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Kikuchiyo doesn’t like doing things he doesn’t know how to do.

Katsushiro seems pretty determined to teach him how to read and write, though, and a determined Katsushiro is difficult to resist.

He stretches his arms above his head, glancing at Kyuzo, dutifully copying the words Katsushiro set in the ground. Kyuzo can read some - less than Katsushiro - but is better off than Kikuchiyo, who lost interest after numbers and their names.

(“This character is chrysanthemum,” Katsushiro had told him, “and these together mean a long time.”

“Why is it such a complicated thing for such a little sound? I suppose it looks a bit like a chrysanthemum. Why didn’t they just draw a chrysanthemum?”

Katsushiro had stared at him, then at the ground. “I? Don’t know?”

“This is stupid. It will always be faster to just get you to read it to me,” he argued.

“What if I’m not there? What if we’re in different places? This is how people send messages!”

“Why would we be in different places?” he threw up his arms.

“We may not have a choice,” Kyuzo said, quietly, and just like that, they did reading every other day.)

Today they’re doing verbs - wait, stay, follow, find, fight, hide. He can, more than half the time, distract them from the lesson by just leaning against Kyuzo, pressing their arms and thighs together, or asking Katsushiro for clarification on something and sliding a hand down his back, tenderly. Then it’s quick work to drag them both close and focus on something more immediately rewarding. It’s boring, writing, and they’re just there, within reach, and it’s only natural to want to reach out to them.

However, this lesson, Kyuzo’s on the other side of the room, and Katsushiro has been explaining things from a safe distance. Bastards.

As he’s making the same patterns over and over - follow, follow, follow, find, find, find - something begins to take shape in his mind.

A challenge. A game. A solution.

Eventually, Katsushiro claps his hands, and Kyuzo sweeps away his words.

Kikuchiyo kicks dirt over his own attempts at writing, crosses the room, and sits directly next to Kyuzo.

“Why can’t we do something I’m good at?” he says, folding his arms over his chest.

“We do,” Kyuzo tells him, smiling. “Often.”

Kikuchiyo laughs, drapes an arm around his shoulders, slipping a hand under his collar. “True. But something else. A challenge.”

“Fishing?” Katsushiro says, stretching out on his back, laying his head in Kikuchiyo’s lap.

“Something fun. Not something necessary,” Kikuchiyo says. “A game.”

“You play games with the children,” Kyuzo tells him, tucking his head into the crook of Kikuchiyo’s neck.

“I said a challenge,” Kikuchiyo mumbles into his hair. “You’re best at kendo. Katsushiro is best at writing. Let’s do one I’m best at.”

“Not fucking?” Katsushiro asks, smiling up at them.

Kikuchiyo pinches his ear. “That’s not a competition! I can’t be the winner of fucking!”

“You could be,” Katsushiro offers. Kyuzo grins, strokes Katsushiro’s ear, as though soothing him.

“I remember when you didn’t know what fucking was,” Kikuchiyo says, mournfully. “Focus! I’m telling you we should have a challenge!”

“This is how it feels to try to teach you, you realise?” Kyuzo tells him, wrapping his arms tight around his ribs.

“Oh, you bastards! Is this still the lesson?”

Kyuzo pushes him back to the floor.

“It wasn’t,” Katsushiro says, tugging his kimono open. “But it can be? This,” he traces a shape on Kikuchiyo’s belly, “is the word for quiet.”

Kikuchiyo laughs into Kyuzo’s mouth.

 

***

 

A few days later, Kyuzo had half forgotten that Kikuchiyo had suggested a game. They hadn’t discussed it again, had barely discussed it in the first place.

When he wakes to Kikuchiyo moving about in the early dark, he assumes it’s nothing.

When he wakes again, at dawn, and Kikuchiyo is not there - for a moment, he assumes the worst.

For a moment, he berates himself - he had not done enough, said enough, been enough - but when he sits up, he sees dirt disturbed by the doorway.

