*AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is, quite possibly, the darkest, most angst-ridden romancy-fic I've ever written. What happens when lack of caffeine, a bad mood, and an attempt at a one-shot Hotohori/Nuriko fic come together? Read on, and discover the hideous truth! *collapses*

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"Rain"
by Ryuen


[My tea's gone cold, I'm wondering why I
Got out of bed at all
The morning rain clouds up my window
And I can't see at all
And even if I could it'd all be grey]

~ ~ ~

He sat silently in the dim, sparse light of his bed chambers, absently stirring the cool depths of his tea with a single index finger. He'd been staring blankly at the smooth glass of the window, but the torrents of rain washed down the clear panes, made it impossible to glimpse any sign of the outside world. He knew, of course, that if he moved close to the window, pressed his nose against it and peered out, that he'd catch a glimpse of the curving palace walkway, perhaps see a glimmer of the Imperial Gardens just over the hill...but, it hardly seemed worth the effort...not now. Not today.

Sighing lightly and pressing the palm of his left hand against his cheek, Nuriko let his eyes close, spent a long moment listening to the rhythmic patter of the rain against the roof of the palace. Tamahome had left yesterday, tearing an unexpected hole in the recent comfort of his life...he hadn't realized how much he'd come to care for the younger seishi until he watched him climb wearily onto the back of that horse, ride off...leaving him alone.

Alone with an emperor who didn't love him and a court who knew him only as a woman.

Granted, not the most encouraging predicament...but, he was warm, comfortable, and was usually able to find things to occupy his attention. Keeping Tamahome from accidentally killing himself while reeling from Miaka's absence had taken a lot of his time over the past few weeks...but, now, he was forced to resort to tending the flowers he kept in the corner of his room, wandering the Imperial Gardens, or--and most frequently--just sleeping. He couldn't remember ever having slept so much in his entire life...but, it passed the time, made it easier to make it through the spare hours of waking.

And...and, then there was Hotohori-sama.

He hadn't seen the young emperor since the day of their return, almost three weeks ago...which meant, naturally, that either the other seishi was incredibly busy with the task of running the country...or else he was purposely avoiding him.

//Not that I'd blame him,\\ he thought with a bitter half-smile. //I'd imagine it was kind of a shock, finding another man pretty enough to pass for a woman...\\

Nuriko rose silently from the chair, realizing with a start just how suffocatingly-warm the air of his chambers had become... Suddenly longing for fresh air, he crossed the room, tugged open the door, and stepped out onto the palace walkway. A light mist of rain almost immediately soaked through the thin silk of his skirts, pressed the soft, smooth fabric tight against his chest and hips...but, that was all right. He smirked, briefly, a playful, boyish grin. No proper lady of fashion would ever be caught outside in a rain storm...so, he doubted he'd have much company to notice his lack of figure.

Grabbing onto the skirts and taking a moment to tug the door closed behind him, Nuriko turned and began to walk, the cool touch of the rain on his skin soothing his nerves, making him feel more awake and alive than he had in weeks. Smiling slightly at the sudden exhiliaration, he quickened his steps, bounded down the nearby steps and began to run, kicking off his confining shoes as he moved. It felt wonderful, to just throw aside all his worries, all the tensions of his existence, and just run...run...the wind sliced into his flesh, swept the thick, tangled strands of violet hair back over his shoulders, freed them from the confines of their thick, golden clasp...

His feet were getting muddied, catching up thin flecks of grass as he moved, but he didn't care...he didn't care...the breath surged in and out of his lungs, cool and clear and crisp, and the rain...it poured over his entire body, ran in rivulets over his cheeks, soaked him to the bone. By the time he came to an unsteady halt in the center of the garden, he was out of breath, exhausted, and absolutely soaked--the dress pressed uncomfortably against his flesh, sticky and cold, and he tugged at it reflexively, undid the top few buttons of the loose silken top until his chest lay bare and exposed, free and cool and perfect.

Letting out a heavy sigh of fatigue and brief exhiliaration, Nuriko sank down onto a nearby marble bench, squeezed some of the water from his heavy sleeves with a welcoming "squish." Not that there was much point to it, anyway, as it was still raining...but, hey, it was something to do, at least.

