Chapter 1: Book Now!
4 Day/3 Night romantic vacation to Karuizawa (this Thursday-Sunday) – 3 rooms still available. Discount Rate! Ask Kanako for more details! (already going – Kanako/Todo, Reiko/Shima)
Kaidou Aki was staring at his computer screen intently, shoving shrimp-flavored chips into his mouth. He had logged onto the IT&S discord to see what was new and if anyone was talking about him and Ugetsu disappearing from yesterday's party. They weren't. But there was a message left for him by Shima, inviting them both to go on the trip.
It wasn't just a casual invite either. Shima reassured him that the ryokan was safe at this time. Which meant Izuna must have understood Ugetsu's fears. And we can't get sick there? That's right – those spirit kids have some powers.
“Mmm. Kai?” Ugetsu's voice, raspy and low.
Aki looked across the room to his bed where Ugetsu was just waking up. With his hair a tousled mess, his eyes only half-open, the blanket slipping down off one bare shoulder...That should be illegal! I want to tear him apart! Mouth suddenly dry and something stirring in his pants, Aki tore his gaze away, back to the computer.
“Do you always sleep so much? Lazy! The day's half over.”
Ugetsu only laughed. A crazy-seductive sleepy laugh. “I don't know how much sleep I got. Somebody woke me up during the night. Twice. In the best way...How the hell are you so wide awake after all that nocturnal exercise?”
“Err...I don't know, honestly. I just am. I didn't...are you okay? I'm sorry, I got a little carried away.”
“Don't apolo-oww-gize!” Aki heard the sheets rustling. “I'm a bit..oooh...tender in certain places, but it's the best kind of ache – if you know what I mean.”
Warm arms wrapped around Aki's neck from behind and Ugetsu snuffled into his hair. “Morning, lover.” He reached out and helped himself to a chip. “Is this breakfast? I'm going to need something more substantial to build up my stamina. It's been a while but...mmm, you were marvelous!”
Aki felt his face heating up. No one had ever praised his technique like this before. It was embarrassing. And amazing. But embarrassing!
“Haha! It was all my training, of course!”
“Grr!” Aki twisted around in his chair and kissed Ugetsu who was stark naked. “Ack! Put some clothes on!”
“Are you sure?” Ugetsu purred.
“You said you hurt! I'm not depraved enough to want to-mph!”
“I'm teasing, lover. I do probably need a day to recover. But that doesn't mean I don't want more.” Ugetsu kissed him again then danced off to get dressed.
He doesn't move like he aches, Aki noted, watching his butt wiggle. Then he jumped up to make them some breakfast. As he cooked bacon and eggs, Ugetsu came back and glanced at the computer screen.
“What's this? A mini-vacation? Do you want to go?”
“I was going to ask you. It's kind of soon, maybe? I mean, we just...last night. Anyway, I probably can't afford it. I'm kind of broke after Christmas and setting up the office.” Ugetsu was silent and Aki wondered if he'd said something wrong. Oh, wait. “Shima says that because it's a...special place...no one there is sick. For certain.”
“Would it bother you to let me pay? I'd like to go – with you. I've never gone on this kind of trip before.”
Ahh, damn. “I'll pay you back!”
Ugetsu smiled. “So, you do want to go then. I wasn't sure - that was a very half-hearted invitation. And you don't have to pay me back, but if it makes you feel better you can. Let's just go and worry about that later. Okay?”
“Okay.” Aki poked at the frying bacon, trying not to grin like an idiot. “You know...I've never gone on this kind of trip either. The only time I've gone to a ryokan was when we were little kids and once in high school. Not, uh, with someone I was d-dating.”
“Good. We'll do something new to both of us. Fun!” Ugetsu looked over Aki's shoulder. “Hey, fryer-master. Where's your serving?”
Aki looked at the eight strips in the pan, confused for a minute. “You can't have it all, you pig!”
4 Day/3 Night romantic vacation to Karuizawa (this Thursday-Sunday) – 2 rooms still available. Discount Rate! Ask Kanako for more details! (already going – Kanako/Todo, Reiko/Shima, Ugetsu/Aki)
“What? No! Are you serious?”
Natsuo pouted. “You are going to start working at the hospital next week. I'm going to start working with Usami-sama. This is our last chance. You promised me alone-time, Shirou.”
“'Alone-time' is different from 'vacation-with-a-bunch-of-people' time.'” Takamura told him.
“Oh, come on! I've heard Ren and Haru talking about spending the holidays at this place. It's really casual and relaxing, they said. Please?”
“But, sharing a room at a ryokan. That's kind of...”
Takamura's habitual responses were always denials, but Natsuo had been very patient with him and this was the first real “lovers” sort of thing Natsuo had asked of him. Mostly he teased and flirted, but only around those who already knew – the Kaidou family and their closest friends. Otherwise, he kept his hands to himself and refrained from too much innuendo.
Those names listed - they did already know. And Aki was going with Murata, so he and Natsuo wouldn't be the only two men sharing a room. “Fine! We'll go.” I can do this. It's not that big of a deal. Natsuo deserves it.
Natsuo stared at him in shock. “Really? You mean it? I don't want you to be uncomfortable the whole time.”
“I mean it. I want to go! Let's go be romantic or whatever!” Ah, damn! I'm such an idiot!
“Haha! You're adorable!” Natsuo grabbed him in a bear-hug and kissed his cheek. “Thank you! I'll get all the info from Kanako and set everything up. All you'll have to do is pack a small bag. Hmm, I wonder what the weather is like up there right now...?” Natsuo went off to arrange things, stabbing at his phone and muttering to himself.
Takamura steeled himself not to call out and change his mind. Natsuo looked so genuinely surprised and happy. I put that look on his face. Somehow, for some unknown reason, he's still with me. I can't lose him now. Not over something as trivial as a long weekend in the mountains. And we're probably going to be separated by work – his and mine. We'll need memories to help us through it.
4 Day/3 Night romantic vacation to Karuizawa (this Thursday-Sunday) – Only one room left! Discount Rate! Ask Kanako for more details! (those going – Kanako/Todo, Reiko/Shima, Ugetsu/Aki, Natsuo/Shirou)
Kanako sank down onto the couch beside Morinaga making a frustrated face.
“What's up?” he asked.
“I want one more couple for the trip, but I don't know who else to bul-ask.”
Bully, she was going to say. Morinaga laughed. “It is kind of last-minute. People have jobs and other commitments. Did you ask Isogai? I wonder if all three of them would fit in a double-bed...” He wasn't being serious. He should have known better.
“Ooh! Let me check something!” She quickly tapped out a message and sent it. She got a quick reply. Sent another question. Another quick reply.
“Yay! You're an angel, Angel!” He got a peck on the cheek.
“Just wait a minute.” This time she dialed the phone.
“Hi, Naru! It's Kanako. Look, can Isogai, Hiroto, and Ichimaru have Thursday and Friday off work ...Oh? I'm sorry, that's... Okay, I'll wait.”
Morinaga raised his eyebrows at her as she bit her lip. Putting one hand over the phone she whispered, “He's closing Mon Chaton until further notice. He's asking Usami-sama about the other two. Yes, still here. ...They can? Thank you, Naru! ...Oi, I didn't even think of that – you're amazing! You and Usami-sama are the best!” She hung up, giggling.
“I take it you just filled the last room – whether they want to go or not?”
“They'll love it!”
Isogai, Hiroto, and Ichimaru were surprised, but they, of course, agreed to go. Naru would find someone to feed the pets. Kanako was a force of nature that could not be stopped.
Mochizuki Aoki stared at her phone with a strange smile on her face.
“Who was it? You look weird,” Seiko said.
“That young woman, Tatsumi Kanako. She filled all the rooms for the weekend.”
“That's good! Here we thought no one would want to travel! So why the...?” He gestured at her face.
“She requested the room with the king-sized bed - for three people. Three men.”
“Huh? You mean...? Whoa!”
“You don't mind, do you?”
“Me? I don't care if they want a whole zoo, as long as they pay for it and don't make a giant mess.”
Aoki laughed and hugged her husband. He really was the best man. A threesome! How juicy! Aoki could hardly wait.
Karuizawa trip – all rooms filled. Call and book your own romantic getaway! You won't regret it!
Chapter 2: In Their Domain
In Their Domain
Monday morning, Usami Haruhiko and Asami Ryuichi met in Haruhiko's office to talk. There were some business matters that had to be dealt with.
“It's time, I think.”
“I agree.” Asami sat back and put his fingertips together. “You want to close the office completely or keep it open with a skeleton crew?”
“I've gone over the list of employees with Masato and I think everyone necessary can work from home. We'll save some money by closing the building down. Perhaps just a few of the security on patrol. I'm going to continue paying everyone for at least a month. After that, we'll have to see what's happening.”
“And the project? That hotel renovation?”
“Nearly done. Only inside work left to do and those specialists work alone for the most part. No one is requesting time off – they want to continue working as long as they can. The hotel will probably need an extension of its payments. They had planned on having half the hotel open but now they have no guests incoming at all and are closing for the time being.”
“I see. The next job was to be a museum, correct?”
“Yes. Asahi has the plans all ready and his crew are prepared to start. The museum is making noises about canceling. They've already been closed for six weeks and have no reopening date in sight.”
“I'll talk to them. They're government-subsidized and it's easier to do construction work when there aren't guests running around anyway.”
“True. If the museum job goes on, then things should be stable with the company.” Haruhiko toyed with a pen, stabbing it into his desk blotter. “I'm worried, Asami. Naru is closing down Mon Chaton and Risqué. His income is mainly from rental properties, but still...”
“Yes, we have to start acting prudently with our money now. I'm lucky that my other office is staffed with people that can all work from home since they use computers. It is straining the security system, but I'm closing it. Hopefully, they won't all slack off because they can do their work in pajamas. Or infect the system with malware from watching porn.” He snorted and Haruhiko laughed a little.
“Life is strange. Porn goes on, virus pandemic or no. How are you doing personally? Takaba is well?”
“Takaba is fine, but he has a house guest and I don't know what to do with him. You don't happen to know someone I can stash a sixteen-year-old boy with, do you?”
Haruhiko raised an eyebrow. “That boy with you at the Hanami? Can't you put him in an apartment somewhere? At sixteen, he should be capable of living alone. Plenty of high school students do.”
“I'm sure he's able. I don't trust him. He's connected to my former associates. Turned up on the doorstep with a story about being stranded here. Also, I think someone would hold me responsible if something happened to him - someone whose bad side I don't want to be on.”
“Trouble? What about Kirishima? Isn't that sort of his purview?”
“Kei is not good with teenage boys. He's too strict – to the point they will rebel. Besides, he's barely at home. Akihito considers Tao to be a friend, so I have to walk a fine line with him. But I can't give him free run of my penthouse and the studio is...a studio. Tao's sleeping on the couch. I'm making him go to lessons with Gotouda but that's only two days a week. It's inconvenient.”
“Ooshiba Miho is one of the teachers? At her house, correct?” Haruhiko was reviewing his mental list.
“Yes. I think he'd walk all over her. She's a very nice woman but too trusting.”
“Hmm...Ooshiba Kousuke lives with Masahiro in a small one bedroom. Tatsumi is taking up the spare room in his son's condo where they have a small child. That Dee Dee woman is staying with Kaidou – they could have an extra room. It's a big house and Aki just moved out.”
Asami sighed. “I checked. Their cousin is taking Aki's room, your new personal assistant. They might take Tao if no one else will – there is a guest room. I'm tempted to stick him with Yashiro. He'd keep the boy in line. But his place is a studio as well and Tao doesn't deserve to be exposed to whatever Yashiro gets up to in his spare time.”
“Is Yashiro really that outrageous? The few times I've encountered him, he seemed urbane and smooth, if a bit crude in his language.”
“Before, he would have turned your hair white. Now? I'm not sure. I won't risk it.”
“That leaves one place I know of. The trio's house. Several extra rooms, Hiroto will be home as well as Ichimaru during the day. Isogai is still overseeing security, so he'll be in and out at home. They can handle it. Oh, but they are going out of town for the weekend. Naru and I will be stopping at the house to feed the pets. We can check on the young man or even stay there those four days if you feel that's necessary.”
“I was too focused on parents or leaders. The trio is perfect. Hmm. Do you think they'd be willing to accept two sixteen-year-old boys?”
“How many teenagers are you hiding? Some new side business?”
Asami smirked. “No – no profit in it, the way boys eat. Ueda's younger brother turned up and Kirishima thinks he'll get into trouble with nothing to do during the days he's alone. He's been going to lessons as well. Though...damn it. If Naru's closing Mon Chaton, what am I going to do with Gotouda?”
“Asami, not even you can oversee and take care of all these people and their businesses personally.”
“Gotouda is here because of me. He is most definitely my responsibility.” Asami ran a hand over his hair, thinking. “Well, let him have a week off. I'll ask him and Ueda to feed those pets and stay with the boys over the weekend. You and Naru can enjoy your privacy.”
“If you do need a place to stash more sixteen-year-olds, my apartment is available. I'm pretty much living with Naru at this point. Naru has his apartment empty as well but that's in the middle of the entertainment district where people are still mingling, so maybe save it for fourteen-year-olds who won't be tempted to party.”
“All fourteen-year-olds are tempted to party. Except maybe you at fourteen. I suppose you were already trying to be the perfect son.”
Haruhiko blinked and then tried to think back that far. Twenty-two years ago, I was a third-year in middle school...I hated my father. I hated myself for trying to please him and failing. I hated Akihiko for refusing to please him or even try. He sighed.
“I was a horrible teenager - by which I mean I was no good at it. Even when Ryuichiro made himself my best friend, I was too anxious to enjoy spending time with him. He was the perfect teenager. He was crazy and fun and full of life and broke all the rules. Drove Kaoru insane, trying to rein him him. I merely stood by and watched his antics.”
Asami snorted. “So Isaka hasn't changed at all? I don't know how Asahina puts up with him.”
“Oh, he's a little better now, and Kaoru knows how to handle him. What about you? We're you already involved in...?”
“At fourteen I was a model student, class president, and in my free time I studied martial arts with a master of warfare. Very old-school, my master was, in his training methods. But he taught me modern strategy as well as ancient, and multiple fighting styles, both hands-only and weapons. I continued with him and other masters he hand-picked as specialists until I graduated from university with my master's degree in economics. Then I cut all ties, changed my name, and went into business.”
“So, that's why no one knows where you came from.”
“That is why. I went to great lengths to hide my true background. You'll find no records of any of it. Even my university degrees are false, though I did earn them. My original name and family – all of it erased and all of them dead, my master as well. Dead of old-age or other natural causes – I didn't kill anyone. That person never existed. There is only who I am now.”
Haruhiko studied him – this self-made man, ex-criminal kingpin, ruthless killer, genius investor, devoted lover, protective overlord of all in his domain. He didn't envy Asami, didn't worship him or stand in awe of him. He did admire him to some extent. He trusted him. He liked him – the Asami of today.
“Basically, you're telling me you want alone-time with Takaba and you'll go to any lengths to get it. I'll see if Marukawa needs an intern. They are still functioning in-house and Gotouda will have Misaki, Onodera, the other Kirishima...a lot of the circle around him. We can't have you murdering and torturing sixteen-year-olds and yakuza heirs because you can't have sex in Takaba's apartment or find time to see him alone.”
Asami stared at Haruhiko, then burst out laughing. “You may have been a terrible teenager, Usami, but you've become an excellent friend and business partner.”
Haruhiko pushed up his glasses. “Naru gets all the credit.”
“When things calm down, let's the four of us go to that ryokan. We will need a little magic by then.”
Haruhiko smiled. “It's a date.”
Chapter 3: Girl Talk
This chapter is nearly all chat on the server. I hope it's not too hard to read - I don't like to write in this format, but it was kind of necessary.
“Emergency!! Women only!” Reiko typed into the discord's Relationship Advice chat. She opened a private chat window – typing-only - and prepared to pull in whomever responded. Kanako first. Then Haruhi. Kiri asked and was accepted.
Uhh...I'm certain Kanako has done it. Haruhi must have, right? She and Tamaki have been together three or four years now. Kiri hasn't yet, I guess, but she seems like she knows things. I wish one of the older women was online, but I don't want to wait until it's too late.
Kanako: What's up?
Reiko: This is embarrassing!
Kiri: Must be a sex question.
Haruhi: ? I'm not-
Reiko: Don't you leave haruhi! (angry face)
Haruhi: -comfortable talking about that.
Kanako: We aren't talking. We are writing. It's totally different. Sisters must help each other!
Haruhi: (worried face) Okay. /covers eyes
Reiko: So. Going on trip with Shima.
Kanako: And ME!
Haruhi: Oh. Got it. And?
Reiko: First time. OMG!! Help!
Kanako: Sorry. What exactly do you need help with?
Reiko: grooming? do or don't? how? do you guys? how much?
Reiko: WTF is “brazilian?”
Kiri: Are you super hairy? OMG that sounds awful, but you know what I mean?
Reiko: Gonna die. No, not. Don't think so?
Kanako: Brazilian leaves you bald front to back. You can ask for a landing strip or triangle in front. It's super-embarrassing to have done but feels very nice after the pain stops. Feels clean.
Kiri: I trim everything, shave any strays – not much hair, for me.
Haruhi: I just shave what isn't covered by bathing suit – is that bad?!? I can't afford to go to a salon.
Kanako: Shaving is fine – that area is called “bikini.” Waxing means the hair grows back slower but is pricey. And embarrassing. I said that, right? “Spread your butt cheeks, please.”
Reiko: What should I do?
