Author's Note: I know I said something about three weeks to finish the next chapter, but you probably don't mind if I present it to you a little earlier. Happy Valentine's Day everyone! I hope you get to spend it with your very special person or if you don't have a special someone you have great day anyway.

How convinced you all were that Saburō was going to kick Naoe's ass in their little duel! Remember, he's only sixteen and competing against an experienced warrior :-)

So… would you care for a lemon by any chance? :-)

Warnings: m/m sexual content blah… I was under the impression that's what we're here for anyway.

Enjoy!

Sixteen years, nine months, twenty-nine days

/\/

It was like fighting a dragonfly.

What he lacked in physical strength, Saburō made up for by moving so swiftly, it was near impossible to land a blow. Jirō hadn't gone easy on the boy, Naoe understood – and he wouldn't have to, either. In between exchanging hits, he remembered that Saburō hadn't even completed training and most likely wasn't going to. A pity. He would have been astonishing, Naoe thought with a flicker of regret.

As it was, his bokken finally came to lie against Saburō's neck after a few rounds. Had this been a real fight, the boy might have been killed, depending on his own reflexes to stop in his tracks.

Naoe found he had lost track of time. Only now his hyper-alert senses took in the voices of birds in the trees nearby, the buzzing of a fly next to his right ear, Saburō's clean sweat and the faint sheen on his features, the barely noticeable flush underneath his skin, his slightly parted lips. And his eyes – alight with the thrill of their battle, they held his gaze. Something in their amber depths told him that Saburō was just as aware of him as the other way round.

The sound of the boy's bokken clattering to the yard's ground shook them both from their trance. Their eyes broke contact for a moment, then found each other's gaze again, the spell unbroken.

A gesture of surrender, Naoe thought, or it would have been, had it come from anybody else. Saburō's golden eyes spoke of anything but of submission, though. Their look was haughty and assertive. There was no trace to be detected of the scared child Naoe had bent over the futon. He found he preferred to see those amber eyes fearless and focused on him like this, full of barely suppressed delight at the sparring match.

At that moment, he wanted nothing more than to touch that fire. Maybe this – fighting him, defeating him, ineffectively trying to stare down that Hōjō pride of his – was what prompted Naoe to do what he did next.

He pointed at his garment lying on the ground after he had shed it when they'd started sparring. "Take that to my chambers. Wait there for me."

/\/

His heart hammering against his chest, Saburō left the training ground and crossed the inner yards of the castle on his way to the living quarters. The fabric of Naoe's cloak seemed to scorch his skin. He was walking briskly as if he couldn't get to his master's chambers fast enough when quite the contrary was the case. He wished every step would take a year. Had he indeed read Naoe's intentions correctly? Was what had happened a fortnight ago to happen again?

Wasn't Naoe supposed to formally send for him in such a case? Higan had mentioned something like that to which Saburō - preoccupied at the time - hadn't paid much attention. His mind had been preoccupied at the time. He didn't understand what had just happened. Had Naoe come home with the intention of taking him to his bed again? Saburō was almost certain that it had been a spontaneous idea triggered by… yes, what exactly was it that had happened there?

A young man Saburō didn't know blocked his way inside. His robes told of his belonging to the warrior class. He wore a crest that looked vaguely familiar. Startled, Saburō stopped in his tracks to bow. The young bushi regarded Saburō for a long moment from eyes narrowed to slits before letting him pass. The blatant antipathy written all over his face made Saburō flinch.

Was he a guest of Naoe's, Saburō wondered, momentarily roused from his light-headed state. He knew such dirty looks. He had received them often enough in the past, usually from peers – like seagulls glaring at a strange bird invading their feeding ground. As a child, he could never understand the reasons for other boys' dislike. Alone at Takeda's court, he had tried his best to harden his heart so he shouldn't felt hurt by others' bias.

Such had been his relationships with men ever since: they either lusted after him or felt threatened by him. There were exceptions – as Takeda Shingen had been, or also Kōsaka – but they only proved the rule. Walking through the silent, gloomy corridors of the castle, Saburō slowed down his pace when he realized that he might have to invent a new category for Naoe.

