Title : Niji
Word count : 1 899 words
Status : One-shot, complete.
Rating : PG-13.
Genre : Angst/Drama/Romance
Characters : Ran Shuuei, Li Kouyuu
Warnings : Light shounen-ai.
Summary : Takes place right after Kouyuu was named Jougen.

"That wasn't so bad, was it?"

"Hmm."

"Not bad at all." Shuuei stretched his arms behind his back over his head, contented. The breeze felt good against his face.

"I wouldn't say it was easy…but hey. Who would have thought, eh?" He flashed his now best friend a sunny smile…but before long it soured slightly into a bemused pout.

He studied the other boy's profile in silence; not that Kouyuu would notice, the other boy was too engrossed in staring off into the distance in the direction of the sprawling capital city before them, stretching from the banks of the trunk river at the far north corner, to the tip of the mountain whose rocky ravines sloped deep into the west towards Kiyou-

This was the best vantage point in the whole of Saiunkoku…and Kouyuu was moping.

"Why the long face, Kouyuu?"

"Hmm?"

"You've barely said a word since we left the city. What, has the climb tired you out? I told you I'd carry you if you would only let me," Shuuei said teasingly.

Kouyuu did not immediately scream profanities at him; he merely looked away again. It was then Shuuei knew something was amiss.

"Hey, cheer up. It was only the ranking ceremony, of which you were the star by the way…not a funeral." Shuuei blinked. "Besides, you can't show up at the banquet tonight with a face longer than a broom!"

"Banquet?"

"My brothers are awfully keen to meet the person who has managed to top me for Jougen." Shuuei shrugged. "Although I don't get why they're throwing me a party when they're more interested in you, the guest of honour."

Kouyuu's eyes hid a hurt only a close acquaintance would be able to see. "I don't think I'm going."

Shuuei frowned. "Why not?"

For reasons unbeknownst to Shuuei, Kouyuu's face turned a dark shade of red. If he didn't know better, he would have thought Kouyuu was angry. "W-well. The Ran Province is-is very far…for one."

"Aaa?" Shuuei frowned even deeper. "What kind of an excuse is that? You've been over to my house hundreds of times."

Kouyuu flustered. Finally he pursed his lips and turned his face away.

"Blue and red don't match. Reishin-sama said so."

Blue and-

Oh.

"What, your father tells you who to befriend and who not to now?"

"You blue-blooded people think the world in colours, don't you?" Kouyuu retorted in return, his voice thin, almost curt.

"Kouyuu, what's going on? You are behaving quite strangely." Shuuei looked him up and down. "Not to mention saying the most peculiar things. Has something happened?"

Kouyuu turned around again slowly, only to gaze at his friend sadly.

For the first time in so long, he had greeted the day when he woke up that morning by smiling in the mirror, almost shyly in fact, for no other reason than to celebrate quietly the…rebirth, if he was being particular about what to call it, of the person reflected in it.

He was Jougen. At sixteen. And how he had smiled…

Naturally Reishin-sama had been the first person he thought of when the examination officials released the roll the day before; he had paid no heed the looks of envy mingled with naked admiration the fellow candidates were throwing his way.

The world had been such a happy place, filled with radiant, beautiful colours, because for the first time Reishin-sama had genuinely smiled at him, when he showed his adoptive father the result of the Imperial Examination that night itself.

Kouyuu felt his eyes sting.

Not to mention how his heart was near bursting as he walked into the Outer Court of the palace complex early that morning, heading for the main ceremonial hall where the official ranking announcement by the Emperor was to take place. Everyone was waiting to catch a glimpse of the youngest Jougen in history yet.

Little did he know that it was going to take more than the first place in the most difficult and highly-revered examination in the country to prove his worth to the Court.

Walking down the hall toward the throne, with all eyes on him, the Jougen led the procession of the new officials into the court. And never had Li Kouyuu felt more belittled in his life.

Oh, he knew what those looks meant. A child, of neither name nor importance…with no clear, glorious background to support or bring to light the brilliance everyone knew was there but only a select few chose to see.

The Imperial Examination was supposed to be a system fair and just to all; in it he had put his faith, in the hope that one day he could prove how someone like him, someone from the slums, could have a taste of success-

The Emperor had beamed at him with pride, and Kouyuu was sure Reishin-sama had done the same too, behind that nasty fan of his. Not that he was looking or anything.

So why was it still not enough? Why this feeling of helpless emptiness still?

Kouyuu hugged his knees, burying his chin to his chest. Shuuei would not understand. He was a Ran. He needed not climb up the hierarchy, he was already at the top where he had always been, since the day he was born.

And what was he? An orphan who begged the pity and sympathy of a nobleman, having been given everything save the name-

He thought he had everything he needed to climb up, to release himself from the lowest station of life to the highest, with nothing but his own efforts.

-the name he had not thought necessary.

Feathery fingers tentatively trailed a dance down his forearm.

"Kouyuu, what is it?" Shuuei's voice was starting to shrill.

Abruptly Kouyuu lifted his face to the sky and breathed in deeply. The sun felt warm against his face. It was a beautiful day.

"Pretty," he whispered to himself.