Kanako: Brazilian. Honest. It's kind of amazing. For your first time? Totally.
Kiri: I want to try it! Let's all go!
Haruhi: No way! Anyway, Tamaki hasn't said anything so I can't just change now.
Kanako: True. You should do it for his birthday! Surprise! When is his b-day?
Haruhi: Next week. April 8th /runs away
Kiri: OMG perfect timing! Come with us!
Reiko: Please? I'll pay for it – my gift to both of you, haha. Please?
Kanako: Did you break up with Juuzen?
Kiri: Yes, at the Hanami.
Kanako: then why
Kanako: are you
Kanako: worried about your under hair!!! Tell!!
Kiri: Busted! (wink) met someone
Kiri: secret, can't tell
Kanako: NOOOO! Tell meeeeeee1!!1
Reiko: Don't we know everyone who was there? Who's singel?
Reiko: single – auto-correct fail
Haruhi: Was it all couples? Oh, Hiyori and the two new boys.
Kiri: not them
Kanako: Come on! A clue? Who else was there? Not my DAD!
Reiko: Now I want to know, too. I can't think of anybody the right age and single.
Kanako: Oh shit! No way!
Kiri: ? Now I'm nervous, after you suggested your dad. (frown)
Kanako: You want me to guess? Here? I can keep it to myself.
Kiri: Too late for that. Anyway, kind of dying to tell you but enjoying the guessing.
Reiko: Who is it Kanako?
Kanako: I saw him. With Yashiro. Right? Am I right? OMG Kiri, isn't he like 30?
Reiko: Yashiro is the ex-yakuza? Isn't he dating the big guy?
DEE DEE has signed on
Kiri: Reiko, ask Dee Dee to join us!
Reiko: okay, wait.
Dee Dee: Hi girls. What are we talking about? You need advice?
Kiri: Dee Dee, am I crazy?
Dee Dee: Are you in love with him?
Kiri: No. That was...we just met. But you saw us, right?
Dee Dee: Enjoy yourself. Just be careful. Don't get pregnant! Any of you!
Dee Dee: And Kiri – keep your head, as much as you can. Awesome sex is addictive, but it isn't love. And love alone doesn't make a relationship work.
Haruhi: What's his name? You didn't say and I'm the only one who doesn't know!
Kiri: Nanahara Yuusuke. He works for Yashiro or something. I don't know. I got his number anyway.
Dee Dee: A one-night-stand might be best with that type. Maybe don't call him.
Kanako: You didn't just kiss him and exchange numbers??!?
Dee Dee: They exchanged a whole lot more than that, if I'm any judge. I didn't see it, but I could read the atmosphere.
Dee Dee: Was it good, Kiri? Did he treat you nicely?
Kiri: OMG you guys! It was way beyond good!
Kanako: ...whoa. Kiri – you crazy! HOLY SHIT!!!!
Haruhi: Kiri!? With a total stranger? Really? At the party?
Kiri: Really. It was amazing! I'm still freaking out! Like I've been drunk all day!
Dee Dee: If that's all, then I'll get going.
Reiko: Wait! Please. Do you...? I can't say it. Kanako, help!
Kanako: Oh. We were talking about grooming. Bikini wax. Brazilian. Shaving vs wax. Au naturel.
Dee Dee: I'm flattered. I'm too old to be bothered and not seeing anyone. But if I was...definitely Brazilian, with a landing strip. That's not the Japanese way though. Most women here don't really groom. Or maybe the younger ones are doing that now? I say do whatever you want. It grows back after all.
Dee Dee: Good night, girls. Have fun and be smart. Keep the upper hand, run circles around those men. You're in charge – got it?
Reiko: Thank you!
Kiri: Thanks, Dee Dee.
Kanako: You're awesome! Thanks!
Haruhi: Thank you very much.
Dee Dee: You're all welcome. Oh, and if you're going to groom for him – he should do the same for you! Tell him I told you to say that. Ha!
DEE DEE has left the chat
Kanako: Okay, so Wednesday. I'll make an appointment for all four of us. No chickening out, Haruhi.
Haruhi: I'll go. I'm curious to try it now as long as I don't have to go alone.
Kanako, busy little bee, put up a picture, leaving them all giggling as they exited the chat.
Chapter 4: Morals? What Morals?
Morals? What Morals?
Monday evening, Hiroto opened the door to Natsuki, Tao, and Kirishima who had driven them. While he showed them to their rooms, Kirishima took Isogai aside for a little chat.
“Natsuki shouldn't be a problem. He's a good kid, just has too much energy and no brakes. Tao...He's quiet. He comes from Asami's old world – you understand? Keep an eye on him. We don't expect him to cause trouble by himself, but we don't know what's going on yet back in Hong Kong or China. Information is proving more difficult to come by than in the old days.”
“We don't have to spy on him or clone his phone or monitor his internet use, do we? I'm not sure any of us would be comfortable with that.”
“No, just contact me or Asami-sama if he starts acting suspiciously. Takaba trusts him and he's been very well-behaved so far. But his loyalties lie elsewhere.”
“I see. Okay, we'll take care of them and keep them occupied.”
Kirishima hesitated, clearly wanting to say something else.
“Natsuki is high-spirited and accepting, but uh, innocent. Tao has been exposed to a lot of...adult situations and likely has a compromised idea of what's morally right and wrong. I have no idea how either of them will react to seeing the three of you...expressing affection for each other. I told them both, but seeing is different than being told.”
“Wow, Kirishima. That was a lot of words to say, 'Don't get busy in front of the children,'” Isogai joked. “Don't worry. We won't corrupt Natsuki or be inviting Tao to make it a four-way.”
Kirishima rolled his eyes. “Good luck then. I'll pick them up in the morning for tomorrow's lessons.”
Isogai showed him out, then turned and heaved a sigh. What have we gotten ourselves into?
Once they were settled into their rooms, the boys came out and were introduced. Isogai studied Tao in particular. A very handsome young man who looked older than sixteen and was about the same height as Ichimaru. Quiet and observant, he seemed to be withholding judgment until he'd gathered more data.
He did seem very comfortable with Natsuki. Tao's face softened when his eyes fell on the other boy. In fact...Compromised morals? Oh god. “Hiroto, can I talk to you for a minute? Yuuki, why don't you introduce them to the kids? I think they're all on our bed.”
Ichimaru led the boys off in search of kittens and puppy. Hiroto gave Isogai a questioning look. Isogai filled him in on what Kirishima had told him, then said, “Um...You're better than I am at sensing things.”
“And...watch those two and then tell me if you're sensing what I'm picking up. I may be imagining it.”
“Why are you being cryptic?”
“I just don't want to influence you.”
“You are a Grade-A pain in the butt, Taichirou! And are you telling me we can't do anything while they're around? I'm going to lose it.”
“I don't think that will be an issue. I mean, mild stuff. If they don't like it, they can lump it. But I don't think they'll mind, especially if we're gradual about it.”
“Ha! Natsuki will probably just start talking loudly and ruin the mood. Tao will probably watch a little too closely and make us self-conscious. SIGH!”
Isogai laughed at Hiroto's exaggerated expression. “We can show some restraint. We're about to go off for a romantic escapade in the mountains anyway.”
“Hmph! Gradual, huh? Can I kiss you? When you're not drunk or anything.”
“I'll never say no to that.” Just a soft meeting of lips, they kissed and smiled at each other. Then Isogai slapped Hiroto on the ass and dashed off to the kitchen to throw together some sort of dinner.
During the meal, Hiroto's listening skills encouraged both Tao and Natsuki to feel more comfortable. Ichimaru could still act like a big kid and they both liked him. Isogai was more like an older brother they were wary of and he preferred it that way. He would be the one who disciplined them if necessary.
About halfway through the meal, Isogai saw the moment Hiroto noticed what he had noticed. Not just my imagination. What are we supposed to do about that? Nothing? Not our business if they sneak into each other's beds at night? Oh, man. I'd kill Kirishima, except I doubt he knows. So do I tell him?
Hiroto had other ideas. Once the meal was over, he acted on them.
“You two know about us, right? That we're a threesome in every sense of the word. Does that make either of you uncomfortable? We are exclusive, I want to point out. We won't be propositioning you or welcoming you into that giant bed of ours. Not one-on-one or as a group.”
“Err...yeah. We weren't worried about that,” Natsuki said. Tao nodded agreement. “I'm kind of curious how it works between you, but I'm not about to ask you to demonstrate or anything. Haha.”
Bold talk, but Natsuki was a little off-balance from the sudden shift in the conversation.
“Good. I don't want any misconceptions or fear here in our house. How it works is we all three love each other and work to make sure none of us feels neglected or left out. More than that, you don't need to know. We won't be subjecting you to outrageous displays. Now, what exactly is going on between the two of you?”
“What?” Natsuki looked confused. Tao didn't.
“We like each other, maybe,” Tao spoke up. “But we decided friends only until we're older. Hiyori's only fifteen. But a threesome...I didn't consider that possibility. Could that work for us, do you think, Natsuki? Natsuki?”
The threesome's turn to be confused. And Natsuki's face turned red.
“Hiyori?” Ichimaru asked. “The other Kirishima's daughter? What has she got to do with you two?”
Hiroto's face went slack with shock and Isogai knew he must look similar. Oh no. That was way worse than what he had imagined.
“She's taking the lessons with us. She likes us, too. Maybe.”
What do we do now? Tell them to forget it? Hypocritical much?
Hiroto latched on to the important part. “Friends for now! Only friends! Right? That means you haven't...”
“We kissed. At the party on Friday. Just to be sure.”
Ichimaru was gaping at them, finally having figured it out. “Uh...You, the three of you...at the party?”
“Is that bad? We promised nothing more until we're older. Eighteen is the legal age here, correct?”
Teenagers! Raging hormones! Wait...wait. Hiyori is the saving grace, weird as that may seem. If they want to be fair, then the two of them can't do anything and leave her out of it. Ugh! That will work if I can make it seem like they'd be cheating on her...
“Have either of you had sex yet?” Damn it, Hiroto! “With a girl or another guy?”
They looked at each other. “No,” they answered in tandem.
“But you were okay with the kissing? You two - leave Hiyori out of it.” Nooo!
“I was. I am. Natsuki is...unsure.” Tao had no problem talking about this sort of thing. Isogai was mentally tearing his hair at Hiroto's steering of this talk, but he could still admire Tao's calm honesty. Talk about a different set of morals!
“If it's impossible between you two, then the rest will fall apart. So don't go planning a threesome before you know that one important fact.” Oi! Good save.
“We should try it now?” Argh!
“Urk!” Natsuki choked on nothing.
Isogai found his voice. “Hiroto! What are you doing? We can't encourage them!”
“Taichirou, how old were you, your first time?”
“Huh? Fif...not fair!”
“Seventeen. I guess. It wasn't exactly a good experience. Mostly embarrassing.”
“It usually is. I was fifteen as well. Don't look like that, Taichirou! The sexual tension between them can be cut with a knife! Better to get it out in the open, at least. Before it backfires on us or them.”
Asami-sama's going to kill us. And Ueda. Kirishima and Yokozawa will hold us down. “So, what? We give them some lube and condoms and wish them well?”
“I don't know! They need to figure it out. Maybe talking will be enough. Maybe they need to do more. Sex between two men isn't something to play around with. And a girl in the mix makes it even more complicated! Hiyori will be hurt if they prefer each other. Tao will be left out if Natsuki can't enjoy it. Putting it off two or three years just makes it worse.”
Isogai thought about that. Waiting three years, only to find out it wasn't going to happen. Hiroto is right. They're still very young and will recover faster if they sort this out now. And if they can't explore with each other, they will turn to others, then feel like they've betrayed this pact or agreement or whatever it is.
Hiroto turned to the boys. “I'm not saying go try it right now. But you should talk about it, okay? Natsuki, don't agree to anything you aren't comfortable with. If you merely...put up with it because you want to be with Hiyori and Tao is part of a package deal, that's not fair to yourself or them. It will create resentment and jealousy. I couldn't stand the idea of Yuuki or Taichirou just pretending to want me – or each other.”
“I don't want that either,” Tao said, thoughtfully. “There is more to this than I realized. I believed I could just set it aside for now. Natsuki, I don't want you to feel pressured.”
Natsuki also found his words. “I don't. Not from you. I have been thinking about it. You. Uh, the kiss. A lot.” His face turned even redder. “I didn't hate it,” he muttered in a very small voice.
“But something is off?” Hiroto pushed.
“He's taller than me. And, you know, more muscular.”
“So...? Oooohhhh! Natsuki, between the three of us, who is tallest and most...err, masculine?”
Natsuki studied them. “Ichimaru.”
“He is. And yet Isogai is top. Ichimaru and I do either.”
Natsuki blinked, trying to process. Tao didn't understand. “Top? He is your boss?”
Hiroto held up one finger. “Top.” His other hand made a circle with thumb and first finger. “Bottom.” He demonstrated the movement.
“Natsuki? Did you think you had to be the bottom? It doesn't work like that in real life. Maybe in BL stories, but those are fantasy. Bottom or top has nothing to do with being masculine or taller or anything else. You might prefer one role or the other or both. I'm guessing your brother is the top for Aki, but that's more personality than size.”
“Personality,” Tao said. “I'm certain Asami-sama is a top. My master, Liu Fei Long, has been both. I don't mind being bottom if that makes Natsuki more at ease.”
That put a new image in Natsuki's mind, Isogai could tell from the way his eyes unfocused. Oh, he wants this. And Tao is more than willing. Better give them the condoms and lube and then lock ourselves in our room and let them figure it out.
And that's what they did.
By the next morning, something had changed. The tension was lessened and Natsuki a bit spaced out. The trio didn't comment and the boys didn't either. Uh-huh. Don't wanna know. Not gonna ask.
Chapter 5: You Choose, You Act
Again, they are 16, both of them. Don't like, please skip.
You Choose, You Act
Natsuki and Tao had been given separate rooms. Natsuki sat on his bed and wondered if he'd end up in Tao's room or Tao would come to his. Something was going to happen, he was sure. Hiroto had forced them to start talking and facing facts. It wasn't just Natsuki who was struggling, it was both of them.
Natsuki was confused. Not only by the realization that he didn't have to be the bottom if he didn't want to, but also by his sex drive having overpowered his sense of self. He really liked Hiyori, liked kissing her that time, but he couldn't picture doing more adult stuff with her. That felt wrong. She was too young and he knew it. It had nothing to do with her size or shape or even age.
That was why he'd been okay with their agreement, in theory. She wasn't ready, he wasn't about to pounce on her or try to convince her or anything like that. Waiting was something he was willing to do. Until Tao kissed him and his brain moved from his head to his penis.
It didn't feel wrong with Tao. All sorts of lewd images had begun raging through his mind. Because he looks older than he is? Am I just that horny? Am I some sex-crazed lunatic who's willing to have sex with a guy because I can't do it with Hiyori? What kind of pig does that make me? If he hadn't said anything or kissed me, would I still have ended up wanting to...touch him?
Natsuki tried to be brutally honest with himself. He thought Tao was gorgeous. But Tao wasn't aware of how he looked, so being jealous seemed petty. Tao didn't push, he drew people toward him. He was serious, so Natsuki wanted to make him smile. He was quiet and Natsuki wanted to hear him talk. Once Natsuki got him talking, he was very smart about some things and completely clueless in other areas. Natsuki thought that was funny and kind of cute.
Before long, he was impressed by Tao and comfortable around him. Tao was gentle and observant and thoughtful and generous. He didn't try to charm or sweet talk, he didn't use his appeal as a tool the way Aki did without thinking. Natsuki adored Aki, was glad his for his brother, but found him a bit much when he turned his sex appeal up to full blast. It didn't affect Natsuki. That convinced Natsuki he was straight because everyone seemed to find Aki attractive.
Natsuki had learned about Tomoharu and Aki almost two years ago, the last time he ran away from home. He'd been caught off-guard but found himself not caring who his brother loved, as long as he loved someone and was happy. But it did make Natsuki curious. And curiosity led him into BL.
He tried live-action porn but had to shut that off quickly. Manga, light novels, and anime he could handle. The sex scenes were...hot. No denying that. But that came from their expressions and emotions, not looking at other guys' butts. The way those guys were drawn, it was easy enough to pretend the bottom was a girl.
According to what he read, Tomoharu was top and Aki bottom and that fit them from what Natsuki observed. The taller guy was always top, even if he was younger. The smaller guy was full of blushes, pretty rather than handsome, and basically acted like a girl a lot of the time. But Aki's not girly. He recalled Aki blushing and being ridiculously cute. Okay, maybe he is in some ways.
When Tao kissed him, everything flew out the window. All weekend he'd been trying to figure it out, which made things worse because it meant he was thinking about Tao. Lessons earlier that day had been...he didn't remember a thing.
I'm not feminine! I'm not small or pretty or anything else girly. So what does Tao see when he looks at me and says he likes me? Am I giving off some kind of weird girl-aura? Natsuki had studied himself in the mirror. No, aside from needing more muscles, I'm not girly at all. So why? Why does he want me? Why did I respond? It must be teenage hormones, right? I'm just a horny kid who's been taken over by testosterone and is confused.
Hiroto's explanations, seeing this love triangle as a possible threesome, the idea that Hiroto and Ichimaru took either role, Tao saying he wouldn't mind being the bottom...Natsuki's ideas had been shaken like a snow globe and were floating aimlessly in all directions.
When someone knocked softly on the door, Natsuki jumped like a startled bunny.
Tao's voice asked, “Can I come in?”
