title: Bathed in Moonlight
fandom: Fushigi Yuugi
characters/pairings: Hotohori/Nuriko
rating: G
warnings: kissing
summary: Hotohori finds himself comforting Nuriko.
notes: for caroline, her ficlet on demand. she couldn't make up her mind whether she wanted Heero/Duo or Hotohori/Nuriko, so at first i was thinking that i would both, from basically the same fic. there are a lot of themes and images that work for both... i could have done basically a name switch, cleaned up a few details, and there ya go. but when i was thinking i would do that, i was thinking of doing a much shorter fic. this one kinda grew out of even my generous definition of ficlet and into a ficcie. Le sigh.
on the plus side, it is horribly unoriginal and terribly melodramatic. so you know. it has that going for it. ^_~

It was unseasonably warm, even for the time of year. There was the sluggish rustling of people moving about the palace, even at this late hour, as it was too hot to sleep comfortably. Hotohori was almost glad that Miaka wasn't here for this hot spell; he feared that she wouldn't bear up well with such high humidity. He had just finished checking on Tamahome, who was sleeping fitfully on the couch in his room. It was unnecessary for him to check on anyone at all, but Hotohori was glad for the excuse to get out and walk around. He had even eluded his guard so that he could have a few minutes to himself.

It was odd, perhaps, that the first thing he sought to do once he did have his solitude was to seek out his fellow seishi, but Hotohori was not too proud to admit that he was lonely. This was certainly not a new development in his life, regardless of the absence of Miaka so suddenly, but it seemed like, now, there was no reason for him to be lonely. He had compatriots now.

Even still, he had not been able to bring himself to check in on Nuriko. He had walked past... his? her? He had gone by Nuriko's rooms, had even put his hand on the door, as if he would have been able to feel whatever was going on inside, but he had not sought entrance. Why? Was he uncomfortable around Nuriko, now that he knew the truth?

Honestly, he didn't think so. He actually thought he was more at ease with Nuriko, the man in woman's clothing, than Nuriko, the woman. He was a bit confused about some aspects of Nuriko, such as which pronouns to use and whatnot, but oddly, he didn't even have that much trouble understanding why Nuriko would do such a thing.

After all, he was quite beautiful.

And if that wasn't reason enough, there was a certain... allure to altering your identity simply by choice. Hotohori felt like he understood it, even if he did not know Nuriko's specific reasons. There was a part of him that almost envied Nuriko for it. There was a freedom in following one's heart to such an extreme, and being swayed only by one's convictions.

Hotohori was almost afraid to admit it, but he truly admired Nuriko.

He had intended to return to his rooms, but he found himself in the ornate gardens instead. He followed the trail to the small pond surrounded by jasmine. The moon was full and the sky was clear, and it was a beautiful night to indulge. The pond had large, flat rocks dotting its circumference, and if he sat down and pulled his pant legs up, he could slip his feet into the water, and cool down.

The sight of the pond was even more beautiful than normal, but it wasn't the moonlight shimmering on the surface of the water, or the white flowers dripping off the branches of the jasmine trees that took Hotohori's breath away.

Nuriko was on one of the rocks, his small feet tucked under himself. He was wearing a loose nightgown of flowing, pale blue silk. The gown had lace that tickled up Nuriko's chest, and thin straps made of satiny ribbon. There was a slit up the side of the gown, so Nuriko's bare legs were exposed as he sat, and the front of the gown billowed over the rocks like a waterfall. Over this, he wore a robe of transparent silk, painted to insinuate flowers onto Nuriko's perfect skin. His hair trailed down his back in a cascade of shimmering locks.

A heat traveled up and down Hotohori's spine, and it felt like the sort of heat that he could wrap himself up in until he choked. He put a hand out to hold himself up against a tree. It was the humidity that had done him in, the overpowering scent of jasmine, the melancholy of loneliness. He should go back to his rooms now, walk away from this mirage, wash his face off, and then think about Miaka, and the day when she returned to him.

He was about to turn and walk away, too, when he noticed the puffiness of Nuriko's eyes, the way he was chewing on his bottom lip, and the tracks of tears that had left marks on his face.

