hair, smiling like a cat.

"Now, now, this isn't what I had in mind at all..." Pulling up with impossible beauty and grace, Ry met Sai eye to eye. "Are you ready?"

"Ready?" Sai was heaving.

Ry just grinned, and picked up the handcuffs.

"...Oh, um, Ry, are you sure..." Sai was starting to sweat.

Ry's grin just widened. He slipped off Sai's shirt, and picked up one hand gingerly. Snapping the cuff around his, he kissed the knot of veins at the wrist. "It'll be fine, darling. Just trust me... I don't want to hurt you, or humiliate you, I just wanna have some fun..." The handcuff was threaded through the headboard, and the other hand was gently raised and given the same treatment as the first. When Sai was bound, Ry kissed him, hard, pulling his tongue into his mouth and sucking hard.

Sai felt like he was being torn apart. He pulled at the cuffs, the soft leather digging into the skin. He made a small noise of protest, wanting to use his hands on his love's body.

Ry sat up, grinning widely. "Patience, darling, patience..." He pulled out something from behind his back, and he dangled it in front of Sai.

"No..." Sai groaned, barely forming the words. He was confused by his own excitement.

Ry fitted the blindfold over his love's eyes, the black silk fabric blocking out all the light. "Don't be scared, darling. I just want to surprise you." He licked a line down the center of Sai's chest, causing him to buck. But, the handcuffs kept him somewhat limited in his motion. The sensation was thrillingly frustrating.

Ry nuzzled Sai's crotch, and then opened up his jeans. He blew warm air over the skin of Sai's jumping cock, before ripping the jeans and the boxers off of him almost roughly.

There was a space in time in which Sai felt no contact, and it nearly undid him. He whimpered and moaned, suddenly feeling like he was lost.

Ry came to spread his body out next to Sai, who could instantly and happily tell that the other man was now naked. Ry's soft skin made Sai quiver.

Ry kissed his cheek and his neck and chewed lightly on his ear before whispering, "Let me turn you over."

Sai resisted, but only for a heartbeat. His hands were twisted over each other as the cuffs bound him a little more tightly when he was on his belly. Ry spoke again, in his ear, gently, "When you want to stop, just say so."

"A safeword?" Sai whispered, as if he needed to.

"No." Ry chuckled. "You just have to say stop. I'm not taking control away from you. I would never do anything against your will. This is a game. When you want to stop playing, just say so."

But Sai had no desire to stop the game, not when it involved Ry licking and kissing his spine, his hands running up and down his flanks, his lithe body rubbing against his and Ry's sweet cock dribbling happily against Sai's legs and bum.

Ry rubbed his fingers into the flesh of Sai's bum, making Sai groan as he bounced his feet against the bed, a tiny little tantrum. Ry's tongue came down and tasted the flesh his hands had relaxed, his little nose rubbing gleefully, and Sai could picture it in his mind more clearly for the lack of sight.

Into the crack between Sai's cheeks Ry's hands went, and Sai wanted to jump or to writhe, but he felt inhibited. At the same time, he felt like the boundaries gave him a new sort of freedom, as he could just relax in the cuffs and let Ry happen to him.

A few swipes of Ry's tongue across his hole, and he was screaming like he never had before, his words not real even in his own mind, but the meaning quite clear.

Ry chuckled, and Sai couldn't interpret the noise, but he stretched and spread his legs a little, offering.

Then the oddest sensation swept over him. Something was prodding him, gaining entrance, but he didn't recognize it. It wasn't Ry's fingers, it was too fat for that, but it wasn't wide or hot enough to be Ry's cock. It was narrow, and uniform, but textured, and it was room temperature.

"Wha-..." Sai almost asked, but was suddenly shocked as Ry started to twirl whatever it was. Something brushed against his leg, but Sai didn't say anything. The twirling continued, Ry giggling in the background, as whatever it was got deeper and deeper into him. Sai groaned, as he stopped trying to catalog the new sensation and just let it wash over him, helpless.

Ry started to laugh, his fingers toying with Sai's nipples under the bed. "Aw, darling, you should have been born as a kitty! You look so good with a tail!"

Sai's face went red as he realized what he had sticking out of his ass.

Ry kissed his reddening neck. "Mm, I should get my camera out. Sai-kitties are very, very rare, and I need to work on my nature shots anyway. What do you think? Would you like to see yourself like this? All tied up, blindfolded, and with a tail? Gods, Sai, you are so fucking sexy..."

Sai tried to make his throat work, past the choked up barrier, wishing like hell that he could at least see. "Don't." His voice sounded like sandpaper.

"Sai?" Ry moved his hands in circles around Sai's shoulders.

"Please. Damn it, Ry, don't photograph me like this!" Sai couldn't help the little tremble in his voice, as the image of some photo in Ry's book with him like this stung him.

"Sai. Do you want to stop?" Ry sounded so reasonable and logical.