Somehow Naoe was different from each and every other person he had ever met.

His heart hammering in his chest, he entered Naoe's study and pulled the shoji shut behind him. So. He was in this room again. Waiting for Naoe to come and do what he had done last time. It felt surreal. He'd been lulled into a false sense of security by the complete lack of attention from Naoe's side after their encounter.

For once, Saburō could tell what had triggered someone's interest. Naoe's had been sparked when their sparring match had come to an abrupt halt. They had looked at each other and suddenly the air had been charged with… something. Saburō couldn't explain it, but Naoe's gaze on him had almost felt like a physical sensation. Unconsciously, he ran his hands across his bare arms. They felt like ice.

He should have been scared, Saburō thought. Terrified. Out of his wits. Like he had been before. When he considered the facts of what was about to happen, it seemed impossible to understand how he hadn't panicked yet.

What he felt instead was mostly just… numb.

Quick footsteps on the corridor as well as the shoji gliding aside heralded Naoe's entry. Saburō took in his tall frame filling out the entrance. For some reason he always seemed to forget just how… big the older man was until faced with him. Naoe pulled shut the shoji and paused. The shadows of the room veiled his features, but Saburō could feel the man's eyes on him.

"Come here," Naoe said hoarsely.

Impossible. Saburō stood absolutely still, like a rabbit before the snake. He willed to force his legs to move forward, but just couldn't obey the command. So it was Naoe who crossed the room impatiently with two large steps, halted right in front of him and buried his hands in Saburō's hair, never breaking eye contact.

Saburō gasped with the shock of being touched by him again, even more so when the light grip in his hair tightened and Naoe pulled his head back to look deeper into his eyes. His gaze flickered slightly from left to right and back again as if there was something fascinating, but mysterious written in Saburō's face that he was trying to decipher.

He didn't stop at that, of course. A warm large hand ghosted over Saburō's throat, over the exposed skin above the neckline of his yukata. He started trembling as the garment was pulled off him, but forced himself to hold Naoe's gaze as the man walked him back towards the futon. As he felt the silken fabric underneath his bare skin, he wanted to turn around to face the futon like the last time. Naoe's hand on his shoulder stopped him, though.

/\/

He wanted to see the boy this time, Naoe decided. Not just the perfection that was his skin and all the developing muscles underneath that ivory surface, but his face, those unusual eyes, slightly widened in apprehension. Meeting those eyes again, Naoe was suddenly reminded of that day in their camp in Odawara when Oda Nobunaga had unexpectedly called on him. How he had caught Saburō hiding behind the shoji. Coming across him unexpectedly, Saburō had looked at him with exactly this expression, from equally widened eyes.

The next instant, Saburō turned away his face so Naoe was presented with the sight of his delicate profile. There was something very arousing about the contrast between Saburō's pride, his aloofness, his way with a sword – and that total defenselessness when they were together like this. The boy was completely at his mercy, like no one had ever been before or maybe some had been and Naoe just hadn't cared because they weren't…

Hōjō Saburō.

Naoe was surprised at just how difficult breathing proved right now. His hands shook ever so slightly when he reached for Saburō's last piece of garment to reveal the part of his body he was most interested in. His hands lingered on the boy's slender hips for a moment. In spite of his urge, Naoe sat on his heels to take in the view before him. It was a very appealing sight indeed, Saburō on his back like this, inky hair spilling on the futon, chest heaving with his breathing, tension in every limb in spite of the comfortable bolster he found himself on, his slender legs spread.

His for the taking.

All his.

Impatiently, Naoe tore off his own kimono and loincloth. He wrapped his fingers around a thin ankle to position Saburō conveniently. At the last moment, he remembered to prepare the boy. The oil he had used the last time was stored out of reach so he had to get up again. He cursed inwardly at the time he lost with these actions.