Hotohori could not turn his back on a fellow seishi in need.

He conspicuously made noise approaching the pond, intentionally kicking a small stone into the water so that Nuriko would discover him there on his own. Hotohori blushed at Nuriko's startled gasp; the other man's first reaction was to pull his robe closed across his chest, obviously unaware that transparent nature of the material made that motion a demure display of coquetry.

"Your highness! I'm... I'm so sorry, I was... lost in thought. Am I disturbing you?"

There was panic in Nuriko's vivid purple eyes, and Hotohori winced internally at the other man's skittishness. "No, of course not. I should be asking you that." Hotohori smiled, hoping that it was clear that he was sitting here as a comrade and a friend, and not an emperor.

Nuriko turned bright red and began to stammer. "What?! No, no... How could you even...? I mean, I could leave if... you should not think that I... It is your garden, and I..."

Hotohori flipped his robe back and sat down next to Nuriko. "It's such a beautiful night for stargazing. Isn't it? That's your star, isn't it?"

Nuriko followed the trail that Hotohori's finger was intimating, confused. "Ah... yes, it is."

"It's quite bright tonight." Hotohori kept his eyes on the stars, waiting for Nuriko to relax.

Nuriko sighed. "Yes. It is."

Hotohori's eyes flickered to Nuriko's face, and it was apparent that Nuriko was no longer thinking about him at all. He reached out to trace the path Nuriko's previous tears had taken, almost before he was aware he was moving. "If it would help to talk of it, I am willing to listen." He kept his voice soft and light, hoping to encourage Nuriko. He could feel the other man's cheeks flare with heat, and his eyes widened and his mouth went dry. He let his hand drop, punishing himself for his weakness.

Nuriko dipped his chin down, and for a while it seemed that he intended to hide behind the curtain of his hair. When he did begin to speak, his voice sounded more like that of a child than the musical tones Hotohori was accustomed to hearing from him. "I don't know what's wrong with me. I can't stop thinking about... certain things. It's... an anniversary of sorts, I suppose, so perhaps it is only natural, but I... It's all this inactivity. I had nothing to do today but keep Tamahome from walking into walls, and I suppose I was thinking about Miaka being gone, and I..."

Hotohori waited, and then nodded in sympathy. "It's all right to admit that you miss her. We all do. She brings a certain... sparkle to the air."

He allowed his voice to warm and become affectionate. It was only right and proper, after all, because he was in love with Miaka, and so naturally he enjoyed thinking about her.

Nuriko sniffed dismissively. "Oh, I suppose I do miss her... It's been deadly dull here, waiting for her to return. But that's not why I'm sad."

"No? Then why?"

Nuriko examined the tips of his perfectly manicured nails. "It's just... It's silly, really. I just need to pull myself out of this... this reminiscing. It's the humidity, you know. It keeps the brain from functioning properly."

Hotohori fervently wanted to agree with him. Since he had come to the pond, his thoughts had most definitely not been functioning properly.

"It's just that... I... Years ago... Years ago, someone... someone very precious to me died on this date." Nuriko's voice was small and sad, his head bent down and his body hunched.

Hotohori felt cool and sober. He reached out, and took one of Nuriko's hands gently into his. "Ah, I'm so sorry. I know... Every year, the day my father died, it... It's like losing him all over again."

Nuriko raised his eyes tentatively, searching Hotohori's face for something... Whether he found it or not, he nodded. "I remember thinking how awful it must have been for you then."

Hotohori squeezed Nuriko's hand tightly, his chest feeling heavy. "It... it does get easier, right?"

Nuriko looked away, a bitter smile tracing his lips. "Some days. I suppose. But there is still this... void that nothing can ever touch."

"It must have been someone you loved very much," Hotohori observed, mesmerized with the tragic beauty of Nuriko in the moonlight.

"With all my heart and soul," Nuriko intoned with broken solemnity, and Hotohori felt cut in half with irrational jealousy.

