title: what there is to find
fandom: Tale of Saiunkoku
characters/pairings: Kouyuu/Shuuei-ish
rating: G
warnings: none
summary: Shuuei picked up a habit during the exam, and he can't shake it now that he's a shinshi.
notes: for the Saiunkoku_fic fic exchange.

He considered it a bad habit, simply because it revealed too much about himself. Still, it seemed necessary, and Kouyuu was a member of the Kou clan, even if he didn't have the name. Having him wander off and land upside down in a lake probably would be considered a bad thing, so Shuuei was just doing a civic service.

However, the exams were over, and even if they had more freedom, they still had jobs to do. Their performance during this time was crucial to how they would be perceived by the higher officials, and thus, what position they could possibly hope to attain. He wasn't sure how Kouyuu figured that he had time to go gallivanting about the city, but Shuuei was certain that if Kouyuu were left to his own devices, he would end up sold into sexual slavery and shipped out of the country. Again, it was civic service, and nothing else. Kouyuu, due to his unique talents, had been confined to the archives for his service, so he could easily plan to spend the night to make up for his work, but Shuuei would have to find some other way to catch up. Or he could just slack off. It wasn't as if he was going to be given the name Ryuuren, after all.

Strangely, though, Kouyuu seemed to do a bit better out in the city proper, away from the palace. Though the city streets were mostly straight, unlike the labyrinthine layout of the palace grounds, so perhaps that was the reason. Kouyuu stopped frequently and asked for directions, something his pride would never allow in the palace as well. Every time, he asked for directions to the Frozen Garden, and since he was wearing the robes of a shinshi, most people probably kindly assumed that he was a foreigner to the city. He carried no purse and had rolled up his sleeves, his hair was rather untidily pulled back, and he was out in the city during the day, which made him seem poor and unambitious, an unlikely target for theft or other nefarious schemes. Was it native intelligence about how to navigate the streets? Shuuei wasn't sure, but he found himself interested. Every time Kouyuu got directions, he would go a few blocks in the direction given to him, seemingly mumbling under his breath, possibly to remind himself of what he had been told, and then he stopped again.

It began to seem less of a chore, and more of an adventure. What in the world was Kouyuu up to? The only way to find out was to follow him.

After about a half an hour of winding through the streets, Kouyuu picked up his pace, jogging ahead. The place he went into must have been the Frozen Garden, but it really didn't look like anything but an empty lot fenced off with a few layers of round stones. Still, he went in, weaving around uneasily, counting to himself.

Thoroughly confused, Shuuei held back, and watched, waiting. Kouyuu was still going around the lot in circles frantically when a small girl with a bushel of flowers on her back walked by. Shuuei smoothly pulled out a small coin, and got the girl to sell him a small bundle of flowers with the roots still hanging off dirtily from the bottom. As she picked them out, he pointed to the lot and asked, casually, "What is that place?"

She barely looked over as she handed him the flowers. "That's the Frozen Garden. That's where poor people who aren't from the city and can't afford to go home are buried."

He nearly dropped the flowers.

She walked away, whistling to herself. He took out the small dagger he was carrying, and cut off the ends of the flowers neatly. He wasn't sure at all if he should do it... go over to Kouyuu. He could easily say that he was Kouyuu's closest friend in the world, but that didn't mean that he and Kouyuu were close. Was Kouyuu the little brother he actually wanted, needing his help? Was he a trusted friend, someone he could work with to do the good work of being a leader of the country? Was he a rival from a rival clan of rival power?

Kouyuu never spoke of any part of his life except for Reishin-sama, of whom he spoke in disgusting excess, but Shuuei had known the story before meeting Kouyuu, from the gossip and the spies who worked for the Ran clan. Kouyuu had once been a homeless brat on the street, no better in the eyes of any of the clans than the rats that nibbled holes in bags of rice. A nuisance, if they even noticed.

Kou Reishin, a man who was high enough up to never see the rats scurrying around beneath him, noticed Kouyuu, though. And Kouyuu had passed the Imperial Examination as Jougen, proving Reishin's judgment to be correct. However.

He was walking around a cemetery with no markers, looking for... someone...

Still uncertain of himself, but even more unwilling to be inactive, Shuuei went into the 'garden.' Once inside, he could see that there was something like a path worn into the ground, but there wasn't even grass growing, per se, just weeds. Rather sickened, or perhaps just guilty, he followed the path, heading for Kouyuu, who was still looking at the ground, still counting to himself. Shuuei came up behind him, quietly, and tapped Kouyuu on the shoulder, though it didn't have the desired result. Taken completely by surprise, Kouyuu jumped all the way off the ground, and then scrambled to keep from falling on top of one of the small mounds on the ground, where Shuuei assumed the ashes of the poor were placed. He dropped the flowers so he could catch Kouyuu, keeping him on his feet.

"Sh-Sh-Sh-Shuuei! What the hell do you think you're doing?" Kouyuu sputtered angrily.

Shuuei's lips twitched. He could make a joke, like he always did, but. "I was passing by getting... flowers for the bathrooms. I happened to see you..."

