title: the Sands of Iwami
fandom: Free!
characters/pairings: Makoto/Rin, Nagisa/Rei, Gou, Nitori, Mikoshiba, Haru, Ran, Ren
rating: Mature
warnings: sex, politics, piercings, an implied nonconsensual relationship (not among the listed pairings), make us free na splash
summary: Rin has become Sultan, so it's time to get what he wants.
notes: written for the Free! collab blog beta round challenge, so manymany thanks to my team, Rubies n Emeralds, frosted-dubu and natsui!!!!
ahhhh the art made for the fic has now been posted and it's GORGEOUS so please go look!!! and then please tell natsui how amazing and awesome she is because she issssssssss!!! thankyou!!
also, this is based on the end credits of Free! the country portrayed is entirely fictitious and based on fantasy, not on any real country or culture or religion. certain terms (like Sultan) are being used in the same way that the clothing styles are used in the end credits. i simply don't know enough about associated countries/cultures to try to base it on anything real or historical. it is based entirely on the 'story' being told in the ending credits. if there are any references that are offensive or appropriative, please accept my apologies. if you let me know, i can do my best to make amends, as i certainly intend no offense. thank you!!

The music sped up, and fine silk swirled around the hips of the dancers at a nearly inconceivable rate. The Sultan held out his hand, admiring his nails. The dancers changed formation as they spun, and their stomachs rolled as they moved.

"So... your sister isn't going to dance, then?"

Rin pressed his lips together in annoyance. "Captain Mikoshiba, were you just thinking how annoying it was to keep your balls attached to your body?" he asked casually. He wiggled his fingers a bit.

The tall man next to him started, and he laughed as if it were all a joke. "Ah, ha, no, that's... I'm glad your sister isn't going to dance, because that would be... would be... that would be bad, people looking at her body as it... moved seductively and her hips gyrated..." His eyes were looking glazed.

"You know what? You don't have to stand next to me. You could go get yourself some wine or something. That would be no big deal. You could guard me from... over there somewhere," Rin icily informed him.

Captain Mikoshiba snapped to attention and bowed to his sultan. "Yessir!" he trotted off.

Next to Rin, a small and nondescript young man covered his chuckles by coughing discreetly into his fist. "Ah... he means well, Sultan-sama. He's just, well, not really used to associating with women. Or their brothers."

Rin rolled his eyes. The real problem was that he used to be one of Captain Mikoshiba's underlings, so Mikoshiba still needed time to adjust to Rin being his Sultan. "Sultan... sama? Isn't that excessive?" Rin yawned.

The music changed tempo, and the dancers changed positions again. The blond boy in middle of the front row saucily winked at Rin, and it was all Rin could do to keep from winking back.

"Ehh? Is it bad? I'm so sorry, Sultan-sa... er..." Nitori verbally flailed.

"Nah, it's fine, but just for you," Rin indulged him. "The royal manicurist is quite good, isn't she?" he showed off his nails to Nitori. "Look at how sharply she painted the points! If I hold my hands like this, it's like teeth!" He demonstrated, making a chomping monster with his hands.

Nitori snickered appreciatively. "Well, no less than the Sultan deserves!"

"I'm not so sure," Rin leaned back, watching the dancers. The dancers' hips. Their beautifully displayed tummies. The fast-swirling silk spinning around them. "For three years, this country has been without a Sultan because the previous one failed to appoint an heir before he died. And he was a damned self-centered fool," Rin could say that now because he was the new Sultan. "He only cared about filling his belly and his bed. There's a lot of work to be done, Nitori."

"And no one better to do it! Even if it took a long time, the new Sultan is the right man for the job! If the previous Sultan had chosen a successor... well, I don't want to imagine who he'd pick," Nitori trailed off, his gaze turning to the dancers.

Particularly the flirty blond boy in the middle.

Rin tousled Nitori's hair a bit. "Don't be jealous of Nagisa, Nitori. It doesn't become you! Anyway, right now, you are Minister of the Right, and... from what I understood... being a favorite of the previous Sultan... was hardly a good thing." Nagisa was still smiling brightly and laughing easily and acting like a carefree fool. Just like Rin remembered him, but...Rin had heard things.

"You... you are aware that there are rumors about... Nagisa-kun and..." Nitori whispered.

"Bite your tongue," Rin ordered him, and Nitori squealed in response. "Don't finish that sentence. Don't ever finish that sentence, but especially don't finish that sentence around me," Rin grumbled. If people went around saying things out loud, he might have to take action. "I'm not stupid enough to not know what's going on in my own seraglio. What I need you to do is keep me informed about what is going on outside the palace walls... outside the walls of the Capitol, outside the borders of our country," Rin mused.

"Of course, Sultan-sama! I'm fully prepared to do that!" Nitori happily chirped.

Rin watched Nagisa dance. "The people of this country need leadership to turn around the years of waste we've had forced upon us. One of the reasons we are such a great country is because our rulers are not chosen by heredity. One of the first things I need the scribes to do is put together some codification for a process to choose a successor. Too many times, a Sultan dies unexpectedly or without choosing, and that only causes the people to suffer."

"I will speak to the Chief in the morning," Nitori nodded.

"Good. Also, the astrologers have been telling us that the drought will end soon for months now, but there is still not enough water to go around. And yet, the palace is drenched..." Rin reached forward and flicked at the water running through the trench separating the royal dais with his fingertips. "Tell the royal engineer to look at turning off... mm, a quarter to a half of the fountains in the palace, and let the water go the Capitol's reserves. That might not be enough, but I think most of the palace's water is secured, so it will take more planning to share it."

"That's very generous of you," Nitori beamed.

"It's not generousity," Rin shook his head. Nagisa was at the far end, now, and he was shaking his hips more seductively than before. Of course, that blushing First Lieutenant at the corner trying desperately to not look at Nagisa was probably why. Damn little brat would need to try a bit harder to keep it under wraps. "What good is a Sultan to an extinct people? No, the water is needed. That's all there is to it."

"Well, I suppose it's generous compared to the previous Sultans, then," Nitori insisted.

"No more comparing me to the previous Sultan, or anyone else, Nitori," Rin demanded brashly. "From now on, let's just pretend that I'm the first Sultan, because I'm going to change this country and make it great again." He threw his shoulders back and grinned.

"It's so good to see you in such good spirits," Nitori smiled shyly. "I know you've... you've worked to become Sultan for such a long time... but it's all paid off, right? Now you have everything you could possibly want!"

Nitori knew him well enough that Rin knew that what Nitori was thinking was And your father would be so proud of you! He ruffled Nitori's hair graciously. "There are some things, Nitori, that power, prestige... even money... cannot obtain. However, power, prestige, and especially money can be very helpful." He smiled widely, even though he knew that meant his teeth were showing. "Nitori, that brings me to something else. There is one jewel that I have yet to obtain, and it will be the most difficult jewel to get my hands on. It might even already be in the possession of another man," Rin narrowed his eyes, "but I will never give up."

Nitori's eyes widened and he leaned closer to his Sultan. "Sultan-sama... whatever it is, I'm sure we can get it for you!"

"That's the spirit, Nitori!" Rin patted him on the back. "But you see, the jewel is so precious because it's not an it... Nitori, I need for you to make some inquiries for me. You must not let anyone know what you are doing or why. This is absolutely essential, do you understand?" Rin looked Nitori right in the eye.

The younger man quivered a bit, but he did not hesitate. "Anything for you, my Sultan!"

Rin smiled. "Good. This is what I need you do... Find out everything you can about..."

Rin took a deep breath, looked around, and futzed with the arrangement of the dishes and treats on the table. He checked his nails for any chips in the polish and then he made sure his chest was properly displayed to show off how sexy he was. He squirmed and snarled, and then finally gave up and got up.

"Nitori! I thought you said he was coming in already!?" Rin stormed out of the salon in which he'd been waiting.

Nitori, reading some scrolls in the antechamber, jumped at his Sultan's bellow. "Ahh! Yes, I'm so sorry, Sultan-sama, I... the guard said he'd been shown into the main gate, I... I was absorbed reading the astrologer's report, I'll... I'll go get him, of course..." Nitori frantically gathered up the scrolls he had dropped.

"Tch," Rin huffed. "Just keep reading, I'll get him my own damned self."

"Ah...! Sultan-sama...!" Nitori protested, but Rin was already striding off.

When they'd were younger, they trained in the inner palace, as they'd been exceptional recruits to the Imperial Guard. If he'd been shown through the main gate, there was no way he could get lost... was there? Rin didn't think so, though admittedly, it had been years since they'd last seen each other. He turned around the corner, and out into the courtyard, and he was going to head for the main entryway, but he heard a voice.

"No! No, guys, c'mon, just... just stay put, just for a little while... ahh, you can't stay in there, Mr. Scratches!"

Rin turned, and went around the hedgerow. There, he caught a sight he'd never seen before.

Makoto, covering in fucking yards of cheap-ass looking fabric, was... trying to herd cats? And the cats were, of course, paying him no mind. Half of them were making a break for it and the other half were crawling all over him. Even still, he kept pulling cats out of his voluminous robes, apparently trying to get them to sit politely behind the hedges, presumably until he was done with his meeting with Rin.

It would have been impossible not to smile. "Dear god, Makoto, how many cats do you have, anyway?"

"Ahh!" Makoto turned and tried to get to his feet, but there was a cat right behind him, and he landed on his bottom. "R-Rin! It's so good to... that is... Oh, I shouldn't call you by your name, should I? I'm really sorry!! Ahhh, Sultan, Sultan Rin, I... about the cats, I just... I realize that I shouldn't have brought them here, but..."

Rin laughed, shaking his head. He crouched down, and picked up a little grey cat that was digging up the royal soil. The cat looked him in the eye and then meowed indignantly, trying to push Rin away with his paw. "Forget about the cats. I don't mind the cats. They can... they can stay here, it's not a problem. And for fuck's sake, call me Rin, it'd be weird if you didn't. But you've kept me waiting! Are you really going to blame the cats for that?" Rin pouted, and held the grey kitty next to his face, so they could both pout at Makoto. As if cued, the grey kitty let out another pleading meow, although he probably was just trying to tell Rin to get off of him.

Makoto flushed, and then he smiled broadly. "I'm so relieved! I was afraid... a royal summons and all. But Rin is still Rin. That's great."

Rin flushed, and put the grey cat, who was now squirming like mad, down on the ground. "I-Idiot. Whatever. C'mon, I had tea prepared and everything." He almost reached out to give Makoto a hand up, but... yeah, he wiped his hands on his pants, and led the way.

Nitori greeted them as they walked in, and Rin indicated that Makoto should go into the salon, and then he turned to Nitori. "Make sure no one interrupts us." He winked at Nitori, and then closed the door behind him.

Alone... at last. He almost said that out loud, damn it. He cleared his throat, and pointed to the silk pillows around the table. "Have a seat, help yourself."

"Mm," Makoto looked around, and then awkwardly situated himself in front of the table, his body language screaming of trying to be smaller than he was. "It's all so fancy! Gold plates and cups, and you just have jewels laying about..."

"Well, jewels won't make water appear in the desert," Rin shrugged, reaching out to pour the tea for them both. "Most of this stuff is just gifts, you know, for becoming Sultan and all."

"I'm glad it was you," Makoto smiled at him brightly. "It's what you always wanted, right?"

"What I always wanted..." Rin watched Makoto carefully. "Part of it, I guess."

Makoto laughed easily. "Of course, Rin is always planning for more, right?"

Rin shrugged, feeling embarrassed, but he had something important to get through, so... "I guess. You can take some of that off, you know. If you want. You're drenched in cloth there," Rin shook his head.

"Oh!" Makoto looked down at himself, and laughed. "But this is how a merchant dresses! You can't tell me you've elevated yourself so far above us common folk that you don't even know that?" he teased.

And when he teased, Makoto looked at Rin like...

"What sort of merchant? Cat salesman?" Rin teased right back. He was going to do this. "You should have stayed in the Imperial Guard. We would have taken care of you and we could always use a guy like you. Why did you quit?"

Makoto shrugged. "You know..." he started, but he wasn't looking at Rin.

"It was because of Haru, right?" Rin asked, his tone more biting than he expected.

Makoto looked at him, startled. "It wasn't... exactly... You haven't seen him, have you? Haru?"

Rin nearly flinched at the sound of his rival's name from Makoto's lips. "Me? When would I have seen him? Where the hell is he, anyway? I was told he left the Guard, but..."

"He... he went on an expedition. To find the ocean, of course," Makoto smiled at him, but Rin couldn't exactly read his expression. "Thank you for this, by the way. It's been so long since I've had tea!" He held his hands out flat and bowed his head a bit in thanksgiving, and then he sipped his tea.

