"So that's the story."

"Your brother sounds like a handful." A smile graced Kouyuu's features; it looked suspiciously too gleeful for Shuuei's liking, however.

"You know you're supposed to sympathise with me here." Shuuei was only short of stomping his feet, he was that annoyed. "Do you have any idea how long it took to get the disgusting goo out of my hair?"

A disinterested glance was soon followed by a shrug.

"Looks fine to me. Looks like it always does." Kouyuu wrinkled his nose. "You stink though."

"Whoever brought the jackfruit to Father as a New Year's gift is an idiot. Whoever let Ryuuren get his hands on it is an even bigger idiot."

"Can't get any bigger than the idiot who let his eight year-old brother glue his head to the bedpost," Kouyuu teased. "Everyone knows the sap sticks like a shadow. I'm surprised you managed to escape without shaving your head."

"I almost had too," Shuuei muttered. "Nearly plucked my head off my neck when I woke up this morning, lucky for me it's still attached." His fingers ghosted over the nape of his own neck at the awful, awful memory.

Kouyuu snorted delicately. "Your head's so thick I don't think it's capable of doing any such thing." He made a face again.

"What is that stink anyway?"

"Coconut oil," Shuuei ground out through gritted teeth. "Lots and lots of it. Little brat even knew what to use to get it off, but he certainly took his time rushing to my rescue. And who keeps coconut oil in their house anyway? Do you? The servants had no clue where to look. Took them hours before they could find a place that sells it."

"Well…at least you still have your hair left. Well. Most of it anyway."

"It's shinier too! Wanna see?" Shuuei fumbled with the ribbon holding his hair in place.

"I bet," Kouyuu said dryly. "And no thanks."

Shuuei pouted. "Kouyuu, you're no fun."

And found himself pelted with a bent, withered piece of sapling.

"I begged exemption from my classes this morning just to accompany you and this is the thanks I get?" Kouyuu huffed. "I'd be lucky if my tutor didn't report my absence to Reishin-sama, if he hadn't already."

Shuuei stood up and stretched his arms behind his head lazily. "Come now. I'm sure your father wouldn't bat an eyelash if you played truant once in a while…"

"That's the kind of attitude that makes you so vulnerable to tricksters and trolls like your brother. That's the kind of attitude that's going to get you killed one day."

Shuuei had to laugh. Kouyuu looked so serious. "Ryuuren's just a kook. He's harmless."

"See? My point's taken then." He followed Shuuei with his eyes. Dare I ask? After a beat, he proceeded with caution. "What are you doing?"

Shuuei had already gotten one layer of clothing off; he discarded his outer jacket carelessly onto a clump of shrubs and proceeded to kick off his boots.

"What does it look like I'm doing? I am undressing," he answered with a grin. Kouyuu grew even more wary, like he always did whenever Shuuei's eyes disappeared behind his smile like that.

"I figured I needed a good wash in the river after the prank my brother pulled. That's why I brought us here."

"Wh-Wh-"

Shuuei's teeth shone pearly white in the sun.

"Are the bathhouses at the Ran Estate not working or something?" Kouyuu nearly stammered.

"Umm!" Shuuei's head bobbed up and down emphatically, still smiling.

"Every single one of them??"

"Yup, yup." Next came off the belt.

Kouyuu's paralysis traveled southward, now not only his face, his arms and legs felt like lead as well. Shuuei's long, toned legs materialised into view, all muscles and sinew. All in the right places. All male.

All Shuuei.

Kouyuu's face burned.

"Put your pants back on for God's sake!" he hissed, turning his face away, deeply embarassed.

Heavy lines appeared between Shuuei's eyebrows. "Is that how the Kou clan wash themselves? Fully-clothed?"

If the human skin could turn any redder, it would. "Someone's going to see you! In all your glorious-" Nakedness. "Uhm-flesh!"

"How astute. Nothing ever escapes you does it, Kouyuu?" Shuuei asked teasingly.

Kouyuu cupped his palms over his face and groaned. He should have known.

A secluded spot, by the river, miles away from civilisation-and morality-

Throw in a Shuuei badly in need of a wash.

Noxious concoction.

When he finally pried his hands away, Shuuei was already in the water, standing waist-deep in the stream, his hair flowing freely about the broad expanse of his shoulders, trailing down the front of his bare chest and abdomen, its loose ends floating out over the water like seaweed, spreading and swaying with the flow of the stream-

Kouyuu watched transfixed as he scooped cool, fresh water by the palmful and poured it down his head, blissfully unaware of the eyes watching him as he raised his face slowly to the heavens-

Shuuei was right. His long, silky black hair, wet from the water, was glistening in the sun like satin. Kouyuu had never seen anything like it on a man before.

