Heart of the Matter
by Jain

Written for Raya for the Saiunkoku Fic Exchange.

No nobler feeling than this, of admiration for one higher than himself, dwells in the breast of man. It is to this hour, and at all hours, the vivifying influence in man's life. -- Thomas Carlyle

Shuuei rarely ventured into the offices of the Department of Civil Affairs. In the first place, its greatest attraction was that it frequently held Kouyuu, who could even more frequently be found in the palace archives or wandering about at some point that--in Kouyuu's mind, at least--lay between those two locations. In the second place, the offices also frequently held Kou Reishin.

While Shuuei respected the man's intelligence and perspicacity and admired his biting wit, he could also confess to being a bit put off by the way Reishin looked over his fan at him whenever Shuuei aimed a particularly cutting jibe at Kouyuu.

Today, however, Kouyuu and he had made plans to eat lunch together, and Shuuei had considered it advisable to seek out Kouyuu rather than wait until Kouyuu could find him...at which point, no doubt, their meal would more appropriately be called supper than lunch. Accordingly, Shuuei reclined on one of the Department of Civil Affairs' most comfortable chairs and watched with a desultory gaze as Reishin introduced their newest initiate to his duties and gave him an overview of the department's inner workings.

"And this is Li Kouyuu, Assistant Secretary to this department," Reishin concluded, waving a hand at his son with careless elegance. "He'll be responsible for setting your tasks when I'm away or otherwise occupied."

Shuuei watched with interest as Hakumei's already straight spine seemed to grow several inches and a faint flush rose in his cheeks.

Reishin's eyes narrowed as he looked down at the boy, and he drew his fan in front of his face. "I trust that your position in this department is now clear."

"Yes, Kou-sama!" Hakumei said, "I look forward to working here, and promise to work to the best of my abilities!" He snuck a glance at Kouyuu at the end of his little speech, but Kouyuu was preoccupied with his own paperwork.

Reishin favored Hakumei with a thin smile. "In that case, you may finish organizing the reports that Kouyuu has just completed. Kouyuu, take your friend and go to lunch."

Hakumei turned pink as he approached the still-oblivious Kouyuu, but his voice was clear and strong when he said, "Excuse me, Kouyuu-sama, but I'm to take over that task for you."

Kouyuu raised his head. "Oh, of course. Here you go."

The implication that Hakumei was to take his seat made the boy's eyes widen, and he fairly glowed with happiness, to which Kouyuu very sensitively responded by asking Shuuei which restaurant he wanted to eat at that afternoon.

Though it was a real effort, Shuuei managed to restrain himself from teasing Kouyuu until they'd been served their meal. "Your little admirer certainly seems taken with you, Kouyuu."

Kouyuu spluttered at him. "What? Who are you talking about?"

"Your new assistant," Shuuei said, smirking. "Hakumei, was it?"

Kouyuu nodded, a dazed expression on his face, and then shook his head.

"No, his name isn't Hakumei?" Shuuei asked lightly.

"Yes, it is, but he's not," Kouyuu said with a sad lack of coherence, obviously still flustered by Shuuei's intimation.

"He blushed every time your name was mentioned, he lit up when he was told that you would sometimes do the honor of giving him his orders, and he fluttered his eyelashes at you whenever no one else was looking," Shuuei said. The last was an abject lie, of course, but it made Kouyuu's jaw drop in a very gratifying manner, so Shuuei counted himself entirely justified.

"You're joking," Kouyuu said weakly.

Shuuei shook his head with a smug smile, and then watched as Kouyuu--so very predictably--worked himself up from shock to outrage. "I don't even know why I bother listening to you. You have a terrible sense of humor, and you always say the same stupid things."

"If you say so," Shuuei said. "But I'm sure that if you watched the boy more carefully, you'd see the truth of the matter."