Quickly, Naoe poured the oil onto his fingers and put the tip of the first one into Saburō's entrance. He suppressed a groan at the feeling. The boy was just as tight as he remembered. He couldn't rule out the possibility that he was being a bit abrasive, speeding things up as he felt his control over his own urges slipping. Biting his lips, Naoe added another finger and after a little while moved them apart.

It might have been a bit too early still but he couldn't wait anymore. An almost feverish need gripped him as he slid in between those slender thighs. He'd had Saburō before, the boy could take it.

Very slowly, he inserted himself reveling in the tight heat that enfolded him. Naoe had to grit his teeth to avoid entering further too quickly. Balancing his weight on his elbows, it cost him every ounce of self-control to keep himself in check and carefully retreat just as slowly before he came back inside.

/\/

The pain was every bit as awful as the last time. It made Saburō's breath hitch in his throat. The fingers had helped a little, he assumed, but it was still savage. He couldn't really relax to make this any easier, either. The tension everywhere in his body seemed insuperable. Nevertheless a small part of his frozen brain registered how this was the complete opposite of what had happened the last time they had been in this room. It was spontaneous, full of urgency, almost impatience on Naoe's part and just a little bit rough.

And that roughness should have scared him, Saburō thought. Yet although his heart beat frantically throughout it all, he felt no true fear. He was too distracted by the changes he witnessed in Naoe. Who would have guessed that the stoic man could act this rash, this passionate? The vague idea that he had brought about these changes in him, gave Saburō an unknown, unexpected thrill.

He had been mistaken, he realized, when he believed Naoe to take him to bed only out of a sense of duty, to be cold and indifferent towards his body. The older man's behavior was so different now from what it had been like then that Saburō couldn't even begin to understand his motivation. One thing had become clear, though.

He wanted it after all.

It was the weirdest condition. The gradually dulling pain in his lower body and the nausea caused by the strong, male scent mingled with a strange fluttering feeling in the pit of his stomach. Naoe didn't notice any of this, of course. Just like before, he was being very quiet, except for his labored breath as he set up a rhythm with his hips. Saburō let his head sink to the side, hoping for it to be over soon when he became aware of the older man's hands framing his face, his thumbs coming to lie on Saburō's temples as he made the boy turn his face to him.

Fascinated against his will, Saburō came to understand that Naoe wanted to look into his eyes while doing this. The realization sent a new shiver down his spine. As he looked up into Naoe's eyes, he felt again this strange connection that had already been there when they were sparring. Maybe Naoe had felt it, too, and that was the reason why he was behaving this way? In any case, the eye contact seemed to spur him on. The friction started to burn and Saburō just knew he was bleeding again.

He understood only now how much Naoe must have reined himself in during the first time. His fists clenched beside him, Saburō endured the man's flesh impaling him without uttering a single sound. It wasn't just the thickness of the invading object, but it felt also unpleasant to be touched this deep. Not without relief did he notice the end approaching.

With the last thrusts, Naoe broke eye contact with Saburō who could practically watch the man's climax creeping over him. His eyes closed, his angular features contracted as if in pain and only then he uttered a low moan before collapsing onto Saburō's lithe frame, burying one hand in his hair.

Saburō felt the man's softening length slide out of him with relief. He lay still for a few heartbeats then carefully turned his head so his breath broke against the man's neck. Strange as the whole situation was, he felt that he had rarely witnessed anything more fascinating than this explosive transformation. He watched Naoe's now relaxed if a little thunderstruck features with interest, his clouded eyes, the sweat on his skin.

/\/

Naoe groaned almost desperately when he came down from his high. All conscious thought seemed to have faded into white-hot nothingness for a few long moments. When he remembered who and where he was, he gingerly rolled off Saburō, coming to lie on his back. Staring at the ceiling, he was trying to catch his breath as his thoughts slowly began to clear.

This wasn't like him at all. He couldn't understand what had possessed him. It had been like getting caught in a mysterious undertow that he couldn't resist. What was it, Naoe wondered running a hand through his slightly sweaty hair. What had that boy done to him?