Sai wanted to cry a little, but he had enough dignity left to stop himself. "Damn it, Ry, I just want... Why would you... Can't we just..."

Ry settled himself against Sai, placing one leg between Sai's. He kissed Sai's jaw and temple, before licking the ear. Gently, oh so gently, his used his thigh to press the handle of the whip up.

Sai jumped, his moan ripping through him.

"Why did you think I would do this, darling? To make fun of you? Just think, darling, I know your body so well, I knew exactly how deep to put the handle in so that the end would be up against your prostate." Another, harder nudge of the handle had Sai chewing on the pillow. "This is for pleasure, darling, no other reason. If you want me to stop, though, say so. I would never, ever do anything against your will. I would never knowingly hurt you. Do you want to stop playing?" Another nudge, and Sai couldn't speak, could only thrash a little, causing the handle to press against Ry's thigh intermittently.

Ry kissed the back of his neck, and the small of his back, and then he took the handle in both hands and pushed it up as far as he could without hurting Sai.

Sai felt all his nerve endings go white-hot, but before he could go nova, he heard the 'whoop' of the handle being pulled out of him.

"Turn around." Ry spoke gently as his hands lead Sai's shoulders through the movement. There was one bright, harsh kiss before Sai was once again without contact.

The next contact he felt, though, was most welcome. His lips were opened by the arrival of the soft, moist head of Ry's cock. Sai opened up eagerly for it, not even wasting the time to wonder how Ry had gotten into position without him being aware of it. He licked at the tangy salt taste of Ry's precum, and sucked greedily on the thick, hot flesh.

He was so entranced by what he was doing, he was completely taken aback when something hard, smooth, and long was shoved inside of him. He wasn't even able to make a sound of protest before he heard something click, and then whatever was inside of him started to vibrate.

Sai almost turned red with embarrassment at finding himself with a vibrator in him, but the taste of Ry and the pleasure it was giving was too much.

And then Ry started to suck on his balls.

Sai groaned, the sound echoing through Ry as Sai's mouth relaxed around him. It was a tug of war over Sai's nervous system, as he tried to keep sucking while the vibrator turned his insides to jelly and Ry's mouth made his genitals jump and ache.

Ry was close, and Sai even closer, when Ry suddenly pulled out of Sai's mouth, flipping over and yanking the vibrator out of place. Replacing the still humming mechanical tool, Ry grabbed Sai's shoulders and abandoned himself inside of Sai.

Over too quickly, and yet neither could breathe well, Ry collapsed onto Sai, their sweat and semen making the air thick. Drunkenly, Ry flapped an arm up and released the blindfold. Sai blinked, and he had the strange sensation one has when one has been in a dark place for a long time, and is then surprised to find that the sun is still shining. It took him a minute before he was able to open his eyes fully. With another boneless movement, Ry released the catches on the handcuffs, letting them fall to the floor. Sai's arms fell to the bed, weak, and he had to really concentrate to bring them up so that he could touch Ry.

"That... was punishment? You may need to read up on positive versus negative reinforcement, love..." Sai smiled as he spoke, feeling relief at being able to touch again.

Ry slapped him playfully on the shoulder. "I would never use sex as a punishment, silly! That was fun. Didn't you have fun?"

Sai pretended to consider. "That could possibly be the greatest understatement ever uttered by man since the dawn of time."

Chuckling, "So I guess we can safely say that you have graduated to Advanced Sexual Techniques: Accessories. This is a proud day, let me tell you..."

Sai wrinkled his brow. "Your parents must use toys like this all the time..."

This time, he got slapped on the nipple. "Sai! That is not something we ever need to think about!" Leaning down to kiss the offended nub, Ry grinned, a truly wicked thought occurring to him. "I'm sure your father has used things like this, though. Some of those hostess bars can be very... experimental." A kiss to the other nipple, so it wouldn't feel unloved. "And those rich men, they have lots of parties with drugs and prostitutes and wild orgies... You know, I wouldn't be surprised if he's had sex with a man before, either." A kiss to Sai's jugular. "I mean, it's pretty much a given he's had sex with more than one woman at a time, and if you have a larger group of people, there has to be at least a couple of men. And if he's ever been to a bath house..." A quick kiss to Sai's chin. "He's probably always just considered it sex, and not really thought about it being homosexual. A lot of guys do that. Look at Kouji." A kiss to Sai's scowling mouth.

"Please stop, it's hard to feel sick and sated at the same time." Sai actually sounded a little nauseous.

Ry couldn't help a tiny snicker. "Ok, well, that was punishment!"

Sai sighed, still scowling. "How can you forgive me, love? How can I ever make it up to you?"

Ry snuggled in, letting their limbs intertwine as their bodies slithered against one another, the brief period without contact making them greedy. "One day at a time, my beloved, we'll get through it one day at a time."

Sai's arms tightened around Ry, pulling his small body as close to Sai as he could be. "One day at a time, then, I will love you forever one day at a time."