Rin felt restless. "You didn't go with him on his stupid expedition? He's going to get himself killed out there in the sand." Looking for the ocean... Rin's father had dreamed of that, too.

Or so Rin had been told after he died.

"Don't say that," Makoto asked quietly.

Rin looked away. "It was damned selfish of him. Leaving the Guard, I mean. Someone of his skills... but all Haru could ever think about was himself!"

"While people around him were thinking only of him, huh?" Makoto asked Rin, again so quiet, his voice probing and comforting at the same time.

Rin glared at Makoto. "You're the only idiot who would waste his life worrying about that jerk! I never understood him for a damned minute!"

Makoto smiled at Rin serenely. "I think you were the one who always understood Haru the best. The two of you were always like... well, like oil and wine. Very different, but both highly combustible, both extremely useful."

"I can't even tell if you meant that as a compliment or not," Rin replied flatly. "But I'm going to tell you, I better be the fucking wine."

"Yes, yes," Makoto grinned, raising his teacup.

Damn it, those eyes...

"I don't want to keep talking about Haru," Rin replied moodily. "You shouldn't have followed Haru out of the Guard. You were just as skilled as we were, and you have a family to help support."

"I told you, it wasn't as simple as following him, and technically, you left the Guard first. You went Down Under to undergo the training of the Secret Society..." Makoto reached out to take a fig.

"I came back. And you jerks had replaced me, with that four-eyes," Rin complained.

"Rei is the only one of us still in the Guard," Makoto countered. "And he's a Lieutenant."

"Yeah, yeah, he's not so bad. But if you'd stayed in the Guard, you could be a Captain by now. You'd have a steady income and security, plus all sorts of benefits for your family," Rin scolded him.

"We're doing just fine," Makoto assured him, but his voice was too calm and even.

So that was how Makoto sounded when he was lying. "Are you? For the past three years, with no Sultan on the throne, trade and trade lines have been threatened. Sand pirates have been operating unchecked. It's been a hard time for a merchant."

"Which is why we're all rejoicing for your triumph, Sultan," Makoto replied cheerfully.

"But that doesn't make the three leans years disappear," Rin ground his teeth a bit. He... didn't necessarily like how he was doing this, but... "And your father was sick for a long time last year, right? Your family... is behind on their rent, you've been threatened with eviction. Your family... wants you to get married, right? And what's worse... there's a banker who wants to wed Ran. She's not yet seventeen, but with the pressure and influence he's using..."

"Wow," Makoto laughed, but it was a hollow sound. "Being Sultan is amazing. But you didn't need to utilize your spies for something as unimportant as all this. You could have just asked me," he said coldly.

Rin felt guilty, so he barreled ahead. "I was asking you and you said everything was fine! You always say everything is fine! If you were on fire with a hyena chewing on your leg, you'd say everything was fine!"

"What am I supposed to say!?" Makoto burst out, and the veneer of fineness broke. "Ask my old friend the new Sultan who I haven't seen in years for money?! I can't do that!"

"Sure you can!" Rin burst back, picking up the small chest next to him. He tossed it toward Makoto, and the door opened, letting some of the gold and silver coins spill out. "Here, it's yours! That was a gift from the banking guild, so isn't that ironically perfect?! You can save your family and your little sister from those sharks with their own fucking money!"

"I can't accept this!" Makoto panicked. "Look at it! Oh my god, Rin, this is so much money!"

"You have to, do you think I want to see Ran sold off into marriage?! If it were Gou, I'd probably slit someone's throat or maybe even lots of someones! This is easier!" Rin was about to panic, too, if Makoto was going to be so excitable.

"But we can't repay you! We'd never be able to repay you, and...!" Makoto objected. He actually looked close to tears. He was adorable.

Rin hated this. "Well, there is something you can do for me. It's... I don't want you to think of this as... I'm not giving you this money in exchange, mind you, this is a... separate offer, just... think of the money as a favor from one big brother to another, ok?"

Makoto straightened up, and then he actually smiled a bit. "I... I don't know, it's so much, but... what can I do for you, Rin? I'd do anything, you know that, right?"

"Right," Rin's throat went dry. He couldn't look at Makoto. He chugged down what was left of his tea. All right!! "Then, this is it. I want... I would like... I'm asking you. To... To join my... " He peeked up at Makoto, who was waiting patiently for Rin to continue. Damn it...! Rin looked over Makoto's shoulder, and just spat it out. "I want you to become my concubine and join my seraglio, ok?"

That was obvious extremely far away from anything Makoto had been expecting to hear.

Feeling vulnerable and wanting desperately to avoid anything that would even seem a little bit like rejection, Rin quickly added, "Look, right now, the seraglio is full of the previous Sultan's fucktoys and I'm not really interested in any of them but if I send 'em away they'll basically be forced to become prostitutes or something I don't even know and it looks weird for a Sultan to have a full stable of sexy young things and not take advantage, so I just need someone... someone... you know, someone I can trust, and you could become my consort and then it would look all normal and everything and it would help me and you don't want to accept any of your mother's marriage offers, right? And then this money could be seen as a dowry for your entry and..." Rin ran out of steam.

He looked at Makoto fearfully.

Makoto's jaw was slack, and he still looked confused, but like a sandstorm just kicking up, a kind of comprehension seemed to come over him, and then he smiled brightly. "I see, I understand. Of course I can help you out, Rin. We were once teammates, and we always will be. Naturally, I'll help you."

Makoto clearly didn't understand anything. After all, Nagisa was already technically in the seraglio. Teammates, huh? The four of them were once a training unit. A team. Makoto, Nagisa, himself as the leader, of course. And.

"One thing though. When you enter the palace... you'll be my consort. I don't want you to mention Haru. I don't even want to hear you say Haru's name," his voice had taken on a vindictive note, and Makoto was looking horrified.

Rin had to regroup.

He smiled brightly, too brightly probably, but. "I-I mean, because you'll be the consort to the Sultan, you shouldn't be talking about another man, you know?"

Makoto looked deeply troubled, but then an expression that Rin couldn't read passed over his face, and then he went blank. "I do understand. But you started saying consort. You mean concubine, right?"

"I mean..." Rin felt tongue-tied. This had all been a bad idea, but... sometimes, to get what you wanted... "It's pretty much the same thing. I need you. I mean, to... appearances, but also..." Shit, Rin no longer had any idea what to say.

Makoto smiled at him, and then he looked at the chest of coins, and actually touched a few of them. "Ok. I think I get it. ...I can't believe this. This morning, I had to argue with Ran and Ren about doing their chores, and now I'm moving into the palace. And. You're making it possible... for my family to be secure. It's really... you're unbelievable, Rin!" Makoto just beamed at him.

Rin's heart dropped. This was wrong, but it was also right. More importantly...

It was all according to plan.

Rin was extremely generous, much more so than he thought anyone gave him credit for, which was a pity. He'd allowed the Tachibana's to retain their eldest long enough to move themselves, and he'd promised the Tachibana twins they could visit their brother at any time, both being things he absolutely did not have to do, so he was pretty much an enlightened being.

Even enlightened beings got irritated, though.

Makoto was finally moving into the Inner Palace, into the seraglio, but his siblings were helping him, which hardly seemed necessary since he barely had much to bring in, anyway!

Except cats. There were now lots of cats living in the seraglio. They kept meowing, and Makoto would bend down to pet them and ask them if they wanted something... Damned spoiled cats.

Rin was outside Makoto's rooms, waiting for those damned kids to leave, feeling jealous of fucking cats. He looked up at the ceiling and tried one of those stupid mantras for peace of mind, but like always, they didn't fucking work. Something soft and warm rubbed against his ankles, and Rin glared down at the cat who was making eyes at him. "I'm your Sultan. What makes you think you can ask anything of me?" he taunted the cat.

The cat leaned up on her haunches and put her front paws on Rin's knee, mewling sweetly at him.

Rin sighed, and bent down to pick her up. That sure wasn't what she wanted, but that wasn't his problem. He brought her up to look her eye to eye. "I won't forget this insolent behavior, you know."

She mewled again and put her paw on his nose, her claws just touching his skin.

Giggling, Ran stuck her tongue out at Rin. "She's just annoyed that you're stealing my big brother! Talk about insolence... just because you became Sultan, you think you can have anything you want. You can't just force someone to fall in love with you, you know!" She even pointed her finger at him.

Rin did the mature, responsible, Sultan-like thing, and stuck his tongue out at her. Like he didn't already know that he couldn't force Makoto to love him! But, keeping him close was the best first step he could think of!

"R-Ran!" Makoto came and bopped her on the head. "Don't speak that way to your Sultan! You're lucky that Rin is kind and generous, because otherwise he could order his guards to cut out your tongue!"

Rin was kind and generous, but he might keep that tongue cutting out thing in mind for later.

Ran pouted, and grabbed a hold of Makoto's waist. "But, oniichan, I'm going to miss you so much! It's not fair, it's really not! You're my big brother! He's nothing to you, why should I have to lose you just because he's weak and useless and needs you!"

"You're going to get your head chopped off at this rate," Makoto lamented.

Ren grabbed a hold of Makoto from his other side. "I'm going to miss you, too. You're my big brother, too!"

Makoto smiled, and both Rin and the cat looked at the brats getting that smile with cool displeasure. "Of course, I'm going to miss you both. But, you've generously been given permission to come visit at any time, so it's not so bad. You should thank your loving Sultan for that." Makoto winked at Rin, and Rin thought maybe those brats weren't so bad after all.

"But what about when Haru comes back? Will he be able to come visit? Because he's part of our family, too!" Ran complained.

Rin hated her.

"Ran, shush, I told you about this," Makoto bopped her again, watching Rin fearfully.

"Ran and Ren? Seriously? When did you two get all grown up?"

"Gou-chan!" Ran and Ren chorused, and they both left their brother to flock to Rin's sister.

"You look really pretty, Gou-chan!" Ran beamed.

"Yeah! I really like your halter thingy. And your necklace! Those are rubies, right? They really bring out the light in your eyes," Ren beamed.

Complimenting Rin's sister while getting a close look at her chest. That little...! "Is your little brother hitting on my little sister?" Rin asked Makoto.

Makoto was looking a bit green. "I don't see anything. I'm definitely not seeing that."

"Welcome to the Inner Palace, Makoto-senpai," Gou greeted Makoto. "I brought you something from my brother. It was finally finished." She pulled out a small bundle of silk.

Rin eagerly set down the cat who, after complaining about being picked up, proceeded to complain about being put down. "Ah, excellent! I'll take that!" She tossed it to him, and he took it inside Makoto's new room. He unfolded the silk, and took it behind the screen, so Makoto could change into it for dinner.

Outside the door, he could still hear Ran complaining, "Gou-chan, why are you letting your brother steal my brother? I thought you liked us!"

"But why should I stop him? I get to spend time with Makoto-senpai now! Plus, it's not like Rin listens to me."

"Good big brothers listen to their little sisters. Oniichan always listens to me."


Rin's heart dropped, and he went out to check it out. Sure enough, Nagisa had launched himself at Makoto, and was wrapped around him. Rin sighed audibly and crossed his arms over his chest. Nagisa looked over Makoto's shoulder at him, and winked.

"RinRin! Now you've got Mako-chan in your evil clutches! Good job! All that's left is for the handsome prince to come save him, right?"

"I'm the good guy in this story!" Rin huffed. "And if you wouldn't mind getting your sticky paws off my consort?"

Nagisa snickered, and kissed Makoto right on the mouth, and then released. "RinRin's getting possessive! Sexy!"

"Your Sultan is thinking of improving the Inner Palace by having your tongue cut off," Rin smiled.

"Mako-chan, Mako-chan, RinRin is bullying me!" Nagisa cowered, clinging to Makoto... rubbing his face against Makoto's chest...

Rin's blood pressure was rising and Makoto was just patting Nagisa on the back and smiling helplessly.

"Nagisa," another voice entered the conversation. "Please remember your manners."

"Aw, but Rei..." Nagisa let go of Makoto finally but he was still pouting.

"It's good to see you again, senpai," Rei smiled and bowed shortly to Makoto.

"It's good to see you, too, Rei. Congratulations on your promotion!" Makoto beamed.

"Are you supposed to be controlling him? Because just to let you know, I don't consider him under control," Rin informed Rei.

Rei turned bright red, and he couldn't look Rin in the eye. With his head downturned, Rei stammered, "I-I... I am so sorry, sire, I-I j-just..."

"Nagisa-san, your clothes are so flashy! Will oniichan be wearing something like that?" Ran asked, taking advantage of Nagisa's distraction to grab a hold of her brother. From her tone, she seemed to be looking forward to her brother wearing much more revealing clothes.