He snorted. Ridiculous. Saburō hadn't been doing anything. It had been all him. He had looked into those amber eyes after their little duel and he'd wanted that glow to be his. Which was an idea just as preposterous, he found. Naoe demanded and Saburō obeyed. But that obedience went only skin-deep. He couldn't touch the boy's soul by invading his body, Saburō's mind, his inviolable core, the light that reflected in his golden eyes was all his own.

Naoe became aware that Saburō had gotten up from the futon, busied himself at the other side of the room and was now kneeling next to him, extending his hand. Feeling dazed, he took the damp cloth from Saburō's hand and cleaned himself. That uninspired duteousness was but a mask, Naoe was sure, and not one he liked in particular, he found.

"Do you wish me to fetch your supper now, tōnō?" It was the first time that Saburō had spoken to him since they had left the Takeda. He had been different there, Naoe realized. Just like he had been different when he held Naoe's gaze after their sparring match. Many facets to that fair appearance, Naoe mused.

"No," he murmured, realizing that the boy was still waiting for an answer. "I shall dine with our guest."

Irobe Nagazane had completely slipped his mind. The man hadn't eaten yet since they had arrived at the castle. Naoe was supposed to host a dinner for him together with his father-in-law. Instead he had come here to pounce on his servant, inappropriate enough in the early evening hours. But to forget his duty towards his guest like this… Naoe wondered what was wrong with him.

Saburō seemed slightly at a loss at this breach with protocol. "It's all right," Naoe said. "You may return to the servants' quarters."

All these formalities. It made him wonder not for the first time if the haystacks in the stables wouldn't have been the better solution. Today he had certainly proved worthy of them, he thought trying not to flinch at the memory of how he had wrestled Saburō down on the futon.

Naoe sighed, propping himself up on his elbows. It was late, he hadn't eaten, and they were about to depart for the border in a few hours. He wanted nothing more than to lay his head to rest, enjoy the heavy, boneless feeling of his body and escape the question how he had just tossed aside years and years of discipline.

/\/

"Nobutsuna!" Naoe Sanetsuna called after his son-in-law. The young man turned around. They had only just finished dinner and Irobe Nagazane had retreated for the night already. It was obvious that Nobutsuna planned to do the same. Sanetsuna could guess at the reason.

"You're forgetting your duty as the host of this castle", he reminded his son-in-law sternly.

"How so?" Naoe inquired with perfect sang-froid.

"Instead of entertaining Irobe-dono properly, you keep sulking during dinner conversation and make haste to get back to your plaything as soon as we're retiring."

Only those who knew him very well would have perceived his son-in-law to be angry at all. Sanetsuna belonged to this small group, though. He had seen Naoe grow from an outcast child raised in a monastery into an outstanding soldier and commander who made his way into Kenshin's inner circle with assertiveness and sense of purpose. Having been such an important influence on the young man, Sanetsuna couldn't only detect Nobutsuna's anger, but also evoke it.

And he wasn't going to let his son-in-law off the hook. Not when he hit home this easily. Nobutsuna wouldn't be vexed if there weren't some grain of truth in the accusation.

The young man owed him. For taking him in when no one else would, for allowing him to complete his education, his training in the Way of the Warrior, for raising him as his own heir and finally marrying him to his only daughter. Where would Nobutsuna be at all if it hadn't been for his support? It was only out of concern for the family when he reprimanded his son-in-law. How were they ever going to get an heir if Nobutsuna continued spending his nights with the Hōjō boy instead of Osen?

It was a most curious matter, actually. Sanetsuna had firmly believed his son-in-law to be indifferent towards the boy. After all, Nobutsuna had never shown interest in pursuing his physical pleasure outside marriage, especially not with a male partner. Nobutsuna's complete lack of interest in his own sex was the only explanation why he hadn't made use of Saburō before.