He'd been sitting there for several moments, relaxing and enjoying the cool caress of the rain against his bared skin, when, abruptly, there came a rustling from the other edge of the garden. Alarmed, he leaped to his feet, reflexively clasping his arms over his chest as he turned to face the intruder...and paused, relaxing slightly, as a familiar, robed figure stepped from the safety of the path, moved into the gardens with usual imperial grace.

"Nuriko," said Hotohori, nodding slightly.

The young emperor wore a thin sheet of some shimmering substance over his robes, and whatever it was, it seemed to repel the rain quite effectively. The violet-haired seishi watched, entranced, as the taller seishi made his way across the rain-muddied ground, his long hair tucked neatly beneath its usual decorative covering, his eyes wide and glistening in the misty air. Hotohori's cheeks were slightly flushed, and he, too, seemed a bit out of breath.

Nuriko smiled. "Hotohori-sama," he acknowledged, watching as the other man moved carefully over a mass of puddles, lowered himself gracefully onto the bench beside him. He felt a tingle work its way up his spine at the sudden nearness of the man he'd longed for for so long, and turned his face away, hoping the sudden blush didn't catch Hotohori's attention...the young emperor, however, didn't seem to be paying him the slightest attention.

"I've always adored the rain," he said quietly, smiling gently and gazing up into the shifting clouds. "It reminds me of my childhood, for some reason...of sitting in my room, watching the other children play from my window...watching the rain run down the glass..." He trailed off, smiling wistfully. Abruptly, he turned, cast the smaller seishi an inquisitive glance. "You never speak of your childhood, Nuriko."

Nuriko paled. His voice was low. "There is...there is a reason for that, Hotohori-sama." He sighed softly, stared up at the far-off glint of the horizon. "There're things in my past I'd prefer to stay there. No...no offense of course...Heika."

Hotohori was silent for a long moment. Nuriko shifted uncomfortably, feeling the other man's stare but not wanting to acknowledge it... //He doesn't care for me,\\ he told himself firmly, closing his eyes briefly against the sudden flood of emotion within him.. //He loves Miaka...he's loved her from the first moment he saw her...I'm just the only person around...of course he'd come to me, confide in me...it's cruel of him, really...but, he doesn't know, does he?\\

Another moment of silence passed, then he heard a shift of cloth beside him, realized Hotohori had risen to his feet. "You're a mystery, Nuriko," the young emperor said at last, his voice low, startlingly-gentle. "I never know quite what to make of you...and now, knowing about your...secret...I feel as if I know even less."

Nuriko sighed. "I'm sorry."

"No...I didn't mean that you should be sorry...I just..." The violet-haired seishi glanced up, was surprised to see slight flush creeping into the young emperor's cheeks, those long, slender fingers kneading together in front of him. His voice, when he spoke, was very quiet, and his eyes stayed locked on the heavens, far-away and glistening a faint gold in the dim light. "It's a lonely life, being an emperor. I thought...when Miaka came...that she would ease the loneliness, make it bearable..." His voice sank. "That she would love me. But, she and Tamahome..." He trailed off, sighed softly. A moment later, Nuriko found those bright amber eyes focused on his face, and felt a tingle of surprise work its way through him, tremble through his already-chilled body. "I came out here because...because, I felt as if I needed to be alone...but, Nuriko...I was glad to run into you. I sometimes feel as if the only people in the world I can truly relate with and be myself with are you, Miaka, and Tamahome--and the other seishi, I'd imagine--once we find them. After all...we are equals. I'm not Saihitei, Emperor of Konan with you...I'm Hotohori. *Just* Hotohori."

Something rushed through him, and he knew even as the words fled his tongue that he would regret saying them...but it was cold, he was wet and tired...and, hell, it wasn't as if Hotohori's opinion of him could sink much lower... "I wish I could find that for myself," he said quietly. "But...no one, not you or Miaka or Tamahome, knows me...or will ever know me, I think." His words began to flood forward, then, moving from his lips with such speed and passion that he had no power to stop them...nor, he found, did he want to. "To the court, I will always be Lady Kourin...to you, Miaka, and the other seishi, I'll always just be that crossdressing freak who happens to be a shichiseishi. I'll never just be ME, Hotohori-sama. No one will ever know the ME beneath these damned dresses." His voice dropped. He knew, abruptly, that he shouldn't be speaking, that he should stop while he was ahead, stop before he said something stupid...but, it was too late--the words were coming, and he couldn't stop them. "Sometimes I wonder why I was chosen. Tamahome, I can understand...you, I can certainly understand...but, me? Why me? I'm nothing more than a little boy in girl's clothing who happens to be able to lift heavy things and nearly drown Suzaku no Mikos in ponds..."