Kikuchiyo has left, in his clumsy hand, a note scratched into the ground.

Find me by noon.

He wakes Katsushiro.

 

***

 

It’s the height of summer, and all their water skins are still in the house, so he’ll be by drinkable water. The river stretches north, into the mountains, fed by three streams, and south, towards the sea.

Kyuzo circles the borders of the village, looking for some sign of which direction he went. Kikuchiyo has big feet, long legs - his tread should be easy to pick out, if there were any tracks, but the last few hot weeks have left only dry dust, stirred easily by wind.

He returns to the house, checks their stores. As far as he can tell, Kikuchiyo took a little food and his sword. When he steps outside again, he stares at the sky. There’s some time until noon. He believes Kikuchiyo has at least an hour on them, but they need more information before they set off. Kikuchiyo expects to win, but he expects a challenge - he hasn’t made it impossible.

Kyuzo tries to think: how would Kikuchiyo behave?

His mind fails him. He’s never been able to predict Kikuchiyo.

They may run half the down the wrong path - or they may never find him, and he will be bored with them - Kyuzo looks at the message on the ground again, searching for another clue.

Katsushiro runs down the path, waving.

“Shino saw him!” he calls, before he’s even reached Kyuzo. “He went north before the sun came up!”

It wouldn’t have occurred to Kyuzo to ask anyone, because if Katsushiro wanted, he could go unseen.

But this was meant to be a challenge, not impossible.

 

***

 

They find signs of him a little way north - possibly - crushed flowers, earth turned by familiar feet. The river is swift here, and it can’t easily be forded, so they feel certain enough to keep together for much of the morning.

The problem comes when they reach where the river branches.

To the left, a wide, slow stream through the greenery. To the right, faster moving water pours from a rocky ravine.

Kyuzo walks into the river, stares down each path. Katsushiro peers at the soil, at the rocks and plants, hoping for some sign.

“We’ll have to split up,” Kyuzo says, wading back to the bank.

Katsushiro swallows his instinctual protest. He nods. He says, “If we have no tracks or haven’t found him by noon, we meet back here?”

“Yes. And if we find him, we wait for the other to join us.” Kyuzo looks both ways. “I’ll try the ravine.” He starts off, as decisive as the rushing water.

Katsushiro would have liked to kiss him in farewell, but still - he can’t help but smile.

He turns toward the stream and begins to walk alone.

 

***

 

When Kyuzo sees that the scree has been disturbed by someone long legged, big footed, he has a sudden flush of longing.

He imagines Kikuchiyo walking through this narrow ravine and desires him - wants to kiss him, feel the muscles of his arms work beneath his skin, make him cry out.

The noise of the river rushes like the blood through his body.

Perhaps this was the purpose of the game all along. He’s making them work for something he gives freely - his presence, his attention, his beauty.

As he steps forward he can almost feel Kikuchiyo’s hand skimming up his back, his hot breath.

 

***

 

Katsushiro thinks that Kikuchiyo is part-trickster spirit.

There was, early in his walk, definitely one footprint of Kikuchiyo’s, deep in the soft soil of the river bank.

The day is hot, and swarms of insects swirl over the slowly moving water. The signs of Kikuchiyo’s passage become less distinct, and then Katsushiro is convinced they were never there in the first place. If Kikuchiyo had walked in the river, that could explain it - but he might have walked in the river in the opposite direction, specifically to fool them.

It is near noon when Katsushiro turns around, starts running back to where he and Kyuzo parted. He does not wish to win, now, he only wishes to see them. Perhaps they are together, waiting for him. Perhaps they are not, and all three of them are alone. What if, he thinks, as he closes the distance, something has gone wrong?

 

***

 

Kyuzo rounds a tall rock, heart pounding with the curious thrill of a hunt with no risk, no stakes but Kikuchiyo’s entertainment.

At the end of the ravine, there is a waterfall.

It pours down an unscalable cliff, dropping into a sheltered caldera.

