Kouyuu wondered if Reishin-sama was even breathing.
The statue blinked languidly once, his serpentine stare steady and unwavering.
"Do you still remember everything I told you this morning, Kouyuu?"
Oh! He speaks!
The name still felt strange on his tongue. Six months was not a terribly long time, but should have been more than enough; Kouyuu found it disconcerting how he was still unable to familiarise himself with his new surroundings, with this eccentric man who had apparently taken a liking to him, the man whom he was supposed to call by name…
Kouyuu dropped his eyes. Heavens, he was still trying to get used to his own new name.
"The only reason why you're coming along is because Aniue has specifically asked to see you." Reishin said scathingly. "You will speak only when spoken to. You will eat and finish everything that is served to you. You will answer every question directed to you politely, pleasantly and truthfully. If Kurou asks you anything you have my permission to ignore him, but with Aniue, I want you to be on your best behaviour, do you understand?"
If he did not know better, Kouyuu would have thought Reishin-sama was nervous. But then again, perhaps he was. Reishin-sama had never been this conversational with him before, and the way he talked about his older brother…Kou Shouka must be a saint, or an equivalent.
"You will not interrupt any conversation between Aniue and myself. If Kurou's son asks to play with you, you will politely decline." Kouyuu nodded dutifully, wondering if there was ever an end to this. Reishin-sama had been at it since this morning.
"You will not chew with your mouth open, nor will you refuse if you are offered a second helping of anything. I will not have my son behaving in such an ungrateful manner. And for God's sake, do not fidget so!" Out came the fan. "Sit still!"
Feeling dreadfully ill now, Kouyuu clasped a hand over his mouth and prayed Reishin-sama had fast enough reflexes to dodge.
Kou Kurou's residence was part of a sprawling estate, of a grandeur rivaled only by Reishin's own, and the tall, imposing figure greeting them at the main entrance was none other than Reishin's little brother himself.
"Rei-Aniue. It has been a long while."
Reishin snorted. "Not long enough. I trust everyone in your household is alive and well?"
"Yes, albeit a little quiet. My wife has taken Hakuyuu to visit his grandparents for the week, and they are not due back quite so soon."
Reishin's eyes lit up imperceptibly. Kurou noticed and smirked. "Shou-Aniue is waiting for you inside."
The fan fell away from the lower half of Reishin's face only to jab murderously in the direction of Kurou's eyes. "Urusai!"
And in a billow of silk robes he huffed and stalked past Kurou and strode obstreperously into the main receiving hall without so much as a glance at what he had left behind.
Kouyuu stood transfixed at the main gate.
"And who might you be, boy?"
Kouyuu tore his eyes away from Reishin's shrinking form, and met the stranger's gaze. He swallowed hard and was about to hide his visibly shaking hands behind his back when he suddenly remembered he had not paid his respects-
In panic he entwined his fingers and bowed his head. "M-my name is…Kouyuu-" Kouyuu's face strickened. "…Sir-"
Kurou's eyes warmed. "Kurou-sama is fine. There is no need to be afraid. I know who you are. Rei-Aniue has mentioned you a few times in his letters."
Kurou looked the little chap up and down, taking in the finely tailored clothing, the heavily embroidered woolen coat wrapped around bone-thin shoulders, its rich crimson colour standing out in sharp contrast against naturally tousled aquamarine hair-
Never had he seen such an ill-fitting ensemble on anyone so young before. Yet the boy stared back at him unblinkingly as if awed, his eyes a brilliant, clear gray.
Kurou liked him already.
"So. I think I am your uncle."
The boy said nothing, but his face, already pale to begin with, turned a shade whiter.
Kurou found himself wondering why Reishin's adopted son was so…guarded. There was nothing in his brother's letters that mentioned anything about Kouyuu's origins or family background, just that he met him when he was out strolling in the city center…
Ah. Perhaps he understood after all.
Without hesitating, Kurou held out his hand. "Welcome to the Kou Honke, Kouyuu."