Startled, Hotohori--who had been studying the smaller boy carefully as the tirade continued--reached forward, grabbed onto Nuriko's shoulders and shook him lightly. "Stop," he commanded, eyes narrowed and slightly pained. "Stop," he repeated more gently. "Don't say such things."

The warm touch of the young emperor's hands on his bare, wet shoulders sent a shiver up his spine, made him tremble with sudden longing and need...he fought it, though, shrinking back from Hotohori's touch until the other man seemed to get the idea and lifted his hands, straightened where he stood.

"You're shivering," he said evenly.

Nuriko shrugged slightly, wrapping thin arms around himself as he tugged at the soaked cloth of his dress. It was no use, of course--the soft, silken fabric was pretty much ruined...sighing at last, he rose to his feet, took a few steps towards the path. He said nothing, knowing that if he opened his mouth again, he would most likely say something inane...so, he kept silent, feeling the weight of Hotohori's eyes on his back as he moved. He spent a brief moment pondering over the other man's attentions, more confused than ever...why did he even bother?? The young emperor loved Miaka, no one else...so, why bother being so kind? Why be so cruelly, cruelly kind?

The tears were stinging at his eyes as he walked away, blurring his vision...he didn't notice the slick, shallow puddle until he felt his foot sliding out from underneath him, the ground rushing up to meet him... He hit the soggy earth hard, smashing his head and back against the ground, and lay still. His breathing was heavy and labored, a thick, enveloping darkness flickering at the edges of his vision...but, he was conscious, at least...in pain, too startled to move, and immensely embarrassed for having fallen within plain sight of the one man on the planet whose opinion he actually valued...but conscious, at least.

"Nuriko! Are you all right?"

He heard the thud of footsteps rushing towards him, decided that it would be better to be moving when Hotohori reached him...that, or completely knocked-out...and, since he didn't feel much like feigning sleep right now, he instead opted to try to hoist himself up off the ground. Struggling and groaning slightly in pain, Nuriko twisted his body, tried to get his hands beneath him...and paused, startled, as a flutter of stars flashed in front of his vision, left him lying dazed and stunned on his back once more, gazing up into the mottled grey of the storm clouds.

Then, Hotohori was bending over him, lifting him with strong, gentle arms...and he had the sensation of moving, of being jarred slightly...and, then the world faded out for a few moments, left him cold and alone in the darkness... Suddenly, however, everything flashed back into focus, and he found himself in a new place, staring up at an unfamiliar ceiling, a warm hand clasped tightly over his own.

"Nuriko?"

It was Hotohori. Startled and still feeling a bit embarrassed, Nuriko let his eyes flutter the rest of the way open, gazed up into two thick, dark pools of liquid amber. "Hotohori-sama," he whispered dreamily. Abruptly, he remembered what had happened, felt his cheeks darkening into a blush. He'd said the name with such...such longing, such reverence...gods, he was such an idiot...

Hotohori, however, didn't seem to notice. "Thank God," he murmured quietly. "I was afraid you had a concussion." Those slim fingers lifted, pressed lightly against a spot on the back of the smaller seishi's head...Nuriko winced, drawing in a sharp breath as a sting of pain lanced through him. "You must've hit it on a rock," the young emperor explained, noticing the reaction. His gaze softened, then, grew concerned. "Are you all right, Nuriko?"

He nodded slightly, suddenly aware of the fact that he was dry and warm...but...but, the rain... "Hai," he murmured. Then, abruptly, his last thought connected with another, and he sat bolt upright on the small divan, eyes going wide. "Hotohori-sama!" he exclaimed, dragging the thin blankets covering his naked body tightly against his chest. "You...I...you..."

Hotohori gazed at him blankly for a moment, then smiled, slightly, most likely more at the reaction than anything else. "It was necessary," he said, the hint of that smile still playing on his lips. "Your...dress was soaking wet, and you were shivering...you'd have caught a cold if I didn't do something."