From this distance, he can’t see the pool it forms - but as he approaches, faster now, he can see, daubed on one of the rocks with wet charcoal, an eight petalled chrysanthemum.

He runs. He climbs the rocks around the pool quickly, getting closer to the roar of the fall, ignoring a scrape on one hand, almost bounding over the zenith.

The high sun drenches the spot in bright light. There’s the wall of water, the veil of mist covering everything, the pool moving with the impact of the fall. There’s an irregular set of natural steps down to a rock platform, a pile of clothes and a sheathed sword.

Kikuchiyo is floating calmly on his back in the roiling water, eyes closed, entirely naked.

Kyuzo slips a half step down, and the noise of it alerts him. He opens his eyes and grins, face splitting with joy.

“There you are!” He rolls onto his front, pulls himself out of the pool. This whole little hollow is damp with spray, loud with water, but Kikuchiyo acts as though this is their house, standing there with his hands on his hips and his hair hanging everywhere. “Where’s Katsushiro?”

Kyuzo closes the distance between them, presses himself up, feels the water from Kikuchiyo’s skin soak through his clothes before the heat of his body does.

He kisses Kikuchiyo as though he has been waiting a thousand years, not half a day - wraps his arms around his neck and hangs off him, trusts Kikuchiyo to hold him - and he does, wet hands catching him, cupping his head and gripping his waist.

The water is cold but his mouth is hot, and Kyuzo moans without knowing why.

“Hmm,” Kikuchiyo murmurs. “Did you enjoy the game?”

Kyuzo nods, kisses him again.

“Seriously, though, did you lose Katsushiro?”

“We split up where the streams branched.”

“Oh, well, he’ll find us,” Kikuchiyo says, and pulls him close again. “Though you know this doesn’t count as you winning. You have to both find me by noon.” He cranes his head up, squints at the sky. “I don’t know if he’s going to make it in time.”

He bends his face to Kyuzo’s neck, already undoing his belt, pushing his kimono off.

“Did you bring oil?” Kyuzo asks, because it is the kind of thing Kikuchiyo would bring on a game like this.

“Yes! You want me to fuck you?”

He thinks about it - a moment ago he would have absolutely said yes, but part of him feels bad for Katsushiro. It was chance that they took the paths they did, chance that meant Kyuzo found Kikuchiyo first, gets to enjoy him instead of having to double back and keep searching.

“Yes,” Kyuzo says. “But we shouldn’t finish without him.”

Kikuchiyo looks carefully at him. “Shouldn’t… finish without him. But we can… start?”

 

***

 

Once he’s passed the worst of his panic, Katsushiro slows to a jog. Either Kyuzo is waiting for him at the river branch, or he’s found Kikuchiyo and Katsushiro should follow.

Three white butterflies dance over the river, and he takes it as a good omen. Almost certainly nothing has gone wrong. Almost certainly he’ll see them soon.

Beyond the trees, the sky is a wide, clear blue. The sun’s arrow pierces the leaves, making him sweat and pant.

No one is at the river branch.

He splashes some water on his neck, spots Kyuzo’s shallow tread among the flowers, and starts after him.

It’s not yet noon. They may still win.

 

***

 

“Can I?” Kikuchiyo whispers against the back of his neck.

Kyuzo whines.

“Can I? Can I?” Kikuchiyo curves his fingers inside Kyuzo, wet and hot.

“We - we’re waiting,” Kyuzo manages. Kikuchiyo groans, pulls his fingers out.

They are waiting. He made a decision, and will hold them both to it. But the emptiness now is unbearable.

Kikuchiyo is looking at him through dark, slitted eyes - he knows. It's all right, Kyuzo has come to understand, to be seen by these men he loves, all right for them to know what he wants. He is safe with them.

Rolling onto his back, Kikuchiyo grabs for their clothes and wads them carelessly into a support for his head. He lifts his hard, red cock a little, displaying it. Kyuzo aches to be filled. "All right, we'll wait to come," Kikuchiyo says, "but do you really want to wait for this?"

