The rain was not letting up.
If Reishin were to count his luck at all, at least his roof was not leaking. He regretted not sending a messenger into town earlier to look for a craftsman worthy enough to step a foot into his older brother's house. Kou Shouka knew neither his leaks nor brother(s) well, that was apparent. If he thought Reishin was going to ignore the utter misery that was the Kou family's firstborn's abode, humble as it already was, he should think again.
It was too late to do much of anything now, however.
The rain was honestly not letting up.
Perhaps he should call it a day. Being an official of the Imperial Court was no easy task, and Reishin secretly took pride in it, despite his incessant complaints, to anyone who would listen and not dare speak-
But sometimes it could be very tiring.
Reishin walked the full length of his room to stretch his legs before taking a seat at his dressing table. He was not a particularly vain man, but he could not help take a long look at himself in the mirror. At the stern line of his lips…the cold, calculating glint natural to his eyes-
He snorted. His older brother kept insisting he smile more. His sister-in-law too. Not that he had not been trying-he simply thought of it over-rated, that was all. What use did he have of smiles anyway? They just happened to look nice on some people. In no way were they prerequisites to one's feats to strive and survive in Saiunkoku. He languidly extricated his hair from his headpiece and loosened the band keeping the strands in place, letting them tumble down across his shoulders in glossy, sleek tresses of ebony.
Reishin scrutinized his collection of hair-combs before selecting a jewel-handled piece, and was just about to sift it through his hair when he caught a glimpse of something in the mirror; a slinking movement past the crevice of his slightly open door, a split-second reflection-
Something was outside his room.
Reishin rested the comb soundlessly on the dresser.
Quietly he rose from the table. Am I going to have my first taste of assassins? He wondered, his heart picking up pace. He had not heard any ruckus from the guards outside-whoever it was, whoever he belonged to, he was good.
Reishin pressed his back against the door, his fingers curling around the dagger he kept by his side always. The rain was masking every sound, and all he could hear was the rasp of his breath amidst the ridicule of his own palpitating heart.
Then he heard it. A sniffle.
Reishin released his deathly grip around the blade and stormed out of his room in a billow of silk robes, palpitations and all.
"What in the world are you doing here?"
The child yelped with a start, took one look at him and scrambled madly for the wall, pressing his small back against it as if to wish it to swallow him whole-
Kouyuu cowered and clutched his arms tightly around himself, his eyes misting with fear. He did not think he would be caught this quickly, if at all! He sneaked a fearful glance from beneath lashes damp from the rain.
Reishin's chest was heaving, and with his mane of raven hair flowing down in between his shoulder blades…he looked magnificent.
"R-Reishin-sama-" His throat constricted.
"I asked you a question," his foster father growled.
Kouyuu winced inwardly. Be brave now. As you've been until now.Your tongue, find it, now!
"I…I couldn't find my room. Sir."
Reishin glowered, a furious blush coloring his cheeks. It angered him to have been so easily rattled. And discomposingly so! And now he was hearing this nonsense-
"That is ridiculous. I showed you where it was the first day you got here. And I strongly believe, beyond any reasonable doubt, that it is indeed there still."
Kouyuu stared at the man in wonder, somewhat confused by his keeper's failure to realize what the problem obviously was.
Reishin stared back into those wide, naked eyes. Could the child be scared of a little storm? A boy who had been on his own for as long as he could remember?
"Well?" Reishin snapped. He did not particularly like the almost accusatory way the boy was looking at him. "Who loses their way in their own home anyway?"
That seemed to strike a nerve when the boy flinched visibly.
"I've never lived in a house this big before." Kouyuu's eyes glinted a fierce, defiant shade of grey. How did Reishin-sama expect him to get around without getting lost?
Reishin's back straightened abruptly into a stiff rod, as if an invisible hand had tugged him by the hair and pulled hard.
Kouyuu tore his gaze away; if Reishin-sama was going to be upset he'd better not look.