He laughed once, mirthlessly. "Well, I guess there's no doubt anymore as to whether or not I'm a boy or not..." He sighed, then, leaning back on the pillows and closing his eyes. "Why are you doing this?" he asked quietly after a moment, sighing again.

"Why am I doing what?"

Again, the sigh. "Helping me. You could've dropped me off with one of the palace nurses, let them care for me."

Hotohori studied him for a moment. "If I had," he offered at last, "they'd have discovered your secret, Nuriko. I didn't think you'd want that to happen."

"You could've put me in my own bed, then. Made sure I was all right and then left."

"That would've been cruel, don't you think?"

Nuriko sat up straight in the bed, a rare burst of anger flashing in the dark violet of his eyes. "What's cruel," he exclaimed angrily, "is being so kind to me when you know it's driving me insane!"

Hotohori frowned. "Nuriko, I...I don't understand..."

The smaller seishi sighed, lay heavily back onto the pillows and dragged his knees to his chest. "It doesn't matter," he whispered. "Thank you for taking care of me. Give me my clothes and I'll go back to my rooms."

"Your clothes aren't dry yet."

He sighed, pulling himself into a sitting position and letting his legs dangle over the side of the cushions until his bare feet touched the cool wood of the floor. Blanket wrapped tightly around himself, he rose, took a few steps towards the door...and staggered, a rush of dizzying stars flooding before his vision. Dimly, he felt himself falling to the side...and suddenly, there were strong arms around him, holding him up, steadying him...

"Idiot," Hotohori whispered, smiling slightly. "Do you hate me so much, you would run out into the rain with a head wound and nothing but a blanket?"

Too dizzy to do much more than shake his head, Nuriko let himself be led back to the divan, sat down hard on the soft cushions. Pressing a palm against his forehead, he sat for a long moment in silence, breathing heavily and listening to the gentle echoes of Hotohori's soft breathing just beside him. The young emperor knelt at the edge of the couch, gazing up at him with large, worried golden eyes...gods, how had he gotten himself into this mess?

Then, finally, his vision cleared, and he felt the world coming back into focus, the darkness draining from before his eyes...he felt stronger, steadier... "It's not that I hate you," he managed, drawing a soft breath and letting it out slowly through his nostrils, the length of one hand still covering his eyes and forehead. "It's that...it seems cruel to...to tease me like this."

Hotohori was frowning at him. "Tease you?"

"Y...yes." He laughed once, softly, mirthlessly. "You can't possibly be that oblivious...that you don't know..."

"Know what?"

The young emperor's voice was soft, gentle, but confused...Nuriko marvelled at that for a moment, shaking his head slightly in his hands. Hotohori really, honestly had no idea...

//Gods, I guess he IS that oblivious.\\

He considered brushing off the topic again, claiming he was tired and sinking back into sleep...but, he'd come this far...and, perhaps the truth would finally make Hotohori realize just how much...how much this was hurting...how desperately he needed the other man to go away, leave him be, stop teasing him so cruelly... Sighing, he moved the hand from his eyes, stared directly into those wells of glistening amber.

"That I love you," he said quietly.

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*AUTHOR'S NOTE: Okay, okay...perhaps "one-shot" was a bit off...but...well, I tried! I just have too much to say. :P Anyway...er...my apologies...this is the third Nuriko/Hotohori fic I've ever written, one of which--the lengthy "And Then It Changes"--still isn't finished yet...but, that's just because it's too much fun to write. :P Anyway...er...where was I? *cough* Anyway. This isn't going to be anywhere near as deep and complex as "And Then"--this is just going to be a simple romancy/angsty fic, hopefully no more than three chapters, definitely shounen ai, possibly a bit of mild yaoi...but, hey, we'll see. Anyway...read and review...I live on this stuff...

*Lyrics at the start are, by the way, from Dido's "Thank You." Originally, I'd intended on making this a songfic, but...well, I kind of lost grips on the rest of the song and the fic started going its own way, so I just gave up on the idea. :) But, hey, I thought I'd include the lyrics that started it all, anyway...that image of Nuriko sitting at the table, stirring his tea while the rain poured down the window pane... *sigh* Review! I'll dance wildly about the room and sing your praises, I promise! ^_^.