Kouyuu's gaze dropped onto the large hand extended to him, and uncertainly it fleeted upwards again. Kurou could not help but smile. Whatever Rei-Aniue had seen in this boy, Kurou was more than prepared to give it a chance to show. The Kou had always been a discerning bunch, and Kurou had all the time in the world. Now he had to get them inside before they both froze to death.
"Come," he said kindly. "Let's go inside and meet your other uncle."
Kouyuu studied the hand for a few seconds longer before accepting it slowly. The experimental way his little fingers squeezed Kurou's own was far from trusting…but it was a start.
"I cannot remember the last time the three of us sat together for a meal."
"Opportunities like this are rather rare, considering the situation I'm afraid." Kurou had to agree. Only the most senior and loyal servants were asked to stay behind that night, and Kurou had exhausted all authority to ensure their privacy was guaranteed and undisturbed, at least for the rest of the night.
"Ah yes. I am not even supposed to be here," Shouka said cheerfully
Reishin glared at Kurou. "I still have to kill you for putting Aniue's life at risk like this. Remind me to do it later."
Kurou lifted an eyebrow. "Yet you still deigned to come dine with me. How very sweet."
"Of course I came. I am very glad to see Aniue looking so well." It was amazing how Reishin's eyes could blaze with menace one second, only to shine with pure adulation a moment after. Life in exile had not taken away the brilliance Reishin knew and had always cherished.
"Oh, but it is thanks to Kurou for having managed to organise a not-so-conspicuous meeting at his own house that I am finally able to see you, and your son." Shouka smiled warmly. "You could not have imagined my surprise when I learnt about it! Why did you take so long to inform any of us?"
A furious blush coloured Reishin's cheeks. "It is not something I had deemed worth mentioning-"
"Nonsense. All the more reason to celebrate, is it not? To have another lovely addition to the Kou family-" Shouka beamed. "How old are you, Kouyuu-kun?"
"I will be nine come spring, Sir," the little boy said softly.
"You are only a few years older than my son then," Kurou said pleasantly. "He is only learning how to read at the moment, it is amazing how fast children grow. Do you like books?"
Kouyuu nodded slowly, and sneaked an uncertain glance at his guardian. Reishin did not appear to be listening, but the line of his jaw had hardened for some reason.
"Perhaps next time the two of you would be able to meet. Do you have any brothers or sisters, Kouyuu?"
For reasons unbeknownst to Kurou, Kouyuu's gaze deviated involuntarily downward and his eyes instantly clouded. He did not answer.
"He is unduly unfriendly with strangers," Reishin said flatly. "Stop asking him questions, Kurou."
Shouka boldly reached across the table to dump an extra piece of chicken in Kouyuu's bowl. "Eat more, Kouyuu-kun. There's plenty. You two, stop bickering and let's just enjoy dinner, hmm?"
"Yes, of course, Aniue." Reishin shot Kurou a winning look. Kurou resisted the urge to be petulant (in other words, stick out his tongue) and ignored his brother; he did not see the harm in trying to be friendly, the boy had Reishin for a father for heaven's sake. One would think God could perhaps be less cruel.
"Ah! It looks like we're out of tea!" Shouka poured the last of it into his cup. "I will get some more."
"Please do not trouble yourself, Shou-Aniue-" Kurou said hurriedly. "One of the servants can get it-"
"No, I think it is now time for some sake," Shouka said smilingly. He stood with the now empty teapot in one hand. "We all have a lot of catching up to do, no?"
Reishin squirmed in his seat exasperatedly. "Kurou…are you so short-staffed you're making Aniue get you your sake?"
"I may not be much of a tea brewer but I think I can do something as simple as serving wine to my little brothers." Shouka raised an eyebrow. "If you could just refresh my memory, where is the kitchen again?"
In the end Shouka won, and he hummed happily as he left the dining room in search of sake, with Reishin left brooding, with only Kurou to keep him company. Almost instantly, the atmosphere in the dining room turned sour. And since they were in the mood already…Kurou decided to cut to the chase.