He had only ever seen Shuuei with his hair down once…just that one time when Kouyuu playfully offered to comb his hair for him. Of course, he had not expected Shuuei to say yes. But that was the last time Shuuei had ever done it.

Perhaps Shuuei was every bit as embarrassed as he was.

"Kouyuu."

"Huh?" He started, and nearly uttered a gasp of horror. How long had he been staring?

Shuuei was watching him oddly, his eyes intense and eerily sharp. Kouyuu felt his heart pick up pace. His mouth worked to form words, but Shuuei was too quick for him.

"Wash my hair for me?"

Well. As if Kouyuu could say anything now. Not when his tongue was all dry and tied in knots like this.

"I ahh…uhmm.."

Shuuei picked a handful of stray locks off his shoulder and sifted his fingers through it critically. "It's all tangled up…"

Kouyuu had to bite the inside of his lip, hard; his heart was beating so fast-

"Wash it yourself," he mustered a mumble.

"But I can't reach the back on my own…" came the mournful reply.

How gullible was he to willingly believe in Shuuei's lies?

Very.

"I don't want my clothes to get wet."

"They don't have to."

Shuuei, you crazy, perverted bastard-

"I don't want to get wet."

"I'll dry you off." Shuuei winked. He patiently clasped his hands behind his back, waiting expectantly.

Kouyuu's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "I'm starting to think that maybe you glued your own hair on purpose."

Shuuei shrugged and smiled. "Maybe."

"Ran Shuuei, you're incorrigible."

Shuuei only chuckled, and started to wade through the water slowly towards him, his eyes dancing and smiling with mirth.

It was an invitation.

Kouyuu sighed. He pushed himself off the ground and walked closer towards the river, contemplated going in, but decided to draw the line, stopping short at the bank. "Only for a while, alright? And just the hair."

Knowing he'd won, Shuuei happily raised a hand in promise. "Just."

Kouyuu kicked off his own shoes and rolled his pants up above his calves.

Shuuei offered his hands to steady him, which Kouyuu reluctantly accepted; and with a huff, he plopped down on the hard, stony ground, feeling the rocks dig into his bottom, and he stiffened. Only his feet were immersed in the water but he was freezing, all the way up to his thighs-

How the hell did he get talked into doing all this again?

Kouyuu mechanically lathered his hands with the soap Shuuei had brought, concentrating on the fragrant, fluffy suds, rather than the man watching him steadfastly, like a hawk-

Shuuei decided to spare Kouyuu his amusement. He turned his back and rested against the sturdy support of Kouyuu's shin bones. Kouyuu froze.

"It's a beautiful day today, Kouyuu."

"Uhm."

Gentle, slightly trembling fingers tentatively threaded through his hair, the tips resting oh so slightly against the sensitive skin at the nape of his neck-

Shuuei closed his eyes in contentment. The fingers worked their magic fast picking up speed, gathering and collecting the long strands by the handful and piling them all on top of his skull, the lather gathering more and more suds by the minute as Kouyuu vigorously continued his massage, kneading into his scalp, struggling to get the grease off-

Shuuei's head bobbed up and down with the rhythmic sifting movements of Kouyuu's hands.

But Kouyuu was still trembling.

Without looking, Shuuei reached an arm behind him and grabbed one of Kouyuu's wrists. He pulled it forward gently, intertwining his fingers with Kouyuu's soapy ones-

Kouyuu's other hand had stilled, his fingers still rigid, locked to Shuuei's scalp-

Shuuei raised Kouyuu's hand to his mouth and kissed his fingertips.

Kouyuu's breath caught in his throat as Shuuei turned it over and pressed his lips softly, but firmly, against the tiny pulse at his wrist.

"I love you," Shuuei murmured inaudibly into the suds.

Kouyuu mewled unconsciously.

Shuuei turned around to face him fully. "You're too good to me, you know that?" he whispered huskily.

Kouyuu stared into his lover's eyes, pools of golden so deep he could easily drown in them, and in fact, already had so many times before. Before he could stop himself, he bowed forward.

And planted a soft kiss in return on the top of Shuuei's head.

Shuuei stopped breathing.

Kouyuu gladly accepted the silence. Boldly he trailed butterfly kisses along the crown of Shuuei's head, catching a few wet strands of ebony in between his lips; finally letting them go in exchange for the lobe of Shuuei's ear.

"Looks like Ryuuren got the better of you again. Your hair's still sticky."

"Kouyuu..."

"Hmm?"

"My lips are sticky too."

"Pervert."

But when the kiss came, Shuuei felt Kouyuu's soft lips curve into a smile against his anyway.

THE END.