Ry sighed, a content and happy noise, and they started to kiss gently, light tastes to remind them that they were together. "I can tell you one thing, though."


"If you want to be punished... I'm not going to your father's wedding."

"But! Ry!" Sai gripped him tightly, as if he could maybe just drag Ry there if he could keep a good grip on him.

"No way. I don't care if your father does expect it, or if he is used to getting his own way. Watching some rich corporate mogul marry some slut is not my idea of a good time. Besides, it's really bad form for the bride to hit on the groom's son's lover at the reception. It's better that I just stay at home and think of fun new games we can play with my toys." Ry sounded very sage and serious.

Sai smiled, thinking it over for a minute before deciding that he had an ice sculpture's chance in hell of changing Ry's mind. "All right. But I reserve the right to whine about it like a little girl."

Ry snorted, smiling. "Can I make a funny comment about that, or can we just assume that I said something funny, and then I don't need to bother thinking one up?"

Sai's eyes danced, and he flipped them over so that he held Ry down on the bed, tickling his fey love and nibbling on the sensitive spot behind Ry's ear.

Genrou and Houjun slipped past Ry's door, the laughter within easily overheard.

Genrou just shook his head, a little disgusted. "That fuckin' prick better realize how good he's got it..."

Houjun sighed, pulling Genrou into his room. "I hope so, you know... I don't think I can handle any more drama!"

Genrou grinned. "At least we don't hafta worry about them overhearing us... They're too busy with their own shit!"

His right eye narrowed, his entire being was focused on the center of the target, the very middle point, the nucleus. In his mind, he could picture the trajectory that the arrow would have to travel to reach its destination. The wind, the density of the air, the height of the target, his arms, the bow, and the arrow all became extensions of his will, and he let them just be. The arrow would fly when the time was right, when the path was clear. There was only one end point, and to reach it, only one path could be taken.

The pain in his hand was a blockade. It tried to distract him from his goal, prevent him from achieving his balance. He had to take the pain, ripping through his hand, and make it part of his hand, not separate. Once he could make the pain part of his hand, he could make the pain part of his arm, then part of his body. He could diffuse the pain, and with each breath, he could release the pain, until it was no more to him than any other toxic by-product of his bodily functions, no more a distraction than the carbon dioxide in his blood.

It was all a matter of focus.

The spot of red on his bandage was not part of the target, nor was it the destination of his will, and so he neither noticed nor cared about it.

The stands were full, the field packed with competitors. Before the tournament, and between each round, there were murmurs, the soft echoes of rumor and gossip wafting through the air like the smoke off a barbeque.

People whispered about Chou Ryuen's disgrace. They said he tried to kill himself, they said his boyfriend had found out he was cheating on him and tried to crucify him, they called him a fag and said that he was unfit to represent their great nation, they said that he was unstable, they said that he found out his lover was cheating on him and so he tried to kill him and himself, they said that he had put an arrow through his hand so that he could understand the target better.

They said that he was crazy. They said that he was a pervert. They said that he weak.

After three rounds, he was placed in the top five. To them, it was a proof. Chou Ryuen had never, in the past two years, been placed less than first in any round of any competition.

They said that he would fail. It was only a matter of time.

Kourin sat with her back rigid. Before the first round began, she explained to Saihitei that if her brother was not on the national team at the end of the day, she was going to remove his testicles and use them as cat food. He stifled any witty retorts in the face of her resolve.

Mr. and Mrs. Chou heard their daughter, and approved. It was the considered opinion of the entire Chou family that if Ryuen was not the champion, it would be Saihitei's fault.

Rokou had sat down next to Kei, gave Saihitei a stern look, and bent his head low to talk to Ryuen's ex.

His housemates formed a barrier between Saihitei and the Chou's, except for Do-kun, who was busy lending his arm to Kourin. The Bu twins were there, a few rows back, acting much more reserved than Saihitei had ever seen before. Kaen was sitting next to Houjun, looking extremely out of place in this athletic setting, but acting completely at ease and confident. When a particularly prevailing rumor would waft their way, she would send a scathing look to whomever delivered the offending noise, hushing them.

As far as Saihitei was concerned, there was only himself and Ryuen in the world, and he was sweating far more than his love.

The minutes ticked by as Ryuen stood in position, preparing to release the arrow. His slim frame seemed to quiver with the effort to keep the bow tense. The seconds tortured Saihitei, who even from his distance could see the strain on Ryuen's hand, could see how the knuckles were white, could see the tiny spot of red that would grow.

It seemed impossible to Saihitei that the arrow could fly straight at all, much less even make the distance to the target, but it did, with unerring accuracy, although not with Ryuen's usual excellence.

The murmurs stilled with each passing round, until they were in the seventh round. Now, there were only 20 competitors, from a field that had started with over a hundred. From this field, only the top ten would be on the national team, and therefore compete in the Olympics.

Ryuen was third.

Each arrow that whizzed across the distance made Saihitei sweat, his heart shaking. Some on the field were done before the first arrow left Ryuen's bow.