“Yeah.” He considered standing up, but that would just look stupid. He stayed on the bed, sitting up straight. After his shower (he'd gone first), Natsuki had put on his pajamas and now wished he brought his really ugly heavy ones that made him look like a hobo, according to his mother.
Tao looked...Grr! Not fair! His hair was still damp and he was wearing red pajamas made of silk or satin in the Chinese style that slithered and clung and - Holy shit, what am I thinking?
“Natsuki, I'm not going to attack you.” Tao sat on the bed beside him but left a large gap. The “we're not gay, just sitting on a bed together” gap. Natsuki almost laughed, it was just like in the manga.
“Why me, Tao?”
“Why not you? You're smart and fun and outgoing and exciting. You don't look down on me because of my background or order me around like a servant or ignore me when there are others much more interesting to focus on. It feels like you see me. I'm used to being treated like a...pet, a lapdog. Not a friend, not an equal. Even Akihito treats me like a child. I suppose that's because I was only thirteen when we met and much smaller. Anyway, he's wrapped up in Asami-sama.”
“But that's not just me. That's because of your...family. Other people will treat you like I do.”
Tao shrugged. “I met you first. I've met others since. None of them made me feel this way. I like your eyes. I like the way your hair falls across your forehead. I like that hollow at the base of your throat.”
Ack! “W-what about Hiyori?”
“She is...different. I haven't met many women or girls. I'm fascinated by her. I like her smile and her energy and her sweetness. The...curves. I kind of want her to boss me around - she's so cute when she does that. The other girls at the party seemed to be judging me by some kind of measure I don't understand. I don't know, Natsuki.”
“If we do anything, we have to tell her. Don't we? If we...and she isn't a part of it, then what? I don't think she'd allow any...err...with either of us, not yet.”
“That is why I believed kissing would be safe enough. Fei Long often kissed me. I liked it. It made me feel loved. But I wasn't aroused by those types of kisses. I thought I would get from you a similar response. Then I would know we felt true affection. You took me by surprise. I liked kissing Hiyori and was fine to stop. With you, I wanted more. It seemed you were also ready to do more, unlike her.”
“I wonder if a year is enough to make much difference? Or is it a guy/girl thing?”
“They always say boys want to have sex earlier than girls do. That our drive is stronger. Boys who have sex at our age – no one thinks much about it - like it's expected. But girls are treated differently. A girl who has sex at our age...if people find out then her reputation is ruined. She's considered a slut.”
“That's not fair. Do you think that is why Hiyori is more...innocent? She's is forced to be that way by society? It's just an act?”
“No, I really don't think she's ready. But maybe that's because she's a year younger and her hormones haven't kicked in. Maybe it's just the way she was raised to think. I don't know. But if we do anything – even just more kissing – that seems unfair after we promised only friendship for now.”
“But if I want you and you want me and she doesn't want either of us in that way right now...how is that unfair? We aren't denying her anything. If she asked for more, then wouldn't we include her? Now I'm confused.” Tao laid back on the bed and covered his eyes with one arm.
Does the next step take us past friendship? Or do we just become friends-with-benefits and the weird tension goes away? Is there any way to tell without actually doing it? If it doesn't change how we feel and act with each other or with her, then she doesn't need to know...
And that's how Natsuki talked himself into leaning over, pulling Tao's arm aside, and kissing him.
Tao responded immediately, kissing him back with hunger and desire. Oh no! I don't...I'm not...ugh! He did and he was. Natsuki did want more, he was aroused. He sank down on top of Tao and they were pressed together from chest to quickly swelling cocks. Tao's arms wrapped around and pulled him even closer and it felt right, it felt like he was losing his mind.
His fingers unbuttoned the collar of Tao's top and pushed it aside. He wanted to feel Tao's skin. Damn, his chest is solid!
“You too,” Tao whispered, tugging at Natsuki's shirt. When he pulled it off, Tao rose up to lick the hollow of his throat and Natsuki moaned. He didn't know what to do next. Not the mechanics – he had a general idea of those. But were they really going to go all the way right now? He wasn't mentally prepared!
Tao didn't seem to have any doubts. He continued licking and sucking at Natsuki's throat and chest while working Natsuki's pajama bottoms low enough for his cock to be free. Then he pulled Natsuki back against his chest and they rubbed against each other. The warm silk of Tao's pants felt good at first, then became a barrier.
Natsuki took his off all the way, shoved Tao's down as well. Skin to skin. “Oh fuck! This feels really good!” he gasped into Tao's ear.
“It does. You feel good, all of you.”
Tao rolled them and for a split second Natsuki panicked. But he stopped with them on their sides, didn't get on top. Tao left just enough space between that he could reach down and grasp both straining erections in one hand.
“Hah! Ngh! Tao...just like that...!” Natsuki slid his hand down over a bicep, then to Tao's waist, and then drifted carefully over the taut curve of Tao's ass. Dug his fingers into the muscle.
Tao hitched his leg over Natsuki's hip without missing a stroke, leaving himself open to whatever Natsuki chose to do. Natsuki let his fingers explore, touched...
“Oooohhh! Natsuki! That - don't stop!”
Tao's moan made Natsuki look at his face, then he couldn't tear his eyes away. Mouth slightly open and panting, eyes half-closed, cheeks flushed – Tao was a vision beyond any of the manga drawings. Natsuki kept caressing the skin around Tao's back entrance but didn't do anything more than that. Anything more would require him to move away to grab the stuff and he didn't want to stop for even that long.
Hiroto had discreetly handed him a small bottle of lube and a few condoms, saying, “I'm giving these to you, because you are the one who needs to decide if they will be put to use or not. You got it? You choose, you act. He'll wait, I can tell. He'll let you go if you can't do this. You don't have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. One time, one person – nothing locks you into a sexuality. Sex with Tao doesn't make you gay. Turning him down doesn't necessarily mean you're straight, either. Waiting until you are sure is perfectly fine.”
“Thank you,” Natsuki had told him, then shoved the supplies into the bedside drawer and tried to forget they were there.
Now, he didn't want them. Not yet. This was enough. He continued touching, Tao's grasp on them both tightened. Natsuki watched Tao come and marveled that he had done that. He made Tao feel so good he cried out. It was an electrifying moment, one he would never forget.
Lost in Tao's climax, he had stopped paying attention to his own body. When Tao caught his breath and suddenly slithered downward...Tao's mouth...he's... “Aaaahhh!” The heat, Tao's tongue, the suction – Natsuki came almost instantly, grabbing Tao's head to hold it in place.
A moment later he let go, horrified. “I'm sorry! Go spit it out!”
Tao had already swallowed. “Why?” he asked, licking his lips.
“Doesn't it...taste bad? Do you want some water?”
Tao only laughed. “It tasted like you. But if you won't kiss me again, then I'll go rinse out my mouth.”
Natsuki tasted himself as they kissed and didn't mind it at all. The next day at lessons, Hiyori didn't notice anything. What would develop later was anyone's guess.
Note: This pic is Tomoharu but Natsuki looks just like him so...and that is Tao from a dream Fei Long had where Tao was older.
Chapter 6: Montage
Wednesday, Gotouda Aki started work at Marukawa as an intern/general errand boy. He was given a tour by Misaki, someone he didn't know well but came to like very quickly. Misaki had his own brand of adorableness. Misaki explained that the offices were half-empty with many working from home. Those in the building all wore masks and many wore gloves as well. People had rearranged their desks so there were gaps between them.
Still, the magazines and books had to continue being published and no one wanted to stop being paid. Marukawa turned out to be crawling with guys who dated other guys. Takano, chief editor of Emerald with Onodera in Literature. Hatori and his author. Kisa and the BL author Tengan Jomei (Yukina Kou). Kirishima, the chief editor of Japun and Yokozawa the lead salesman. Kawamura the secretary who dated Izumi, Yashiro's computer guy. Then there was President Isaka.
How is this guy the company president? He seemed to do nothing but wander around teasing everyone and driving Misaki crazy. Does he take anything seriously? How does a business function with a guy like that at the helm? Aki studied Asahina and wondered if he did all the work behind the scenes.
It would take Aki a while to catch Isaka being serious and then he would marvel at the difference. Astute, sharp, instinctive, charming – Isaka played the fool but was nothing of the sort. His talent lay in recognizing the talents of others, then allowing them free rein to make things happen.
That Aki noticed anything was a sign. He was becoming more aware of what leadership meant, how it affected those who worked for the leader, and how there could be different outward styles. A core set of abilities were making themselves known to Aki. Marukawa would turn out to be the ideal placement for him at this time in his training.
Kanako, Reiko, Kiri, and Haruhi spent Wednesday sharing the joy of having hair ripped off their bodies by screeching at each other and laughing hysterically and driving the salon women crazy. They also had manicures and pedicures and facials and had their eyebrows and forearms and legs waxed and pretty much devoted the day to beauty treatments at Reiko's urging. They finally left, smooth as silk and hairless and beautified to the max. As if they needed it.
Watch out, men!
Natsuki and Tao went all the way Wednesday night. The trio said nothing and didn't ask, just packed their bags and wished the boys well. Aside from the disappearance of the tension, their behavior in front of others didn't change at all. Tomoharu and Aki had no idea when they showed up to spend the weekend for pet-and-teenager sitting duty.
Tomoharu had finished his SP training. Starting next week, he would be officially assigned to a team and begin the real job. He was nervous but excited. Aki was jealous of how the kittens adored him. Chomp promptly bit Aki, making them deadly enemies. Aki retaliated by spoiling Goofball the puppy rotten. Goofball was just Goofball. His name still fit.
Ugetsu couldn't decide if he should bring his violin or not. Aki convinced him to include it. Takamura had changed his mind about going at least a million times but in the end, couldn't disappoint Natsuo. Todo...was Todo. He didn't need any improvements and tossed whatever in a bag and was ready to go. Shima made a list and checked it off as he packed everything into his bag extremely neatly, precisely, and focused. Izuna would approve.
Thursday, Todo drove for Kanako, Natsuo, and Takamura. Shima drove for Reiko, Aki, and Ugetsu. Isogai had been given a Hakue company car to use – he drove the trio. No trains for any of them – private transportation was safer.
Kiri was going to fill in for Kanako at DELIcious, where they were staying open because most of the offices in the neighborhood were still functioning, though with only about half the employees while the rest worked from home. It was not a sit-down type establishment, so they didn't come into close contact with people. They did all wear masks and gloves and Kiri's main task was to wipe down all surfaces with disinfectant after every customer.
She also made the daily delivery to Yashiro's office across the street. Hmm.
By noon, all the travelers had reached their destination, Suyasuya Ryokan in the resort town of Karuizawa.
Chapter 7: Refreshing!
Seiko was driving Aoki to her wit's end. He had a long list of tasks (as usual) to take care of, but he kept wandering through the common areas and finding excuses to be out in the front of the ryokan. Or tracking Aoki down wherever she happened to be – in the kitchen, tidying up the rooms, doing laundry. By 11 am, she'd had enough.
“What on earth is wrong with you? You're worse than any child, I swear!”
“I'm so used to picking people up at the station! I don't know what to do with myself. I can't greet them and then get a read on them during the drive back. We don't know when they will show up. It's like...we're about to be attacked and I don't know what weapons I'll need.”
Aoki burst out laughing. “That doesn't make any sense! Ridiculous man. Go chop wood for the fires. Don't chop off any body parts because you're so distracted! The ax is not a weapon and the doctor isn't here yet to sew any limbs back on.”
She went back to her own tasks, shaking her head. He's such a silly! Spotting movement from the corner of her eye, she turned to see Michi and Eryu peering at her around a corner.
“You two. No bugs! I don't mind the frogs, but no bugs, please! Tatsumi Kanako says her friend Reiko is a real magic user and they all met Tsuzuki and Hisoka about a month ago. Isn't that wonderful? Maybe if you behave, they will tell us all the story tonight. Reiko has a kudagitsune – a fox companion – named Izuna. I'm sure it will talk with you. So be good!”
The spirit children giggled and took off skipping. Probably to find some frogs. As long as they didn't sneak in any of those rhinoceros beetles or hairy spiders...
“Someone's here!” Seiko came charging in, covered in tiny splinters of wood. “Come on!” Grabbing her hand, he dragged her out toward the front door.
Sheesh! You'd think we never had any guests, the way he was acting!
She was excited as well, only better at hiding it. After all, these wouldn't be just any guests, but friends of their previous Special Five and the BL Four. She'd have to come up with a code name for this group. Two straight couples, two gay couples, and a threesome – this was going to be refreshing.
They already had a family of four with two boys aged seven and nine. The last room was taken by a local shopkeeper whose house was under major repair after a water pipe burst. He was rarely around.
The parents spent nearly all day, every day out touring the local sites and wearing their kids out with activities so they wouldn't be too rambunctious. They expected to go back to Tokyo into home isolation, so this would hopefully give the youngsters enough outside time to not drive their parents insane – at least not for a week or so of forced social distancing.
As the car door opened – a very fancy sedan for such young people – Seiko charged over with his cart to take their luggage and welcome them. Aoki waved hello, then retreated to the front desk so she could sign them in.
Kaidou Shima and Kanazuki Reiko. Kaidou Aki and Murata Ugetsu. Reiko had the little fox around her neck, black with a white mask on her face. Definitely a she-fox, from her “voice.”
::Greetings! Most excellent ryokan location! Magic energy flows well! Happy place!::
“Oh, my goodness! That's quite shocking, and I was prepared for it! Greetings, Izuna, and welcome everyone to the Suyasuya! Please, sign the register and we'll get you settled in your rooms.”
Seiko came down the stairs from dropping off their bags, whistling merrily. He gave his wife a peck on the cheek before going back to the woodcutting he'd abandoned.
Aoki led the way, pointing out the downstairs amenities first. “The living area – help yourself to any of the movies or books or games. We'll light the fire later – it's still very chilly at night up here. The dining room – dinner is served at 7 pm and breakfast at 9 am. If you won't be eating with us, please let me know ahead of time. I can also prepare you lunches if you wish, but that costs extra as lunches aren't included in the fees.”
“You saw the onsen, off to the right of the entrance behind the fence. It's mixed bathing at all times except between 4 pm and 6 pm it's women-only. Well, aside from you, Kanazuki, and Tatsumi, there is only one other woman here with her husband and two little boys. If she isn't around, or she agrees, then you can all use the onsen whenever you like.”
Upstairs, she headed left. “Room 5 is being used by a local with a housing issue. He only shows up to sleep. Kaidou and Murata are in 4,” she opened the door for them. “The toilets, showers, and sinks are across the hall. Internet connection code is next to the phone.”
“Room 3 is for Kanazuki and Kaidou. This was the room Tsuzuki and Hisoka shared. I thought you might like that.”
“Oh yes! Thank you! And please, call me Reiko,” Reiko said. The others echoed her, insisting on first names.
“Well, then. Room 2 will be for Tatsumi and Shinosuke and Room 1 for Shiba and Takamura-sensei. The um, three men will share the downstairs suite #2, and the family is in #1. That's it! I'll leave you to settle in.” She turned to go, then came back. “You all know about Michi and Eryu, yes? If they cause any real problems, please let me know, but I hope you'll be understanding about the pranks.”
“Of course! Don't worry – we're ready for them!” Reiko assured her.
::I will keep them in line!:: Izuna added.
“Haha, good luck, Izuna. But they're spending a lot of time playing with the two boys, so maybe they won't bother you very much. I'll see you all at dinner.”
Back downstairs, she went out into the yard to find her husband. He had chopped up a huge pile of wood and kindling and was resting on the stump, one ear tuned to the driveway.
“What a good-looking group. That Murata is a pretty fellow,” he commented.
“I like their energy – very positive. None of them seem like wild kids and Haru's been a good influence on his brothers. Did Izuna speak to you?”
“The fox? Asked me about the local wildlife. That felt weird in my head! I told her she didn't have anything to worry about – no big predators around. She laughed at me – dunno why.”
“Pfft! If she has magic, I don't doubt she can take care of herself. As a matter of fact-”
“I hear a car!” Seiko was off, Aoki trailing behind.
It was two cars. A plain sedan with the other two couples and a more expensive car with the threesome.
Aoki instantly adored Kanako and thought her handsome Todo was a perfect match. She did her best to reassure the nervous Takamura, who was doing his best to fade into the background despite being taller than everyone. His partner looked so much like Haru, only with dark hair and eyes, that she kept staring. Natsuo was trying to give the impression he was too cool for school but ruined it with obvious glances of concern for his boyfriend. Very sweet.
But the threesome. What a group! Hiroto's hair was spring green to match his flirting eyes, Isogai made her laugh with his wit and charm, and Ichimaru was an adorable big puppy. She hadn't known what to expect from them, but they were laid-back, friendly, and carefully casual with each other – at least in front of others. Kanako seemed close to Isogai who teased her like a big brother would. Nothing like her actual big brother, the intense professor with the long hair.
Leaving Seiko to chat with the three men, she showed the other couples to their rooms, giving them the same speech, pointing out the same areas. It was only when she mentioned the spirits that Takamura and Natsuo looked a bit confused.
Before she could go into more detail, Kanako interrupted. “Ah, they haven't spent a lot of time with the group, you see. Ren thought they would need a practical demonstration and Reiko has something planned for later tonight.”
Wants to make a big production out of it? I'm not sure Takamura will handle that very well. But Aoki only shrugged. Let them do as they wish. “Whatever you want, dear girl. You let me know if you need anything. Relax, explore, nap, bathe...I'll see you all at dinner.”
The threesome seemed very happy with their room. It was the one Yuki and Shuichi, Onoe and Kaburagi had used during their visits. King-sized bed, as requested, its own en suite toilet and shower, plus a private outdoor onsen as well as a bathtub in the room like all the others.