Any man with half an eye would have been seduced by the boy's sheer otherworldly beauty. It couldn't be helped, Sanetsuna thought, men would stare at that exquisiteness and be lured in. Just like he hadn't been able to help himself when the boy had knelt before him, so sweet and obedient, that ivory skin showing from the neckline of his garment, contrasting the silky black of his hair. It hadn't been his fault, Sanetsuna decided, there was just something about Saburō that made one want to reach for him.

And when Nobutsuna departed from the castle tomorrow on a mission from Kenshin-kō, Saburō would be left here alone…

All of a sudden, resentment seemed to drain from Nobutsuna's face. Instead he was studying Sanetsuna closely for a few heartbeats. It almost seemed as if a hint of amusement crept into his expression. "Chichiue, allow me to express my thanks for your insights." Nobutsuna bowed respectfully. "You brought an issue to my mind that would have escaped me otherwise."

Puzzled, Sanetsuna looked up at his son-in-law who had been a delicate child and grown into a taller man than his adoptive father was. Nobutsuna held his gaze when he calmly added,

"I shall take Saburō with me when I depart tomorrow."

/\/

Irobe Nagazane was staring at the wooden ceiling of the bathhouse, the back of his head resting against the tub. He deeply inhaled the scent of sweet balm and rosemary. The hot water was pleasant but it couldn't help him relax after what he had witnessed before in the courtyard.

It had been naive of him to think a man such as Naoe Nobutsuna wouldn't be sought after by others – or seek them out himself. Nagazane had heard of Naoe Osen-no-kata's beauty and for some reason taken her for the main opponent in a battle for her husband's affection. With Osen being a female, he had believed they weren't going to get into each other's way. Many bushi kept a wife and concubines besides pursuing relationships with males. Then he had seen the boy and he understood that there was going to be a problem.

A problem with porcelain skin, hair the color of a young raven and almond-shaped golden eyes.

But if the sight of the youth was an unpleasant surprise, watching Naoe react to him came as a shock. Nagazane saw the two of them standing close on the training ground after their sparring match. A blind man could have guessed at their relationship from the look on the boy's face, widened amber eyes gazing up into Naoe's, full of unspoken promises, and how Naoe wasn't able to look away.

And the little minx knew it, too. During the few moments before he had bowed to Nagazane, there hadn't been the slightest hint of submissiveness in his eyes. From up close, his looks were even more stunning as Nagazane had been able to convince himself. It should be impossible for someone to be this beautiful, he had caught himself thinking.

Nagazane knew he would never be considered pretty. He had other qualities, though: his loyalty, his intellect. A man such as Naoe Nobutsuna would see that, he figured. Now it turned out Naoe wasn't immune to the pull of true beauty, but...

Nagazane's attention returned to the room when a young manservant brought more hot water for his bath. He had been introduced by Naoe as Higan. His age must be somewhere between Nagazane's own and the boy's he had seen with Naoe.

"There was a boy in the courtyard this afternoon, sparring with Nobutsuna-dono."

"Sparring, tōnō?" Higan asked politely even as he looked at Nagazane in surprise.

"A peasant boy with a ponytail and… golden eyes." There really was no better way to describe that color.

"Saburō is no peasant," Higan replied calmly while he poured the fresh water into the tub. Nagazane raised a brow at the young man, implicating that he should continue. "He was born Hōjō Saburō, son of Hōjō Ujiyasu-dono."

Saburō was a member of the family the Uesugi army had defeated after years of bitter altercations only a couple of months ago? This explained both his skill with a bokken and his lack of submissiveness. "How did he come to… live with Nobutsuna-dono?" Nagazane asked although he had his suspicions by now.

"He was captured after the fall of Odawara. Oda Nobunaga gave him to Nobutsuna-dono as a reward for his services during the siege."

It was a new thing, then, Nagazane understood. Naoe had only just met the boy who was a gift from a powerful daimyō. He hadn't tired of him yet.

If one could tire of such a creature. Naoe's plaything had turned out not to be a product of the lower classes, but actually a sophisticated being, blood of what had been one of the highest-ranking and most powerful families in Japan – who had been fierce enemies of the Uesugi before their extermination.