After that conversation, Kouyuu treated Hakumei with a sort of perplexed kindness. Hakumei soaked up the minor attention and threw himself into his work with as much industriousness as Shuurei had ever devoted to her tasks, and Shuuei--to his own surprise--found himself exchanging more than one amused glance with Reishin over Kouyuu's discomfort at being the object of such blatant teenaged adoration.

Occasionally, Shuuei felt a niggling worry that Hakumei might discover that Kouyuu was all-too-human and despise him for it. Kouyuu was brilliant and kind and generous, yes, but would Hakumei be mature enough to recognize his merits when confronted by Kouyuu's occasional failings: his terrible sense of direction, his uncertain temper, his profound discomfort with romance? Each time the thought occurred to him, however, Shuuei put it from his mind. Kouyuu was a wonder; Hakumei recognized this fact; and, should he ever change his mind on that score, Reishin and Shuuei would be there to remind him of it.

The archives were quiet when Shuuei entered looking for Shouka, who was apparently away on other business. Kouyuu was there, however, standing near the table with his nose deep in a book.

Shuuei crept up behind him with a stealthy tread and brushed his hand with slow deliberation along Kouyuu's hip, and Kouyuu squawked and sprang away from the touch, fetching up against a nearby bookcase.

"Kouyuu-sama!" Hakumei called instantly from somewhere in the stacks. "Is everything all right?"

The glare that Kouyuu was directing at Shuuei became suddenly murderous. Shuuei gave him a smile that was half-amusement and half-apology; he truly hadn't realized that they weren't alone in the archives, but he didn't think that the sudden revelation of their audience was anything to fuss about, either.

Kouyuu obviously disagreed. "Everything's fine," he called back to Hakumei. "I was only startled by a rat."

Shuuei had to bite his lip to keep from laughing, and Kouyuu glowered at him. And then Hakumei said, "A rat? In here? We'll have to set out poison so that it doesn't harm the books," and Shuuei gave up the battle and let out a brief laugh.

"The rat's gone," he said. "There's nothing to worry about."

There was a long moment of silence from Hakumei--during which Kouyuu muttered, "I only wish it were gone," in a disgruntled tone--as the boy no doubt tried to place Shuuei's voice. Then Hakumei said, "All right. Thank you, Shuuei-sama."

"Your boy's rather intelligent, isn't he?" Shuuei asked Kouyuu quietly.

Kouyuu blushed. "He's not my boy," he hissed. "And you shouldn't say such things where he might hear you."

Shuuei shrugged, then smiled innocently. "I apologize, Kouyuu. I hadn't realized that the intimacy between the two of you had reached such a serious state."

Kouyuu turned bright red with embarrassment and rage, and Shuuei allowed himself a brief chuckle at his discomfort and ducked out of the archives before Kouyuu could start throwing books at him.

As easily riled as Kouyuu was, his anger also burned out quickly, rather than smoldering for days as Shuuei's typically did. Consequently, Shuuei had no qualms about going to the Kou residence later that evening, and was unsurprised when Kouyuu welcomed him into his rooms without even a hint of wanting to eviscerate him.

"You've eaten already?" Kouyuu asked.

"Yes, though I'll take tea if you have it."

Kouyuu looked at him sharply. It was near ten o'clock; the only reason for Shuuei to want tea was that he desired to remain awake, and there was a very limited number of things that Shuuei might want to remain awake for while visiting Kouyuu's home.

Shuuei traced one finger down the back of Kouyuu's hand: a clarification of his intent and an invitation.

Kouyuu sucked in an unsteady breath, and then he nodded, a flush rising high on his cheeks. "Have a seat while I prepare your tea," he said, and Shuuei ignored the chairs in favor of sitting directly on Kouyuu's bed.

There was a book lying open on the pillow--a history of Saiunkoku--and Shuuei leafed through it as he waited for Kouyuu to return. If he wasn't back within...thirty pages, then Shuuei would go search for him.

Twenty-three pages later, Kouyuu returned balancing a tray with two cups and a teapot. Shuuei set the book to one side and accepted the steaming cup that Kouyuu offered him. They drank together in silence, and Shuuei waited until Kouyuu had placed both of their cups back on the tray and the tray itself onto the floor before leaning forward to kiss him.