The murmurs were respectfully quiet and disturbingly triumphant.

One arrow after another flew from Ryuen's hands, and it was like his hand was uninjured, like he had never hurt himself, like he was telekinetically sending the arrows exactly where he wanted them to go.

Saihitei took his first deep breath in hours.

Ryuen finished in first place, far outstripping the second place archer.

His arms shook as he gathered his quiver, and it didn't really settle into him yet. Each archer that passed, each helper that was clearing the field, all slapped his back and offered their hand, congratulating him.

His hand hurt like hell. There was a nice circle of red in the middle of the gauze. He would need to get a few new stitches, but that hardly seemed relevant now.

There was an extremely brief ceremony, and then he was walking away, the top archer in all of Japan.

Leaving the field, he was heading straight for where he knew his family and friends were, when a flash of yellow gold stopped him. Smiling, he turned to greet the figure standing in the shadow of the tree.

"Did you enjoy the tourney?"

Ayuru shook his head. "I would have enjoyed it a hell of a lot more if you hadn't been shaking like a leaf between each round, and if you hadn't pulled your stitches."

Ryuen shrugged. "I won."

"I know." Ayuru grinned, and left the sanctuary of the tree. Pulling Ryuen into a hug, he kissed the top of his best friend's head. "Damn, you are something else again, Nuri-babe."

"Hey." Ryuen looked up into his blue-ice eyes. "You haven't called me that in years."

"I haven't had reason to." Ayuru shrugged.

"Perhaps you've forgotten, then, how much I dislike it?" Ryuen wrinkled his little nose in the cutest fashion.

"No," Ayuru teased, "but I haven't had need to tease you."

Ryuen shook his head and pulled away, smiling. "Well, you wanna go for some pizza or something? Mm, maybe sushi actually, I could really go for sushi now..."

Ayuru eyed him critically. "Shouldn't you go to the hospital now?"

Ryuen shrugged. "Hey, I don't win the national archery competition every day. I want to celebrate!"

Shaking his head, Ayuru looked over to the stands. "I see you've made up with him."

Ryuen didn't have to look to see who Ayuru was watching. "Yeah. We kissed and made up, so to speak."

"Why?" Ayuru sounded hurt. "After what he did..."

"I love him." Ryuen's eyes slipped down, as if apologizing.

"Does he love you?" Ayuru's voice was sharp and deadly. "Enough? Does he deserve you? Can you trust him?"

A small smile crept across Ryuen's face, his chin tilting up. "I'm sorry, Ayuru. But I love him enough, and I... I want to believe him. Someday, I think I will. Besides, I've always been a big believer in second chances."

"Wouldn't this be his third chance? Possibly fourth?" Ayuru sneered, his arms crossing over his chest.

Ryuen went to his tip-toes and kissed Ayuru on the mouth. "You'll always be my first love, you know." Leaning back down, he smiled. "You will eternally have the honor of being the first to break my heart."

Abashed, Ayuru looked away. Chewing on his lip, he sighed. "I'm going to ask Kaen to marry me."

Ryuen whistled low, shocked. "And may God have mercy on us all."

Chuckling, "Yeah, I guess. I'm sorry, Ry-chan, but I'm going to skip the celebration." Ayuru met Ryuen's eye for a long moment, before bending over and kissing him thoroughly. "I just need more time before I can successfully pretend to be happy for you."

Ryuen grinned at him. "Take all the time you need."

He watched as his blonde friend disappeared into the distance before he headed over to his fan group, his grin splitting his face from one end to the other. His father hugged him, a rare thing, which made Ryuen blush like he did when he was a kid. His mother kissed him right in front of everyone, a common enough experience that Ryuen didn't even bother to resist. Rokou slapped him on the back, and Kourin jumped all over him. He kissed her cheeks and thanked everyone for their support, surprising everyone, Kourin especially, by not giving her his medal.

"I hope you don't mind, baby sister, but... I really feel like I earned this one." Ryuen smiled, apologizing, as his fingers traced the edges of the medal, slipping across to caress the design etched in the middle.

Kourin blushed, feeling guilty for wanting the medal at all. "Of course not, big brother! You were so awesome, like a warrior of myth, overcoming a disability to triumph over evil!" She had a starry look in her eyes, her stance rigid and her fist pumping heroically through the air.

Ryuen ruffled her hair and walked away, shaking his head, heading towards Saihitei where he leaned against his love, wrapping his arms around Saihitei's waist and sighing, letting the taller man support him entirely.

Saihitei kissed him tenderly on the forehead and cheeks, smiling with a deep sense of pride and admiration. "You were... unbelievable, my love."

Ryuen shook his head, smiling. "I don't even understand it now... But you know what the best part is?" His brown-rose eyes glittered. "They can't take this away from me. They can't say that I'm too much of a crazy-pervert-freak, because I'm so much better than they are, they need me!"