She did have one thing to point out to them, in particular. “Sirs, next door to you is a double suite, with two bedrooms and a bath and another small outdoor onsen. It is currently occupied by a family with two young boys. We are fully aware of your relationship, but...sound carries outside. The walls are thick enough. I don't want you to feel uncomfortable – I'm just not sure how your neighbors would respond. They don't know there is only one bed in this room.”
Isogai smiled at her. “Discretion. Don't worry, we will behave – no outdoor orgy!”
Aoki giggled. “Inside orgies only! With the door closed. The children are in the farthest room and the fence between the patios is solid so they can't peek. Anyway, their parents wear them out with activities all day and go to bed early, so it should be fine. I hate to impose these kinds of conditions, but you never know what people may find objectionable.”
“We understand completely. That you agreed to let us stay here, to begin with, is very kind of you and your husband. We won't do anything that would reflect poorly on you or the ryokan.”
She waved that aside. “We can survive any sort of bad talk, but it would be unpleasant for you. Dinner at 7 pm and it seems Reiko has some sort of initiation planned for the doctor and his companion later on. Until then, have fun.” Yes, very refreshing!
Chapter 8: Shima and Reiko
Shima and Reiko
No settling in was necessary – it was still early in the day. Kanako rounded everyone up and they trooped into the woods (or, Kanako herded them), holding hands and chatting and teasing and just enjoying the crisp mountain air and wide-open spaces. All the plants were budding or had fresh growth, there were no sounds of traffic, only their voices and nature.
“I want Dad to visit here,” Kanako sighed. “He would love this – spending all day lost, then coming back covered in dirt and creepy crawlies. But who would he come here with? You guys have to help me! Dad needs a girlfriend!”
“Isn't he interested in Dee Dee?” Shima asked. “Ooshiba Miho seemed interested in him.” He'd seen all three at the teachers meeting, trading glances.
“Dee Dee is too intimidating, I think, and she doesn't appear to return the interest. Miho would be perfect but she isn't the type to chase him. Dad is kind of clueless and talks too much about insects. He needs someone who will knock him down and sit on him.”
Everyone laughed at that image. Isogai said what no one else would. “Sit on his face?” They either roared or blushed up to their ears. Kanako's expression was priceless as she tried to be outraged. He turned to dash away.
“Isogai!” Kanako chased him. “Come back here! I'll kill you!”
“Todo!” Isogai called as he dodged around tree trunks and bushes. “Control your woman! Save me, Mister Policeman!”
“If I did that, you'd have to make room for me in your giant bed because she'd kick me out of ours.”
“Ooh! Would you squeeze between me and Yuuki?” Hiroto begged, fluttering his eyelashes. “Hmm, and Taichirou in handcuffs...?”
Todo ran, scooping up Kanako and taking her off to where they couldn't be seen, saving both himself and Isogai in the process.
“I see a butterfly!” Ugetsu said loudly. “Let's follow it!” He dragged Aki off for their own alone-time.
“I don't trust butterflies, after your story about the lovers in that song...” Aki protested as he was led away.
The trio linked arms and headed off in another direction. Takamura and Natsuo, already trailing behind the group, slowed even further until Reiko and Shima found themselves in an empty clearing. Then Reiko passed close enough to a tree for Izuna to leap off her shoulder and scamper up into its heights.
::Find you later!::
“Oi, we've been abandoned,” Shima said lightly. He gave Reiko's hand a squeeze. “Do you mind? We can head back to the little town if you'd like.” She'd been a little distant and quieter than usual on the drive up. He thought she was nervous to be alone with him.
“No, it's fine...” She kicked at a stone and avoided his meeting his eyes.
“Reiko. Talk to me.” Tell me what's wrong, he thought, not sure if she was listening in that way or not.
“DoyouthinkI'msexy?” she blurted out. He gaped at her in astonishment. “I'm sorry! It's just...Honey never even tried anything in four years and you haven't made any real moves either and now I've got a complex that maybe I'm just not...desirable in that way.” The last part was said in a barely audible mumble.
Crap! Here I was, trying to be a gentleman and go slowly and not scare her! He pushed her back against a tree and kissed her. Kissed her like he meant it. Kissed her and let her know exactly how desirable he found her to be.
She leaned into it, into him, wrapping her arms around his neck and opening her mouth for more. She moaned deep in her throat and into his mind as well, sending a shiver through him. That's amazing!
Catching his thought this time, she realized what she had done and tried to escape but he held her tight. No! Don't be shy with me. I want you. I...love you, Reiko. All of you. Words he hadn't been able to say out loud. But he could think them and she heard. You're beautiful and honest and enchanting and sweet and kind of scary when you fling things around with your magic. I just didn't want to pressure you. Plus, we haven't had any real opportunity before now. Not to do this right, to make it special.
::If it's with you, it will be special. Because I love you, too. And...I want you. You, not either of your brothers. You make me feel like I can do anything! You're everything I could ask for – even the glasses!:: She giggled out loud and his heart skipped a beat.
“I'm so glad!” she told him with her voice. “I was afraid this weekend was going to crush all my hopes.”
“Uh...I hope you don't have expectations I can't meet. I'll do my best but-”
“Don't be silly! I'm sure it's going to be perfectly perfect!”
Oh lord, she's read too much shoujo manga. He very carefully kept that thought to himself. She stepped out of his embrace and twirled in a circle, arms out wide. It was beyond adorable.
“I wonder if the Zashiki-Warashi will scatter sakura petals on the bed?” More giggles. “Pink candlelight! Fireworks?”
“Hmm?” Please, all the gods, don't let me ruin this for her.
“Well...it's just that...no, never mind!”
What is it? his brain screamed but she thankfully wasn't listening.
::Brazilian,:: popped into his head from Izuna somewhere nearby.
Huh? He got only a snicker.
::Reiko-sama is not so naive as she is silly with excitement. Baby-making will go excellent! No babies though,:: Izuna pouted. ::You have the condoms and she takes the medication as well. She isn't leaving anything to chance! Babies will have to wait, she says. So, practice only - for now! After dinner at night, I will go away, be back in the morning.::
Oh. That was something else that had been a consideration. Having sex with a mind-reading, intelligent, horny fox in the room – he was nervous enough as it was without having to perform for an audience. But what the hell did “Brazilian” mean? Was it some technique he didn't know about? Was Reiko expecting some kind of foreign acrobatics? Maybe he should look it up...
“Let's go to town and get ice cream,” she said, holding out her hand.
Let's go to bed and start practicing. But he didn't say that, he buried it. They went off to find ice cream and look at souvenirs and make the locals sigh with how lovely they were as a couple.
He would do things the right way, his way. Precisely, focused, careful. And passionate. Still waters ran deep in Shima and Reiko would be swept away by his very special, uniquely intense style of lovemaking. He'd discover what a Brazilian was without any online searching. Pink fireworks.
Note : This is actually Kiyoka from the Super Lovers anime -no good manga frames of Reiko.
Chapter 9: Ring Three Times
Ring Three Times
When the group gathered for dinner that evening, they met the family with the two boys. Nothing about them stood out, an average, middle-class feel to them. The boys managed to behave well enough for their ages, but Kanako saw them studying the group's seating arrangements.
“Do you all work together or attend the same school?” the mother asked, making polite conversation. “It must be nice to enjoy each other's company in this setting, rather than the daily grind of the city. You seem like a close-knit group.”
Kanako fielded the questions. “Reiko and I are going to the same school. Aki and Shima are twins and Natsuo is their cousin. Isogai and Hiroto are friends of my older brothers – I have four: Souichi, Tetsuhiro, Tomoe, and Mitsugu. Todo is friends with Natsuo and Ichimaru, Ugetsu is Aki's close friend and Takamura-sensei is a friend of Haru and Ren's school nurse and...”
She babbled on and on and tossed around so many names the family had no idea who was what. Isogai was snickering to himself while Takamura's shoulders went down and Ugetsu smiled in admiration. The family's eyes glazed over. If they had been trying to work out the pairings, they gave up. They finished eating quickly and excused themselves to go back to their suite for the night.
Once they were gone, the atmosphere shifted and the conversations became more personal. Everyone shared (some of) their afternoon activities and tossed around ideas for the next two days. When Aoki came in to clear the table, Kanako gave Todo a significant look. He patted her hand and offered to help. Aki and Shima jumped up as well as Ichimaru.
“Oh my! I won't turn down such a collection of handsome busboys!”
They disappeared into the kitchen while everyone else wandered over to the lounge area. Ugetsu and Takamura poked through the collection of books, Isogai and Hiroto joked about a past poker game. Natsuo teased Kanako.
“You have him well-trained, Kanako.
“Who? Todo? It wasn't me - that's just the way he is. I'm trying my best to corrupt him, but it isn't working. On our first few dates, he always set his alarm so he could get me home to my brother on time. He rescues kittens from trees, is never late for work, always answers my texts, doesn't get stupid drunk and say anything revealing...”
Natsuo laughed at her. “Are you complaining or bragging? Should we attempt to get him stupid drunk for you?”
She narrowed her eyes at him, then looked over to Takamura. “Not tonight. You'll want to be sober for what we have planned.”
“Is this the Iced Tea and Snacks initiation rite? Do we have to recite a pledge?”
“This is and isn't about the club. You're already members, but you're missing a key piece of information – a story. Once you've heard it, you'll be one of us completely. Not just IT&S, but nearly all the people connected to it have heard the story or are part of it in some way. We don't want you to feel left out or for others to avoid certain topics around you.”
“You've stirred up our curiosity, Kanako,” Takamura told her. “As long as I don't have to eat something nasty or make a fool out of myself.”
Reiko raised her head. “Why don't we all go out to the fire circle and get started?”
When they got outside, Seiko was already building a structure of branches and kindling. “I had a feeling you'd end up out here. Where's the rest of you?”
“On their way,” Reiko said, and a moment later the men appeared with Aoki and trays of steaming hot chocolates and coffees. Seiko lit the paper under the wood and carefully coaxed the fire into life.
Seiko had also set up folding chairs all around. When he and Aoki turned to leave, Reiko called them back. “You are important to the story. In fact, I think you should tell the first parts since you are the only witnesses here.”
“Oi, I'm no storyteller!” Aoki protested.
“Ha! Just pretend it's gossip!” her husband joked. She slapped at him.
“Okay, fine. *Last summer, our first weekend in business, we had four reservations and one unexpected arrival...” Her style of speaking was so everyday and cozy, that when she first mentioned Zashiki-Warashi it took a while to register on Natsuo and Takamura.
They exchanged glances, eyebrows raised. Kanako, seeing the expressions, laughed to herself. Aoki hasn't even gotten to the good parts yet! Soon, ghosts and agents of Death and spirit guardians were popping in and Natsuo was caught up in it but Takamura clearly had strong walls against accepting the existence of anything supernatural.
Aoki finally ran out of story along with her voice going raspy from all the talking. She had told them everything, not leaving out Michi's sad history. “That's my part. Now, it's your turn, Reiko.”
“Wait a minute!” Natsuo said. “You want us to believe all that? Spirit children and dead men solving mysteries and pink fireworks and snowmen and magic healing? Those two kids you mentioned are not real kids?”
“That's right,” Kanako said.
He turned to the trio. “You guys are in on this as well? This is some elaborate joke on us?”
“It's not a joke, Natsuo, Takamura-sensei. Listen to the rest, then I think you're getting a demonstration,” Isogai answered calmly.
“Let them have their fun with us, Natsuo. It's important to them for some reason.” Takamura crossed his arms and sat back in his chair. “Go ahead.”
The last section of the story was the wildest. A corpse-eating, shape-shifting cat, an evil ghost with a revenge plan, the return of the dead detectives, a magic battle in the attics of one of the most well-known families of Japan.
Kanako, even though she'd heard it before, still felt a thrill. And was beyond jealous over missing out. She'd arrived in town that same week but was busy moving in with Tatsumi and Morinaga and celebrating privately with Todo. I could have met Tsuzuki and Hisoka at Usami-sensei's party the next day! Grrr.
Reiko wrapped up and silence fell over the group, who all turned to look at Natsuo and the doctor. Takamura shrugged. “It's a good story. You even came up with an explanation for why you carry that fox everywhere.”
::A good story, yes. But not a tall-tale, no. Truth. Now for the fun!::
Takamura and Natsuo sat straight up. There was no hiding how shocking it was when Izuna first spoke into someone's head – everyone reacted visibly. Izuna ran down from Reiko's neck and up Takamura's pant leg.
::Hands!:: she demanded and he responded without thought, holding up his hands as if they were freshly scrubbed before a surgery. ::Lower.:: He obeyed, looking like someone begging for scraps. Izuna hopped onto his hands and he cupped them around her gently, gingerly. ::Up!:: He lifted her so they could see eye to eye.
Kanako knew Izuna was saying something privately to him. His face went through several expressions but ended with awe. Izuna touched her nose to Takamura's, then he handed her to Natsuo. Something similar went on between those two, leaving Natsuo looking peaceful with a small smile on his lips.
::Okay! Big surprise time! Shima-sama - mirror, please! Reiko-sama, center yourself and prepare. Michi and Eryu, you come now.:: Izuna resumed her perch on Reiko's shoulder.
Shima went into the ryokan and returned with a large wall mirror which he propped up on a chair so that it reflected the fire. Reiko directed everyone to shift around so they could look into the mirror from behind her. Out of nowhere, a tiny girl with pigtails and a little boy with rosy cheeks appeared to stand in front of Aoki and Seiko.
“I really hope this works - I've never tried it before,” Reiko told them, apologizing in advance in case she failed.
::Focus! Be precise in visualization!:: Reiko took several deep breaths, began to shimmer. Kanako felt the hairs stand up on the back of her neck, heard others shifting their weight as they sensed it too. Power gathered. The air crackled with it and the flames leaped and danced.
Reiko produced a little bell from her pocket and rang it three times. “Tsuzuki! Can you hear me? Hisoka? It's Reiko!” They waited, staring. “Um...if he can hear, he has to find a flame and a mirror...”
“Reiko? Is something wrong?” Two glowing purple eyes peered out at them, the rest of his face slowly coming into focus. Kanako and a few others gasped.
Tsuzuki Asato. None of the descriptions had done him justice. Aside from the beautiful symmetry of his features, caring and sweetness and love seemed to radiate from him. Tousled, chocolate-brown locks fell just so over his brow, his skin was like porcelain. Unearthly.
A second face pushed in beside him. A small face, a young face, dominated by intensely green eyes, also glowing with their own light. Kurosaki Hisoka, Tsuzuki's partner and lover. Eternally sixteen to Tsuzuki's twenty-six. “What is it? Hey, Reiko.”
“Hi! I did it! This is tricky!”
“Um...congratulations? So this is a courtesy call? No rampaging evil spirits? You're not under attack?” Tsuzuki's anxiety faded, his wide lips curved into a smile. “You've progressed a lot to be able to cast this spell!”
::Tsuzuki-sama! Most Handsome One! She does well, yes? I am a good teacher – praise me!::
Tsuzuki chuckled. “Good evening, beautiful Izuna. Most excellent teacher! Amazing – this uses a lot of power, Reiko. If you have something important to tell us, say it now before you collapse.”
“Izuna wanted to test me, Tsuzuki, that's all. And some of my new friends wanted to see you. Come here, Aoki, Seiko.” She waved them over.
Dazed, Aoki stared into the mirror, then gave the two a little wave. “Um...hi.”
“Oba-chan! Oji-chan! Look, Hisoka! She's at the Suyasuya! Heaven bless you two! And...?” Reiko adjusted the mirror a little so the nature spirits were also visible. “Oi! They look happy! Hello, Michi and Eryu!”
Michi blew him a kiss, Eryu stuck out his tongue, then they dashed off into the darkness.
“Haha! Cheeky as ever! Is everyone well? I know you're all safe at the ryokan, but back in Tokyo? We know about the illness – Meifu is preparing in case things get worse.” A shadow crossed his face at the thought of many people crossing over.
“We're all fine for now and hopefully we'll all stay that way,” Reiko told him. The image wavered a little.
“Oi. Time to wrap it up, Reiko. You're going to have a headache in the morning. Don't do this again anytime soon. As wonderful as it is to talk with you, I don't want you to strain yourself.”
::Don't worry, Tsuzuki-sama. Energy here to replenish hers. After this weekend, she won't be able to do nearly so much for a while. Ha!::
“Huh? Ooohhh. That Kaidou boy?” Reiko reached out and pulled Shima into view. “You be good to her.”
“Uh...I will. Promise.”
“Tsuzuki, say goodbye,” Hisoka urged. “It was good to see you again, everyone!”
Tsuzuki smiled and a tear slipped down his cheek, sparkling like a diamond in the firelight. “I miss you all! Take care!”
The mirror went back to being only a mirror and Reiko swayed, dizzy from the effort, no longer shimmering. Shima caught her, led her over to a chair and pushed her into it. She swatted at his fussing.
“I'm fine! Really. That was harder than I expected, but I'm okay. Didn't they look good? That was...Izuna! I contacted them! I did it! Eeeee!” The color came back into her face as she grinned with pride.
::Most excellent! Good focus! Reiko-sama is best student. Shima-sama, you take her to the onsen. Soak and relax. She recovers already. It is good. I'm going to explore.:: Izuna scampered off into the night.
Everyone was dazzled. Everyone exploded into excited chatter, even Natsuo and Takamura. Believers and converts to the “magic is real” club. That had gone beyond anything Kanako had expected. She thought Reiko would float a few things around and create a light again, not make a magic Skype call to the Underworld!