"Hmm?"

"Pretty colours." Everywhere he looked he saw colours. Up, down, all around… the blue and white of the clouds …dazzling speckles of red and yellow from the lively town center below… the glint of gold in the far distance of the palace domes…to the strong, untainted silver of the limestone mountain in the far west-

A medley of nature's best artworks, all meshed together in a breathtaking tapestry of beauty and perfection.

"My world has always been gray, Shuuei." A sigh. Dejected, lonely…and filled with hurt.

"And it still is." Tears ominously pooled at the corners of his eyes. A strong breeze chose that moment to blow, and a long strand of green hair escaped the loose band keeping it in place, only to wisp across his pale face and stick to the moisture dewing on his eyelash.

Long seconds passed with neither bothering to break the ensuing silence, each lost in deep thought.

Shuuei scooted closer to him quietly until their thighs were almost touching. Kouyuu paid him no attention, not even when Shuuei reached over to brush the stray hair off his forehead gently, his fingers lingering at Kouyuu's temple for longer than was necessary.

He had always liked Kouyuu's hair. It suited him.

"Blue makes the sky, just as the green…accentuates the trees."

Kouyuu did not so much as blink. "And that's why you soar…"

"You misunderstand me."

Kouyuu was obviously not listening. "And why I am…grounded."

"Kouyuu…" Shuuei wished to have no more of this. Mind games were fun only when they were fun. Kouyuu was upset, and Shuuei was not a fool. He knew why.

Shuuei rolled onto his front with an agility rivaled only by the most sinuous and lithe of ferals-

-and the next thing Kouyuu knew, he was lying on his back with all wind knocked out of him, bone-thin wrists pinned to the grass at his side; there was nothing delicate and gentle in the way the large, calloused hands were holding him down…and yet…

"Your father is proud of you, is he not?"

"I-I…suppose?" A small, uncertain whisper.

"And so am I." His voice hardened. "I want that to be enough for you."

Kouyuu's expression fleeted uncertainly between hurt, and relief-he knew not what to make of this, Shuuei was confusing him-

"Wh-"

"Because I'll be damned before I bow in humble submission to those who bring you down and depreciate you." Shuuei's dark eyes danced with a furor stirred only by an intensity very few people could elicit. "Anyone who hurts you, I do not forgive."

Kouyuu's blood chilled. Shuuei meant every word, and he knew it.

A gentle hand swept stray wisps of green silk off his forehead. "You are worth too much."

"Shuuei…"

"I don't care what you are, Kouyuu. Gray, red, green, whatever-" Silky strands of ebony teased his flushed cheeks, his smarting eyes, his suddenly parched lips-

Kouyuu could not breathe.

Yet Shuuei kept pushing him down, the hoarse whisper bristling in his ear hot, heavy and raw with emotions- "You ground me."

Kouyuu gasped in a flighty breath, his eyelashes fluttering against the sudden glare of the sun sneaking from behind Shuuei's looming form-

"How can…I?" he breathed threadily, Shuuei was making him dizzy- "You fly too high..."

Shuuei resisted the urge to roll his eyes in exasperation. It would not have looked very becoming of a Ran, would it? He was in the presence of a legend, of a much superior persona-if only that person would stop being an idiot.

"Baka. No one flies higher than a Jougen."

The stinging hotness Kouyuu had successfully suppressed returned with a vengeance, and his eyes instantly watered. He did not want Shuuei to see.

The thin wrists effortlessly slipped free from his grasp, and the next thing Shuuei knew, two gangly arms had reached up to wrap themselves around his shoulders, fast circling around the back of his neck…boldly, the slender limbs tightened their hold, bringing him in closer until Shuuei's cheek was pressing hard against his companion's hot, feverish temple.

"Don't leave me behind, Shuuei." Kouyuu's voice rumbled deep within his chest, hungry and desperate.

And yet Shuuei could not help but laugh. "I think that's supposed to be my line."

"Is it enough? Is it really enough?" Kouyuu sounded as if he was weeping, but his face was still buried in the crook of Shuuei's neck for Shuuei to be sure.

"It's enough." Shuuei frantically planted a kiss on his lover's temple. "You have accomplished enough."

"Uhmm."

"You have proven yourself over and over, time and time again…and yet the only person you are still not able to please-"

Kouyuu froze in mid-breath as he waited.

"Is yourself."

Kouyuu closed his eyes in resignation.

"Kouyuu."

"Uhmm."

"I don't want you to worry about silly stuff like…like colours and things anymore, alright?"

"Uhmm." Kouyuu nodded into his shoulder again.

With great reluctance, Shuuei released himself from the tight embrace, but he needed to look, to see for himself, that Kouyuu was alright.

And to his overwhelming relief, Kouyuu was not crying anymore. Thank the Gods.

But still there was something missing…

"Blue and green makes…" Shuuei struggled to come up with something clever and original. "Umm. Cyan."

"Shuuei. Shut up already." A half-smile graced the child prodigy's face.

Ah, there it was.

And Ran Shuuei swooped down for one last, lingering kiss.

"Blue and green makes the ocean."

And Li Kouyuu found himself able to smile again.