Saihitei smiled down at his love with the same blazing triumph. "In so many ways, beloved, it's not even funny."

Ryuen stood up, facing his adoring fans. "I think we should celebrate! Who wants sushi?"

Before Ryuen's mother could say anything, Saihitei wound his arms around his love and took Ryuen's injured hand in his own. "Perhaps, my champion, we should go to the hospital first? You may need a few new stitches. Then, we can go celebrate."

"Aw, Sai..." Ryuen turned his face to his love, batting his eyes. "We can go in the morning. I want to enjoy tonight!"

"Don't you think you would enjoy tonight more if you weren't in pain?" Saihitei had to close his eyes to not fall under his love's spell.

"It doesn't hurt. That much." Ryuen pouted, sounding enough like a child to make his siblings roll their eyes.

Saihitei lifted the hand, kissing the red stain in the center. "They'll probably give you some good drugs. Vicodin, probably..."

Ryuen looked tempted for a moment. "I would still rather celebrate." He stuck his chin out, looking very resolved.

Saihitei leaned very close, and whispered something in Ryuen's ear. Ryuen's eyes widened, his smile brightening and then softening. Finally, he tilted his head to touch Saihitei's. "Oh... All right. But we have to hurry! I want to go out and have fun... and we'll need plenty of time later on for..."

Saihitei chuckled. "Yes, my love, we'll hurry." He kept his arm around Ryuen's waist as they walked away, talking and laughing with everyone.

Mrs. Chou watched them go with a bittersweet mixture of contentment and sadness.

Ryuen sat on the couch, his knees up to his chest and his arms around his legs like he was a little boy. He even hid his face behind his knees, so that Karen couldn't see his expression as she swept into the office. Still, she could tell by his body language that he was doing well. Ryuen couldn't be a simple boy with easy to read body language, oh no, but after thirteen years of working together, she knew him better than his mother did.

Considering some of the things that she knew about him, that was probably a really good thing.

"So, Ryuen, how are you doing today?" She sat down across from him, putting her notebook on the table next to her, a clear signal to him that they were in the informal portion of the session.

Ryuen lifted his chin up to his knees so that his smile was visible. "I'm great. How are you, Doc?"

Karen smiled back, the nickname warming her heart, despite her internal lecture about proper distance. "I'm good as usual. So, anything on your mind?"

Ryuen sat and watched her, still smiling. He waited until she was just about ready to say something else, and then, "Finished my last final this morning. So, technically, I'm done with school now."

She was about to say something, when a horrible thought entered her head. "Oh? Well, great. It's a new day, huh? Well..."

"So that makes this my last therapy session." He spoke softly and almost regretfully.

Karen almost staggered. "Oh! Um, well... Ah, Ryuen, you know, just because you promised your mom you would stay in therapy until you were out of school, that doesn't mean you have to stop now! I mean, if you are worried about the bill, we can work something out..."

"I'm so tired of it. I'm sorry, but it's true." He sighed, stretching his neck slightly. His voice was still quiet and even. "I'm tired of analyzing every detail in my life until it lacks... color. I'm tired of second guessing myself. I want to live my life, you know? Things are going well now, and I don't want to have to... to... think about it all so much."

Karen almost resisted the impulse to get up and sit next to him, and then shot out of her chair. "Ryuen, I know that things are good, now, but... It's all still so new, and you still lack self-confidence, and..."

"See?" His legs shifted and his arms went around his chest. He smiled so sweetly. "How can I ever be a big strong boy, standing on his own two feet, if I have to discuss my low self-esteem all the time? I'm sorry, Karen, it's not personal. I've been looking forward to being free for a while now. I want to just... make mistakes, and decisions, and all that good stuff without having to feel like I'm impaired somehow, like I can't trust my own head. Which is not to say that I won't be back at the first sign of trouble!"

Karen pulled on his shoulders until his head was resting on her shoulder. "You'd better come back if you need me! And don't think you can walk out that door and not check in with me from time to time! We'll have to... have coffee once a month, or something."

Ryuen sighed happily. "Don't worry, mommy, I won't abandon you."

She tapped him on the nose. "Don't get sassy with me, boy, I've known you long enough now not to have to put up with that!" Hugging him tightly, she closed her eyes and tried to imagine life without Ryuen in her office once a week. "I love you, you know that? I tried not to, you being my patient and all, but you are just too damn lovable."

"At least you never tried to get in my pants," Ryuen added, helpfully.

She pinched his cheek this time. "Now, don't go around associating familial love with sex, or I'm going to have to chain you to this couch and keep you here forever!" They both chuckled lightly. She held on tighter, not wanting to let go at all. Well, they still had most of the hour. "Now, you listen to me here, little boy, because I know you think you are all grown up and mature, but you are still my little boy, so you have to listen. Don't let him make you think less of yourself. You are so amazing and wonderful, Ryuen, don't let yourself think that you don't deserve him. And for gods' sake, don't ever hurt yourself again for him! Or I swear, I will kick your round little ass!"