"Oh, you like?" Nagisa posed, displaying his body. "Who knows? Maybe RinRin will have Mako-chan wear even less..." He wiggled his eyebrows at Ran, and she giggled.

Rin turned bright red. That little shit..!

"N-Nagisa, please," Makoto sighed. "I hardly think..." but Makoto didn't seem able to even process the idea of less.

...That didn't bode well...

"Speaking of, Makoto-senpai has to get dressed for dinner. It's his first night here, and we have guests from the South visiting, so. Ran, Ren, I'll escort you to the gate of the Inner Palace. And I think Rei and Nagisa have places to be, too," she winked at them.

That only made Rei look even more ashamed, but Nagisa laughed it off. "Yes, yes. Well, we'll see you later, Mako-chan. It's like we're living in a dorm together!" He leaned up and kissed Makoto's cheek, completely ignoring Rin's glare.

"Oniichan..." Ren sniffled, and both he and his sister clung to Makoto. He patted their backs and kissed their heads, but they didn't even loosen their grip.

"Now, now, you will come tomorrow to visit me, right? So there's no reason for this sort of scene. Smile for me, ok? This is a good thing for all of us! And both of you, behave for mom and dad, ok? I don't want to have to use our precious time tomorrow lecturing you. Understand, Ran?" Makoto tugged on her hair playfully.

Ran sniffled and looked up at him defensively. "Yes, of course, oniichan..."

"Ren, look out for your sister," he winked at Ren, and then he kissed both their foreheads. "And I'll see you tomorrow."

"Ok, oniichan," Ren promised, bravely smiling.

Rin and Makoto watched as Gou escorted them out. "You'd think you were here to be executed," Rin sighed.

"It's the first time we've really been apart since my days at the Academy," Makoto shrugged, smiling happily.

"You spoil them! That's why they act that way! It's going to be hard for your parents because of your permissive attitude!" Rin wiggled his finger at Makoto.

"Ah?!" Makoto looked troubled. "But that's not true? I'm very stern with them, when I have to be!"

"I question your ability to judge have to be, but whatever... Ah, your clothes for tonight...Try them on, try them on!" Rin beamed, herding Makoto over to the screen.

All right, all right," Makoto laughed. "This... this wasn't really necessary, I mean, I don't have a lot of nice things, but..."

"Makoto, you are the Sultan's consort now, you have to look the part. I've seen your clothes, and they're all full of cat hair. Now, go try it on!" Rin plopped down on Makoto's low couch, eagerly waiting for Makoto to go behind the screen.

Resigned but not unhappy, Makoto did as bidden.

Rin bounced a bit, picturing the material and how it would drape over Makoto's body. He might have even started to drool a little bit. A few minutes passed, and then a few minutes more. Rin was starting to get impatient, so he called out, "How's it going?"


"Makoto?" Rin pressed.

"I'm not sure... I don't think I'm... putting this on right..."

"It's clothes, Makoto, how hard is it?" Rin got to his feet, but he stayed on his side of the screen.

"Well! I haven't worn... anything like... I'm not even sure this is what you intended me to wear, I don't think this is... this can't be right..." Makoto fussed.

"Oh, for the love of... Come out here, show me," Rin demanded.



"But it's just... this is embarrassing, Rin!" Makoto pled. "I'm not really... dressed..."

"We've known each other for centuries," Rin lamented. "Just, c'mon..."

"But! I think I'm missing a layer, this is..." Makoto whined.

Rin rolled his eyes. "You're not going on an expedition, you're going to a palace dinner, with me. Trust me, you do not need layers!"

"But!" Makoto peeked out from behind the curtain, his head uncovered. He looked on the verge of tears. "This is... it's somewhat... I mean, it's kind of... transparent, I just need..."

Rin shook his head and just walked behind the screen.

"R-Rin!" Makoto shrank back, and tried to shield his body.

"Idiot," Rin pulled Makoto's hands away.

The green silk was nearly sheer, and the way it hung off of Makoto's wide shoulders was perfect. Or, it would be, if... Rin grinned. "Makoto, you're wearing the belt all wrong."

"That's a belt?" Makoto gaped.

"You don't know anything about fashion," Rin laughed. Makoto had the belt on like a damned sash! Rin took it off, and unhooked it. The belt was made of gold rings hooked together, and at each end there were golden coins cascading down. At least, if it were worn correctly. Rin readjusted Makoto's sheath so it draped correctly, and then he wound the belt around Makoto's waist. Once, tight enough to hold steady without pinching, and once looser. Then, he hooked the belt, and let the cascading coins fall in between Makoto's legs. He straightened the hem, accidentally running his hand down Makoto's chest as he did. "There! Perfect!" Rin exhaled.

"R-really?" Makoto frowned.

"You don't believe me? Well, look for yourself!" Rin pointed Makoto to the mirror. "It's true, you still need some accessories..." Rin ran his hands down Makoto's back. The fabric was not opaque enough to hide the muscles that had served Makoto well as a longbow archer during their Academy days, nor did it obscure Makoto's fine ass. Rin's heart pounded, and he congratulated himself for a job very well done.

"I don't think this sort of thing suits me very well," Makoto sighed miserably.

"Of course it does!" Rin huffed. "You look great. You just can't see the full picture! Come here, come on..." Rin grabbed Makoto's elbow, and pulled him around the screen to sit at the dressing table. "Like I said, you just need some accessories..." He opened a drawer to reveal the jewelry he's already picked out for Makoto. First, he put a circlet on, securing the fabric hood to it so to cover Makoto's head. Then he picked out a few necklaces, hooking them around Makoto's neck. He found a nice armband, and a cuff, and some rings, and he even knelt down to put on an anklet and some toe rings.

"This really doesn't suit me," Makoto laughed self-depreciatingly. "I'm just a simple merchant's son. Nagisa looks good like this. Even... but I just look huge and awkward. I'm sorry, Rin." He was trying to smile, but it was obviously forced.

"I can't believe you think that," Rin shook his head, honestly disconcerted by Makoto's lack of self-confidence. "To me, you look... perfect." Rin reached up and put his hand on Makoto's chest, pushing aside the gold chains and jewels to rest his hand over Makoto's heart.

Makoto was staring down at him in awe and Rin became very aware of the temperature and dryness of the room and his mouth and Makoto's skin and the fact that Makoto was freaking huge and Rin could actually just look at Makoto's...

He stood up abruptly and cleared his throat, and then he put on his best show-off grin and held his hand out for Makoto. "Just put your faith in me! I won't lead you astray!"

"I guess I have to," Makoto smiled, his face flushed. He took Rin's hand and squeezed. "Let's go, then."

Makoto's shyness didn't go away as they walked through the passageways, going past guards and servants. Makoto partially hid himself behind Rin as they entered the dining room, which Rin really didn't mind. Rin's shoulders were back and his spine was straight as he went to the Sultan's dais and seated himself on the cushions there. He held his hands out, and the feast was to begin.

He knew exactly how he looked to his advisors, guards, and guests. He was a young, brash Sultan with a large sexy man as his consort. The fact that Makoto was shy and clinging to Rin only aided in the appearance of it all.

Makoto was helping him gain prestige.

Servants brought food on gilded dishes and wine in golden goblets. Makoto ate like a man his size should eat, and he even smiled at Rin during the meal because of the sumptuousness of the fare. He also drank liberally, which amused Rin more than it should have. Would he get to see Makoto drunk?

The musicians kept up a lively beat, and the dancers entertained during the feast. Nagisa especially garnered attention with the way he kept his hips swirling as his belly undulated. Makoto leaned close to Rin, and whispered, "I think Nagisa's pants might fall down."

"He's doing a damned good job of shimmying out of them. Rei's a lucky man," Rin agreed.

"That doesn't bother you?" Makoto asked.

"Why? Should it? I don't want to hurt the squirt's feelings, but I have no desire to bed Nagisa," Rin informed Makoto, unable to resist giving Makoto's body a once-over at the same time.

"You should tell Rei. I think... things were quite difficult under the previous Sultan," Makoto advised him.

"I know," Rin nodded, feeling sobered just thinking of it. "But... it's right for them to be discreet."

"There's no reason for Rei to be afraid of even looking at you, though," Makoto cheerfully countered.

Rin smirked. "Yeah, but I don't mind that, either. Serves him right for taking my place."

"He did not take your place," Makoto patiently explained. "You left for the Down Under training, and we were forced to take on another. And we were lucky it was someone who we all got along with."

That all was a bit too close to verging on a dangerous topic, so Rin cut it off. "I won't let him squirm for much longer," he promised.

"Good. Because he really does look up to you," Makoto smiled. "Such a good and generous Sultan."

"I really am," Rin agreed, smirking.

Makoto managed to not laugh, which was good. Still, Rin couldn't help keeping an eagle eye out on the collected audience, and he was pleased at how so many of them were taking note of the casual intimacy between himself and Makoto. "Maybe next time, you can be even more generous and give me an entire outfit to wear," Makoto lamented.

"You look fantastic," Rin scoffed. "Instead, you should learn to trust my judgment." Many marriage plots were being squashed as they spoke to each other, and many hopes of getting into the good graces of the young new Sultan were being dashed as Rin proved that the people he trusted were the people he'd known for years. "Stop worrying about it. In fact... mm, there's only one thing I'd change..." He looked Makoto over appraisingly.

"Oh?" Makoto smiled. "I'm almost afraid to ask. I gather it's not undergarments."

"No," Rin shook his head definitively. "No, I was just thinking..." He leaned in and brushed his nose against Makoto's earlobe. His whole body shivered from that contact, and Makoto's body stiffened. "You have to let me pierce your ears."

"I-Is that like... branding your livestock?" Makoto laughed nervously. He shifted his body, trying even more to hide his groin. "And you'll be doing this yourself?"

"I keep telling you, you have to trust me," Rin teased.

Makoto looked into Rin's eyes, smiling. "I think... trust is something that comes with time, and experience. So, obviously, I already trust you. I'm here, aren't I? Basically naked in front of the entire court," he flushed a bit.

"You're gorgeous," Rin shrugged. "And it sends a strong message that I can't be swayed with sex, because I already have a stunning specimen at my side."

Makoto shook his head, embarrassed. "I don't think I'm making quite the impact you're hoping for. You would have been better off waiting for..." He clamped his mouth shut, and looked away. He reached down and picked up his goblet. After gulping down half the liquid, he smiled shakily at Rin. "But, as you say. I do trust you, so I'll just leave it be."

"Good, because I'm right and you're wrong," Rin told Makoto, refilling his goblet.

Makoto laughed, but he wasn't looking at Rin. He was still embarrassed, and now he was thinking about... but it didn't matter.

Makoto was with Rin now.

By the time the festivities ended, Rin and Makoto had finished another jar of wine, Rin had gotten an influential merchant from Tottoriken to agree to meet him the next day about drafting an agreement, and he beat a stuffy old advisor at mancala.

A completely successful night.

When they exited the dining room, it was perfectly natural for Rin to take Makoto's hand, and once he had Makoto's hand, it was just as easy to keep holding it. They walked amicably, though Rin was a little perturbed that Makoto did not appear more drunk. They came to the junction where the seraglio began, and Makoto started to turn, but Rin tugged his arm.

"No, you won't be sleeping in your quarters. You're coming with me," he ordered kindly.

Makoto gave him a look, but he smiled and acquiesced, so there was no problem. They came to Rin's royal quarters, and the servants followed. Rin was taken off to his dressing table, and his face, hands, and feet were washed as he was changed. Makoto, too, was tended to by servants who had a hard time getting Makoto to just accept their service. Finally, though, both Makoto and Rin were deemed suitable for sleeping, and the servants backed out of their room, the sliding door was shut, and they were alone, each on one side of a massive bed, only one lamp still lit.

Rin suddenly felt very stupid, and he had no idea how to reach out to Makoto, how to make him understand...

"Ah... I guess... this is... as a consort... ah... mm... i-it was a really nice dinner, Rin. Thank you," Makoto nervously said.

"I-I didn't prepare it!" Rin sputtered, wanting to shove his fist in his mouth. Fortunately, Makoto just laughed.

"I feel at ease, though. Rin is still Rin. It almost feels like we're transported back in time. Remember when we were on that trip to the dunes, and we shared a tent?" Makoto reminiced.

Rin winced a bit, turning his face away from Makoto. "Ah... of course..." That trip had been hellish from top to bottom. Haru had killed their prey first, and he'd set up his and Nagisa's tent before Rin got his and Makoto's tent ready. In fact, the only reason Rin shared a tent with Makoto was because Nagisa whined about wanting to share with Haru, so Makoto let him. Haru was annoyed at Makoto for that, because of course he'd assumed he and Makoto were sharing. Rin then tried to get Haru to race him back to the Capitol, but Haru and his camel easily won.

