The Way Home
Written for 14 Valentines: Peace Movement.
Shuuei hid a yawn behind a polite hand and tried to focus on the papers before him. He could feel Kouyuu's glare and continued to ignore it, as he had been doing for the past several hours. The scandalized mutters about cavorting with painted women were a little harder to ignore, but only because Shuuei had to keep choking back his laughter.
Every so often, Shuuei contemplated telling Kouyuu that not all of the beauties in the red light district were women. As amusing as it would be to watch Kouyuu's expression change at those words, however, he didn't want to risk the possibility that Kouyuu might avail himself of the male company to be found there, once he knew that it existed.
In any case, Shuuei had nothing of which to be ashamed. The red light district was an invaluable source of information, and his work required that he exploit that. The undeniable truth that seeking out that information included additional pleasures beyond satisfaction in a job well done didn't alter the fact that the work was necessary.
Unfortunately, the nature of the work meant that he was currently ill-equipped to concentrate on the reports he held in his hand. Shuuei jerked his head up from its resumed slide towards the table and blinked hard in an attempt to wake himself.
Kouyuu growled. "If you're going to be this useless, you might as well just go to bed."
Perversity made Shuuei lower his eyes modestly and murmur, "But, Kouyuu, I was already in bed for hours last night." He peeked up through his eyelashes to enjoy the sight of Kouyuu redfaced and spluttering.
"I meant to sleep," Kouyuu managed finally. Despite--or perhaps because of--his terrifying intelligence, Kouyuu could never let even the most sarcastic comment go by without giving a serious answer. It was one of his most endearing personality traits.
"But then who would walk you home at the end of the day to make sure that you actually get to your own front door?"
"I know my way home!" Kouyuu protested, in willful denial of the fact that he'd gotten lost along that exact route only the week before.
Shuuei arched an eyebrow, and Kouyuu glowered back at him for a while before getting distracted by the scroll under his elbow and once again losing himself in his work. Which left Shuuei to the task of squinting at the sleep-blurred characters on his reports, and intermittently pinching his thigh to jolt himself awake.
Ryuuki joined them for lunch, as he had done most days in Shuurei's absence, and the tea they drank revived Shuuei a little bit. Or so he thought until he woke a couple of hours after resuming his paperwork to the jab of Kouyuu's fingers into his ribs. "If you're going to sleep here, please try not to drool on your paperwork."
The accusation was ridiculous, because first of all, Shuuei never drooled in his sleep, and second of all, his paperwork was in a neat stack at the corner of the table. Still, he reapplied himself to his task, and even managed to stay awake until it was time for them to go home for the day.
"I had a letter from my brother Ryuuren recently," he said to Kouyuu on their walk back to the Kou residence. "He sends you his good wishes."
"Send him mine, as well."
Shuuei nodded. "Ah, and here's the grove of trees where we finally found you the last time you tried to make it home by yourself."
Kouyuu blushed furiously, but he turned curious eyes on the grove, as though he couldn't remember it despite having wandered about in it for nearly an hour before being rescued. Shuuei enjoyed his embarrassment for another few minutes, and then said, "I'm planning to host another dinner party at my house later this week."
"I thought it might be time," Kouyuu agreed.
Ryuuki's eyes had been deep with shadows at lunch; he'd refused all nightly companionship since Shuurei had left, and Shuuei and Kouyuu had found that the best thing was to invite him to dinner whenever he appeared in desperate need of a good night's rest. No one thought anything of the emperor spending the night at one of their houses after he'd been indulging in wine over dinner, and if either Shuuei or Kouyuu subsequently shared the guest bedroom with Ryuuki--in an entirely platonic fashion, at least on Shuuei's part, and he assumed on Kouyuu's, as well--their servants never breathed a word.
"And this one's your house," Shuuei said cheerfully, as though Kouyuu might not recognize his own home. Given the man's inexplicable difficulty with directions, it wasn't entirely impossible, though the look on his face suggested that he was about to argue that fact, at a very high volume.
Just then, however, Kou Reishin opened the front door. Immediately, Kouyuu made a valiant effort to compose himself, and even Shuuei stood a bit straighter under the older man's critical gaze.
Kou didn't entirely approve of him, Shuuei knew. What he didn't know was if this was due to the obvious reason: he had a reputation as a bit of a profligate; the less obvious reason: he had designs upon Kou's adopted son; or the most-hidden reason of all: he intended to always be the most important friend in Kouyuu's life, as Kouyuu was in his. To the exclusion of any marriages or political alliances that one or the other of them might be compelled to someday enter into.
"Thank you for helping Kouyuu home," Kou said, ignoring Kouyuu's mortified blush at the mention of his greatest blind spot.
"It was my pleasure." Shuuei nodded politely to him and wished both Kou Reishin and Kouyuu a good evening.
"Just a moment," Kou said, somehow managing to dispatch his adopted son into the house with a minimum of fuss. Shuuei wished he could learn that trick himself; Kouyuu had a frustrating tendency to balk whenever he thought Shuuei was trying to get him to do something.
"I wanted to talk to you about my son," Kou said when they were alone.
Shuuei nodded, trying to keep his face as neutral as possible.
"I'm sure you already know this, but he's an idealistic boy, even a bit sensitive. It's very easy for his heart to be trampled. Especially if someone he loves gives the impression that Kouyuu's easily replaceable in his affections."
Shuuei's eyes widened. His immediate response was to wonder how Kou could know his son so well and not realize the lengths to which Kouyuu went--the lengths to which he'd always gone, since Shuuei and he had been students together--to try to secure his adopted father's love and approval. His next thought, though...for the first time, Shuuei was forced to consider that perhaps Kou didn't disapprove of him because of his intentions towards Kouyuu, but because he hadn't acted yet.
"Yes, Kou-shousho. I'll be sure to remember that." He took a quick breath. "And, please, forgive my impertinence, but you should remember it, as well."
Kou's eyes sharpened, and Shuuei held himself very still under his scrutiny. Then Kou's face softened a little and he nodded. "Thank you."