Kouyuu froze, as he always did at the first intimacy of any evening, and Shuuei waited patiently until he felt Kouyuu begin to relax against him again before he deepened the kiss. He licked inside Kouyuu's mouth and tasted the bitterness of tea and the sweetness of saliva.

A moment later, Kouyuu's tongue brushed against his with greater deliberation, and Shuuei pulled him down onto the bed alongside him. He'd often had occasion to curse the inconvenience of long robes and layered clothes, but there was something both charming and enticing in the way Kouyuu shivered with each article of clothing that Shuuei laid bare.

At last, the two of them lay naked together, Kouyuu flushed and breathless, and Shuuei indulged himself by holding Kouyuu close for long minutes while they kissed. There was a rising urgency in Kouyuu's caresses, however, and it would be cruelty to draw out the pleasure too much longer.

Shuuei slid downwards, Kouyuu's shocked gasp loud in his ears. Kouyuu was so hard and ready that his erection was already tipped with moisture; Shuuei brushed his mouth against the head and licked the taste of Kouyuu off his lips. He cupped Kouyuu's balls in one hand, kneading them carefully with his fingertips, while the other hand rubbed the sensitive skin above Kouyuu's right knee.

The habit of teasing Kouyuu was too ingrained to break, and Shuuei took his time kissing down the length of Kouyuu's cock, licking around the base, and working his way back upwards. He sucked the head and let it slip out of his mouth slowly. Then, when Kouyuu gave a breathy moan, he did it again, and again.

It didn't take long before Kouyuu was trembling beneath him, and his moans had reached a desperate pitch. Shuuei took a deep breath and then slid down, down, down Kouyuu's erection, swallowing around him, and Kouyuu let out a gasp and came down his throat.

Shuuei slid his mouth off and coughed discreetly into his hand, and then crawled back up to lie beside Kouyuu and trace delicate patterns across Kouyuu's arms and chest until his breathing slowed and he'd stopped shaking with the aftereffects of orgasm.

Despite the fact that they'd slept together nearly a dozen times, Kouyuu was still hesitant about what they did together. Shuuei refused to push him, but he did guide Kouyuu's hand down to curl around his aching erection. Kouyuu gasped a little, almost as though it were he who was being touched rather than Shuuei, and then he stroked Shuuei's cock slowly and firmly, just as Shuuei liked it.

Shuuei came embarrassingly fast after that, but Kouyuu didn't even seem to notice. Despite its occasional drawbacks, Shuuei never let himself forget the advantages of Kouyuu's sexual inexperience. And then Kouyuu suffered to let Shuuei draw him close into the circle of his arms and drape a leg over his. Just before Shuuei drifted to sleep, he felt Kouyuu place a tentative hand over his.

"Shuuei-sama?" Hakumei said politely after returning a stack of books to various bookcases in the archive.

Shuuei raised his head from the most recent ledger of military expenditures. "Yes, what is it?"

"Kouyuu-sama mentioned earlier that he needed to speak to you. Have you seen him yet today?"

"No," Shuuei said.

Hakumei bowed slightly. "I have the time to look for him, unless you prefer to go yourself."

Shuuei gave him a sharp glance, but Hakumei didn't seem to mean the words mockingly. Rather, he waited for Shuuei's answer with his usual respectful deference. "I'll go," Shuuei said at last, and Hakumei nodded.

"Kou-sama has left to meet with the emperor, but there are bean-paste buns and tea in the Civil Affairs department offices, if you and Kouyuu-sama wished to refresh yourselves."

"Thank you," Shuuei said, and made a note to be even more circumspect about what he said around the boy. Hakumei was obviously a young man of considerable merit, and he shouldn't be made to feel embarrassed for his quite sensible appreciation of Kouyuu. Kouyuu, on the other hand, was fair game.

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