If Haru hadn't dropped out of training to chase the damned legend of the ocean, he would be Sultan, wouldn't he?

"Well. Good night, Rin. And. Thank you," Makoto slipped into the bed.

Rin panicked. The bed was too damned big! Even sharing it, it was like they were in separate beds! Well in the middle of his half, Makoto was still far away from Rin. Feeling like that was some damned metaphor, Rin got into bed, too. "Night, Makoto." He turned out the lamp, but he couldn't sleep. Thoughts of Makoto's skin and his muscles and his legs and... Yes, Rin had been thinking... Tonight was probably too soon, but if Makoto was just thinking of this as an overnight training exercise...!

Rin turned over, and looked at Makoto's back. Just like that night when they were training, Rin had things he wanted to say but he couldn't. He couldn't even reach out to touch Makoto, because he didn't want to wake Makoto. He didn't want Makoto to pity him, so he wasn't giving Makoto a chance to reject him, but...

Was he also denying Makoto the chance to accept him? Why didn't Makoto understand his feelings?

It wasn't as if he wasn't paying attention to the reports his ministers were giving him, and Nitori was taking notes, too. But Rin was distracted, and that was annoying, and what was distracting him was Gou and Makoto chatting away in the corner, and that was annoying, and Makoto was a goddamned unconscious flirt, and that was definitely fucking annoying, and Makoto had a goddamned cat in his lap which they both were playing with, and that was annoying because Rin was jealous of a fucking cat and his own goddamned sister because she was playing with someone in Makoto's lap and maybe all Rin needed was a good, hard fuck, but...

That was the most annoying of all.

"If His Highness would care to actually look at..."

"What the hell do you think I've been doing ever since you opened your damned trap!" Rin bellowed, and silence broke out in the court. Even the cat seemed aware that it was better to keep his mouth shut. Gou was looking at him like she was scared of him.

Rin scowled.

"W-well, if His Highness would th-then like to... like to give us an answer..." the Minister sputtered.

So annoying! That was the Minister of Agriculture, wasn't it? Not that Iwami could grow much. As a country, they were abundantly supplied with sand. That was about it. "Nitori! Tell the Minister what should be obvious!"

"Ahhh! Of course, ah, well!" Nitori cleared his throat. "B-based on... previous years data and expectations... ah... well, we should raise taxes by another one per hundred unit, and... increase our reserves for..."

"No, don't be stupid," Rin rolled his eyes, resting his cheek on his hand. "We can't raise taxes. That's idiotic. Our people don't have enough to feed their children, and we'll demand more from them? No. As far as our reserves go, there's no point saving up while people are starving in the streets. Take one quarter of the reserves and distribute them to the people, children first, according to need. Use the Fourth Division of the Guard to oversee it, so to insure that there is no waste, nor that any bribes will pass hands."

"Ah... but, sire," the Minister coughed, and looked nervously at his peers. "The grain reserve is typically to ensure that we can feed our Guard... Plus, what about the other cities? We can't distribute grain to them, so is it really fair?"

"Our Guard will have no one to protect if the people die, Minister. We must address need first. As for the other cities of Iwami... besides the Capitol, there are no large settlements. The other cities are all desert hideaways, trading posts, and water collection stations. They are desert people, and therefore adept at hoarding. The Capitol suffers due to the burden of supporting the palace. We will distribute the reserve grain to the people here, just as I've ordered," Rin explained sternly.

There was a general murmur going around the Ministers, and Rin was careful to casually make note of which seemed nervous, and which seemed interested or pleased.

"B-but, there is still the matter of our debt, sire..." the Minister pointed out.

"True," Rin sighed. "Nitori. Go to the treasures vault, and choose... ah, use your judgment, but choose as many items as necessary to get a decent amount, but as few as you possibly can. Have Captain Mikoshiba select an elite unit of four to take the treasures, incognito, to Tottoriken, and trade them. Have them bring back the gold before the next new moon. You should be able to hold off the banks for at least that long, yes, Minister?"

"O-Of course, sire, but... you're talking about selling off our Nation's pride!" the Minister objected.

"Our Nation's pride is not so gaudy and easily sold, I would hope," Rin witheringly dismissed. "No, our Nation's pride will be fine. I'm talking about selling off the hoard of gifts and ill-gotten goods my predecessors greedily collected over the centuries. We have no need for that kind of pride. Better to have the coin to get the money-lenders out of our pockets."

There was more murmuring, but Rin could definitely detect that he had more support this time. Even the fool in front of him looked awed.

In the corner, Gou was beaming, and Makoto was smiling proudly, too.


Another tedious minister stood in front of him. "Ah, sire... the astrological projections are... are quite hopeful, I must say..."

"Oh, yes, we're due for a huge thunderstorm, any day now," Rin rolled his eyes. He'd been hearing the same reports since before he was chosen to be Sultan.

"Ah... well... we are, true, yes, I... the water reclamation unit in the West has gone completely empty!" the oily man beamed. He had on thick glasses that distorted his eyes. He spent far too much time, it seemed, peering up into a telescope at night at tiny lights in the sky.

"And this is a good thing, that our water supply is even worse off than before?" Rin asked, barely able to restrain himself from just sending the idiot away.

"Enh! W-well... the water reserve has only gone empty twice before in all our history, and the last time was over a hundred years ago. Neither time was it more than a month before the next rain, so... historically speaking..." the man tried to retain his grip on his confidence.

"Yes, yes, let's hope the gods and the clouds are as aware of the demands of history as you are, sir," Rin yawned. "Is there anything else?"

"Ahh... ahhh... it's... it's not overly important, but there are reports that sandstorms are building up in the Higashihama Sea, sire," the Minister bobbed his head down.

Rin frowned. In the corner of his eye, he could see Makoto stiffen, and look pensively at the Minister. "Mm... sandstorms there are seasonal, are they not?"

"Yes, sire," the man bobbed his head down again. "It appears to be a particularly bad year for it. There are some reports of... of travelers being lost to the sand."

Makoto inhaled sharply, and Gou leaned in to whisper to him. Rin watched as Makoto forced himself to smile and dismiss her concerns, and that was enough to verify it for Rin. He narrowed his eyes.

"Is there anything we need to do?" he asked.

"There's... nothing to do. If the sand chooses to blow, we are helpless to stop it," the man shrugged.

"As I thought. Thank you, that's all," Rin dismissed him.

Three more ministers bored Rin with their stupid reports, but Rin was watching as Makoto became so distracted that he let the cat get out of his lap. Gou caught it, and Rin ground his teeth together.

He was losing to Haru even while Haru was lost in some goddamned sandstorm.

Makoto was making a high-pitched squeaky noise which was fairly adorable, but Rin couldn't let himself get distracted. "You know, if you move, I might end up cutting your ear right off," Rin warned him.

Makoto whimpered, and clamped his eyes shut.

"RinRin's so mean!" Nagisa laughed. He was holding Makoto's hand and massaging his pressure points. Why they had ended up in Nagisa's room to pierce Makoto's ears was... befuddling, and it was a bit frightening, how garish the room was, but Makoto was at least seated, relatively comfortable, and mostly willing.

It was a victory for Rin.

He pushed the needle through in a hurry, but stopping the instant the tip of the needle touched the cork. "See, that wasn't so bad, right?"

"It's done?" Makoto sniffed.

"Almost," Rin smiled. He inserted the end of the gold ring in the needle, and pulled it back through, just as quickly, fitting the ring into Makoto's ear. He put the needle down into the cup of alcohol they had. "Now it's done," he said as he affixed the jewel into the gold ring that would keep it in place.

Makoto shuddered. "It's over?"

"The first ring is, yes," Rin replied cheerfully, and Nagisa snickered.

"RinRin is bullying Mako-chan. I'll protect you, Mako-chan!" he pledged.

"You just keep him calm," Rin shook his head. He picked up the lamp, and took the needle out of the alcohol and put it into the flame of the lamp.

Makoto pouted. "Just one more, right?"

Rin smiled indulgently. He pushed Makoto's hair back into his headdress so it wasn't touching his ear. "For now, sure." He winked at Makoto, but Makoto, acting surprisingly like a child, pouted at him. "Such a baby! How does a guy with a big body like yours end up such a coward?"

"I'm not a coward, not about important things," Makoto sniffed.

"By the way, did you hear the legend of the ghost of the seraglio?" Nagisa asked Makoto brightly.

"Eh!?" Makoto scooted back against Rin. "That's not true, is it?!"

Nagisa fell over laughing.

"Of course it's not true," Rin rolled his eyes and kicked Nagisa. Playfully, probably. "Now, c'mon, get ready, one more to go!"

Makoto shut his eyes and clung to whatever was handy. One hand clutched the end of the couch they were sitting on, and the other hand clutched Rin's leg.

Rin flushed a bit, but he just focused on Makoto's ear, and not how pleasant the warmth of Makoto's hand was, or how nice it was to be giving Makoto comfort. Nagisa was looking at him, though, the little shit, like he could see right through Rin. The second piercing went faster than the first, the ear already prepped, and Makoto soon had two rings in his left ear.

Marking him... as Rin's.

Makoto heaved a sighed of relief when it was over, and Nagisa leaned up to examine Makoto's ear. "Mm, nice, nice, a ruby and an emerald in gold rings? People will be jealous of you, Mako-chan. RinRin will have to keep you close!" Nagisa grinned, winking at Rin.

Rin just ignored the brat.

"Do people get jealous over stuff like this?" Makoto wondered, gingerly touching the rings. "It... feels weird?"

"Like ghosts in your ears?" Nagisa asked him eagerly.

"Not at all!" Makoto cried out.

"Stop taunting him, even if he is a big scaredy cat!" Rin ordered, smiling affectionately at Makoto.

"Rin!" Makoto whined, looking at Rin like a puppy who had just been told he was bad.

Damn it all...

"Nagisa-kun, I'll be done with my patrol... Ah! Your Highness!" Rei had sauntered into Nagisa's room, but the sight of Rin made him freeze, and then bow. He looked like he might even be shivering!

"Rei-chan looks like he saw the ghost!" Nagisa laughed.

"No, I think he saw something scarier," Makoto smiled, looking at Rin significantly.

"Right, right," Rin sighed, leaning in and... he kissed Makoto's temple, admiring his handiwork. He stood up and strode toward Rei. "A moment of your time, Lieutenant."

"Yes, of course, sire!" Rei bowed awkwardly. He followed Rin, who led him down the corridor of the seraglio and out to the courtyard and then over again to a small gazebo intended for the Sultan to spend time with his harem. Rin checked, and gave Rei a hand signal for him to check, too, for any sign of listening ears. Given the location in the center of the seraglio and the privacy of the hanging vines intended to allow the Sultan freedom to do as he or she pleased...

He faced Rei, and opened his mouth to speak, but Rei bowed fully from the waist and started to pour words out of his mouth. "I'm so very sorry, sire! My behavior is inexcusable, and I cannot offer any apologies that would suffice! I can only offer as a means of explanation that I would never do anything to disrespect His Highness or His Office, and..."

Rin let his hand fall down hard on Rei's head, a perfect chop blow. "Idiot. Are you suggesting that I can, in any way, be confused for my predecessor? Nagisa... is a friend of mine, too, from long ago."

Rei looked up at Rin and adjusted his glasses guiltily. "I do know, and I would never confuse you for... that person. But that is precisely why I would never want to do anything that would bring criticism to your or to your household."

Rin folded his arms across his chest. "Good, discretion is important in these matters. Although I'm not sure it's a concept that Nagisa can fully grasp, I do trust you. I suppose it's not half bad that, if those guys had to replace me in their unit, they got a guy like you."

Rei gaped. "Ah... is... that so? I'm... I'm honored, sire! I've always known I could never fill your shoes!"

"Well, of course not, you're in the Imperial Guard, and I'm the Sultan. That's the difference between us," Rin stated baldly.

"I... am aware, sire," Rei agreed.

"That being said... I do want Nagisa to be happy. He's fucking earned it," Rin scowled.

Rei narrowed his eyes, and looked away. "Yes... he has," he replied quietly.

Rin watched Rei carefully, and then he just couldn't help it. "How... bad was it?"

Rei looked at Rin surprised, and then he smiled, shaking his head. He started to speak a few times, and then he took a deep breath. "Nagisa... is much stronger than I could ever hope to be. Even though it wasn't... his choice to enter the seraglio, he made the best of it. We were both very glad when you were chosen as Sultan, sire. It's nice to know, actually, that the system can work when it has to. I suspect the country is better off that the previous Sultan did not choose an heir, even if the past three years have been difficult."