“To the onsen!” the trio cheered, locking arms with each other. They changed into bathing suits and the whole group sank into the steaming waters, noticing the rose petals floating all over the surface.
*The full stories are recounted earlier in the series – stories #19, #33, and #40.
Chapter 10: Takamura and Natsuo
Takamura and Natsuo
The excited chatter died down as the hot mineral waters did their work. Reiko was praised, Tsuzuki and Hisoka discussed like celebrities, lovers snuggled up and rubbed rose petals on each other, kisses were stolen or given or shared. In a different mood, there might have been an orgy.
But this wasn't that kind of night. This was a loving family sort of night. The shared experience bound these couples, just as the previous ones had linked together the Special Five and the BL Four and those who witnessed the epic Attic Battle of Leap Year Day (of this group, only the trio went upstairs with Reiko that night).
Even Shima, Aki, and Ugetsu were stunned by Reiko's demonstration. Floating snacks and a small light in the darkness were all very well, but not too impressive after the shock wore off. When she began with the mirror, it hadn't seemed like much. One face wavering in a mirror could be explained away – a trick of the light, a temporary hallucination, the talk of magic coaxing the mind into creating an image.
But Tsuzuki, and then Hisoka, spoke and moved and were altogether too random and unpredictable for some kind of scripted theatrics. They responded to questions and asked their own. If anyone had been holding onto a sliver of disbelief, tonight had blasted all doubts away.
Takamura leaned his head back on the stone edging and looked at the stars above them. He could feel Izuna's tiny-but-solid weight in his hands still. Hands that had heated up beneath her, tingled as if electricity waited just below the skin, stored in his finger bones like they were batteries. Fingers that now gripped Natsuo's under the cover of the water.
::Healer-sama. Fear death, yes? Not your own, but others. Twists in your stomach and breaks your heart. Over and over, starting with your young lover's mother. Your first lost patient.:: Izuna's voice had been so gentle, yet inescapable.
::Death is not the end, as you will learn tonight. Death is a release from the body in this world, that is all. It comes as a relief for many, an end to suffering. The dead don't blame you. You have a gift, in these hands, in your heart. Don't work out of duty, laden down with guilt, regret, anticipation of more darkness. Share your gift, for it was given not just for you. Natsuo doesn't blame you. He is Summer Life and warms your heart like the summer sun, yes?::
Her words were sinking in, attacking a mental wall he'd built long ago. Natsuo had cracked it, Izuna dissolved the mortar. Seeing and hearing Tsuzuki and Hisoka...the stones were crumbling.
“Reiko,” Takamura said into the comfortable quiet, “what did Tsuzuki mean when he said this place was safe?”
“Hmm? Oh, the Zashiki-Warashi guard and protect the ryokan and those who stay here. They can heal to some degree. If anyone comes in with the virus, it will break down and be gone within a day or two. We can't catch it here or pass it around and we won't be carrying it when we leave. Colds, the flu, small bacterial infections - those sorts of illnesses.”
She sat up straighter to face him. “They aren't miracle workers and you can't force them. I was warned very clearly – don't even think about driving up busloads of people for a quick cure. The spirits would be worn out or even leave. We are given a gift and to demand more would be to abuse them and what they do. Respect them, love them, and they will do what they can. That's all anyone can ask for. We should just be grateful for that much.”
“I understand. I was only curious.” All they can do. Asking for more is ungrateful. Just as he'd been ungrateful for his own talent, seeing only when it failed and not the positive effects of his skills and care. He had done all he could. Why did he demand more of himself than anyone in their right mind expected?
“Were you worried about infecting patients at the hospital when you start next week?” Natsuo asked him.
“Ah, no. I will be tested before they let me close to anyone. I've just been...well, dreading it, to be honest. But Izuna said some things to me that helped.”
“Oh? What did she say?”
“If she wanted you to know, she would have told you,” Takamura said dryly. “Or do you want to share what she said to you?”
“I don't mind,” Natsuo grinned at him. “It was all sorts of juicy details about how to seduce you!”
Takamura spluttered, then shoved Natsuo's head under the water and tried to escape while he thrashed around. But Natsuo grabbed an ankle and Takamura went under as well. They started a water fight and soon everyone was dunking and splashing and squealing and laughing.
Ugetsu and Hiroto swam like dolphins, popping up unexpectedly to toss people around. Ichimaru was very good at creating huge waves that swamped and knocked people over. Kanako and Reiko retreated to a corner and made bets, Todo standing guard over them. Aki and Shima teamed up. Isogai called out strategies, causing more chaos than being helpful.
Natsuo and Takamura were wrestling until they were pretending to wrestle as an excuse to be touching. “Should we go up to our room?” Natsuo whispered in Takamura's ear. Takamura nodded, unable to speak.
No one tried to stop them or said anything other than, “Good night!”
Natsuo deposited Takamura in their room, then grabbed his shower kit and retreated across the hall. He ignored the question on Takamura's face – Why take a shower when we just spent an hour in the water? This was something he couldn't do with an audience.
Nearly four months. They'd been dating that long and Natsuo loved Takamura more and more every day. He knew he was loved in return, whether Takamura said the words or not. But there was one last step they hadn't taken. They touched each other with hands and with mouths. It felt good, it was satisfying, they were comfortable with each other's bodies by now.
But. Or should he say, “Butt?” Natsuo snorted in the shower stall as he pulled out a few things he'd kept hidden in his bag. He'd practiced all this in private at home, so he knew what he was doing. Cleaning thoroughly, inside and out. That was weird, but he was getting used to it. Then...preparation of another sort. That was weirder. He hoped it would feel better if Takamura took over this task – if Takamura didn't scream and run away, that is.
Natsuo was convinced Takamura's resistance to anal sex came from a belief about cleanliness. He was a doctor, after all. Natsuo decided to take matters into his own hands - literally – and make himself both extra clean and already relaxed enough that Takamura wouldn't have to do anything other than wear a condom and enjoy himself.
Surely once they'd done it, the next time would be easier. If there was a next time. Natsuo was scared enough of Takamura's reaction that this was the third time he'd gone through all these preparations. The other two times, he had chickened out. Not tonight.
After this weekend, they'd most likely be separated by circumstances. Natsuo felt like they had to take the last step now or risk it all falling apart. So, he readied himself. Be pro-active! You can do this!
Back in their room, Takamura was laying on the bed, reading a book and already in his pajamas. “Are you feeling all right? You were in there a long time.”
Oh god, he thinks I was in there being sick. Exactly the opposite, dummy! “I'm fine. I stopped in the hall to talk. Never mind, I'm sorry I kept you waiting.”
“There's no rush. It's not like we have to wake up early tomorrow.” Takamura set the book aside, turned off the bedside light. That left the candles beside the bed, burning with a pink flame. He smiled. At least someone is rooting for me.
Natsuo let his robe drop to the floor, deliberately set a bottle of lube and condoms within reach, then crawled on top of Takamura and yanked off his pajamas.
“Natsumph!” Kissing Takamura drove away all Natsuo's reservations. Takamura always kissed him with none of the hesitation he showed in other situations. Once they began, he gave in to what his body wanted. And his body wanted Natsuo's, no matter that they were both men, or that Takamura was thirteen years older, or any other excuse he could come up with.
This was the truth between them. Natsuo ached for Takamura and Takamura craved Natsuo's touch. Not only sexual, their connection. Natsuo felt calmer, settled when Takamura was near. Though Natsuo hid it well, he'd lost his mother too early, his father was a no-good flake who dragged him to Hawaii after stealing money from their Kaidou relatives, then left Natsuo to his own devices.
Natsuo had loved Haru when they were just preteens – Haru was the brother and soulmate and idol he'd always wanted, his constant companion and comfort as Natsuo watched and waited for his mother to die in the hospital. Then Haru was drawn in by the twins' jealous tantrums, leaving Natsuo alone again.
The nice intern who made time to speak with Natsuo and bought him popsicles couldn't fill the same role. Once his mother was gone, there were no more visits to the hospital or popsicles. Natsuo stopped trusting in anyone. He relied on himself only. He was restless, had no one and no place to call home. Always alone. A loner. Lonely.
In Takamura's arms, he found his home at last. Trusted at last. Wasn't alone anymore. And Takamura was still that nice intern, underneath the gruff exterior and lack of words and cynicism. Takamura soaked up Natsuo's years of pent-up emotions like a thirsty sponge and held them close.
They needed each other. They wanted each other. Natsuo felt it in his soul. And what he wanted, he went after.
He moved from kissing Takamura's lips to his neck, his collarbone, his chest. He brushed lips across a stiffened nipple and sucked on it, making Takamura moan.
“Shh! You just lay there and let me do all the work this time.”
He slid lower, nipping at skin and leaving kiss marks scattered across Takamura's stomach, then his inner thighs. As he took Takamura into his mouth, he had a moment of doubt. Did I prepare enough? I may have underestimated. Oh hell, I can take it. He concentrated on Takamura.
He discreetly stroked himself at the same time, sure that he would need to also be fairly aroused to enjoy the next part. When he guessed they were both ready, Natsuo reached for the condoms and lube. They often used them to keep from making a mess, so Takamura didn't think anything of it.
He used his mouth to slide the condom down Takamura's erection, dribbled the lube over it and then his fingers and checked himself. Here goes, I guess. Before he could think any more about it, Natsuo straddled Takamura's hips and lowered himself down.
Takamura froze beneath him, eyes flying open. Natsuo shut his own eyes and took deep breaths. Relax, relax! Christ, he's thick! “Ngh!” The small grunt escaped his clenched teeth as he continued to take Takamura deeper.
“Shut up, I'm concentrating here.” He laughed at himself and then gasped as Takamura shifted beneath him. “Don't move! Please, don't move yet if you can help it.” Argh, this burns. But...he's in. Inside me. Oh. My. God. Natsuo leaned over and thrust his tongue into Takamura's mouth, needing a distraction.
It helped. His straining muscles loosened as Takamura kissed him and they panted into each other's mouths and Takamura's hands caressed his lower back and sides.
“Are you okay? Should we stop? Natsuo...I...”
“Don't you dare waste all my efforts. I'm fine. Ah, Shirou! It feels good. I mean, it kind of hurts, but I don't care because it's you.” He raised himself up a little, pushed back down. Better. He was getting used to it. He moved again. And again. “Unn...” That was not a moan of pain. “Is it...do you like this?”
“How can you ask that?” Takamura's voice was rough. “It's beyond anything. So tight, Natsuo! And hot, you're like a furnace inside. I want...I want to move but I'm afraid to hurt you.”
“It's okay now. I'm good. Fuck me, Shirou. I want it, I want you.”
“Damn!” Takamura rolled them. He slid almost totally out then thrust back in.
Natsuo, acting instinctively, moved his legs, wrapping one around Takamura's waist and the other so his knee was pressed to his chest. It changed the angle, and this time Takamura's thrust rubbed against his prostate. Pleasure like an electric shock shot through his body, making his toes curl and his breath catch.
“Ahh! That...Do that again!” Takamura did it again, over and over until Natsuo was constantly moaning and begging for more. He clutched at Takamura's shoulders, tears leaking out from the intensity of it all.
“Hah! Oh! Nat...suo! I'm...I'm...!”
Natsuo and Takamura's hand met at Natsuo's cock, both stroking it as Takamura sped up his thrusting and then convulsed on top of him and deep within him.
Natsuo, watching Takamura's face as he came, went over the edge himself a moment later, spurting out onto their chests. “Shirou! Ahhh!”
As Natsuo's senses slowly returned along with his breath, he registered that last noise. “What...was that?”
Takamura had slumped over, his head resting on Natsuo's chest. “Huh? Are you...was that...?”
“If you couldn't tell from all the crying for more and the huge orgasm I just had...”
“I was a little distracted by my own.”
“You made a weird noise at the end.”
“I did?” Takamura raised his head. “Oh. You squeezed me so tight it hurt a little.”
“Like this?” Natsuo made an effort.
“Urk!” Though his erection was softening, Takamura was in that ultra-sensitive, post-climax phase.
Natsuo giggled as Takamura slid out before he could do it again. He felt drunk. His ass ached and he knew his back was going to be complaining the next day and it had been wonderful and totally worth it.
A bit of clean-up, then Takamura pulled Natsuo into his embrace. “Why, Natsuo? Why like this?”
“I couldn't wait anymore, Shirou. You kept dodging it, but I needed to be yours finally, completely.”
“I meant...Uh...I was going to be the one...receiving. I was trying to work up the nerve to let you.”
Natsuo was glad Takamura couldn't see the shock on his face from their position. He'd just assumed. It wasn't that he was worried about cleanliness? I'm an idiot.
“We'll do that next time.”
Natsuo laughed softly. “I'm kidding. Whatever you want, Shirou. Whenever you want. Just make that noise again.”
Natsuo blew out the very pink candle flames and fell asleep in his lover's arms. The last remnants of Takamura's wall blew away like dandelion fluff.
Chapter 11: Aki and Ugetsu
Aki and Ugetsu
Friday, everyone played tourist. Seiko drove them out to the waterfalls, up to the volcano, around to the temple. If Natsuo walked a little stiffly, no one commented. When Reiko happened to blush at random moments, no one pointed it out. Kanako had already pulled her aside first thing after breakfast for a girl-huddle full of giggles and whispering.
By the afternoon when they returned to the ryokan, the whole group was exhausted. Several retreated to their rooms for a nap. Ugetsu and Aki, Takamura and Natsuo, Shima and Reiko took advantage of Aoki's special gift from Usaka and watched A Second Chance at First Love while sprawled out in the lounge.
Aki drifted off to sleep halfway through, his head on Ugetsu's shoulder. Ugetsu smothered a laugh – Aki was too cute when he snored and snuffled like a dog having an exciting dream. Tonight would be their one-week anniversary. One week ago, they'd been nothing more than friends. On the surface anyway. He couldn't quite believe he'd fallen in love so quickly. Not that either of them had used that word yet.
Why am I keeping track of dates like a stupid teenager? One-week anniversary, of all things! Still, it was a milestone of a sort. He and Akihiko had never officially started dating, just flowed into it until they had somehow become inseparable. Other people Ugetsu slept with didn't count, in his mind. They were merely convenient or distracting or amusing. None of them had ever seen more than Ugetsu wanted them to see.
Aki had seen him vulnerable and didn't laugh or pity or take advantage. He didn't even say anything but went ahead and gently encouraged, guarded, scolded. And when Ugetsu asked, he gave Ugetsu space. No whining, no begging, no demanding. He didn't see Ugetsu the Violin Prodigy or Ugetsu the Fuckable, he saw Ugetsu the Normal Human Being with issues like everyone else.
Because of Aki, Ugetsu now had a television, a Playstation console, and was learning to cook. He could go outside again without sweating in fear. He had a new circle of friends, none of whom expected him to perform for them in any way but appreciated his music when he did. He was a gift Ugetsu didn't want to take for granted. So, one-week anniversary.
Should I do something special? Like what? I can't cook him dinner here. Flowers are for girls. He likes sweet things...
The movie ended and Ugetsu wiggled his shoulder up and down. Aki's head stuck to it. “Kai? Wakey wakey!”
Beside them, Shima snorted. “Poke him in the gut.”
“Ugetsu, why do you call him 'Kai'?” Reiko asked.
“I have an ex I called Aki, and I know a couple of others. I wanted to call him something without the baggage.”
“Oh. I like it. Sorry for being nosy.”
“I don't mind. Kai?” he slid out from under Aki's head and Aki just slumped over onto the couch.
“I told you - you have to poke him. Or smack him. Or yell in his ear really loudly.”
“But if I do that he'll be mad at me and grumpy. I'll let you do it!”
Ugetsu dashed off toward the kitchen. He wanted to consult with Aoki about sweets and found her just beginning dinner preparations.
“Would you mind if I watched? I'll help, too - I'm not very good at cooking but I'm trying to learn.”
She swiped a brush over pieces of salmon, covering them in some kind of sauce. “This is the marinade. You can put it on at the last minute, or earlier and let it sink in for a while. Some marinades are best when you soak the meat in them overnight. Was there something in particular you wanted to ask me about?”
“Do you make desserts as well? Baking? Or is there a bakery in town?”
“Special occasion? You should have told me sooner. I only have ice cream for tonight."
Ugetsu glanced around to make sure no one was near. “Today is...We've been dating a week, as of tonight. Should I do something? I don't know...I didn't think about it until too late, I guess.” Shit, I sound like a moron.
“It's never too soon or too late for being thoughtful. Hmm. Follow the driveway down to the main street – use one of the bicycles if you want. Turn left and go a block and you'll find the Candyman. Tell him I said he should give you the special. Also grab two boxes of the rice candies. The kids – Michi and Eryu – really like those. If you give Michi and Eryu theirs personally, they will repay you in their own way.”
Using her directions and one of the bikes, he was only gone about 20 minutes. The candy store she'd sent him to was filled with colorful piles and jars and boxes and the sweetness in the air almost choked him. The “special” was a little gold-wrapped box with a sparkly ribbon and a tiny blank card. The shopkeeper wouldn't tell him what was inside, just swore whoever received it would be happy.
Shrugging, Ugetsu tucked it, along with the rice candy boxes, into his pocket and cycled back. The hill was a bit steep, reminding him once again that he needed to start some kind of exercise regimen. As he put the bike back in place, huffing and puffing, he caught movement from the corner of his eye. Michi and Eryu.
She wore a big grin and he wore a fierce scowl. It made Ugetsu want to pinch his rosy cheeks, he was so adorable. Kneeling, Ugetsu held out the two boxes of candy like an offering, then he wondered if maybe they wouldn't approach. But no, Michi skipped right over and snatched them. Eryu stomped over and gave Ugetsu something in return – a grasshopper. Then he chased after Michi who was running away with their treats.