Ryuen giggled. "I swear, Karen, no more self-mutilation. Believe me, that's an easy promise!"

"And you deserve him, Ryuen, far more than he deserves you."

He sighed, and held on to her.

She kissed the top of his head, smelling the mass of hair there, just in case.

When he spoke again, his voice was so quiet and child-like, he almost didn't sound like himself. "Do you think he might really love me?"

She stroked his hair and smiled so he couldn't see her. Choosing her words carefully, "Well, you've often told me how intelligent and sweet he is. Since he would have to be a damned stupid twit not to love you, I have to assume that he does. Of course, I've never met him myself, but... I mean it, Ryuen. You are wonderful and beautiful, and very, very loving. Any man or woman would be lucky to be loved by you, any man or woman you loved would have to have a very, very good reason not to love you back. I think... I think Saihitei has no reason in the universe not to love you as much as you love him."

Ryuen snuggled in closer, feeling a little shaky. He'd waited years for this day, and now he was afraid to let go.

At least there was still plenty of the hour left.

Ry was giggling as they got closer to the entrance, his tiny laughs coming too fast and too high pitched. Sai put his hand on the back of his love's neck, massaging slightly. He was shaking a little himself, but that wasn't important.

It had taken Ry three days to set up the room in the gallery for the opening, not to mention the weeks of work in the lab he had put in, getting his project ready. Madame Sekine was all too pleased to offer Ryuen space in her gallery for his first show, and so he felt a huge pressure to be a success for the sake of her, the gallery, and his advisor.

Because he was so nervous about the show, he hadn't let Sai see any of the pieces beforehand, although he had gotten his permission to use the photos. Sai had watched with bemused wonder as his love had fumbled getting dressed, his fingers getting stuck in the buttonholes as nothing seemed to go right. A little wine and some kisses had calmed Ry down somewhat, but now he was nearly giddy. The ride over to the gallery had been... interesting. Now, Sai wished that they could find some unassuming closet somewhere and act on the promise of the car ride, but the gallery had been opened for almost two hours now, and so the artist needed to make his appearance.

The lobby of the gallery was tastefully underdecorated. Just as they were nearing the entrance, Ry pulled Sai aside, leaning up to kiss him wildly. "Are you ready for this?"

Sai grinned down at his love. "Depends on what this is."

"What do you want this to be, darling?" Ry purred, inching closer and putting his hands on Sai's waist.

"You are incorrigible, love!" Sai chuckled, his fingers moving up and down Ry's arms. "Are you nervous?" He knew that Ry was, but it would have been impolite to just say so.

Ry put his forehead on Sai's chest. "How can I be nervous with such a wonderful man by my side?"

Sai couldn't respond with anything more than a smile, shaking his head. His brow furrowed, and his fingers clutched at the fabric of Ry's suit coat.

"Ah, we should go in, I suppose, Miss Hanari will be waiting, with my family and all..." Ry sounded reluctant. He was ready to start moving when he noticed the hesitation in Sai's face. "Sai? All right?"

"Of course." Somehow, Sai's eyes refused to rise to meet Ry's.

"Oh?" Ry looked suspiciously at his love. "If you're worried about the photos, don't be. Models often go to shows where they are used. Even though you aren't a model, people will be respectful. And anyway, I've told you a million times, the pictures are tasteful."

Sai smiled, just a little. "Ah, even tasteful, they do have certain... memory attached to them. It is a bit odd to think that people are just wandering by them, looking."

"Is that it?" Ry spoke softly. "I feel the same way, you know. But we'll face them all together, so it will be all right."

Sai's amber eyes flickered up.

Ry's mouth twitched. "That isn't it, is it? Tell me."

Sai sighed. "I shouldn't say anything... I should just be grateful, but..."

"But?" Ry prodded, helpfully.

"It seems too easy." Sai brought his eyes up bravely. "I mean... You've forgiven me too easily. I didn't even realize before... how scared you were, until I've seen how you can be now. You... depend on me, and... trust me. It. Doesn't make sense, that you would trust me or love me more now." Sai pleaded with Ry in the sparkle of his eye.

Ry stood confident. "Oh? Is that what is worrying you?" Smiling, he leaned up to kiss Sai's mouth. "I never believed that we would have the happily ever after. That's for Taka and Miaka. I always thought... something would happen, I would do something, and then it would be over. When I saw you kissing her... I thought that was it." Ry's voice was soft, and musically free of bitterness, like he was talking about a childhood memory that was both strange and important. "I didn't expect you to come back for me. I didn't think that you would fight for me. I didn't think... that you would want me, damaged."

Sai's hand came up to Ry's cheek, and cradled it gently, the slight wrinkle between his eyes expressing everything.