He cupped Nuriko's hand in both of his, and raised it up to his lips. He kissed Nuriko's knuckles with all the chaste fervor of a lover too long parted from the flesh of his most beloved. He sighed deeply, still bent over Nuriko's hand, his thumbs caressing the slightly moist spot where he had kissed him. "The people we have lost, they do leave a void. But I am grateful, very grateful, for the new friends that fill undiscovered corners of our hearts."

Nuriko gasped slightly, and then suddenly surged into Hotohori's arms, bawling like a child. Hotohori closed his eyes, and held Nuriko to his chest. There was something in the way that Nuriko's slight frame fit into his arms, in the way that Nuriko's hair teased his cheek, and in the way that Hotohori's heart pounded, it made it seem like he could hold Nuriko forever, that years from now, he could find the same calming solace in taking this man to his heart and holding him, being the one to brush aside his tears and being the one to revel in his laughter.

Hotohori started to feel cold there, holding Nuriko as he cried. There was no way that that vision could come true... Hotohori had a lineage to continue, a responsibility to his ancestors and to his people, and as much as he might have liked the idea of spending his life with Nuriko, it simply wasn't meant to be.

Gathering the smaller man as tightly as he could in his arms, Hotohori tried to pour all of his unrealized love and admiration into his embrace, to shelter Nuriko and give him some measure of comfort, before he had to take his arms away. Nuriko's tears broke down into muffled sobs, until finally, Nuriko rested boneless against him.

Hotohori pushed back Nuriko's hair so that he could see his face, smiling down on his fellow seishi. "Feel any better?"

Nuriko smiled weakly. "Yes, actually." He pushed himself up while still remaining in the circle of Hotohori's arms. "Thank you." Their faces were so close, his nose was brushing against Nuriko's tiny button nose.

He had meant to let go. He had meant to put an end to it. But he had been denying himself for so long, and there was only so much temptation a body could suffer before it needed to give in. It was just a brush of lips against lips. Just a fleeting touch, barely even there, but so achingly romantic. Nuriko's breathing hitched, and there was confusion and hope and pain in his eyes. Hotohori sighed, trying to pull away, but only succeeding in bringing Nuriko closer. "You are very welcome."

The second kiss was not as quick as the first. Hotohori felt drunk on the night air, and his hands moved over Nuriko's body, barely able to keep from clutching at Nuriko. He shook his head when they parted, and closed his eyes tightly.

What was happening? He was supposed to be a friend to Nuriko. He was supposed to be here to offer comfort. What comfort could be gained through a tease of what could never be?

"We can't..." He started, but then his lips were on Nuriko's again. He wanted to cry, he was so frustrated. "Please, go."

Nuriko nodded, understanding seemingly by touch. Hotohori was so desperately aware of the rise and fall of Nuriko's slim chest, the way that Nuriko's arms circled around, and his vision swam as he imagined Nuriko under him, naked, his flesh yielding to Hotohori's unbidden desires...

Nuriko nodded, and put his hands on the back of Hotohori's head. He kissed Hotohori with his mouth open, the heat searing through the young emperor until he felt utterly done in. Nuriko started to rise, and Hotohori clung to him, but Nuriko broke through his grip, leaving Hotohori with handfuls of his robe and nothing more. Nuriko was now standing, so Hotohori had to look up to see his eyes, filled with things that Hotohori could only guess at as he tried to keep his gaze from Nuriko's bare shoulders bathed in moonlight.

Nuriko's symbol burned brightly over his heart, and Hotohori let go of the fabric between his fingers, knowing that he could not resist Nuriko's strength.

Nuriko touched just the tips of his fingers to Hotohori's chin. "Thank you." They were just words, all the meaning in the tone of voice and the glint in Nuriko's eyes, and Hotohori was breathless with the need of an interpreter.

He watched Nuriko walk away, his heart still hammering in his chest. When he was left alone with the jasmine, finally, he slipped out of his clothes and waded into the cool waters of the pond. He felt bereft, and in need of rest, but first, he needed to be able to think again.

There was the bitter taste of losing something of great value in the back of his throat, and it made him sick to his stomach, but there was nothing he could do. Even if he gave into the nausea, it wouldn't change who he was or who Nuriko was.

He hoped that Miaka returned to them soon. Hotohori wasn't sure he could handle any more hot nights with nothing to do.