I don't love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.
-- Pablo Neruda

Jun grew up in dark hallways that smelled of incense, fine, expensive stuff that curled out in delicate spirals to fill the large stuffy rooms. For years she thought it was the smell of magic, of a shaman's power.

Jun had been wrong about many things and she was wrong about this. Pailon, the culmination and effigy of her strength and skill, smelled either of skin or smelled of nothing.


She never asked why he stays, but she did once ask why he had forgiven her, which may have been just a more complicated and subtle form of that question. He had no answer except that he woke up from a grey twilight to a future that had been denied to him, and when he raised his hand to punish the person responsible her eyes had been more betrayed and hurt than afraid.

When they move now they move in tandem, well-oiled and precise, quick and hard.

Her kisses are teasing and breathless. She winds her arms around his neck and stands on the balls of her feet. Her breasts are high and full in his hands - the breasts of a girl too young for him even when he was alive, breasts she'll have for another ten years if she's lucky - and he always feels clumsy touching them. His hands can break cement, but a sledgehammer is not the right instrument for work this gentle and delicate. He uses his mouth instead and she arches her back and sighs.

Pailon found her once with her hair down, looking at the moon and thinking about her father. He rested a hand on her shoulder.

"I refused to fight when I thought it meant killing you," she said after a moment.


She looked back at him and her eyes are steady and filled with the way things are. "But I would have put you under my complete control again if it had meant saving Ren."

"I know, Tao Jun."

She kissed his knuckles with a mouth as cool and smooth as stone.


She didn't know how to treat him in the beginning, this awoken Pailon, and it showed in every command with a 'please' tacked onto it with the same painful and awkward attention of someone learning to walk with a crutch. He did not know how to treat her either, his mistress of twenty unconscious years with eyes that could be full of feline cruelty unless she was with him or her brother or speaking of Asakura Yoh, who she thought saved them all. So they watched each other and spoke politely.

As the months passed and the politeness wore into comradery, they were left simply watching.

It had all the inevitability of water swirling down the drain. They had spiraled around this nebulous and powerful thing between them for months before meeting it and each other at its center.


Pailon puts Jun in mind of the grottos she had only read about, secretive and cool and deep, water echoing as it lapped against stone. When she watches his back as he fights, as immediate and furious as a fire demon, or when he holds her, his body secure and immoveable as a monolith, she forgot this. It is only when he is staring at his hands or her body or practicing a move over and over again until it is burned into his memory that the shock of recognition hits her. It has something to do with his kindness, the gentility that results from true skill or the search for it, something to do with the way he always looks startled when they first touch.

His body is a pillar and Jun wraps herself around it. She has explored all his scars, traced his stitches with her tongue. At night she wrapped her mouth around him and taken delight in his clutching at the sheets and his groans and the heavy heat cradled between her lips.

She does not deserve Pailon's loyalty or his wry, knowing smirks or his sweet-kitten look of confusion. She does not deserve to watch the muscles move underneath his skin like knotted rope in the morning light when he practices. He must know it, and that he gives her these things anyway is as close to absolution as Tao can get.


He has his own bed now. He rarely comes to hers, does not come at all if Ren is nearby out of some sort of respect for him or her. She does not come to his often either. They meet in the middle.

Her cheek resting on his shoulder, Pailon smells of skin or of nothing or of a fresh wind. Jun can close her eyes and sleep.