Ugetsu stood up, staring at the bug. “Err...not exactly what I was expecting.”
“Why are you talking to a grasshopper? And where did you go? Shima kicked me! Aren't you supposed to guard me in my sleep or something?” Aki's hair was smashed flat on one side and he looked just as grumpy as Eryu. Ugetsu let the insect escape and pinched Aki's cheeks. “Hey! Stop that!”
“Too cute!” Ugetsu followed the pinch with a kiss. “I was running an errand for Aoki, sleepyhead. I liked the movie. I felt like I knew those people...”
Aki smirked. “You met many of them last week. The little girl? That's Hiyori.”
Aki and Ugetsu went into the ryokan, gossiping about the people who inspired the movie's plot. Opening the door to their room, they found a surprise waiting.
The room was draped with blooming honeysuckle vines and rose petals were scattered across the bed. The gold box Ugetsu would have sworn was still in his pocket was resting on Aki's pillow. I thought all I was getting was the grasshopper!
Bemused, Aki picked up the box and read the little card. “'1 st of many'? This isn't your handwriting. It looks like a child's...”
“I bought it. For you. But I didn't sign the card. I was going to give it to you later. It's nothing much. It's not enough. I don't know, Kai. A week ago I didn't think any of this was possible.”
“First week of many? Is that a promise?”
“It's a wish? A hope.”
“Let's call it a plan.” Aki took Ugetsu into his arms. “Thank you for a wonderful week. And all the ones to come. Many, many more.”
“A lot more,” Ugetsu whispered, just before their lips met. They got rose petals stuck all over them.
After celebrating, already late for dinner, Aki insisted on opening the box. “You don't even know what's in it?” he asked, pulling on the ribbon. “Oh.” He laughed. “It's Pocky?”
It was similar to Pocky, a homemade version. An amazingly tasty version dipped in dark chocolate and dusted with gold powder. They played the Pocky game and almost missed dinner entirely.
Chapter 12: The Gift of a Curse
The Gift of a Curse
Dinner was excellent. They met the elusive Harada, who owned a pottery shop and made all the pieces himself. He also held a class once a week where people could come in and make their own ashtray or coffee mug or a lump resembling their pet dog.
The family was looking worn out, both parents and boys. They were leaving tomorrow and clearly would need a vacation day at home to recover from their vacation.
Once again, the group went out to the fire circle for the evening. No magic displays though. “Why?” Kanako asked. “Izuna said something about that last night - that you'd be weak for a while? Did calling Tsuzuki drain your...reserves?”
Reiko blushed - they could all see it even with only firelight. “Um...magic uses a person's energy, mostly. Both the body's natural energy and magical energy which only magic users have. Um, magical energy doesn't start generating in a person until they hit puberty, then it has no outlet until they learn to channel it. So it builds up. There is one other way to release some of it...err...”
Izuna took over. ::Virgins create and hold much magic energy. A lot. When they start baby-making - whoosh, away it goes. All burned up in bed. Their First Night is very important for a magic-user – or should be. After that, not so much is used up in bed but it always takes time to build up again. A magic-user who wants to do a really powerful spell will stop the fun for a while.::
Reiko hid her face, and even Shima blushed.
“Oooh! Sorry I asked, Reiko!”
::Is natural. Everyone here does the fun, so why be embarrassed? Last night, you-::
“Izuna! You hush!” Reiko scolded. “Honestly! Don't foxes have any sense of privacy?”
::Pfft! Kudagitsune all have mental link and share the fun! Announce it with loud screaming and-::
Izuna, miffed, ran off into the night. ::I go talk with civilized creatures!::
Time to shift the conversation. Ugetsu jumped up and said, “Be right back.” He returned with his violin and everyone smiled to see it.
“I'll be over there,” he gestured into the darkness. As he had for the Hanami party, Ugetsu found a nice spot beneath the trees just out of sight. He wanted to recreate the experience. Knowing the audience was there, hearing but not watching, had given him an extra level of enjoyment in the performance.
What to play tonight? The usual scales, the children's songs, the Irish jig, warmed him up. Deciding on a piece, he launched into Czárdás by Vittorio Monte. Based on a Hungarian folk song, the piece called to mind drinking around a campfire like theirs, only this song was more about getting plastered. By turns slow and melancholy, then wild and frantic, then slow again and sweet, then crazy. All the different types of drunkenness. It was fun to play.
That put him in the mood for the Fiddler on the Roof theme. But halfway through it, he heard a sudden burst of chatter and had to go see what was happening.
Everyone had crowded around a young woman. A young woman wearing a kimono covered in flowers, and beside her stood a very large, ugly cat. She turned to Ugetsu and bowed deeply.
“Forgive me for interrupting your music. It was beautiful. Some other time I should like to play with you. I am Kouchin, one of Tsuzuki's shikigami, and I specialize in music, you see. I usually play a *biwa.”
“Uh...don't worry about it.” He bowed back. How do you act with a shikigami? She's magic, right?
::She's a minor goddess. And don't worry about it. She's not stuck-up or stupid.::
That did not come from Izuna. The cat. It was the cat talking in his head.
“Kasha, I see you still love the word stupid,” Reiko said with a combination of humor and spite.
::That's right, not-so-stupid, no-longer-a-virgin girl.::
“Grrr!” Reiko actually growled at him.
A giant glowing white tiger strolled over from the shadows, Michi and Eryu perched on his back and kicking their heels into his sides. “Hurry this up. We should not be here at all. Deliver the gifts, so we can go back before anyone notices we are missing.”
The tiger. Spoke. Out loud. Like a person would. Ugetsu thought his eyes might pop out of his head. That is Byakko from the story. And Kasha the bakaneko. The corpse-eating cat.
“You're no fun, Byakko. What's the point in sneaking out with stolen goods if we aren't going to make it worth the punishment?”
“Tsuzuki and Hisoka pay the price, not us. Tsuzuki already has his pay docked for the next one hundred years. He'll drive us crazy with whining if we cost him any more.”
Kouchin laughed – a laugh like bells ringing. “Truth! His whining is very not cute. Here,” she held out a stack of small papers to Reiko. “And this,” she pulled out a small bottle of red ink.
Kasha had the last gift, a calligraphy brush, tied to his neck.
Byakko spoke again. “There is a warning. Take heed, Reiko. These are for only those who can keep a secret. Once you make the ofuda, some of your power will go into each one. Do not be hasty, do not distribute them unwisely. Do not drain all your energy on making them at once. They will last six months at most, will fade sooner depending on how many people live in the home. Copy precisely. They go on the inside of a front door – a residence only. No businesses, no apartment building front entrances. Homes only.”
Reading the script on the top paper, Reiko's face drained of all color. “I...I'll be very careful! I promise! Oh, Byakko! This is...Do you know what this does?”
“I do, that is why I warn you. Very old, the wording. Lost or unknown to most people. But ofuda are Tsuzuki's specialty and he adapted it for you. Guard the secret – there are people who would kill for this right now.”
Byakko laid down and Michi and Eryu hopped off his back. He nodded then vanished in a puff of white light.
::See you around, stupid-girl.:: Kasha winked out like an electric spark.
“Reiko, I warned you about Izuna.” Kouchin grinned at her, then waved and disappeared in a shower of flower petals.
“What did she mean?” Hiroto asked.
A scream split the night. A distinctly fox-like scream.
“Uh oh.” Reiko gave them a half smile. “Many baby Izunas, incoming!”
“And those papers?”
“Ofuda. Talismans. This one is a curse - a very specific curse. It curses the coronavirus. But this is not...I can't just scribble the words on sticky notes and slap them on every doorway.”
“My god!” Takamura breathed. “You mean it will cure it?”
“Just like here at the ryokan, any home with this on the front door will be protected and all the people who pass through the door will be...cleansed. But each time it works, some of the power is consumed. The ink will fade until the paper is blank.”
“That's why all the warnings. People would kill for that. How many of them did he give you?”
“Only one is written out. I'll have to copy it onto the others, then feed each with a bit of power. There are maybe...” she did a quick count, “thirty precious, rare, Meifu papers. And the special ink and the special brush. Gods and goddesses! How do I choose? And do I give away all of them now, or keep back half for when the first batch runs out of power? I...I have to think about this.”
Takamura took her by the shoulders. “Reiko, don't think too much. Let your heart choose. You can't give one to each household in the whole country or even the city. You can't be fair about this. Start with your home, then Shima's and go on from there. People you love, people you can trust, people who won't abuse the gift or demand more from you. We should not become reliant on something like this anyway – that would be careless. Think of them like very effective, home-made face masks, not miracle cures.”
Ugetsu listened and understood what the doctor was saying. He desperately wanted one of the ofuda but knew that would be a waste. He lived alone and could keep free of the virus simply by using common sense and caution.
If she offers me one, I'll turn it down. Ugetsu, who only weeks ago had been nearly crippled with fear, had overcome his budding phobia with the help of friends and a new love.
*Biwa – A Japanese lute, usually the strings are plucked or strummed with a large plectrum (hand-sized, not small like a guitar pick).
Chapter 13: Ichimaru, Isogai, and Hiroto
Ichimaru, Isogai, and Hiroto
The group split up soon after and drifted away to their rooms. Too much excitement, too much to think about.
In the trio's suite, the large bed had been sprinkled with...dirt?
“What is that?” Ichimaru asked, getting closer and then scooping up a few of the little lumps. “Oh, it's some kind of tiny flowers.” He sniffed. “Smells okay. Kind of familiar, but I don't know much about flowers.”
“I was hoping for rose petals!” Hiroto sighed dramatically.
Isogai sniffed as well, then got a strange look on his face. “Lavender. This is lavender. Soothing, relaxing, helps you sleep. People make pillows filled with the dried flowers.”
“Weird.” Ichimaru shrugged. “Does Michi think we aren't sleeping properly? Is one of you having nightmares and not telling? It's not me – I sleep like the dead.”
“We know that!” Hiroto told him, with a playful spank. “Maybe everyone got lavender tonight because that visit was unsettling. I don't envy Reiko having to choose who gets an ofuda. My first instinct would be to plaster them all over Mon Chaton. And then I'd feel horribly guilty for even thinking like that and I'd give them away to senior citizens.”
“I think Takamura's advice was the best. After all, if we stay home and take care, we shouldn't catch it anyway. If we did catch it...well. The three of us are healthy and would recover, I'm sure. The ofuda are just another safety measure. I'm going to take a shower.” Isogai went into the bathroom and shut the door.
Hiroto and Ichimaru exchanged glances. “Okay,” Ichimaru said, “he's been acting weird, right? It's not just in my head?”
Hiroto agreed. “All day today. I can't put my finger on it. He's distracted, not upset. Tense, but trying to hide it. Something he doesn't want us to know? Some confession he's planning? He's always been good at deflecting but this seems more like outright avoidance.”
“Maybe he has news but doesn't want to ruin the weekend so he's trying to save it for when we get home?”
“I don't know but I've had enough. We're going to pry it out of him tonight. I think the lavender is a message for him. He needs to relax about whatever the issue is. Follow my lead, alright?”
Ichimaru was relieved when Hiroto took charge. He was a bartender, after all, and bartenders were known for listening and getting people to open up about their problems. Isogai would be a hard nut to crack, but Hiroto had the skills necessary.
Damn, he loved them both, but if a relationship with one person was complicated, two people somehow quadrupled the complications. Kousuke would take issue with my math, but it's true. Sometimes...sometimes I wonder if three is not the right number for us. But do we cut down to two, or add another to make four?
No! I couldn't bear it! Hiroto will get Taichirou to talk and everything will be fine. One of Ichimaru's strengths was his trust in the people he loved. He trusted them and they responded by doing their best to be worthy of that trust.
When Isogai finished his shower, Ichimaru went next. Hiroto took his turn, leaving Ichimaru to his own devices for a short time. Ichimaru mentioned Ugetsu's playing and how he didn't really like classical music but it was okay once in a while.
“You're a savage,” Isogai teased him. “J-pop dance tunes and anime theme songs are all you listen to.”
“Well, all you like is American old-people rock and roll.” Ichimaru could sling it right back.
“Classic rock! Classic! Not old-people! Get off my lawn, you brat!” Isogai chased Ichimaru around the room. They climbed over the bed, shoved chairs aside, knocked over the table. It ended with Ichimaru pinned to the floor in some judo hold he had no idea how to break free of. That was okay with Ichimaru – he liked being pinned down by Isogai and Isogai had lightened up.
Hiroto found them that way, laughing and panting. He raised an eyebrow. “Starting World War III?”
“Discussing different musical styles.”
Looking at the churned up bed and the rest of the mess, Hiroto shrugged. “Love songs are the best songs, whether they be played by violin, sung by aging rockers, or acted out by cartoon characters.” He rummaged around in his oversized bag – Hiroto brought too many clothes – telling them, “Get naked.”
“What?” That was a little direct, even for Hiroto.
Hiroto waved what he'd been looking for – a bottle of scotch. “Get naked and get in the water. Let's drink and stare at the stars and wax philosophical over music or something.”
Ichimaru preferred beer but was being taught to appreciate the finer things by his elders – except for music. They all sank into their private little onsen and sipped. Isogai produced a cigar and puffed on it as he drank.
When Hiroto and Ichimaru were still nursing their first glass and Isogai was halfway through his second, Hiroto struck like a bolt of lightning. But with better aim. His arm shot out, straight into Isogai's crotch. Not to tease him, not to arouse him.
“Tell us what is wrong or I'll make sure this won't function for the rest of the weekend!”
Ichimaru choked and sputtered scotch into the water. That was not the approach he'd expected Hiroto to take.
“That would be a shame – I had such plans for it.” Isogai tried to joke. Then he winced as Hiroto gave a warning squeeze. “Please let go. I'll talk.”
Hiroto studied Isogai's face, then released him. Isogai gulped down the rest of his scotch and set aside his cigar. He put one arm around Hiroto's shoulders and pulled him close, then held out the other. “Come here, Yuuki.”
Ichimaru snuggled up to his side, sharing a look with Hiroto who didn't seem to know what to think either.
“I've been thinking about you two for a while now and I made up my mind to do something this weekend but I'm very close to chickening out.” He took a deep breath and looked up at the sky. Ichimaru had the sudden urge to run away without hearing this.
“I don't think it's fair. I want...I want us to be fair. To be equals.”
“Huh?” Hiroto spoke for both of them. “Aren't we? We share the rent three ways, the bills, the bed. We do everything together and are careful not to leave any one of us out. I don't feel cheated in any way. Do you, Yuuki?”
“No. I have no idea what you're talking about Taichirou. We couldn't be more equal, could we?”
“I don't...You guys haven't...I'm always on top.”
Ohhhhhh! Shit. That's what he's been all weird about? Ichimaru turned and slugged him. Not all that hard, but Isogai was caught off-guard.
“Oof! What was that for?”
“Idiot! I thought you were going to break up with us! Jerk! Stupid!” Ichimaru hit him again. Hiroto got in a few of his own.
“Shit! Ow! Why am I being assaulted? How could either of you think that? I love you. Both of you, damn it! I want you to do to me whatever you like. But...I'm kind of scared. I don't know why - it's stupid, right? I-mph!”
Hiroto kissed his mouth shut, shoving Isogai onto Ichimaru's lap and then straddling them both. Isogai went a little wild, as he always did when he'd been drinking and Hiroto was involved. Ichimaru bit at Isogai's neck and let his hands wander over both bodies, stroking, pinching, squeezing.
With the water making them nearly weightless, Ichimaru lifted both of them just enough to position his cock so it would be trapped beneath Isogai's ass and could slide along the crack between his cheeks. He pushed them forward and back, even as they ground against each other. But when he slid them a little too far forward, Ichimaru's cock took the opportunity to bob upward a little and make a jab right at Isogai's...
“Eh?! Wait!” No amount of alcohol or kissing Hiroto was enough to keep Isogai from noticing that.
“Sorry! That was...I wasn't going to just ram in it!”
“I know. I know. I told you...I'm nervous...”
“Let's go inside. We can't do more – of anything – out here.” Hiroto drew Isogai along and Ichimaru followed in a daze. They dried off and climbed onto the bed.
He's really going to let us – Hiroto, it should be Hiroto - let Hiroto top him? A desire Ichimaru had kept buried very deep in his heart surged up and had to be smothered.
On their sides, Isogai in the middle facing Ichimaru this time, they started again with kissing and touching.
“Taichirou, you stop us at any time you need to – promise?” Hiroto said. “This isn't the type of thing we have to rush or that you should be freaking out during.”
“Okay. I'm okay if we go slow.”
“Who, Taichirou? Which of us?”
“Uh...doesn't matter. Either one.”
Hiroto reached out and placed his hand on Ichimaru's head, guiding him downward. Ah, I'll use my mouth and keep him distracted a little. Ichimaru kissed and licked and bit his way from Isogai's mouth to his cock, pausing for a moment on his nipples, then putting his tongue to work. He added his hand, squeezed Isogai's balls softly, swirled his tongue just so.
Hiroto gently moved Isogai's leg up over Ichimaru's shoulder, spreading his legs. Ichimaru felt Isogai react when Hiroto touched him, heard him gasp as a finger slid inside. He knew it felt weird the first time. A finger didn't hurt but it was definitely a strange feeling.
“Relax, Tai. Breathe. You feel so good inside...” Hiroto knew what to say, what to do, how to pace himself for Isogai's sake. “That's good. Just let it happen...”