Nagazane's eyes narrowed. He had been prepared to respect Osen-no-kata as part of Naoe's life.

But he wasn't willing to share his ideal with a Hōjō slave.

/\/

Saburō raised his head to take a deep breath of fresh morning air. At first, he had been reluctant to leave the castle – even though he still considered it hostile environment to a certain extent. The grounds outside still were a wholly different matter. He wondered when his love for nature had lost out to a sense of self-preservation. Whichever way you looked at it, Echigo was enemy country. He was a stranger here, a scion of the loathsome Eastern clan the Uesugi had extinguished only recently. He felt he wasn't welcome.

An hour or so into the day, however, as the sun rose higher above them, the beauty of his surroundings came to his attention. The sea lay to his right hand, the gently sloping mountains to his left. Everything was green, drunk on the soft rain that fell throughout the year until it was replaced by heavy snow and made the Northern Lands so fertile. Saburō felt strangely content as he walked in silence.

He had been surprised when Jirō notified him late at night that they were to leave the castle the next morning with Naoe and his bodyguard. Last evening's activities had left him sore. Physical exercise this soon afterward didn't see like such a great idea, but at least, as a lowly servant, he didn't have to sit on horseback. That would have been a lot worse, he assumed.

Last evening had left him puzzled and brimming with a whole lot of other emotions he hadn't had the chance to categorize yet. In a way, having to do this a second time had caught him off balance because of Naoe changing his mind about him all of a sudden.

Why did he do it, Saburō wondered, his eyes on the tall silhouette of the rider at the very top of their trek. Just when he had fooled himself into believing to understand Naoe's actions and the motivation behind them, the man had to go and turn everything upside down. For days after their first intercourse, Naoe hadn't spared him a single glance and then all of a sudden he came and grabbed him right from the training ground.

Was it really because they had been fighting and he had somehow found it arousing? Or was he just starved after spending time away at court? Then why come to Saburō and not to his wife?

And was it going to be like that in the future? Was Naoe going to satisfy his needs every once in a while and completely ignore him the rest of the time?

The idea didn't sit particularly well with him. There was nothing he could do, really. He was an object to be used, to come and go at his master's beck and call. If he was told to clean the stables, that's what he did. If he was supposed to hold still while Naoe sought his pleasure, he didn't have a choice in the matter.

Now he watched from the end of their trek how Naoe conversed with the young bushi Saburō had encountered the day before. He had been by Naoe's side all morning. Were they lovers? To Saburō at least, they seemed close. That would also explain the dirty looks the young man had bestowed upon him. Jirō who was walking beside Saburō had spoken of the young man as Irobe-dono.

It made Saburō wonder how many people Naoe was getting involved with on a regular basis. His wife, obviously. This young nobleman perhaps. Saburō himself… from time to time. And who else?

It wasn't his business, Saburō reminded himself firmly. Or rather, the more people Naoe was allocating his attentions to, the less often Saburō would have to let his master have his way with him. There was no denying, though, that Naoe never even looking at him after their coupling had felt awkward.

Not that he wanted to be looked at. Men staring at him had always been a nuisance in the past, foreboding more precarious situations often enough. Only… when Naoe had been inside him, his desire for him so evident, Saburō had been emotionally touched in a strange way. He'd been able to forget for a short while that Naoe was the enemy, to believe that there really was some kind of connection between them. How pathetic.

Now he felt something akin to revulsion at the thought that he had been almost glad about the man's attentions. It made him wonder what was wrong with him. He certainly didn't wish to be used in this way.

/\/

Author's Note: Poor Saburō, how is he ever going to work out that strange, intense man that happens to be his master… or his own feelings, for that matter. So, still non-con and there's not really a light at the end of the tunnel yet. And what do you know – there's another vying for Naoe's attentions! Historically, Irobe Nagazane was the younger of Irobe's two sons and supported Kagekatsu in the otate no ran.

Stay tuned, everyone, and let me know what you're thinking please :-)