"I'm afraid I do not understand your sudden desire to become a parent, Rei-Aniue." His voice was kept at a level well below the hearing range of someone sitting so far away, or so he thought.
"Make nothing of it. Being overanalytical will only hurt your head," Reishin nonchalantly took a sip of his cold tea. "Kouyuu is just a normal street kid, who looked like he needed a little meat on his bones when I saw him. That is all. Leave it at that."
"Are you going to be his permanent guardian?" Kurou glanced at the boy who seemed to have found something very interesting in his bowl of rice. "Is he to be one of the Kou? Where is he from? Does he have any family?"
"If you're worried about the purity of our lineage, don't be," Reishin sneered. "I have yet to give Kouyuu a surname, but I can assure you it is not going to be Kou. So your precious Hakuyuu is safe."
Kurou recoiled, his face reddening instantly. "That is not what I meant-" he started to say heatedly, but what initially promised to be a lengthy, unpleasant discussion was interrupted by the sudden eruption of hacking coughs from the far end of the table.
"Chew slowly will you, boy?" Reishin said irritably.
Kurou nodded his head, and a servant rushed forward to help pour Kouyuu some water. "Are you alright, Kouyuu?"
Kouyuu wanted desperately to answer, if only he could catch his breath-
Reishin watched in growing alarm as his son's face drained of all colour, and when Kouyuu started wheezing and flailing his fists about, that was when he realized something was wrong.
Reishin and Kurou simultaneously shot out of their seats and scrambled for the coughing and sputtering form huddled at the end of the table. Kouyuu's eyes glistened with tears as he desperately clawed at his throat, struggling to suck in even the smallest of breaths.
Reishin thumped him hard on the back. "You silly boy, what did you do?" His voice shrilled.
"There must be something caught in his throat," Kurou said anxiously. He tried to get Kouyuu to drink some water but it trickled down the sides of his mouth in slow dribbles, his fingers now locked in tetanic extension as his arms lashed out weakly against the front of Reishin's costume, his small chest hitching in the futile attempts to breathe-
"He's turning blue-" A barely concealed hint of panic tinged the edge of Reishin's voice. "Kurou, do something!"
Like what? Kurou screamed inside. "You! Call a doctor quickly!"
"Yes, Danna-sama!" The frightened servant ran out of the dining room, and nearly bumped into someone at the door-
"No, no, no, no-" Reishin chanted frantically when Kouyuu's eyes drooped and he began to tilt; he lunged forward to catch his son before he toppled off-
A flash of black swooped swiftly into his field of vision and seized Kouyuu out of his arms-
In a split-second Kouyuu's prone form was laid out on the floor, the upper half of his body shrouded by the looming shadow of the Kou Clan's first-born, his face no longer smiling and a mask of absolute concentration. Reishin dropped onto his knees. "Aniue!"
With one hand cradling Kouyuu's forehead, the other tucked underneath his chin, Shouka expertly pulled the boy's slack jaw forward, and once the bluish lips parted Shouka pried his mouth open with his fingers, and promptly took a look inside. His eyes met Reishin's briefly and without a word, he reached up and snatched a pair of chopsticks from the table, and forced it in, shoving it towards the back of Kouyuu's throat.
Reishin squeaked something unintelligible.
Shouka began to pull-
-and out came a long, stringy piece of unchewed vegetable; Shouka kept on pulling gently with the tip of the chopsticks held in a pincer grip, one hand steadily supporting Kouyuu's head below the chin. When the last of the offending morsel firmly lodged not a few seconds ago in Kouyuu's throat was finally removed, Shouka waited with bated breath for Kouyuu to take one of his own.
Come on, he prayed silently, cupping the boy's cheeks in his hands, willing him to breathe-
Reishin balled his fists so tightly his knuckles washed white against the crimson of his robes. "Aniue…?"
Shouka braved a glance at his bother's face, and instantly knew this was not a moment to be weak-hearted. He had to bring Kouyuu back. "Move, Reishin!"
Kurou's blood chilled. "Shou-Aniue-?"