“Ahh!” Isogai's whole body shuddered when Hiroto found his prostate. “Oh god. Back and front...too much! I can't...”
“Yuuki, ease off. Kiss him again.”
Ichimaru obeyed happily. He latched onto Isogai's mouth, ran his fingers through Isogai's hair then pulled him on top and held him close. “Love you, Taichirou. We love you. Okay? Hold on to me.”
Isogai nodded as his legs were eased apart and Hiroto continued to prepared him. He tensed and relaxed, he moaned and rubbed against Ichimaru and froze occasionally. They kissed him and caressed him and gave him the time to adjust when he needed it.
It might have seemed to a voyeur that they were dragging things out, or that they might get bored or frustrated with the slowness of it all. But for Ichimaru, it wasn't like that at all. It was sensual, it was tender. Holding Isogai in his arms was always amazing, but to have him lay passively or even grip him for reassurance was heartwarming and sexy in its own way.
He – they – wanted Isogai to have the best experience possible. His pleasure, his body came first and they gave themselves up to that. Theirs would come later – that was how it should be.
“Taichirou?” Hiroto asked.
Ichimaru, Isogai's face pressed to his chest, looked up as Hiroto leaned over them and nodded. Hiroto grasped Isogai's hips and pressed inside, biting his lip and straining to go slowly, carefully.
“Ngh!” Hiroto froze. “No, don't stop.” Hiroto slid deeper. Ichimaru felt Isogai's thundering heartbeat, felt his panting breaths. Fingers gripping his arms were leaving bruises to show up later.
“That's it. That's all.” Hiroto kissed Isogai's back, his neck.
“All? Ha! That's plenty!” Even now, Isogai joked.
“God, don't laugh!” Hiroto said. “You tighten up and you're already so fucking tight! I'm going to lose my mind if you do that.”
Isogai took a deep breath, released it slowly. And another. One more. Then he pushed back into Hiroto who gasped before starting to move. Smoothly, out and then back in. Again. Again. Slightly faster. Hiroto adjusted his angle and got a response.
“Ahh! Fuck! There...”
Hiroto did it again and Isogai moaned and Ichimaru moaned in response. Just the sound of Isogai's voice, the intensity of Hiroto's eyes – it was erotic as hell. Shifting slightly beneath Isogai, Ichimaru's cock rubbed against Isogai's with each thrust of Hiroto's and he had to keep himself from bucking up into them.
As the pace increased, Hiroto suddenly pulled Isogai back a little so he was on his knees instead of laying on Ichimaru. Freed, Ichimaru wiggled so that he could kiss Isogai again, catch the cries of pleasure with his mouth. He reached down to grip himself, his hand brushing Hiroto's as he stroked Isogai's erection.
“Is it good, Taichirou? Hiroto's inside you, isn't it amazing?”
“Yes! I'm...god...close! Huh!”
“Come, Tai! Come for us! It's so hot! Oh...unnngh!”
Ichimaru came first and Isogai right after, pushed over the edge by the sound of Ichimaru's voice as he came. Their semen mixed on both stomachs and they kissed and listened to Hiroto come moments later.
“You two are...That was...Ahh! Hah!”
Ichimaru laughed, then hiccuped. “What was that noise? Hic! Damn it.”
“It...I felt him...pulsing inside. It was weird. Not bad. Unexpected. Ooh!”
Ichimaru knew what that noise meant. Hiroto sliding out. They fell over sideways, back to their starting positions. Isogai squirmed onto his other side so he could kiss Hiroto. Softly, unlike his usual forcefulness when their lips met.
“Thank you. I'm sure that wasn't easy for you – to be so careful with me.”
“It was worth it, lover. You are always worth it. Sooo,” Hiroto's voice grew teasing, “are you converted? Going to bottom all the time now?”
“All the time? No.” Isogai laughed. “Part of all that struggle was me trying very hard not to toss you off and then push you down. But once in a while...yes. And for Yuuki, too. Because now we're truly, absolutely, completely equals. I'm yours and you are mine and nothing holds any of us back from now on.”
“Oh good! It's my turn!” Ichimaru bumped up against Isogai's butt. “Hic! Who wants a Taichirou sandwich?”
“I do! Me!”
“Hey, Wait a min-mph!”
They laughed, they wrestled, they passed out in a heap, drunk on each other. Ichimaru would get his turn another day.
Note: This is Hiroto from the anime, then a random guy from the anime for Isogai, then actually Todo from Junjou but for this pic he's Ichimaru :)
Chapter 14: Eruption
Saturday, everyone was a little subdued, quiet. Lazy and relaxed and trying to forget that they'd be going home the next day. They wandered in the woods, they wandered around town, they sprawled out in front of the TV and dozed off.
“Did Izuna come back?” Kanako asked when Reiko showed up to breakfast without her neck-warmer.
“She did. She's sound asleep in our room. I have to find out how long it will be.”
“How long for what?”
“For a kudagitsune's pregnancy.”
Kanako giggled. “You really think she made some babies last night?”
“They're very fertile. Kouchin did warn me the night Izuna became my companion. I wasn't worried before because I don't think there are any possible mates around my home. It never crossed my mind there would be some here.”
“Oh my god. They're going to be so cute!”
Reiko smiled then made a face. “I can imagine them crying for food in my head all night long. Maybe they don't learn how to do that right away?”
Shima and Reiko went off with Aki and Ugetsu after breakfast. Kanako and Todo joined the threesome for a walk through town and lunch in a local eatery.
When she saw Isogai walking a little stiffly, Kanako asked, “Is the bed alright? Is it big enough? Does your back hurt?”
Ichimaru stopped to stare into a shop window at the display, keeping his face turned away.
“It's a little harder than I'm used to. But I'm fine. It's only one more night.”
Hiroto grinned. “He's tough but he likes a soft touch! You'd think someone who trains in all those martial arts would be able to sleep on cement, but Isogai needs pampering. Don't you, darling?” Hiroto patted Isogai's butt.
“I will kill you later.”
Hmm. Some inside joke between them. “What are you looking at, Ichimaru? Oh, this is the pottery place that Harada owns? Those are nice pieces. Let's go inside.”
Todo bought her a flower vase, then further down the street he bought her a little bouquet to put in it. They met up with Natsuo and Takamura and turned to head back towards the ryokan, everyone carrying a souvenir of some sort.
It was a perfectly peaceful, lazy spring day. Until Kanako opened her big mouth and shoved her foot in it all the way to her ankle.
They were talking about Reiko's talismans and who she would give them to. Not worried or greedy about it, just musing over the possibilities and how they would try to make the decisions. None of them envied Reiko or planned to pressure her.
“I would never ask, but I can't help thinking she will give one to each of us – for each with their own home, I mean. Why don't I move in with you, Todo? I'm barely at my brother's apartment anyway and if I do, then-”
“No.” He interrupted her. Todo never interrupted her. Not like that. So abruptly.
“No. I don't think we should live together. Not yet.”
“You don't want me to live with you?” She ignored the “yet” to focus on the “no” which hurt. Hurt a lot. “I've been bothering you. I'm pushing too much. You're sick of me always hanging on you. Why didn't you say anything?”
“Kanako. That isn't what I said. Of course, I'm not-”
“Don't be polite! You're always so damn polite! You're too nice! You put everyone else first, even me. If you wanted more alone time, you should have said so earlier!”
“Are you even listening to me? Where is this coming from? What on earth are you thinking, Kanako?” Still trying to be nice. Always so reasonable and sweet!
“I'm a pain in the ass! I know that, okay? I'm a loudmouth and nosy and rude and self-centered and bossy! And you just smile and take it! I feel like...like I'm taking advantage of your good nature. And like I'm not affecting you enough to even piss you off!”
“That doesn't make any sense. You don't piss me off – well, not before today! You want me to get angry and yell at you? Isn't that kind of stupid?”
Uh-oh. Her trigger word. “Stupid?!” she screeched at him. “Fuck you!” Kanako ran off crying. Their first fight, and not even a door handy to slam in his face.
“What the hell was that?” Todo looked at the others. “That was way out of line, right? I didn't do anything to deserve that.”
“Wow. It was like she'd been possessed by her brother for a minute,” Isogai said.
“You do have an imperturbable quality to you, Todo,” Hiroto pointed out. “I'm not saying that's bad, but for someone young and emotional, it might be a little frustrating. Kanako is used to seeing lovers fight and argue and get all passionate and heated up. It's like a sign to her, that they really care, that their emotions are strong. Morinaga and his senpai drive each other crazy, they stir each other up.”
“That's not how I am, though. Especially not in public. But alone with her...I'm sure she knows how I feel!”
“You don't have to yell and argue with her,” Natsuo put in. “It would be enough if you acted out of character, just once in a while. Show her that's she's different from everyone else. That you react to her in a unique way. Not as Mister Policeman. Not as Perfect Boyfriend. Just be...Todo. Show her when you're worried, or sad, or scared, or something other than pleasant. And not horny – that doesn't count.”
“You all agree then? I am in the wrong.” I've been trying so hard.
“It's not about right and wrong,” Ichimaru said. “It's about vulnerability. When you hide something, you create a wall. Maybe just a little wall. But that can be enough to cause problems and then the wall grows bigger and stronger. It's okay to show her your weaknesses. Be selfish, be human. Drink beer for breakfast, don't shave, leave your apartment a mess – whatever. The day you met – you let her win that race.”
“Well, yeah. Wouldn't you have?”
“Probably. But if you've let her win every race since, that's not fair to her because she isn't really winning. You're not equals.” He glanced at Isogai. “It's important for her as well as for you.”
It was sinking in. Todo wasn't an idiot, only inexperienced. His parents got along really well. He had never been the tantrum type or demanding or gone through a rebellious phase. He really was a goody-two-shoes down to his bones. Fighting with a loved one was bad – it wasn't done. He couldn't know, but he was much like Ueda Tomoharu had been before meeting Gotouda Aki.
If only Kanako had been a yakuza heiress, he might have found himself getting into fights and impersonating gangsters and climbing trees for midnight assignations. But she wasn't, and he hadn't been pushed into a situation where he was forced to rethink his assumptions. It had all happened too easily.
Of course, he worried and got scared or felt lazy. He hadn't let her see any of that. To be fair, she was always upbeat and brash and energetic with him. They had been hiding dirty clothes in the closet and now the closet was about to burst open and bury them.
He loved her, would love her even if she was whining or crying or screaming. He wouldn't want her to lock any of those emotions away from him. If she hid them, she didn't trust him to face those parts of her without being disgusted or disillusioned. She doesn't trust me. I don't trust her either? That can't be right?
“I think it hit him,” Isogai commented.
“Yup, right in the pit of his stomach,” Hiroto agreed.
“It's a terrible feeling,” Takamura said.
“Like you're going to throw up,” Natsuo added.
“But it's okay because you can fix it now!” Ichimaru slapped Todo on the back.
He looked at them - all these men in their own complicated relationships. “How?”
Isogai smiled at Todo. “Here's what we're going to do...”
Chapter 15: Advice
Aoki was puttering around out by the front entrance, digging up a few weeds but mostly just enjoying the peaceful afternoon. Imagine her surprise when Kanako came flying up the driveway in an absolute storm of tears. She automatically reached out to catch the girl before she could get away and Kanako grabbed on and sobbed into her shoulder.
Steering them through the ryokan to the kitchen, it took some time before Aoki could begin to figure out what happened. Kanako managed a few phrases like, “...hates me now, such a bitch, can't face him...” Obviously, she and Todo had gotten into some sort of fight but for what reason, Aoki couldn't tell.
Shocking, when they had seemed so perfectly in tune with one another. Aoki made tea and opened the bottom drawer in the refrigerator where she kept the emergency chocolate supply. Her secret stash, off-limits to husband and spirit children, would need replenishing soon.
Hearing rapid footsteps, Aoki poured three cups as Reiko appeared and Kanako raised her head with a very pitiful look on her face. “Reiko! I ruined everything! Switch rooms so I don't have to face him tonight! Oh, and the drive home tomorrow! Arggh! Now I'm ruining your vacation, too! Don't listen to me!”
Reiko and Aoki exchanged looks. Aoki shook her head – no, she didn't know what happened; no, they shouldn't switch rooms; no, this wasn't going to ruin everything. She made her voice brisk and sensible.
“Kanako, calm down and explain what happened. What did you say and what did he say? Exactly.”
Kanako, who had been about to launch into some dramatic, over-wrought reenactment of events, shut her mouth. She took a bite of chocolate, a sip of tea, and a deep breath, then started again.
“I suggested moving in with him and he said no.”
Aoki frowned. “Try again.”
“Okay, I suggested it and was trying to convince him it was a good idea when he said no. He also said, 'not yet,' but I didn't give him a chance to explain why. I didn't want to hear his excuses. I screamed at him about how he's too nice all the time and he asked if I wanted us to fight and said that was stupid. I don't like being called stupid. So I yelled, 'Fuck you!' and ran away.”
Tears were welling up again. “I think I really pissed him off. I've never seen him even slightly upset before! Me and my big mouth!”
“Is that all?” Kanako looked at Aoki in shock. Reiko did, too. “Girls, if one 'fuck you' was enough to end a relationship, everyone would be single. How long have you been together?”
“We met during summer vacation but I was still living in Nagoya. One week, then I came back for a few days in October, and again for the movie premiere at the end of November. I moved in with my brother at the end of February and we've spent all our free time together since.”
“Basically a month then. You can say it was nearly a year ago, but in real-time, it's been more like six weeks at the most.”
“Uh...I guess so.”
“I've heard the others joking about how perfect you are as a couple. I thought that myself. But you two haven't had a chance to be real with each other, have you? Special occasions, special meetings, fancy premieres. You've been playing out a shoujo manga. He's your prince and you're his feisty, tomboy princess?”
Kanako groaned and slammed her head down on the table. “I am stupid! Stupid, stupid, stupid.” Each “stupid” marked with another thunk.
“Everyone is stupid at the beginning of a romance, my dear. But if you want it to progress and not crash and burn, then you two need to be honest with each other. I can imagine he's been carefully projecting the ideal boyfriend. You've been pushing him more and more, trying to get a reaction? Testing him.”
“I guess so. I wasn't doing it deliberately! I don't know why I even made that suggestion – I don't want him to see me when I'm all gross.”
Aoki hid a giggle. “You've slept together though. Here certainly, and at home as well? Hasn't he seen you, uh, all gross?”
Kanako's eyes nearly popped out. “Are you kidding me? I get up early and brush my teeth and fix my face before he's even awake. Then I get back in bed and pretend to wake up again.”
Reiko nodded in sympathy, “I did that yesterday and this morning.”
“Oh, you girls!” Aoki couldn't help it, she laughed at them. Not to be cruel, just reminded of her own youth.
“The biggest gift you can give them is to let them see you all gross. I promise – if he loves you, he will love you even with makeup smeared all over your face and rats' nests in your hair and he'll kiss you with equally-nasty morning breath and grope your unshaven legs and all the rest of it.”
They stared at her in horror. “I'd die!” Kanako declared.
“If you want him to trust you with his true self, you have to show him your own. That's how it works. Won't you still love him when he's tired and grumpy and stinking of sweat and refusing to get his butt off the couch? When the mood hits, are you going to disappear into the bathroom for an hour to prepare only to come back and find him asleep? Stop trying to be perfect, and be perfectly you.”
Perfectly you. How easy that is to say, how hard to do. But a relationship needs trust and truth and acceptance and compromise and balance. They would figure it out, these two young women and their young men. They had brains and beauty and strength and ambition and a solid sense of their self-worth. Clashing once in a while was healthy, as long as they were willing to face their mistakes and learn from them.
“Now...we need a strategy.”
“A plan. Preparations. To fix this.”
“Don't I just apologize? All cute and humble and in front of everyone?”
“Oh, dear. Not at all. Is that who you are? Humble? I don't think so. Apology, yes. You will have to apologize for making a scene. But not for what you said. Those were your true feelings, even if you did scream them at him. No, you're going to kill him with politeness. Do to him as he's done to you. Two phrases. 'Whatever you want, dear' and 'Anything is fine with me.' Oh, and one more, 'You're so cute!' He will hate it. He'll explode. When he does, you drag him to bed.”
She smiled at their gaping faces. “Then you cry. He cries. You whisper in bed how stupid you were and he admits how stupid he was. You promise each other not to be stupid anymore – even though you will be. You fall asleep all a mess and wake up all a mess and realize that neither one of you is disgusted or embarrassed or worried about looking a mess in front of each other anymore.”
“Am I? Do you think he'll run screaming from the real you? Do you have that little faith in him? If he does, you'll have learned the truth, hard and painful as that might be. If he doesn't, you'll be able to finally relax and love him with your whole heart. You're a strong young woman and he's a composed young man. It will take some theatrics to shatter those roles you've been playing. If you're going to act out a scene – make it a useful one.”
Aoki rubbed her hands together. “Hmm. What should you wear?”
Chapter 16: Todo and Kanako
Todo and Kanako
Dinner on Saturday was an American-style outdoor barbecue party. All the men had assembled early, milling around drinking beers and talking about Kanako's outburst and how Todo should handle it. He still wasn't sure Isogai's plan was a good one, but no one had come up with anything better.
He just hoped it worked. He would do whatever it took to convince Kanako they were meant for each other. If it required him to drink until he puked and make a huge fool of himself, so be it. He was going to make a scene. He was going to tell the truth. She was rushing things between them. He was sometimes tired after work and wanted to be alone. He didn't like her perfume. He was aware she woke up early to make herself pretty before getting back into bed.