"But now... We've been through one of the worst things a couple can go through, and we're still together. It makes me think..." And Ry realized that he was thinking this in complete words for the first time, "we might be able to be together. That, whatever happens, it wouldn't necessarily break us. We might be able to work through things, together." Ry smiled, and he was so beautiful, Sai had to smile too. "It makes me think that we can have a future, if we work on it together."

"Oh, love." Sai was still smiling. "That's all I want."

They kissed again. Their lips danced together, familiar partners who could flirt with ease and grace. Suddenly Sai was moving Ry further away from the door, his eyes bright.

"I need to show you something. I was going to wait 'til later, but..." He started to unbutton his shirt, to Ry's great amusement.

"Hm, Sai, technically, I've already seen what you've got under there, and anyway, shouldn't we go someplace more private for that? I'm sure there's an empty office around... Hey! Why do you have a bandage?" Ry's fingers immediately were drawn to the rectangle of white padding, the tape holding it in place getting special attention.

Sai's heart was pounding. "Look." His voice was deep.

Ry gave him one puzzled look, and then peeled off one edge of tape, pulling back the gauze. Gasping, he nearly ripped the bandage the rest of the way off to get a good look.

The skin under the bandage was shiny with antibacterial balm, the raised, bright red scab of the tattoo appearing to be hot. The lines were graceful and bold, forming the symbol of the willow directly over Sai's heart.

Words were difficult for Ry. "B... Bu- Willow. That's my symbol."

Sai smiled, his heart feeling light. "I know. I wanted... something, to show you. Your mark on me."

Ry couldn't help the grin that infected him. "I don't think I can reciprocate. A tat on my neck would hurt a lot."

Sai laughed, that deep, true laugh that made Ry want to laugh. "I don't need my mark on you, my love. I can see it in your eyes."

Brown-rose eyes brightened. "Well, I do have the scar on my palm!" Ry raised his hand, displaying the ugly little crinkle of angry red skin that was forming the scar.

Sai groaned. "Ryuen!" Sai's voice was full of regret and need and love.

Ry didn't even try to stop himself. Sai had an armful of photographer, grasping and clinging to him, making him groan.

The soft clearing of a throat didn't distract them until a cough was added as well. Miss Hanari's eyes danced as she smiled at the boys. "I hate to disturb you, Ryuen-san, but there is a room full of people waiting for you. Perhaps this is a bad time for you and your boyfriend to be alone? Especially since the lobby isn't exactly private."

Ry snuggled closer to Sai. "Give me a minute, Miss Hanari. Please. We will be right in."

"As you say." She winked just as she turned, still smiling.

Ry pulled back, carefully putting the bandage back in place. "Did it hurt?"

Sai wanted to say something else, but "Yes" was out before he could stop it.

Ry kissed the bandage fervently. "Thank you, Sai."

Sai raised the palm gently, kissing the center with reverence. "Stay with me, Ry."

"One day at a time," Ry breathed, "for as long as I am me."

Sai held onto Ry as they walked in to where the show was going on. There was a bright smattering of applause as soon as Ryuen was visible, which he handled gracefully, bowing respectfully to his admirers. Miss Hanari introduced him brightly, and Madame Sekine added her own praise to the artist. Ryuen then blushed, and accepted their praise humbly, thanking everyone for coming to his show. Mr. and Mrs. Chou stood with Rokou, Kourin, and Do-kun. The other housemates were scattered about the room, smiling brightly.

Saihitei was insensible to all of this, his entire being focused on remembering to breathe. In the center of the room, hanging from tensile wires, was a photo of him, poster-sized, his shirt off his shoulders, his chest bare, his face flushed and turned, his eyes closed, his hair falling in stands over his face.

Feeling naked, Saihitei clutched Ryuen's hand until his knuckles were white, and he pretended to smile.

They mingled, saying hi here and there. Saihitei wasn't even up for the barest of conversations. There were dozens of photos of varying sizes and presentations, each photo overlaid with the image of tiny sakura petals falling through the shadows. Looking one way, he could see a picture of his hand on the top his pants, his naked belly obviously heaving. Looking the other way, he could see a picture of him licking his lips, his eyes drenched in desire. Everywhere he looked, he could see the preamble for the night he lost his virginity. He held Ryuen's hand, and tried not to run screaming.

Mr. and Mrs. Chou had the decency to look fairly embarrassed, even when they were gushing about how beautiful the photos were. Miaka made one tasteless joke after another about Saihitei's legendary beauty until Ryuen pulled Saihitei away, muttering under his breath about silly mikos who didn't know their limits. Ayuru and Kaen made polite and critical comments, complete with Ayuru giving Saihitei dangerous leers when Ryuen wasn't looking.

That, at least, gave Saihitei something to think about other than his sex life on display.

A group of fellow students grabbed Ryuen to offer their compliments and comments. One boy, only a junior, stared at Saihitei as if he were an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Just barely managing not to drool on his loafers, the round-faced boy turned to Ryuen, his eyes still on Saihitei. "You certainly know how to pick subjects, Ryuen-san. I don't suppose I could borrow your model sometime?"