Shouka had both arms raised in the air, one hand balled into a tight fist, the other clenching around his wrist and he silently calculated the amount of strength he needed to exert. As he swung his arm down in a swift, fluid arc, he prayed.
Kouyuu's body bucked violently as Shouka's fist thumped once and hard against his stomach, the sound of residual breath escaping his constricted lungs in a rush a painful shrill whistle-
-and Reishin felt his own stomach leap to his throat when Kouyuu started sputtering and coughing violently, his small frame racking with each explosive fit. Reishin rocked back on his heels, mesmerized at the sudden rise and fall of his son's chest.
But Shouka knew it was too early for any kind of relief, and when the telltale tremors began, he was quick to scoop Kouyuu in his arms and prop him against the window ledge, rubbing slow comforting circles on the boy's back as he emptied the content of his stomach onto the hedge outside.
Reishin climbed to his feet, wavering between joining his brother at the window and waiting until his son finished being sick...but when Kouyuu started to cry after five minutes of vomiting interspersed with painful episodes of dry heaves, something in him gave way. When there was nothing left for Kouyuu to throw up, Reishin wiped the boy's face and mouth awkwardly with his handkerchief.
"Kurou, is there a room we can use?" Shouka asked tersely. "Kouyuu needs to rest."
Kurou nodded. "We can put him in my son's room. The physician will be arriving shortly-" he took in a shaky breath. "Come with me."
An hour later, Kouyuu was resting peacefully in a bed; the doctor had pronounced him well out of danger, although the near asphyxiation may have indirectly caused a mild case of shock, for which Kouyuu was given some laudanum to calm him down and help him sleep. A servant solemnly changed the towel on Kouyuu's forehead and proceeded to wet a new one.
Shouka had excused himself to walk the physician to the door; Reishin seldom saw his brother look quite so anxious, and to his dismay he found himself worrying as he watched the two heads bend together in deep quiet conversation.
He was jolted out of his reverie when Kurou suddenly groaned next to him and buried his face in his hands.
"That was a very close call."
Reishin said nothing.
"I cannot believe I nearly killed my own nephew. And on the first day I met him too."
A derisive snort. "There's still hope for you yet, then."
"I hope Kouyuu forgives me when he wakes up for giving him such bad memories of this place."
"If you think I'm going to come visit you again, Kurou, you will find yourself greatly disappointed." Reishin flashed his brother a vicious glare. "I am not stepping into your house again, Kurou, nor will Kouyuu, or anyone else, until you get rid of that cook of yours-"
Kurou sighed. "I will have a word with-"
He stabbed his fan into Kurou's forehead. "No! Sentence her to death, by nothing less than decapitation! I demand it!"
"That is your answer to everything, is it not, Rei-Aniue? Off with everyone's head?"
"I am very tempted to start with yours, Kurou." Reishin's eyes glinted dangerously. "He'd better be alright, or I'll-"
"Kouyuu is fine. Shou-Aniue saved him in time."
Reishin's throat constricted involuntarily. "You should be very thankful then."
Kurou gazed at his brother out the corner of his eyes. Reishin did not care for that many people in his life and even for those he did, he seldom showed it.
But he obviously cared for this boy, whether he was prepared to admit it or not.
"Why did you do it?"
Reishin wasted no breath even trying to be vague. "No particular reason," he growled.
How very unlike Rei-Aniue to be this evasive. His brother must be more upset than he thought.
"Is that so?" Kurou may not be as perspicacious as his brothers, but he was much too curious to refrain from asking sagacious questions. Especially if it involved the future of the clan. "You did not give him the Kou name. Am I supposed to speculate on the reasoning behind that too?"
"I do not see why I have to explain myself to you. Perhaps it is best if you stay out of this."
"If this is your way of getting back at the-"
"I mean it, Kurou," he hissed. "I am not raising him for the clan. And I am certainly not raising him for you."
A steady, deadly gaze; unwavering and unrelenting. "Do not touch him."
Kurou's back stiffened abruptly into a rod, his throat dry and parched. Long moments passed before he gained enough courage to clear it.