That one was funny. She had no idea he woke up before she did and stared at her sleeping face while she drooled on the pillow, hair sticking up like a haystack. She was beautiful to him like that. Maybe someday he'd work up the nerve to fart in bed and shove her head under the blankets. And he was not going to watch any more isakai anime.
Anyway, this plan relied on her showing up, so where was she? Reiko had assured Shima that they would be coming to dinner. Kanako hadn't taken her belongings out of their room – that was a good sign. She hadn't chopped his up into little pieces either – another good sign. The girls were planning something – not the best sign.
At last, Aoki appeared carrying a huge platter of burger patties and sausages, Kanako and Reiko behind her with a platter of buns and cheese slices and an enormous bowl of potato salad. And Kanako was wearing...
“His brain just stopped,” Aki said to Shima.
“I'm a little surprised myself,” Shima replied, pushing up his glasses.
The two girls seemed to have switched clothes. Reiko, who usually dressed very fashionably (thanks to Izuna and her bank account) in feminine, slightly sexy clothes was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a slightly ratty sweater. Kanako was a vision in a low-cut, high-hemmed, tangerine party dress. It was of some kind of knitted material, slightly fuzzy. High heels. And tight - it was tight.
Looking at her made Todo's pants tight. He held out his hand and Isogai slapped a fresh beer can into it. “Drink. Put your eyeballs back in their sockets.”
“Can I just drag her away?”
“No. That will spoil the plan. Hers and ours. And it won't solve anything. Remember the bigger picture. Strength. You are very lucky everyone here is already in a relationship, my friend. But go ahead and act jealous when any of us talk to her.”
Normally, Todo would have rushed over to take the tray from her, get her a drink, tell her she looked gorgeous. He wanted to do all those things. Instead, he sat down with his back to her and attempted to sound coherent while chatting with Takamura and Natsuo.
“If you end up stuck at the hospital, let me know and I'll keep an eye on your apartment when I'm on patrol.”
“You're doing good!” Natsuo hissed. “Okay, she's coming over here!”
Todo gulped down the rest of the beer. He was not a big drinker so he needed to pace himself, but right this moment a little liquid courage was necessary.
“Todo?” Kanako said, her voice calm.
He saw her painted toenails in the sandals. The smooth legs he'd put his hands and mouth on the night before. The hem of the dress, just below her (Don't think it!). Slim waist, flat stomach, breasts that filled his hands exactly (Gah!), graceful neck, sweet little ears, lipstick! And her eyes. Not flashing angrily or smiling flirtatiously or even attempting to make him feel guilty. Her eyes were just...blah?
“I'm glad you like it. Todo...I'm very sorry for yelling at you this afternoon. And for running away afterward. It was very rude and I won't let it happen again.”
“I...(Be honest!). It reminded me of the first time we met when you said those harsh things to Ijuuin-sensei. I didn't like it. And I was embarrassed. And confused. You should have let me finish what I was saying. I hope you'll hear me out, later.”
“Yes...I will.” Some doubt had crept into her voice and he wanted nothing more than to hug her and say it didn't matter and he loved her. But it did matter, so he did none of those things, hard as it was.
She took a deep breath. “Want another beer? I'll get it for you.”
Off she went before he could even answer. She brought him a beer then sat beside him with her own iced tea, listening to the conversation but not adding to it. When he tried to engage her, she only replied with, “Oh no, you talk. I like hearing your voice.”
Huh? Since when?
She made him a plate. She got them extra napkins without them having to ask. She was...hovering. It made him nervous. When he asked her if she preferred sausages to hamburgers, her answer was, “I like everything you like.” No way.
Another two beers. He had to pee. And escape for a minute. He swayed above the toilet, almost missing his aim. Ooh, I'm getting drunk. After washing his hands, he was stopped in the hall by Ichimaru.
“Uh-oh. Don't get too wasted too fast. Puking on her isn't part of the plan.”
“I think the plan is stupid. And what's her plan? I don't get it! She's not saying anything, so how'm I sposed to tell her stuff? Just blurt it out, 'Hey, your pref-perfume – I hate it?'”
Ichimaru tried not to laugh. “That's one way to go about it. First, let's get you some water.”
Todo was steered into the kitchen and a bottle of water appeared. He drank the whole thing, took some deep breaths, felt the world come back into focus somewhat.
“Wow. It's been a while since I had more than just one beer. It hit me hard.”
“We did say you should get a little drunk - just don't black out.”
“'kay. I'm better now. But what's her plan, Ichimaru? I'm kind of scared.”
“You haven't figured it out yet? I can't tell you – that's no fun. Just know that it's working. Both plans.”
They went back outside and Hiroto was flirting with Kanako (He flirts with everyone!). Todo wanted to smash his face in because she was smiling at Hiroto in a way she wasn't smiling at him tonight. He stalked over, unaware of Ichimaru watching him go with a grin.
“Kanako, why are you wearing that dress?” That was rude. I was rude! Yay.
“I thought you would like it.”
“Well, I don't. I mean, I do because I want to take it off you but I don't because it shows too much.”
“Whatever you want. I'll go change. I didn't mean to upset you.”
Huh? “You like it? You should wear it if you like it. I like your normal clothes but that's not the point.”
“Anything is fine with me, as long as it makes you happy.”
“Oh.” Not much he could say to that. “But I want you to be happy.”
“I'm happy just being here with you. You're so cute with your cheeks all pink!”
“I am?” She blinked at him. “Really? I never get called cute! Why? Cuz I'm tall? I mean, Misaki's always getting called cute and he hates it, I dunno why. What's wrong with being cute? Sometimes I wish I was short and cute or at least can't I be tall and scary? People just smile – I'm a cop, you know? They should be scared cuz I can arrest em. But no. They're all good people so I can't arrest them, but I'd like to! I wanna chase some bad guys down and slap the cuffs on.”
Kanako had a weird look on her face. Hiroto was bent over laughing for some reason.
“Nothing. What time would you like to leave tomorrow? Let me know now, so I can be sure to be ready when you are,” was all she said.
“You're always running late. No, I take that back since I'm always early. But I don't like being late that why I set the alarm. You upset my schedule when you stay the night and I don't want to leave because you got up and brushed your teeth before sneaking back into bed. Oops.”
“You knew? You knew I did that? Wait...so you wake up first then pretend you're asleep? That's not fair!”
“Why? I wake up when I wake up and you're all snuffling like a little yappy dog having a fun dream and I want to squash you but you'd get mad so I don't. I don't want to make you mad at me, Kanako. Not ever.”
“I'm mad right now! You...! You...big dummy! Don't you shave right before I come over? And clean up your apartment? So why shouldn't I brush my damn teeth?”
“I didn't say you can't. I like it. But you don't have to be sneaky. Oh, and it's totally okay to fart. If you need to. But change your perfume. I hate it.”
This was fun. He felt better! “And why are you acting like a boring servant girl tonight? Getting me food, not bossing me around? I like when you boss me around. Mostly. But I'm going to say no sometimes, okay? Don't get mad. Or get mad but you know. Forgive me or whatever.”
“Oh my god! Is this the real you?”
“Yeah, guess so. Do you hate it? I'm boring, right? You like to fight but I don't so I don't know what to do. I'll try and fight if that's what you want. I'd try to do anything you asked me to, Kanako. And I want you to tell me stuff. Like when you're worried or scared or sad. Please? Not just anger.”
“I'll tell you if you tell me. That's fair, right? You're saying things now, but you're drunk so it doesn't count.”
“Doesn't count? Then I wasted those beers. None of this was easy for me to say.”
“I know that. I don't really want to fight all the time. I've just been afraid I was too young and you were hiding things from me to protect me or something dumb like that.”
“Well, I kind of was. What's wrong with wanting to protect you?”
“How can I learn if you keep me all wrapped up?”
“Umm...daytime television? Ow! That was a joke. I'll try not to be so careful anymore. You try not to be so tough all the time. Okay?”
“Promise? Pinky swear!”
He held out his pinky, she linked it with hers. “Whoever breaks it has to swallow a thousand needles!”
She was too adorable. He grabbed her hand and dragged her away. Time to make a mess.
note: This isn't Kanako - the only manga frames of her are tiny and she's very young. This is Rokka from Natsuyuki Rendezvous - she had the right haircut.
Chapter 17: Last-Minute Addition
“That did not go quite how we planned it,” Isogai said.
“Us either,” Reiko told him, laughing.
“Doesn't matter. They seem to have worked it out,” Takamura sighed. “So young!”
“You stop that!” Natsuo scolded him.
“Whatever you say, lover.”
“You stop that, too. Since when do you admit we're lovers? You've been so stubborn about it.”
“Uh, since you climbed on-mph!” Natsuo's kiss was a brief one, then he whispered something in Takamura's ear. “Urk!”
Natsuo loved that noise. He wanted to hear it in bed again. “Let's go.” They went.
Shima hugged Reiko from behind. “I like you in jeans. I liked the Brazilian but I was kind of looking forward to... I'd like you no matter what, so you don't have to go to a salon unless you want to. It was a woman who did the waxing, right? And no more getting up early to fix your face or whatever.”
“Oh god, you knew about that, too? How embarrassing!” ::But I don't mind, really. Because it's you. I've trusted you with my real self from the beginning and you've never let me down.::
I'll try not to, but I know I'm too quiet, so poke me if I need it. This method of communication does make it easier to be honest with you though. And Izuna will always catch me out, so it would be silly of me to try and hide things from you.
::It's okay to be silly. I really want to see you being silly.::
I'm terrible at being silly, but I'll try it for you.
::Try it in bed? Now?::
You sound like Izuna. Most excellent scary, Reiko-sama! Practice baby-making!
“Eek!” She ran off and Shima chased her.
“We've done all the arguing necessary, right? Neither one of us is shy about speaking our mind.” Ugetsu asked Aki, arm around his waist. “I don't have to confess I hate your aftershave or anything?”
“I haven't seen you in what you call a funk, but I don't think I need to. As long as you know I will be there if you need me. And I'm the type to shove all my faults in your face, expecting you to run away. Since you haven't, I guess I'm stuck with you for at least another week.”
“Kai, I don't think I'll be having as many funks, now that we're together.”
“Because I make you indescribably happy and giddy and full of joy?”
“No. Because you taught me how to play that game where I shoot people a lot.” Ugetsu kissed him, then whispered, “And yes. All those things and more.”
“Can we go upstairs?”
“Anything you want is fine with me,” Ugetsu fluttered his eyelashes.
“Good! I'm greedy!” Away they went.
The threesome looked at each other. They looked at the mess everyone had made around the outdoor eating area.
“They left the mess for us to clean up,” Isogai said.
“You just sit down and relax. You had a big night last night. Or is it more comfortable to stand? Don't try and bend over if your back still hurts,” Hiroto had been overly considerate all day, teasing Isogai nonstop.
“I promised to kill you later. Is it later yet?” Isogai didn't really mind and he was feeling fine, but he allowed Hiroto to have his fun.
They collected empty cans, gathered up glasses and dishes, tossed the scraps of food into a garbage bag. Just as they were finishing, Aoki and Seiko appeared.
“Oh, damn. You shouldn't be doing that on your last night here! I didn't think the festivities would be over so soon. Um...How did it go?”
“However you would have liked it to go, dear. They were so cute!” Isogai mimicked the worst sort of “sweet” shoujo anime girl.
Aoki snickered. “She did well, then. But you got him drunk? I overheard some rambling.”
“I didn't expect being drunk would make him babble out confession after confession. Todo wants to be called cute and be bossed around but also to be a scary cop tough guy. Ha! It was too adorable. Kanako thought so too. And they inspired everyone else. There will be a lot of pink candles tonight, I think. Maybe even fireworks.”
“Then why are you three still out here? Do you realize the family went home this morning? No need for discretion out in your onsen.”
“Aoki!” Ichimaru gaped at her. “You're terrible! I love it!”
“We have been together for a while. We have worked out many problems between us - three is very complicated,” Hiroto told her, sounding totally pompous. “We – well, Isogai and I – are not silly kids anymore. We-ooof!”
Isogai had tossed him over one shoulder. “Me caveman! Me steal stupid lover! Ooga booga!” And he took off running, with Hiroto howling and Ichimaru chasing after, demanding Isogai return his bride at once.
Aoki and Seiko laughed so hard they cried. Then they finished the cleanup, linked arms in perfect accord, and strolled off to their private cottage behind the ryokan.
Refreshing! The Refreshing Crowd! That's what she would call them.
The next morning, everyone was late for breakfast, including Aoki and Seiko. Kanako was back in her usual jeans and sparkling and bossy and Todo hadn't shaved. She waved around a huge rhinoceros beetle that had been left in her make-up bag then set it free. She wasn't wearing any make-up.
Reiko wore black slacks (she hadn't brought any jeans of her own) but she proudly wore a gaudy and tacky t-shirt with “Karuizawa!” scrawled across the front. Shima's khaki cargo pants had – gasp! - wrinkles.
Takamura openly held Natsuo's hand. Ugetsu stole food off Aki's plate then waved a piece of pickled daikon (a type of radish). “Say, 'Ahh!'”
“Put it in your mouth and feed me that way,” Aki asked. Ugetsu promptly did so, making everyone giggle. Aki nibbled his way up to Ugetsu's lips.
It was Hiroto's turn to sit gingerly and a lot of the green had washed out of his hair. Isogai refrained from teasing him. Ichimaru never teased but did suggest Hiroto lay in the back of the car on the drive home, which made everyone bite their lips and pretend they had no idea what he was talking about.
Hugs and kisses and small gifts were exchanged. Cars were loaded with bags. Rooms were double-checked to make sure they weren't leaving anything behind. A frog was returned to its outdoor life. And Izuna disappeared.
“Why would she run off right now? Izuna!” Reiko yelled. Then she yelled the other way. ::Izuna! Come back here! We're leaving!::
::You wait! I also say goodbye!::
“Oh. Her local hook-up and babies-daddy?” Isogai said.
“That's so sweet!” Kanako cooed.
“That she hooked up or got knocked up?”
“That she's saying goodbye, jerkface!”
“I don't have a jerkface! I have resting asshole face. You have a babyface. And Todo has an I just got la-Ow!”
Izuna scampered out of the treeline, bushy black tail waving its white tip. Then they saw him, reddish-brown with black mask and paws, slightly larger than Izuna. He was handsome for a kudagitsune, they supposed. After all, Izuna wouldn't settle for less than most excellently handsome.
As she climbed up Reiko's leg and back onto her shoulder, the male made up his mind. He approached them carefully, not accustomed to humans but made bold by Izuna's example. They all froze and watched him circle the group. Once, twice, three times.
A tickle in each person's head let them know they were being examined in more than just outward appearances. They all looked at Shima. He was the obvious choice if the fox was making a choice.
::Not Shima-sama! He is mine!:: Izuna declared. ::You pick now or go away.::
::Don't rush me. Slow and careful. Long-term planning is important. No haste!:: he answered. His “voice” was quite low and mellow.
::Pfft! Should use instinct. Think too long and you will lose your chance.::
::Hush! Three have creatures already – I can smell. And I smell dog on your Shima-sama and his brother and the cousin. Faded on the brother though. The doctor thinks of going where I can't follow. This one.::
The red kudagitsune climbed up Ugetsu just as Izuna did to Reiko. ::I like you. You are near with Reiko-sama but not too near. Can see my babies for visits. The music magic in arms and shoulders tingles well. You are pretty. You are not excitable, do not rush. Is good.::
“Uh...help?” Ugetsu was in shock. He'd never had a pet, or been around animals much at all. Ren's dog Tanuki barely counted, as he mostly just sat around being fat and Ugetsu had only been to the house once.
::Not a pet. Companion. I am Bassui, Ugetsu-sama. I eat anything but like mushrooms most of all. I won't get fat or leave you alone and I can call at a great distance to Kai-sama if he's needed. I liked your music the other night.::
“I...are you sure? I travel a lot. Well, I did in the past and I will again someday. Can I take you through customs? What am I even thinking? I can't.”
::You are thinking you aren't a good match for me but it will be very fine. I am calm and quiet and so are you. Travel is good! See the world. I can confuse - they will not notice me if I don't wish to be seen.::
::Fine! Is done! We go! Thanks much, Aoki-sama and Seiko-sama. Ryokan most excellent! Zashiki-Warashi are happy. More guests will come.::
“Thank you, Izuna. It was a pleasure having you all visit.”
“Good-bye! We'll be back! Thank you!”
Aoki leaned against her husband and they waved as the cars drove away.
“Do you remember our first night together?” she asked him.
“Of course. We'd been dating two months and you had no excuses to stay overnight anywhere. Then your parents went out of town for the weekend. I was so nervous I thought I was going to die. It was terrible, right? I couldn't believe you didn't dump me after that.”
She smiled. “How would I have known you were bad at it? I thought it made you mine forever and that's all I cared about. Like some kind of 'you break it, you bought it.'”
He laughed out loud at that one. “Crazy girl. I was already yours. I was so mad when you snuck out of bed the next morning to brush your teeth. That wasn't fair - I couldn't kiss you all grungy and you looked so sweet. By the time I got up and brushed my teeth, everything was all awkward again. I knew you loved me the morning you didn't sneak off.”
“Oh? And when was that?” she teased him, not expecting an answer.
“Six glorious stolen nights later. Meaning about six months later, since your parents watched you like hawks. The day I asked you to marry me. Twenty-three years ago today you made me the happiest man alive by saying yes.” He held out a little gold box with a sparkly ribbon. “Pocky game?”
So perfectly him.
Aww. I got all mushy with this one. Relationships need work, even in the Tokyo Yaoiverse, but it's always worth it. Be honest! And sexy! See you soon!