"You dropped your flowers," Kouyuu pointed out.

Shuuei noticed that Kouyuu hadn't pulled away from his grip. "Are you... looking for someone?" he asked, hoping that none of his natural sarcasm was slipping through.

Kouyuu's eyes narrowed. "There's no one here to be found. I... I haven't been here in a long time. It's just that I haven't been here in so long..."

Shuuei let go of Kouyuu, just to give him space so he could ask his question. "Are... your parents here?"

"As if I'd know," Kouyuu chuckled humorlessly, looking away. He swallowed hard, and then his expression went blank. "Probably. I don't remember much from when they were alive. I know they died here, in this city. They starved... I think. I don't ever remember going hungry, but. I think I remember them getting weaker and weaker. I don't think we were from here. As long as I can remember, I never knew my way around."

Shuuei looked down at the spilled flowers on the ground, refusing to let himself comment. It could be that Kouyuu was stuck in a state of unfamiliarity, but he found it unlikely.

"I used to have a pattern," Kouyuu muttered, almost to himself. "A... particular place..."

It didn't matter, of course, Shuuei wanted to say. It was impolitic, but really... one mound looked exactly like another here. These were memorials of people, he tried to remember, but they just looked like piles of dirt lined up in a yard of dirt.

"Well. I'm glad I bought flowers, then," Shuuei said, affecting a light tone. It seemed wrong, somehow. This was not where Kouyuu came from; Kou Reishin was his true parent, perhaps. Or perhaps that was arrogance.

"I won't ever come here again," Kouyuu said quietly.

Of course he wouldn't. He was Jougen. He had a bright future ahead of him. He had marriage proposals piling up, and there were already rumors of what role he would play for the future Emperor, whoever the hell that would be. Being here now was a sign of weakness. He knew that, because he was supposed to be the one to capitalize on that weakness.

"Ah! You're not going to tell anyone, are you?" Kouyuu asked, backing away. Shuuei didn't like the suspicious glint in Kouyuu's eyes. That was unfair. He hadn't earned that.

Perhaps he had, though. Kouyuu hadn't been born a Kou, nor did he carry that burden now, so he could blame Shuuei for bearing the name Ran. "Tell who? People tell me things, not the other way around."

"People tell the head of your family things," Kouyuu corrected uneasily. "People only think about the future when plotting their ambitions. I suppose it's your brother...?"

Shuuei laughed. That only made Kouyuu angry, but he couldn't help it. "Remind me to introduce you to my brother," he wheezed between barks of laughter. Of course, he had four brothers, but only one mattered in that regard, and he... Oh, it gave Shuuei a headache just thinking of it.

Kouyuu narrowed his eyes, still probably thinking that he was the butt of the joke. He glared at the flowers and the mounds of people. "It doesn't really matter. It was just a stupid notion, I suppose. This life is over."

Shuuei swallowed hard, getting rid of the last vestiges of bitter humor. Kouyuu sounded... wistful? Nostalgic? ...Lonely? He stepped closer to Kouyuu. "You have a new life..." He didn't know what he was saying, though. It was useless. Useless words had no chance of being helpful, he knew, but he didn't know. What could he say?

Kouyuu stepped away. "I know. I'm grateful to Reishin-sama. I'm... so incredibly grateful..."

"That's not what I meant," Shuuei fumbled, but Kouyuu cut him off.

"I know already, all right!" He turned his back to Shuuei. "I know. I just. It's been a long time since I've been here."

Shuuei nodded, knowing Kouyuu couldn't see him. Knowing that Kouyuu didn't need him to be there, and that he hadn't been able to make anything better, or help in any way. That... it might have been better if he'd left Kouyuu alone.

It was his own vanity that allowed him to think otherwise, most likely, and yet that didn't feel right. There was something about Kouyuu being independent and separate from him that he didn't like, even though Kouyuu was supposed to be annoying. A young brat who was smarter than everyone around him, and never bothered to hide it, a nothing who'd become someone by providence and luck alone... It was what everyone said, so he should think the same, most likely, but he didn't. He hadn't realized that before. He liked Kouyuu. Since when, he wondered? And if he did, then why wasn't he able to do more?

"Thanks," Kouyuu said begrudgingly.

Shuuei blinked, unaware that he'd gotten wrapped up in his thoughts, and certainly unaware of any reason for Kouyuu to be thanking him.

"For the flowers. There... aren't a lot of flowers left here. Even if it was a mistake," he muttered, blushing slightly.

Shuuei nodded, biting the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning. "Well." He looked down at the mounds. "Did you... get what you came here for?" he asked abruptly.

Kouyuu looked down at the mounds, too, and the flowers, perhaps. After a moment, he sighed softly and shrugged. "What would there have been to find, I wonder." He dusted off his knees, and turned to go. "You're going back to the palace, too, right?"

He looked down at the flowers once more, and then smiled. "That I am."

Kouyuu started to walk to the exit, but he hung back just enough to let Shuuei catch up without seeming to be waiting for him. Obligingly, Shuuei moved forward and took a slight lead, so Kouyuu wouldn't have to ask.