"Will you-" he halted, wishing there was something he could say to lift the tangible iciness in the atmosphere- "-uh, be spending the night then?"
Reishin gave him an incredulous look. "No. It would be best if Kouyuu and I could get going soon. I want him looked at by my own physician first thing tomorrow morning."
Kurou nodded. "I thought as much. The carriage should already be waiting outside to take you both home." He studied the sleeping figure on his son's bed.
"Best not wake him-" He was about to call for his steward, but a slow raise of the finger stopped Kurou in his tracks.
Reishin stepped forward and did what Kurou would have never, ever expected him to do-
Gently Reishin slipped an arm underneath and around Kouyuu's shoulder girdle and once he had one arm locked at the side of the boy's ribs, and the other supporting the crook of his knees, Reishin lifted him very, very carefully off the bed, and cradled him against his chest.
Kurou stood stock-still at the door, completely and utterly amazed.
The death glare Reishin gave him dared him to say something, anything, but Kurou decided to be wise. He stepped aside and without a word, Reishin stalked past him and not even when their shoulders brushed did he turn to say goodbye.
"Going home now, Reishin?"
Startled, his hand froze on the carriage door he was just about to close. He had not seen him hiding in the shadows. "Aniue."
Reishin stepped down, and closed the latch behind him.
"Thankfully he was not under for very long so there should be no lasting aftereffects."
Reishin said nothing.
"Kouyuu will understand it was simply an accident, Reishin."
He looked away, avoiding his brother's eyes. He could sense Shouka had something more to say. True enough, not long after, Shouka started to speak again.
"A child's heart is fragile, Reishin. Careless words can break it just as easily as love." Shouka's tone was gentle but Reishin was not so obtuse as to not detect the warning in it. "Or more precisely, the lack of it."
"Where Kurou stands…I am in agreement. I know not why you did what you did, but I do know it was not because of me. So I am going to trust you, Reishin." A hand reached up to rest on his shoulder. "I trust that you will not hurt this boy."
Still Reishin said nothing. Only when the hand fell away did he break into the smallest of smiles, but it was without mirth. "Till we meet again, Aniue."
They locked gazes for the longest time, but Shouka was finally the one to break it with a careless wave of the hand. "Come visit me sometime, and bring Kouyuu too."
Without hesitating, Reishin nodded. "I will," he said seriously. He gave his brother one last respectful nod before turning around to climb into the carriage.
Shouka caught a glimpse of sea green poking through the door before Reishin completely closed it.
"Go," he heard his brother say softly to the horseman, and before long, the horses galloped away, leaving behind a rising veil of dust and haze.
It was only when the Kou Honke disappeared out of view that Reishin dared to move. The doctor had assured him Kouyuu would be asleep at least till midday the following day so there was no chance of him wakening. That was all very well, Reishin thought as he gathered the boy's sleeping form and bundled him nice and warm in the blanket Kurou lent him, before positioning the boy's head carefully in his lap.
"Faster," he commanded. Kouyuu needed to be resting in his own bed.
His hand came to rest atop the vial of salve Shouka had pressed into his palm, and as if on serendipitous afterthought, Reishin slowly untied and parted the boy's elaborate robes from around his middle.
Instantly something unnamable seized his heart in a vice-like grip.
fingers ghosted over the bruise which was fast blossoming into a florid
medley of blue, black and purple, standing out in sharp contrast
against the pale cream of his son's abdomen. One would think perhaps
his brother had used too much force…but Reishin wouldn't know. It
brought Kouyuu back.
You will not hurt this boy.
His hand came to rest atop his son's temple and without realizing, began to stroke the fine strands of green hair delicately.
His brother brought Kouyuu back. And that was that.
Aniue - Big brother
Kou Honke - Kou Main House
Urusai - Shut up
Danna-sama - Master of the House
AN: Eek. I wanted a Reishin + Kouyuu H/C very badly but unfortunately it needed a storyline, which I did not have. Hope it's still okay. ; Please R&R, and thank you for reading!