Rin took it in carefully. He knew, of course, but there was knowing, and... Nagisa, like a little twit, never stopped laughing or smiling! It was hard to tell...! But... Rei was right.

The little shit was strong.

He slapped Rei on the shoulder and smiled broadly. "Ok! Well, you'd better get to your patrol! And, enjoy your evening," Rin winked at Rei, and then turned to go back to Makoto.

"Sire," Rei said clearly, and Rin turned to look at him. Rei was smiling, and Rin could see that he was a handsome young man. "We were both very happy that Makoto-senpai has come to live with us here in the palace. It is good to... keep close those who can be trusted."

"Yeah," Rin grinned. Trust. That was a factor, of course...

"What about Haruka-senpai?" Rei asked quietly, keeping his back straight. "When he returns from his journey, will he be...?"

Rin cut him off. "Your patrol, Lieutenant. ...Don't borrow trouble from tomorrow," he warned Rei. Or maybe he was warning himself.

He went back and found Makoto in his own quarters, sitting at the dressing table and looking at his ear in the mirror. Rin came up behind him and grinned. "Oh, no, he's become vain!"

Makoto smiled broadly, and winked at Rin. "Hardly. I still feel like I'm too plain for all these beautiful ornaments..."

Rin rolled his eyes powerfully. "Does it hurt?" He touched Makoto's lobe gently. He'd pierced him up higher this time, but eventually...

"Not so much, not really, it just... feels strange. But you took good care of me," Makoto smiled, and Rin shivered.

Makoto was such a damned flirt!

"Of course, I'm awesome, after all," Rin boasted.

"Yes, you are," Makoto agreed, but there was mirth and something else in his eyes. Rin felt teased by those eyes. "There... there isn't really a ghost in the seraglio, is there?" he asked, and.

Damn it, he was serious! Rin shook his head. "No, there isn't. And you know how I know?" He leaned down and put his arm around Makoto's shoulders, leaning in close to whisper into Makoto's newly decorated ear. "Because..." he exhaled. "There's no such thing as ghosts."

Makoto shivered and whimpered. "I... I don't know, I've heard such stories..."

"Those stories were intended to scare a child, not a grown-ass man!" Rin teased him, tugging on Makoto's earlobe. Makoto looked up at Rin sheepishly, and Rin took pity. "Anyway, you sleep in my bed, so you have nothing to worry about."

"Ah, of course, you'd keep me safe from the nasty ghosts," Makoto smirked.

He was flirting, wasn't he?! Did he realize he was? "I am the Sultan, don't you think even the ghosts would be afraid of me?"

"My hero," Makoto grinned, and his eyes damned well looked like they were twinkling!

Rin pulled back, feeling rattled. "Well... I... I suppose I should get to work... scaring off ghosts and such," he teased.

"D-don't say that!" Makoto shuddered, and though he was laughing, he did look scared.

"Tonight, we're dining with just my sister and your little siblings. So I'll see you in the private dining room later," he leaned down and nipped at Makoto's nose, which made Makoto laugh. "Try and convince your little sister to be a bit civil to me, ok?"

"I will try, promise," Makoto sighed. "I look forward to seeing you then."

Rin opened his mouth to say something more, and then his gaze fell upon the scrolls on the dressing table with the seal of the astrology ministry. Weather reports, undoubtedly. Rin touched Makoto's ear, and took a deep breath.

"At dinner, then."

Makoto was leaning down to get a glimpse of the sky again. Rin slumped in his chair, watching his consort. Absently, he reached out to touch Makoto's ear, and equally absently, Makoto smiled at him. And then he went back to looking at the sky.

Rin wasn't sure what he was trying to see. It wasn't as if he could see all the way to the Higashihama Sea. Along with the gold rings, Makoto's ear was now sporting a diamond stud. He had rings on nearly every finger, each expertly made and beautifully crafted, with sparkling gemstones. He had the finest silks to wear. Even the cat purring in his lap had a gem-encrusted collar. But Makoto didn't care about those things, and Rin was starting to get desperate. He had to somehow make sure his intentions were clear, but... How could he compete with the sandstorm for his consort's attention and interest?

Makoto sighed again, because he sighed a lot lately, and he scratched the cat's ears without looking. Rin leaned over, and whispered into Makoto's ear, "Would you like more wine?"

Makoto started, and he looked at Rin, but weren't his thoughts still elsewhere? "Ah... no, I think. I've probably already had enough." He looked apologetic. He looked.

Like he wanted something, someone else.

"If you don't mind, Rin... maybe I'll turn in early? The music is... don't you find it a bit much, night after night?" Makoto looked innocent, sheepish.

It wasn't about the music. "Fine," Rin said quietly, and he leaned in to kiss Makoto's cheek. At least he was allowed to give that much affection. "I'll see you in bed, then," he said, just to be sure.

He got that much.

"Of course, thank you," Makoto bowed slightly, and then he scooped up the cat, and stood up.

Rin wasn't the only one watching as Makoto left. His body outlined in shimmering silk was a beautiful sight, but after he was gone, most of the gazes in the room were on him.

Rin was getting a headache.

Nitori was looking at him like he wanted to say something, and Rin wasn't sure what Nitori would say, because Nitori never said anything critical to him, but he had to be thinking it. However, before Nitori or a minister or a guest or even his sister could come and take Makoto's place at Rin's side, Nagisa bounced his energetic little ass right into Rin's lap.

"Ahha, I finally have RinRin to myself!" he laughed, tossing his scarf over Rin's face.

Rin pushed his hand away and glared at Nagisa. "I don't know what you think you're..."

"Smile, RinRin," Nagisa leaned in and said quietly, with a deceptive grin. "Don't let them think there's anything wrong."

Rin blinked, and then begrudgingly, he... didn't scowl. "You're a little too used to this shit," he complained.

Nagisa threw his arm around Rin's shoulder, and started to play with his necklace. "I think so, too," he laughed. "But, it's a useful skill."

"Won't the good Lieutenant get jealous?" Rin huffed, resisting the urge to upend Nagisa onto the pillows surrounding them.

"Nah, Rei knows better," Nagisa winked. "Believe me, I've done far worse with a Sultan and he's understood."

Rin felt instantly cold. "I can't figure you out," he looked away. "Always smiling like an idiot and meanwhile... the things you've been through..."

"Eh? Should I cry and be sad, then?" Nagisa cocked his head to the side and feigned ignorance. "But, everything worked out for the best. You're the Sultan, and I have Rei and Mako-chan close... if everything works out for the best, isn't it stranger to be sad than to be happy?"

"Only an idiot would think like that," Rin sniped, but he had to admit, Nagisa was impressive.

"Mm, maybe it's because RinRin is so gloomy that Mako-chan left," Nagisa pouted.

"Makoto left because..." Rin cut himself off. He didn't need to make excuses or insult the music or mock anyone. "He's worried about Haru."

Nagisa stretched out over Rin, snuggling right up to him. "Haru-chan will come back. Eventually. It's just Mako-chan's nature to worry. Just like it's Rin's nature to be gruff, and Rei's nature to be dependable."

"And when Haru comes back..." Rin sighed. He couldn't help it. He wouldn't be able to maintain this little game when Makoto's true love returned, would he?

"What do you think will happen when Haru-chan comes home?" Nagisa asked, pouting a bit like he really didn't get it.

"Well, it will be quite the joyous reunion for the lovers, won't it?" Rin sarcastically replied.

"...You know, RinRin would definitely be in a better mood if RinRin just jumped Mako-chan. You should do that!" Nagisa beamed.

"I'm not the previous Sultan," Rin acidly retorted. "I may have brought him into the Inner Palace, but I won't force him to..." Somehow, he couldn't finish the sentence. Somehow, he ended up squeezing Nagisa's waist.

Happily, Nagisa squeezed Rin back, but he was laughing. "Rin, why do you always cast yourself as the villain? It doesn't suit you at all! There's no similarity between what happened to me and what Mako-chan decided! The fact that he even had a choice proves that! Why do think that Mako-chan agreed to join your harem, anyway? Isn't it because RinRin asked?"

"I know," Rin sighed gloomily. Damn it, Nagisa was right... "He'd do anything for a friend. I took advantage of that."

Nagisa shook his head, sighing. "Mako-chan possibly would, but that's not what I said! He did this because it was RinRin! Mako-chan's been in love with you for ages and ages, after all!"

Rin stiffened. "What? What are you talking about? It's not me that he loves. He's in love with Haru. They're practically already married!"

"Mm, no, I don't think so. I mean, yeah, they do act that way and all, like they've been married for a hundred years, but... back when we were in training together, it was always Rin that Mako-chan had a crush on. But, he thought you were only interested in Haru-chan, and I think he thought Haru-chan was interested in you, too, so he just tried to not get in the way. After you went to the Down Under, he was really sad for a long time, and he'd always talk about you and wonder how you were doing."

"That... that had to be just because he missed me," Rin objected.

"Nah, he was in love with you," Nagisa smirked at Rin. "In fact... you always call me an idiot, but I can tell you two really good things that you don't know, RinRin! And if I do, will you promise to be nicer to me?"

"I'm plenty nice to you, brat, and you are an idiot!" Rin shot back, but his head was spinning.

Nagisa stuck his tongue out at Rin. "Fine, fine, whatever, but I'll tell you, anyway. And maybe you'll just choose to be nicer to me. The first good thing is... when Haru-chan was leaving for his expedition, he begged and begged Mako-chan to go with him. He even delayed his departure by a week because he thought he could convince Mako-chan. But Mako-chan refused. This was a little less than a year ago, after all. He said he was sure that the new Sultan would be installed soon, and then RinRin would be back in the Capitol, and we could all be together again. Mako-chan didn't try to stop Haru-chan from going, but even with Haru-chan begging him, he refused to go."

Rin stared at Nagisa, completely flustered. "That... that could be... his family... and..."

Nagisa smirked. "And the second really good thing is... the night before you left for the Down Under, after the party we had for you with Instructor Sasabe at the barracks... Mako-chan and I saw you with Haru-chan. You were talking to him and you looked really nervous and then you gave him a scroll and ran off. We stayed back, even though I wanted to go and ask Haru-chan what that was about... Mako-chan said that you'd probably confessed to Haru-chan, and we should leave it be. But... I really think, even still, that we should have asked Haru-chan what you said and all."

Rin sat bolt upright, and grabbed Nagisa's elbow, squeezing it harder than he could control. "The scroll, though. He read it, right? Makoto?"

"Not that I know of," Nagisa answered him plainly. "Mako-chan's not the type to read other people's letters. I looked for it, though. About a week later, I looked through Haru-chan's things. I couldn't find it."

Rin's eyes widened, and his opened his mouth, but he had no idea what to say, and he realized why. The person he needed to question about this... it wasn't Nagisa. He stood up, knocking Nagisa over. He took a step to the door, and then he paused, and looked at Nagisa, but he just didn't know, and he could only think of one thing. He turned determinedly, then, and strode off, waving away a Minister trying to get his attention. He stormed through the halls, ignoring the servants who pressed themselves to the walls as soon as they saw him so as not to deter him.

He threw open the door to his bedroom, finding Makoto, as expected, sprawled out on the bed, reading a book with a cat. Makoto sat up and smiled, and he started to greet Rin, but Rin closed and locked the doors, and then went to the bed, crawling on top to grab Makoto's arm.

"When Haru asked you to go with him to search for the stupid ocean, why did you refuse?" he demanded.

"I... we're not supposed to talk about..." Makoto stammered, understandably confused.

"Forget about that!" Rin ordered. "Why didn't you go with him?"

"I... I..." Makoto looked away, and took a deep breath. "I... didn't want to? You were coming back to the Capitol, and..." he trailed off, refusing to look at Rin.

Rin shook his head. "When I left for the Down Under... Haru gave you a scroll?"

Makoto looked at Rin, completely bewildered. "But... no, you gave Haru a scroll... I'm sorry, Nagisa and I..."

"But Haru gave it to you! You read it?" Rin needed to know.

Makoto shook his head. "Of course not. I wouldn't have... I would never interfere with..." Makoto struggled, and his eyes were looking watery.

"That scroll was for you!" Rin burst out. "That night, I was leaving the next day, I... I was afraid! I told Haru that when I got back, I was going to make you mine, and I gave him the scroll to give to you! It was... I wrote it for you!" Rin flushed.

In retrospect, his letter was... nothing short of completely embarrassing. He'd only been fourteen when he left for the Down Under. He didn't know how to write a love letter! He couldn't ask Makoto to date him or marry him at that age, but he just couldn't leave without telling Makoto how he felt.

Makoto opened his mouth, but he was still clearly confused. "Why... would you have... That's not... No, I... Haru never..."

"You never read it?!" Rin demanded, exasperated.