He lowered his head and stared at his hands instead.
It was easier to get around when he was on his own. Where he slept, where he ate (if he ate at all; what constituted a day's labor back then was more often than not beyond his control), where he nursed the splinters biting into the flesh of his palms from pushing his cart around all day-everything was done within that small six by six foot square of earth he had called shelter, begged from one of the shopkeepers on the street after his parents' untimely demise. And now he had to struggle to remember where his room was, or the antechamber, the dining room, the archives-
Houses were not supposed to even have wings; that was common sense.
Reishin was standing at the door still, his crossed arms hidden in the large sleeves of his robes. His gaze did not waver as he studied the boy's profile in the dim fluorescence of the decorative candle-clock lighting the hallway. Dirty hands, dusty feet, rumpled clothes…what on earth had this child been doing?
"What's that in your hand?"
Kouyuu reluctantly unclenched his small fist, revealing a drenched parchment of indecipherable scrawling and crudely-drawn square-ish structures, interspersed with circles and arrows of various sizes and shapes. It took Reishin quite some time to figure out what it actually was.
Kouyuu wordlessly crumpled the rain-stained piece of worn paper with one hand, his head hung in shame. He managed to look even more miserable, something Reishin did not think possible.
A map. Reishin blinked again. An obviously useless one.
He took a step closer toward the huddling boy.
He realized he was taking his own time in getting to know the child, but even so, there was much he could tell from the very beginning. There was a deep intelligence hiding somewhere within the boy, something which he found particularly intriguing. He'd seen signs of it once, so he knew it was there. He was not desperate to see it again.
Special things stay special, and will stay that way. Reishin had always believed so, with all his heart.
Small, stubby fingers unconsciously reached up and started to scratch the scruff of his neck before Kouyuu even realized what he was doing.
Reishin narrowed his eyes. The boy's hair was a strange shade of pale green, a hue too unusual to be called either beautiful or ugly. The first day Kouyuu arrived, he'd had his personal hairdresser trim those unruly bangs and wash the dirt and dust away -
The gloss was still there.
The ghost of a smile tugged at one edge of Reishin's lips, and it felt…strange. Yet not unpleasant.
Even the great Kou Reishin had to admit, the boy had not been a troublesome addition to the household. Kouyuu was reticent, withdrawn, but not…difficult in any way.
To groom a garland is to bear the thorns, a voice whispered at the far back of his mind. Reishin inhaled deeply. This is going to be interesting.
The hand had stopped scratching, but now gone to rub one eye sleepily.
Out the corner of his eye, Reishin caught the candle-clock wither close to a tiny flicker-he did not realize the night had fallen quite some time ago.
If the boy had problems navigating in broad daylight, dismissing him to let him find his own way back now…
The servants had retired to their quarters for the night. No one to call.
A shame. It would have been fun to watch.
The small frame shook with a start, and Kouyuu fearfully scrambled to his feet. He could not believe he had actually dozed off in front of Reishin-sama! But then again he was not supposed to be discovered till morning before he could make his getaway either! Now he had gone and upset his adoptive father even further.
"Are you going to stay there all night?"
The delicate frown on the young, yet strangely weathered face was nothing short of begging for some sort of clarification. Perhaps it would be wise for Reishin to make himself clear. He drawled the words slowly, articulating each syllable as he would an exasperated sigh.
Reishin let the boy stand rooted at the door, in sheer terror, and to his shame, he found himself enjoying it a little too much. Interesting.
He grabbed Kouyuu's bone-thin shoulder none too gently from behind, eliciting a yelp from the poor child, and gave it a shove, forceful enough to propel Kouyuu a few steps forward but not too hard to cause a fall.
But in any case…he kept his hand on the shoulder anyway.
"You'd better not talk in your sleep."
A gentle pull slid the door shut soundlessly behind them, father and son.
"And draw a better map next time."