Ryuen smiled banally, while Rina rolled her eyes. "I don't use models, Kyoden-san. Why don't you get your own boyfriend?"

While the hapless junior dissolved in blushes, Ryuen continued on to steer Saihitei through the crowd.

Miss Hanari and Madame Sekine pulled them away from a discussion with a collector from China who whose small face and small glasses gave Saihitei a sick feeling in his bowels.

"Excuse me, Ryuen-san, but there is someone here I'd like for you to meet." Miss Hanari was at her most polite and refined. "Ms. Riordan is from Aperture magazine. She expressed some interest in publishing some of your photos in Aperture." Miss Hanari leaned closed, stage whispering, "It's an international magazine, Ryuen-san!"

Madame Sekine was beaming, and Saihitei was suitably impressed enough to shake himself out of his reverie. Ryuen smiled, his charm and charisma naturally making the young American woman blush. "You honor me with your interest, Ms. Riordan. It would be my pleasure to allow you to publish my humble photos."

Having sufficiently regained her wits, and reminding herself that girls from New York did not get blushy and school-girlish over charming Japanese men who were obviously gay and taken, the publisher smiled and took Ryuen's arm. "It would be my pleasure, Mr. Ryuen." Ryuen smiled, excusing her small error without pause. "Your photos are astounding. The level of sheer passion you've captured..." Saihitei's blush returned in a flurry, causing him to lower his head and close his eyes. "It is the sort of showing that promises great things for the future."

Ryuen continued to smile in his own charming, flirtatious manner. "I am honored by your praise, Ms. Riordan, and I hope that I can live up to your expectations."

She smiled back, forgetting that she was from New York and therefore above having her head spun by pretty boys. Pressing her card in his suit coat pocket, she leaned in to speak into his ear. "Please contact me, and we can set everything up. Thank you so much for you cooperation." Despite the hand that was firmly clasped by the tall, imposing man from the pictures, she felt bold enough to lean over and kiss him on the mouth, briefly.

Saihitei watched her sway away with seething disbelief. "She kissed you!" All the outrage and disgust was clearly expressed in those spare words.

"It's all right, darling," Ryuen said while patting Saihitei's arm. "I wasn't obsessed with her in a former life." Laughing at Saihitei's instant shame, Ryuen poked his love in the side, trying to tease a smile out of him. "Oh, c'mon, that was at least a little funny!"

Saihitei only hung his head lower.

Despite the few bobbles in the evening, the show was a complete success. Ryuen didn't offer to sell any of his pieces, but the show was scheduled to last for ten days, and he had meet and made many valuable contacts in the space of one evening. Once it was rumored that he had won a place in an international art photography magazine, Ryuen was considered to be a hot property.

It was late, and long past the hour when all the guests had left, that Ryuen and Saihitei sat on a small bench, looking over the show.

"Do you like them, Sai-love?" Ry squeezed both of Sai's hands in his own, his brown-rose eyes quivering. Saihitei had never seen these pictures before, and Ry was more than a little afraid that his love would not like them.

Sai's eyes darted from one photo to the next. "They are... so personal, so raw, so... I want to say beautiful, but I always stop myself, thinking that it would be vanity."

Ry raised on eyebrow, grinning. "When have you ever been adverse to a little vanity, oh most beautiful man in the world?"

Sai flushed, and smiled, giving in to Ry's tender humor. "But it's not me that makes these beautiful, Ry. It's... I look at that photo," Sai pointed to a tight shot of his eyes, "and it's not my eyes that I see, but you. I remember exactly what I was thinking when that photo was taken, I remember everything about that moment. Like, you dipped that moment in ice and froze it for all time, and now we can have it forever, just need to pull it out whenever we want. This is..."

"Yeah." Ry put his head on Sai's shoulder, smiling. "I... At first, I couldn't imagine sharing these photos with anyone. I thought... if Sai and I break up, these will be all that I have left, and I'll need them, I'll need to be able to pull them out and enjoy them from time to time, to ease my aching heart, I'll need them for when I have to live without you, so that I won't feel quite so lonely." His voice had tapered off to a mere whisper, like a child afraid to talk out loud in the dark, even when there are no grown ups around to get him in trouble. "But... I don't know. I don't feel like I have to lock these away, anymore."

Sai put his arms around his love, kissing the top of his head. "I know how you feel. It's like, you needed to keep them safe, so that they couldn't be tarnished, and now, you know that nothing can happen to take away these moments. They are ours forever."

Ry tipped his face up, looking at Sai with wonder. "That's it exactly."

There was no hurry to get home, no rush to complete the excitement in those few words, no desperation in the need.

One day at a time, they had the rest of their lives.

notesPart OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart FivePart SixPart SevenPart EightPart NinePart TenPart ElevenPart TwelvePart ThirteenPart FourteenPart FifteenPart SixteenPart SeventeenPart EighteenPart NineteenPart Twenty • Part Twenty-One • Epilogue