"I thought it was for Haru, it was... wasn't it your confession? Haven't you always been in love with Haru?" Makoto asked.

"Why do I have to be in love with him?!" Rin was at the end of his rope.

"But! You transferred divisions so you could be in Haru's unit!" Makoto pointed out.

"I wanted to win the Junior Training Corps Competition, like my father had! It had nothing to do with Haru! He was... just the best swordsman, so his team was the best team to be on!" That should have been obvious! Rin pointed at Makoto. "You're the one who is in love with Haru! Always trailing after him and tending to him like a little wife!"

"That's not...! Haru's my best friend, we've known each since always, he's like my brother! I love Haru, but I'm not in love with Haru! He's just... a part of my family! The one I fell in love with was..." Makoto's eyes widened, and he covered his mouth with his hand. "It... it was you. I fell in love with you back then!"

"I'm the one who fell in love with you back then!" Rin contradicted. "You really never read my letter?"

Makoto shook his head, his hand still covering the lower part of his face. "I didn't! You really... you mean..."

And then, the most horrible thing ever happened. Makoto... started to laugh.

"Wh-why are you laughing, you bastard?!" Rin demanded, pouting.

"If... if...." Makoto tried to catch his breath. "If I'm understanding this... and it doesn't really make sense, but... we're both in love with each other, then." Rin's eyes widened. That was...! "And we're yelling at each other about it."

"W-well, what do you expect!?" Rin retorted, completely discombobulated.

Smiling like a damned freaking lothario, Makoto reached out and put his hands on Rin's neck. "How about... something like..." He leaned in, and then they were kissing. Their lips were touching, and Makoto touched Rin's lips with his tongue, and their tongues touched, and they kissed, and Rin's body got hot and he grabbed onto Makoto's arms. Makoto leaned in, butterflying kisses along Rin's jaw, and then he whispered into Rin's ear, "Rin. I love you."

Rin's face felt so hot, he thought he might pass out! "I-I know that! Nagisa told me!"

Makoto, the bastard, laughed again! "Well, Nagisa hasn't told me how you feel, so...?"

"A-asshole," Rin looked away. But he was clinging to Makoto's arms and he wanted to kiss some more. He sighed, and then he just said it. "I love you, yeah."

Laughing again, and was this all supposed to be so damned funny?!, Makoto reached down and grabbed Rin by the waist and pulled him right into Makoto's lap, right against Makoto's body, and Makoto's arms were around him. "I'm so happy. This is like a dream I never believed I could dream. So please... don't ever..." Makoto brushed their noses together, and let his eyes slip closed. "Please don't ever wake me."

Rin looked at Makoto's face, and couldn't hold back anymore, because he no longer had to, there was no more reason. Makoto... loved him, Rin, Makoto chose him. He brushed his fingers through Makoto's hair, tossing his headdress aside, and he kissed Makoto forcefully, so forcefully that Makoto ended up on his back and Rin was on top of him.

At last.

Rin and Makoto entered the court for a late lunch, which also happened to be their first meal of the day. Rin led Makoto to the dais, their fingers intertwined. Smiling, he indicated that Makoto should sit in the Sultan's seat, and Makoto resisted him, but only for a moment, and then he sat down, giving off the air of an adult indulging a child. Rin comfortably sat himself on top of Makoto. He made Makoto feed him, too, and he nibbled on Makoto's fingertips as he ate. Makoto was smiling at him and looking at him gently with his beautiful eyes and Makoto's arms were around him.

It was like Makoto said, it was a dream.

Rin wriggled against Makoto's chest, and put a hand down, fingering Makoto's necklaces. "I think you've gotten a little more used to piercings, mm? Now you have both your ears appropriately decorated," Rin smugly asserted.

"Appropriate is a relative term, it seems, but I guess you could say I'm more accustomed. Or maybe you've gotten better at it," Makoto teased him.

"I've always been perfect at everything," Rin responded with a pout. He let his hand move out. Makoto was wearing nothing but his jewelry and a sheath wrapped around his waist, which was certainly more than enough. Rin pressed his gorgeously manicured nail over Makoto's nipple. "I think it might be time to branch out into other venues for piercing."

"R-Rin!" Makoto objected, fidgeting. His cheeks flushed, and he looked away. He was thinking naughty thoughts. By now, Rin knew when he was thinking naughty thoughts.

"You're right, there's not bad, but I was really thinking more down..." he let his hand slip all the way down Makoto's chest and belly, and to his groin...

"Rin!" Makoto caught Rin's hand, and he looked around guiltily to see if anyone saw Rin teasing him.

"So modest," Rin smirked. "But you may not want me to put the needle in there. Maybe you want someone a bit more... experienced, mm?"

Makoto's cheeks were now stained red, and they were beautiful. He looked at Rin with his bedroom eyes. "Oh, so you're saying someone else should put a needle down there? And here I thought you were more possessive of me, my Sultan." He even pushed out his bottom lip just a little.

Rin dug his nails into Makoto's side, feeling... possessive, like he wanted to take possession... "Well, as long as I'm watching. I think you have to be hard for them to do it, right? Do you think I could help out with that?" he batted his eyelashes at Makoto, smirking.

Makoto's return smirk was damned inviting, and even if they were in public, damn it, Rin wanted...

"Apparently, it only takes a week of getting some for my brother to finally chill out," Gou said to Nitori, watching Rin and Makoto.

Makoto quickly straightened up, putting his arms around Rin tightly, though probably only to shield his body. Rin rolled his eyes. "That certainly can't be my cute little sister saying such crude and low things, could it?"

"Your cute little sister is only a year younger than you!" Gou laughed, leaning up to pinch her brother's shoulder. "She's well old enough to say and do any crude thing she likes, as she's definitely old enough to get married!"

Rin swatted at her hand, still pinching him, damn it, and he raised his nose into the air, "Woman has not yet given birth to a child good enough for my sister's hand in marriage. Don't worry, big brother will always take care of you, Gou."

"Sister complex," Makoto snickered, winking at Gou.

"Says the big brother whose siblings come to see him daily," Rin rolled his eyes.

"You two are just way too compatible," Gou shook her head.

Nitori, looking very nervous and very pink, cleared his throat a bit. Looking at a point just over Makoto's shoulder, he said softly, "Ah, ah, Sultan-sama, I'm sorry to intrude, but... there's something..."

"It's all right, Nitori, just get it out," Rin commanded him, stretching out a bit against Makoto's body.

"Ah, yes, Sultan-sama! Um, well... a delegation from Osakaken has crossed the border..." Nitori fussed.

And with good reason. Rin didn't sit up, but his body went taut and his attention focused. "Ah, I see."

"Likely, sire, they are... on their way to pay tribute to you, but..." Nitori bit his lip.

"Of course, they'll use their visit to me as an excuse to extend those murderous treaties they forced the Council to sign while the country was without a Sultan," Rin rubbed his chin, feeling a bit excited. This would be the first real test of him as Sultan.

"Currently, Osakaken is the main source for water for the country, but the treaties are heavily in their favor. Our merchants have to pay their government nearly the cost of whatever they sell in tax. If we continue to trade with them as it stands..." Nitori fretted.

"Our country will be bankrupt in no time, and we'll be easy pickings for them to conquer, which is exactly what they want," Rin finished, grinning. "Don't worry, Nitori. I have a plan."

"You do?!" Nitori bounced, his eyes widening in wonder. "Well, then..."

"How long will it take the delegation to arrive at the Capitol?" Rin asked.

"Oh..." Nitori looked flummoxed having to switch from one thought to the other, but he quickly recovered. "It's a fairly large delegation, so even with fast camels, they shouldn't arrive for about a week."

"Excellent, that's plenty of time," Rin beamed. "Nitori! Have the Court Doctor come to my bedroom tonight after supper, and have him bring his needles." He looked up at Makoto, and licked his lips.

"R-Rin, r-really...!?" Makoto flushed, and looked down. His eyelashes were nice.

"Looks like my brother has all sorts of plans," Gou confided loudly to Nitori.

"Ooh!" Nitori squeaked.

"Of course I do," Rin purred, caressing Makoto's cheek.

His consort and his country, he would mark them as his and he would protect them forever.

Rin watched Captain Mikoshiba turn and go down the hall, waiting for the Captain to be out of sight before he entered the Royal Library. He was a good man, and Rin could trust him. Not with his sister, but with his country.

The Minister in the library looked nervous. It was well past normal hours, but Rin wasn't interested in the Minister or what his concerns were. "You may go," Rin told him.

The Minister fidgeted. "Ah, sire, I can... assist in whatever you..."

"No," Rin smiled, but he was firm. "You may go."

"Y-yes, sire," the Minister nodded.

"And give me your key," Rin held out his hand.

"Ah..." the Minister fidgeted some more.

"Don't worry, I'll return it to you before breakfast," Rin smiled. "This is the only key, yes?"

The Minister's hand shook as he got the key from inside his robe, and then handed it over to Rin. "Yes, sire, well... the Master of Arms and the Guard have keys to the Library. Only I, though, have the key to the Sacred Texts. But, typically..."

"I'm not interested in typically," Rin assured him, taking the key. "I understand and respect the importance of your post. I'm asking you to understand and respect the importance of my post. And to trust me."

He smiled kindly at the Minister, and the Minister smiled back at him. He turned to leave, and then he turned back, looking at Rin over his shoulder. "There are... those who thought your father would become Sultan. Unfortunately, he... he died..." the Minister sighed. "Our country is lucky to have his son as leader now."

Rin didn't flinch, so that proved that he'd grown up. "Thank you, sir." He'd definitely grown up.

And... later, he'd have to talk to this Minister. Maybe. Learn something about his father.

"Well, I will see you... later, then. Good reading, sire," the Minister bowed to him, and Rin bowed in return. He let the Minister go out, and then he locked the door. He headed straight to the Sacred Texts, unlocking the cage around them. He put the key around his neck, and then he took the royal seal, and opened the metal box built into the floor at the center of the Sacred Texts. For a moment, he was just... dazzled. These scrolls were centuries old, possibly even millennia. They were the oldest written texts of Iwami, and the most important documents in the country.

Gingerly, reverently, he took out a scroll, and unrolled it. It was the plans for the palace. He would have to look that over later. He rolled it up and slipped it back in. He took out the next one, a memoir of the first Sultan, he pulled out the next one, which was about water lines under the sand. The next one he pulled out, though, was the one he was looking for. He took the scroll to the small desk in the cage and unrolled it. He pulled a piece of fresh parchment out and smoothed it down. There was no inkwell in the cage, and that was fine. Rin took out a pointed stick, and drew lines on the parchment, copying the ancient text. He traced the map a few times, and read all the associated notes. Carefully, he rolled the map back up and put it away in the floor, and then locked it back up again. He took his parchment and went outside the cage, locking it behind him.

He went to the Minister's desk, and rolled out his parchment again. He took the Minister's quill, and carefully filled in with ink the lines he'd made on the parchment, and then he wrote in the notes. He blotted the page with a blank page, and then set aside the blank page. Now was the tricky part. He took a fresh scroll and put the map down carefully, making sure there was a large border around the map. He then took out a letter he'd already written, and unrolled it over the map. It fit.

He moved the letter, and took the bundle he'd wrapped in silk from his waist. In it, he had a small bowl, a pouch of flour, a small flask of water, and a smaller pouch of salt. He mixed the flour and salt together, and then he carefully added the water, stirring it to prevent lumps with the same pointed stick he used to draw the map. Once it was mixed to the right consistency, he spread it over the margin between the map edge and the edge of the scroll, closer to the edge of the scroll. Then, he put the letter down, smoothing the edge out carefully. He then put a line of the paste down on the letter, and rolled up the scroll enough to hide the seam. Waiting for the paste to dry, he cleaned up his tools. He used the blotting parchment and the last of the water to wipe clean the stick and the bowl, and then he wrapped them back up in silk and tied them at his waist. He checked the scroll, and, satisfied, he rolled it up and sealed it, using a the pendant from one of his necklaces. He took the scroll, and the blotting parchment, and left the Library, locking it behind him. He went back to his rooms by way of the kitchens. He threw the blotting parchment, the sharp stick, and the empty pouches into the fire, and set the bowl and the flask for the water in the sink.

Whistling happily, he entered his bedroom. Makoto was stretched out on his bed, covered with only a sheet, laying on his back with his legs apart. He was still healing, after all. Rin smiled. He got onto the bed, and touched Makoto's chest, and then reached up to comb Makoto's hair with his fingers. Slowly, Makoto's eyes blinked open, and Rin repressed the urge to laugh.

Being in love made even a Sultan feel like an idiot.

"Rin. You're so late. Is everything all right? It's not the Osakaken delegation, is it?"