 

***

 

Katsushiro drinks from the stream, tired but enervated. He’s on the right track - he’s seen Kyuzo’s footprints for sure, and the narrow ravine seems like exactly the kind of place Kikuchiyo would hide himself. There’s a rushing noise echoing from somewhere ahead - a fall?

His feet hurt, walking on the rocks after the soft grass, but he becomes increasingly certain that they’re just around the next corner - so when he sees the waterfall, sees the mark of a chrysanthemum, he laughs out loud and begins to run.

They are here, he thinks, breathlessly scaling the hollow, they are here and will be glad to see him, it is perhaps after noon, but it does not matter -

He clambers over the top, sees them - and almost falls down.

Lit by midday sun, they are naked, dripping with water from the spray of the fall. Kyuzo sits up in Kikuchiyo’s lap - he’s getting fucked, realises Katsushiro, with joyous certainty. Kikuchiyo is on his back, head pillowed on clothes, hands on Kyuzo’s hips.

They seem oddly still - Kyuzo shudders, and Kikuchiyo strains under him, as if trying to prevent himself from moving.

“Hang on,” he can hear Kikuchiyo saying, “hang on, hang on.”

Katsushiro scrambles down the rocky incline, and they both turn to him.

"Where the hell have you been," Kikuchiyo growls, fingers digging into Kyuzo's hips, pulling him down onto his cock as he thrusts up. Kyuzo throws his head back with a long, high whine, half pleasure and half relief.

"Oh," Katsushiro says, still breathless but not from exertion anymore. "Were you -"

"Yes, we were waiting for you! He wanted to!"

"Oh," Katsushiro says again, rooted to the spot by their eyes, Kyuzo's heavy-lidded and sex-drunk and Kikuchiyo's fierce and hungry.

Kyuzo cries out again and that spurs Katsushiro into movement, sinking down behind him onto Kikuchiyo's thighs, putting his hands on Kyuzo's wet skin, so smooth except for the scars. He helps move Kyuzo the way Kikuchiyo wants him to move and Kyuzo leans back into his touch, shaking.

"Thank you," Katsushiro says, kissing his neck and his shoulders, "thank you."

Kyuzo makes a sound close to "please," so Katsushiro puts his hand on Kyuzo's cock and strokes him the way he needs to be stroked and Kyuzo comes with a louder cry than they've ever heard from him before.

When Katsushiro stops touching him Kyuzo grabs his hand, puts it back and Katsushiro says, "Oh, you are perfect," working him till Kikuchiyo's powerful hips jerk up, his every muscle tensing under their bodies, and Kyuzo sounds close to tears.

They are still for a while, panting, shivering. Katsushiro is desperately hard against Kyuzo's back - he can't tell if Kyuzo is even cognizant of it. He'd love to fuck Kyuzo now that he's relaxed and boneless, open and slick from Kikuchiyo; they've done that before, it's always so good.

After a while, they separate, Katsushiro helping to lift Kyuzo off Kikuchiyo's lap; he can feel, under his hands, the small hitch in Kyuzo's breath when Kikuchiyo slides out of him. They look radiantly exhausted. "You two..." Katsushiro says, "you two, you're like..." He can't express it.

"No poem today?" Kyuzo says with a lazy half-smile.

"He's too hard to think up a poem," Kikuchiyo says, smirking.

“You’re very,” he starts, and gasps when Kikuchiyo reaches up, gropes him through his hakama. He is too hard to think.

“He made us wait,” Kyuzo says, low.

“It was your idea,” Kikuchiyo says, reasonably, slipping a thumb over the head of Katsushiro’s cock. He’ll be wet through the layers of fabric soon, if this continues.

“Katsushiro, did you make us wait?”

“Yes, yes, I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he babbles, because when Kyuzo gets like this, he can only agree.

“Oh, of course,” Kikuchiyo says, and lets go of his cock. Katsushiro whines, desperate.

“We should make him wait,” Kyuzo suggests, and Kikuchiyo laughs.