"No, of course not, don't worry about that," Rin smiled, still combing back Makoto's hair. Maybe he'd make Makoto smooth it back with pomade. Wait, wasn't that how Mikashiba did his hair? Never mind, then. "You love me, right?"

"Yes, of course, that's why I agreed to let you decorate my dick," Makoto laughed.

"And you don't have any more romantic feelings for Haru... right?" Rin pressed. Though, he was tempted to pull away the sheet to check on Makoto's healing.

Makoto laughed. "I've already told you this! I never had romantic feelings for Haru. He is part of my family."

Rin beamed, and moved in to kiss Makoto softly. "Tomorrow night... late... we're leaving for the Sultan's Oasis."

Makoto raised an eyebrow. "We're... that is..."

"If the Sultan is not in the Capitol, a new treaty cannot be signed. If we can wait them out until the rains come, it won't even matter if they cancel the treaty. That will give us leverage," Rin explain, proud of his plan.

"Ah," Makoto grinned. "You believe the astrologers?"

"I believe..." Rin laughed. "I believe in history. The Western reserves are empty. That's never happened for more than a month. If the world is changing such that they will remain empty... well, then our country is lost, anyway. But I will have faith in this stupid world, and hope."

Makoto smiled, and put his hands on Rin's neck, caressing his throat with his thumbs. "It's a good plan." He leaned in and kissed Rin slowly, softly. They'd become extremely good at kissing in a short time. Makoto rested his forehead against Rin's. "Your father would be proud of you, Rin."

Rin flushed, and he couldn't avoid Makoto, because they were too close. "Y-you're the second person to mention my father to me tonight," he murmured. "I don't know..."

"You don't think he would be?" Makoto questioned.

"I don't know," Rin answered honestly. "He died when I was so young, so..."

"He would be proud of you," Makoto smiled serenely. "Because a man who would not be proud of such a son is no man at all, and your mother wouldn't have anything to do with such a person."

Rin laughed. Makoto was so sure, it made it sound perfectly reasonable. "Well, then. I'm afraid traveling might be hard on you with..." He put his hand on Makoto's hip, caressing. He looked, straining to see the shapes obscured by the sheet.

Makoto shook his head. "I can wrap it and tuck it. It's almost healed, anyway. I've got ointment." He shrugged. "It won't just be the two of us, though, will it?"

"No, we'll be taking Rei and Nagisa, too. You can still use a longbow, right?" He ran his fingertips over the sheet, moving it closer and closer to Makoto's groin, until Makoto caught his hand, smiling.

"It's been a while, but yes," he smirked. "So you'll be carrying a sword, then? Just like our old unit, but you taking Haru's place."

Rin straightened up. "Something like that. I know Nagisa can still throw a blade. He uses it in his dance routine. We should be fine." He leaned over, and put the scroll under their pillow. Makoto gave him a questioning look, but Rin just winked at him. "I'm full of surprises, my love. So, you said you were nearly healed..." He moved his hand over Makoto's groin, and touched the ring inserted into his dick, just touching it.

"Nearly," Makoto gasped, laughing. He moved Rin's hand away. "Not quite ready to play with yet."

Rin pouted, and scooted closer to Makoto. He leaned in, letting his lips touch Makoto's. "Oh, but I so want to... play with it..."

Makoto's smile was tantalizing. "How about I play with you instead?" he suggested, and then he pushed Rin down onto his back, and started to divest Rin of his clothes using his lips.

Rin groaned, and looked at the ceiling, feeling excited.

Captain Mikoshiba entered the hall just as the dancers were starting. Rin swished his wine around his goblet, and waited for his Captain to come to speak to him. Mikoshiba was clever, though. He got himself some wine and some fruit, and he made a few jokes to a pair of Ministers, and then he even went over to Gou and made a pass at her.

Which gave Rin the opportunity to clear his throat and summon Mikoshiba to his side without any indication of anything out of order.

Shamefaced, Mikoshiba went up to Rin's dais, and knelt before his Sultan. Rin raised an eyebrow at him.

Mikoshiba spoke under his breath, and used a dialect that was common in the Guard. "All is ready. The camels and my best man are at Uradome Rocks. Should take your party less than an hour to get there. I would still feel more comfortable if I were accompanying you, of course."

"And I feel more comfortable having you here," Rin smiled superiorly, rubbing Makoto's shoulder. He tapped gently, and Makoto winked at him, and went over to chat with Gou. Rin leaned closer to Mikoshiba. "The Capitol defenses?"

"I've pulled in as many as I can discreetly," Mikoshiba assured him. "Every entrance to the Capitol will have at least three Guards at all hours, and the palace will have double patrol."

"Good," Rin put on a stern expression. "The delegation will be here possibly tomorrow, more like the next day. Until then, no one is to speak of my absence. Nitori will take care of that, probably say that I'm abed with my consort. When they arrive, no matter what, let no one enter the Capitol with arms, whether that means leaving their guards camped outside our gates or storing their arms for them."

"I will greet them personally," Mikoshiba nodded.

"While they are here, make sure there are eyes on each representative that enters the palace at all times," Rin spoke softly. "There is no question that they are here to undermine us and plot for eventual conquest. It will be Nitori's task to keep them... entertained. It will be up to you to make sure that we are defended against both their temperaments and their prying eyes."

"You can put your faith in me, sire," Mikoshiba bowed his head.

"I do," Rin smiled, "but Mikoshiba, if you put even one finger on my sister, I will cut your fingertips off, and then your fingers, and then your hands, and then your arms at the elbows, and then your arms at the shoulders. I will take a full month to fully dismember you. Do you understand?"

Mikoshiba shuddered slightly. "I-I understand, sire."

"Good," Rin leaned back. "You've been up here long enough. May the sands be calm for you, Captain."

"And for you, sire," Mikoshiba nodded, and winked.

As he vacated the dais, Nitori came up with another jar of wine, which was watered down so as to keep up appearances without dulling his senses. It was awful, but Rin didn't care too much. Nitori grinned as he refilled Rin's goblet, and Rin threw his arm around him, appearing to insist that Nitori drink with him. He leaned in close, and whispered, "Nitori, listen carefully. I've left a scroll under your mattress."

"Yes, sire?" Nitori looked up at him with naked admiration.

"When we've finished talking, you will make your exit, and you will go directly to your room, and you will put your hands on this scroll. You must secure it, and not let it off your person until this task I'm assigning you is complete."

"Yes, Sultan-sama!" Nitori beamed.

Rin grinned. Nitori was somewhat cute. "In the morning, after breakfast, you will take the scroll and fifty gold coins to a little dive of a hole in the outskirts, a nasty little place that serves foreign food. There you will find a man named Sasabe. He used to be an Instructor for the Imperial Guard, and now I believe he spends his time drawing naked women and drinking and delivering nasty food."

"I've heard of the man," Nitori nodded.

"Talk to Sasabe. Give him the fifty gold coins and the scroll. He is to deliver the scroll to Nanase Haruka, of the Dolphin Project. Sasabe knows of it. He'll know how to find Haru, if anyone can," Rin sighed.

"Understood, Sultan-sama," Nitori replied.

Rin pulled Nitori closer, feigning joviality. "Listen, Nitori. You must conceal the scroll. Let no one but Sasabe even know it exists. If anyone asks you what your task was, tell them there was a moneychanger that needed to be paid. That scroll contains a concealed map to the Sultan's Oasis."

"S-Sultan-sama!" Nitori gasped, shocked.

"You must tell Sasabe this, too," Rin continued, undeterred. "It is concealed, but it won't hold up to scrutiny. If any unwanted person were to find the Sultan's Oasis, it would be spoiled for eternity. If Sasabe feels that he might lose the scroll, he must burn it. After Haru memorizes the map, he must burn it, too. Understand?"

"I-I do, Sultan-sama, but... are you sure this is wise? Such a risk, and just to invite Nanase-san..." Nitori looked over at Makoto, concerned.

Rin grinned, and looked at his lover, too. "Yes, I'm sure. You will do as I say?"

"O-of course, Sultan-sama! It's just..." Nitori bit his lip.

Rin slapped Nitori on the back, grinning. "Now, when you get back, you have to be ready to... entertain our guests. You must tell them right away that the Sultan has taken off on an expedition. You must not tell them to where, and you must always imply that you expect me back... at any time. Serve them naught but wine laced with the stores of grappa, and tell them it is the Palace Bellini."

Nitori snickered, "Yes, sire!"

"Have plenty of tobacco, oranges, and fried treats ready during the evenings. And, have the Guard play the morning rites on the loudest instruments they can find early and near their quarters," Rin advised.

"I understand," Nitori smirked. "But how long can I hold them off with that?"

"I am trusting your skill here, Nitori," Rin informed him. "Even if they leave, even if they tear up the treaties, that's fine. As long as they don't declare war on us, anything is fine. But, here," Rin pulled a small item from his sleeve and slipped it into Nitori's hand, closing Nitori's hand around it. "That's not the Great Seal, but it will allow you to keep the government running while I'm gone. However, every time you use that, you must isolate yourself, on the pretense of sending a falcon to me with a message. It should appear as if I'm responding to you. It would be best if each time, you sent a falcon off in a different direction."

"I-I'm honored, Sultan-sama!" Nitori quickly hid it in his own sleeve. "I shall do exactly as you instruct."

"No one must know where I am. If you do send me a falcon, make sure that no one sees you sending it off. Understand, Nitori, I am trusting you and Mikoshiba, and of course my sister. No one else. You should trust no one else, either," Rin said calmly.

"Of course, Sultan-sama!" Nitori beamed.

"Your main goal will be to keep the Osakaken group off-balance, but you must also make sure our people don't desiccate or go broke while I'm gone," Rin ordered.

"You can rely on me," Nitori snickered.

"I am," Rin smiled, parroting what he said to Mikoshiba earlier. "Oh, and keep an eye on Gou. Don't let anyone from Osakaken be alone with her. And don't let Mikoshiba be alone with her, either. Just stick close to her, ok?"

"Ah, it would be my honor!" Nitori declared, and... did his face flush a bit?

It was getting late.

"That's all," Rin ruffled Nitori's fringe a little. "Go secure the scroll. And may the sands be calm for you, Nitori."

"And for you, Sultan-sama!" Nitori bowed, and then feigned finishing off his goblet. He bowed low to Rin, and then to Gou, and then teetered off to his quarters.

It was a good act.

Makoto came to Rin's knee, and put his head down. Rin caressed Makoto's cheek, and smiled at him. "Nagisa and Rei slipped away," Makoto said quietly. "They will have everything ready by the second hour."

"Perfect," Rin smiled, and he bent over to kiss Makoto. He rubbed his cheek against Makoto's. "Before we go, I'll shave you, then."

"You're so perverse, my Sultan," Makoto teased him.

"Only for you, my love," Rin sighed.

It took them the better part of two weeks to get to the Oasis. For that period, Rin was no longer Sultan of Iwami. He was just a member of a unit, a close-knit unit made up of the people he trusted and liked best. And that included his lover.

He was already feeling fairly relaxed and happy, then, when he was greeted at the gate of the temple associated with the Oasis by the acolytes.

"Sultan, we are honored to have you here," the elderly High Priestess bowed low. Her eyes, like many of the Water Temple, had long since been gouged out. A piece of cloth covered them. She rose, and smiled. "You have been here before, I think? You and your party."

"Except for Rei-chan!" Nagisa declared happily, grabbing onto Rei's arm. "He wasn't part of our group back then!"

Rei flushed, and adjusted his glasses.

"I'm sure you won't have any trouble finding your way around," she smiled. "If you would care to join us for morning prayers, we assemble just before dawn, and we'd be happy to have you. Meals are served at midmorning and at sunset. Otherwise, if there is anything we can do for you, you only need ask any acolyte. Our numbers are few, fewer than in a long time, but we have more young ones than we've had in a long time, too. Just like Iwami itself. We may appear to be crumbling, but the strength of a new generation is taking hold."

Rin smiled. "I fervently pray that you are right, but the new generation could use a good rain, too."

"The rains will come, as long as we are patient. They always do, eventually," the High Priestess chuckled. She stepped forward, and put her hands on Rin's face, feeling him. "Your father came here once, too, just like you did as a boy. He had such potential, such ambition. But even though I was much younger and much less able to see, I knew his life was destined to be short. I remember you coming here as a boy, too. I knew then that the future Sultan was at the Oasis, though... I admit, I wasn't sure if it was to be you, or that other boy. But, I did know..." Her hands slid off his face, and she took his hand, and Makoto's, and put them together, "that you would not walk through life alone."

Makoto squeezed his hand tightly, and Rin bowed down to the High Priestess. "I am honored to be here again, Your Holiness."

She bowed to him again, and then held her hand out, inviting them inside.

Once they were past the temple area and into the living quarters, Nagisa grabbed Rei and ran off to secure a room for them. Rin and Makoto followed at a more leisurely pace, their hands still clasped together. They found the largest suite, the Sultan's suite, and threw their packs down. Rin sat down heavily on the feathered mattress, and smirked at Makoto. He reached out and stripped Makoto of his belt quickly, and started to undress him. "Let's see how our little friend is doing, mm?"

Makoto laughed, but he kept his hands up, letting Rin do as he pleased. "I'm fairly sure he's fine, but he doesn't mind the attention..."

"With the way we've been living of late, I'm sure he's damned near desperate for it," Rin winked at Makoto.

"He has more perseverance than that," Makoto boasted. "However..."

Rin laughed, and dropped Makoto's pants. While they were riding camels daily, they did indeed wrap and pad Makoto's healing appendage, but Rin tossed aside the silks they had used, and looked Makoto's dick over carefully, caressing the ring. "Mm... looks very nice... how is this?" he turned the ring just a bit, seeing how well it moved back and forth.

Makoto groaned, and his whole body stretched out and his toes curled up. Rin watched his nipples harden. "Th-that's... mmm..."

"Fucking hell, Makoto, you make the sexiest goddamned noises," Rin growled.

"You made me!" Makoto protested.

Rin pulled Makoto down onto the bed and covered him, tugging at the ring in Makoto's nipple, which had been put in at the same time but had gotten so much less attention. "What do you think? Is he ready for play? We should put ointment on it, right?"

Makoto laughed and groaned at the same time, and damn it, Rin couldn't hold out forever! "I-I think... mm, I suppose..." Makoto was pulling Rin's clothes away, but there was some uncertainty in his eyes.

Rin leaned in and nipped at Makoto's earlobe. "Well, how about I enter you?"

"I think if you don't, my balls will explode," Makoto deadpanned.

Rin grinned wolfishly, and he licked his lips. Ointment, oil, so much he needed, for a moment he just wanted to swallow Makoto whole...

"RinRin, Mako-chan...!" Nagisa burst in. "Ah! I didn't mean to interrupt!" Nagisa stood inside the door, and looked them over curiously.

After a heartbeat, Rin sighed. "He didn't mean to interrupt but he isn't leaving..." Makoto snickered a bit.

"Mm, but... well, after all that time riding, don't you want to jump into the water?" Nagisa cocked his head to the side, looking cute and innocent.

They all knew better. He was trying to get a better look. "Yes, well..." Rin rolled his eyes. "Damned squirt makes a good point... but..." He looked over Makoto's body. His peaked nipples, his flushed skin, his gorgeous dick and the ring and the way both were changing as Makoto's dick was getting engorged with blood... "Go on ahead," Rin ordered raggedly. "We'll be there... shortly."

"Not too shortly," Makoto smiled at Rin sexily, and fucking hell...!

"Ooh!" Nagisa snickered. "Mako-chan, that almost sounded perverted!"

Rei sighed audibly, and grabbed Nagisa by the scruff before he could get closer to Rin and Makoto. "We'll see you later, then. Come on, Nagisa."

"Aw, Rei...!" Nagisa pouted, but Rei succeeded in dragging him away.

Rin smirked, and looked down at the feast before him. "At last..."

He emerged from the water, tossing his head back. He brushed his hair out of the way, and looked around. Makoto was floating on his back, smiling with his eyes closed, and Nagisa and Rei were having yet another water fight. In the three days since they'd arrived, they'd gotten quite used to spending nearly every waking minute in the cool, eternally pure waters of the Oasis. He and Makoto had even made love in the waters under the full moon, Makoto entering him with his ring for the first time.

He waded over to the small island in the pool, and climbed up to where the pitcher of juice and the tray of fruit was laid out in the shade. He poured himself some to drink, and he looked up at the sky, partially shielded by the palm leaves. He could swear, the blue above them looked deeper and wetter than he was used to seeing.

Makoto floated to him, and then sat up. "Rin, let me have a grape."

"Sure," Rin pulled off a grape, and smirked. "Come get it." He held out the fruit, unwilling to move any closer.

Laughing, Makoto put a knee on the island, and then leaned forward to take the grapes from Rin's fingers, licking them as he did. Makoto sighed, and stretched out a bit. Rin looked him over. Along with getting used to playing in the water all day, they all equally got used to being naked all day. However, even still, Makoto's body was decorated with gold and jewels. As if his body wasn't scrumptious enough...!

Nagisa paddled over, and put his head on Makoto's leg. He was, of course, staring right at Makoto's dick. Makoto, however, just ignored him. "Mm, did it hurt? Of course it hurt, but..."

"Nagisa," Makoto warned him sleepily.

Rei waded over, and put his arm around Nagisa's waist.

"It's just really pretty! I mean, Mako-chan was pretty before," Nagisa was fixated.

"Oh, god," Makoto groaned.

"You're making him uncomfortable," Rei teased Nagisa, nipping at his ear.

"I wanna touch it!" Nagisa reached out just a bit.

"Sure, you can," Rin smiled.

"Really?!" Nagisa bounced in Rei's arms.

"Sure! As long as you don't mind losing your hands afterward," Rin winked.

Nagisa pouted, pulling his hand away.

Makoto opened one eye and arched his back, looking back at Rin. "So possessive," he purred.

"That's because you're mine," Rin smirked, taking a swig of juice, and letting it run down his chin.

Makoto licked his lips, but his body went slack and his eye closed.

High above, a peregrine falcon called out sharply.

Rei immediately went taut, looking around. Rin admired his reflexes. "He must have spotted someone... I'll gear up!" He splashed toward the edge of the pool.

"Don't bother," Rin yawned. "I know who it is."

Makoto sat up and Nagisa cocked his head to the side. "You do?" Makoto asked.

Rin smiled, and leaned forward to kiss his consort. "An invited guest, my love. A present, of sorts, for you."

"Well, now I'm very curious!" Makoto turned and looked around, trying to find what the falcon saw.

Rei had gotten out and grabbed a small telescope. He scanned the horizon, and then found something, clearly. "Ah... it's one man, with a camel. He does look... He's coming. He's... He's running... Wait, is that...?"

Rin just laughed, so Makoto splashed water on him. "Hey!"

"What's going on here?" Makoto pouted.

"Look!" Rin pointed.

Sure enough, the stranger was running to the pool. Rei put down his scope and got back in the water. Makoto brushed his hair back and squinted. When he recognized the person, he started to laugh. Nagisa jumped up and down and splashed the water around. Rin finished his drink and slipped back into the water, holding his arm out as if he'd just completed a magic trick.

Haru stripped himself and jumped up, neatly slipping into the water.

"And now our party is complete!" Rin declared.

Haru surfaced, and groaned with happiness.

"Haru!" Makoto tackled him, still laughing. "How did... Rin knew that..."

Haru squirmed out of Makoto's grip, dipping down to cover himself in water. "Rin sent me a map."

"What?" Makoto looked at Rin, amazed and confused.

Rin smirked. "And did you burn it?"

Haru rolled his eyes. "Of course." He dove back under, and Rin noticed...

"Holy crap, what is that idiot wearing?" he wearily asked.

Makoto smiled at Rin. "It's this stretchy, quick-drying material. He developed it himself. Said it was good for swimming." Makoto shrugged. "He wears them all the time, claims they're quite comfortable."

"That's..." Rin closed his eyes and shook his head. "We live surrounded by sand!"

Haru surfaced again. "There's an ocean out there somewhere."

"You're an idiot!" Rin shot back.

"You're the idiot," Haru petulantly retorted. And then dove back into the water.

"That's... be more grateful to your Sultan, peasant!" Rin screamed at the water.

"Now, now," Makoto soothed him.

"Yay, we're all together!" Nagisa laughed, splashing Rei.

Rin sighed heavily, reminding himself that... this was what he wanted.

He looked at Makoto, smiling as he watched for Haru to surface again, and it was easier to remember.


"There you are, Haru," Makoto laughed.

Haru didn't look up. He'd chosen for himself a bedroom intended for a servant, but it wasn't hard to understand why. Secluded, it was a bit set away from the rest of the rooms at the oasis home, and it was closer to the water outside. Even with just one small window near the roof, the smell of the water was strong.

"You should have at least stopped by to say good night," Makoto chided him.

Haru looked over his shoulder, but not at Makoto. "...Why are you not mad at me?"

Makoto blinked, but this wasn't too surprising, coming from Haru. "Why should I be mad at you?" Makoto asked calmly.

Haru sighed, and hunched up, turning his head back to stare at the floor.

Makoto laughed, and got closer to Haru, but he still gave his best friend space. "Let's start with this. Years ago, what did you do with the scroll Rin gave you for me?"

Haru only waited a heartbeat to respond. "I burned it," he said quietly, his voice intense.

"And... why did you do that?" Makoto asked. He'd figured that the scroll was gone, but still. It would have been nice to see how a much younger Rin chose to open up to him.

"...I was afraid," Haru admitted.

"Of what?" Makoto prompted.

Haru sighed, and Makoto crept a bit closer to him, and Haru looked up at Makoto meekly. Sighing again, Haru scowled. "He was going to take you away from me," he replied matter-of-factly.

"That's not true. I'm not saying that to be contradictory. I mean, no one could ever take me away from you, Haru," Makoto sat down next to Haru, but he left enough space between them for Haru to feel secure. "We're like blood, aren't we?"

Haru looked up at Makoto, his face shielded by his shoulder. And then Haru straightened up, and he looked Makoto head on. "My parents... were always busy. They had government work, and I was fine... when my grandmother was alive. But even then, your family and your home was as much mine as my own. And then Rin came in. And he was always... being so damned obnoxious, so damned challenging. So annoying. And you were always so nice to him! That was annoying, too. You were my friend, I sat with you after you got bit by the scorpion when we were five. I didn't like it. Then he told me he was going to take you from me... I was afraid he could. I was afraid... I'd end up alone."

Makoto opened his mouth and then closed it twice. Finally, he asked Haru, "Did you... read his message?"

Haru scowled, and looked down at the ground. "He was in love with you. I knew you were in love with him. Obviously, he was going to win."

"It wasn't a competition," Makoto sighed.

"Everything was a competition with him," Haru huffed. Makoto couldn't help smiling, but Haru continued. "If you knew his feelings way back then... wouldn't you have followed him Down Under?" Haru looked at Makoto, almost accusingly.

It was amazing how quickly and how assuredly Makoto could answer. "No. I wouldn't have. ...Not only did I have you, but I also Ran and Ren, and my parents needed me... I wouldn't have gone flying off to join him. Besides, I wasn't the elite warrior the two of you were. It might have... changed how we kept in touch..." Haru frowned, and went back to looking at the floor. Makoto reached out and just touched Haru's shoulder. "But, Rin and I are together now. And all of us are here together, and we understand each other now, and we're all still friends. And, more than friends, for some of us. It all worked out, so why should I hold any resentment? To you, to Rin, to anyone?"

"You're too kind," Haru dismissed, almost accusingly. "You should be mad at me."

"Is it all right that I'm not, then?" Makoto smiled.

Haru looked away. "You could have gone Down Under. Your longbow was impressive. You could have joined Rin."

"I'm with him now. That's all that matters. If you feel guilty, then maybe you could make it up to me by not running off into some sandstorm again. I've been really worried about you!" Makoto nudged Haru.

Haru looked at Makoto, his expression a strange mixture of guilt and annoyance. "There really is an ocean, you know. It can be found. Water, as abundant as the sand..."

Makoto sighed. "I'm sure there is. But there are also friends and family and those things are important, too. And, Haru. You are both my best friend and my family."

Haru looked at Makoto shyly, and then he closed his eyes and sighed. "Fine, I'll get one of those hawks and send you regular messages."

"Well, I suppose that's something," Makoto snickered. Haru was being cute!

"Since all that's been decided," Rin grinned at them from the doorway. Makoto started a bit, but Haru just glared at him. "Do you mind if I steal my... husband for the night, Haru?"

"Whatever, I'm tired anyway," Haru dismissed, turning his back to Rin.

Rin rolled his eyes, and held out his hand to Makoto. Makoto stood up, smiling at his... husband?!

Didn't they have to have a ceremony!?

"Rin," Haru said clearly. "Congratulations... you're a better Sultan than I would be."

Rin gaped a bit at Haru, but fortunately for him, Haru still had his back to him. Rin then straightened up, and grinned wolfishly. "Well, of course I am! We'll see you for breakfast, Haru. ...Sleep well."

"Night," Haru yawned, and he laid down right on top of the bed, curling up into himself to sleep.

Makoto shook his head affectionately, and he snuffed the lamp.

He took Rin's hand, and they went to bed together.