He pushes Katsushiro off him, turns them both - so now he’s sitting with his back to the rock, legs spread, gesturing Katsushiro closer.

“C’mere, poet.”

Katsushiro comes in close, sits sideways between Kikuchiyo’s legs, kisses him, which he hasn’t done all day.

It’s so good, in the cold, wet space under the waterfall, to be in Kikuchiyo’s arms. Then Kyuzo’s fingers brush against his belly and he shakes all over. Kyuzo leans against him, still tired, as Katsushiro lets them open his clothes.

“Must I wait to kiss you?” he asks Kyuzo pitifully, and Kyuzo smiles and lifts his head, letting Katsushiro have his mouth, a mercy.

He shivers again as Kyuzo kisses him slowly, patiently, teeth dragging over his bottom lip, tongue flickering, patient, a man who waited to be fucked by his lover, who waited for him - he cries out when just Kyuzo’s fingertips trace along his cock.

Katsushiro looks down, sees the beading wetness, Kyuzo’s fine and wonderful fingers, Kikuchiyo holding his legs apart with one hand. He cannot look any longer, kisses Kyuzo again, makes another whimpering noise.

"Wasn't easy, waiting for you," Kikuchiyo says, pretending to grumble, teasing him, just as Kyuzo is with his touch. "You know how good Kyuzo feels on your cock, don't you, so tight, and his little noises..." Katsushiro knows - his hips jerk forward, thinking of it, and Kyuzo, who is devilish today, stops touching him.

"You mustn't rush," Kyuzo says lightly. "You didn't before."

"I did," Katsushiro says desperately, "I found you as fast as I could, please, please."

Kyuzo's merciful again, giving Katsushiro more touch, but still going tortuously slow. "It was terrible," he murmurs. "So full of him, so close, not knowing how long I'd have to wait for your hands on me..."

“I wanted to, I ran, I ran to you,” he says, clutching Kikuchiyo’s wrist, to hold himself back.

Again, Kyuzo stops touching him, and Katsushiro may cry. "Did you? Really?"

"Yes, yes, I'll always run to you, I love you. I love you."

Kyuzo makes a sound and kisses him, urgently now, and Kikuchiyo is sifting in a rush through the mixed pile of their clothes - finding the oil, coating his fingers - reaching between Katsushiro's thighs, entering him -

Katushiro arches, squirms, begins to shake with two of Kikuchiyo's fingers fully in him, seeking the point of his undoing. Kyuzo is holding his face with both hands, opening him as Kikuchiyo is opening him - he feels as though he’s falling - Kikuchiyo’s mouth is hard against the back of his neck, his fingers are fucking him deeply.

No one is touching his cock, though Kikuchiyo presses his thumb to the skin behind his balls, Kyuzo has dropped a hand to stroke his chest. Then Kikuchiyo crooks his fingers and Kyuzo bites his lip, and Katsushiro suddenly spends, shouting.

He heaves in a breath. Kyuzo looks down, surprised. Kikuchiyo draws his fingers out, slides up, along his cock, which makes him whine.

“You,” Kikuchiyo says, trailing his hand through his come, “you couldn’t wait.” He laughs.

“You’re too much,” Katsushiro sighs. “You’re both - too much.” There are tears in his eyes. Kyuzo kisses his cheek.

 

***

 

They watch Katsushiro stand under the beating water, turning and laughing, holding his arms up against the weight.

“I know why you did this,” Kyuzo tells him.

“Do you?” Kikuchiyo says, skimming his hands over the surface of the water. The sun has disappeared behind the top of the fall. It will be too cold to stay here, soon.

“For us to - pursue you. Desire you. Have to wait for you.”

Kikuchiyo looks at Katsushiro, who is still afraid of falling rain and the memories it brings, playing in the falling water, joyous, unconcerned. He steps out of the fall, dripping, and beams at Kikuchiyo, wet hair silky and eyes bright.

“Sure,” he tells Kyuzo. “Something like that.”