Title: Arcanum
Rating: G
Genre: Gen, Drama
Word Count: 2, 437 words
Characters: Kou Reishin, Li Kouyuu
Warning: None. Just cheese.
Summary: Pre-Jougen days. Why fighting your own fight is difficult. (Half-inspired by Ouran's Chapter 40. ♥)

His first run-in with the 'wall' bestowed upon him an egg-sized contusion directly over his right cheekbone which unfortunately did not go away in time, and naturally Reishin-sama noticed. If trenchant criticism for one's alleged clumsiness were the currency of love and affection, then Kouyuu would have been the most loved person in history that day.

The next weekend saw him sporting a cut, this time under his left eye; Reishin-sama muttered something about what a deplorable sight he was-not that he had not tried to be presentable (while Kouyuu was too proud to say he missed home at all, weekends were all he could think of nowadays; they were the only times the Imperial Examination candidates were allowed to go home since the start of the intensive revision courses) but honestly, could the wall not aim for somewhere less visible for once?

"Really, I have never heard of anyone foolish enough to run into a wall, let alone the same one in the span of a week." His father's finely-sculpted eyebrow arched elegantly. "I am beginning to wonder if you should be sitting for the examination at all."

Reishin-sama then asked if those fools at the palace were feeding him well; he had grown thin again, his complexion far from glowing and not-pasty, and oh, his hair now 'thicker than a jungle.'

The third weekend, Kouyuu did not leave his room at all. At first.

"Mealtimes need not be such a chore. Leaving his books for a while will not kill him" The servant saw, heard and felt something whoosh past his face- "I will, if he tries to pull this off again."

-and when he opened his eyes again, he found himself staring down the gleaming cypress of an exquisitely carved folding fan, the shaft of which dangerously close to blinding him in the eye.

"Tell the boy that, and use those exact words," the owner of said fan, (also the Master of the House, unfortunately) purred.

And Kouyuu dragged himself out of bed although his back was killing him, but at least this time his face was spared. His left flank was a different story (it was very colourful), but at least this time it could be hidden (thank the Gods for clothes). Reishin-sama would not have been in such a good mood otherwise.

However, Reishin was but a busy man, and he did not see Kouyuu off when his son left for the palace the next day; it was with mixed feelings that Kouyuu climbed painfully into the carriage, already wishing for the next weekend when the present one had barely ended.

He was not the only one though.

Reishin would be lying if he said he did not have reservations about Kouyuu taking the national exams so soon; his doubt centered not so much on whether Kouyuu was intelligent or mature enough to succeed (of that, he was absolutely certain. In his years as an official, he had yet to meet anyone as bright as his boy, and no, a biased man Kou Reishin was not) but at fifteen…Kouyuu was hardly a child anymore.

Nor was he an adult.

Despite all that, Reishin was not…worried. Not really. Well. Maybe just a bit. The imperial examination was not exclusive to the Eight Great Families of Saiunkoku, so not everyone was of noble upbringing, and Ro Kanri did mention to him in passing that the young ones always had it rough.

Sometimes he wished Kouyuu would stop growing up too quickly for his age; Reishin wondered if there would ever come a time he would no longer be able to catch up. Once Kouyuu passed the Kaishi exam, this final test…

Reishin smiled bitterly to himself.

Well. If weekends were all they had left, then so be it.

When the next one finally came, dinner proceeded as normal that night. Proper, measured, and quiet; both father and son content with exchanging few words and eating in peaceful silence. On the outside at least.

Reishin chewed his food very, very slowly. He had long since perfected the art of hiding perceptive glances under a show of languid, almost stony boredom, but in reality, nothing escaped him. Ever.

Not even the peculiar way Kouyuu was wearing his hair tonight.

Gone was his normal, no-nonsense ponytail, in its place now tousled, unruly green hair which spilled over his shoulders and down his back; his eyes completely obscured by his unusually bushy bangs that veiled the entire upper half of his face in a heavy curtain of glossy turquoise.

Kouyuu brought another small morsel of food to his mouth, studiously ignoring his father as he concentrated on the arduous task of chewing.

That was all very well.

Reishin temporarily discarded his chopsticks for the ever-present fan on his lap. Almost after an afterthought, he swung it silently across the table toward his oblivious son and surreptitiously used the tip to sweep those bangs aside-

And he immediately withdrew when Kouyuu recoiled with a start, nearly dropping his bowl onto the floor. The sheer surprise in the boy's eyes was immediately replaced with a poorly-concealed flash of annoyance, and when Reishin tentatively, yet stubbornly stuck his fan in Kouyuu's face again, the boy promptly drew his head back before turning his face away, clearly refusing any sort of contact.

"What are you hiding from me, Kouyuu?"

"I am hiding nothing." The boy noisily moved his chair an inch closer toward the edge of the table, away from Reishin, before adding almost petulantly, "Reishin-sama."

"Is it so disagreeable with your…" Reishin deliberated for the right word, if there ever was one. "Autonomy?"

Kouyuu could feel his father's cool gaze burn through his bangs.

"-my touching you?"

Reishin's chilly question hung in the air, still and heavy.

Yet Kouyuu left it unanswered, refusing to meet his father's eyes. Never had he felt such urge to scoff, yet cry in frustration at the same time before. For someone who had yearned so long for that very thing Reishin was oh so tactfully inquiring the acceptability of, if the prodding of the stupid fan was the best his father could offer him…Kouyuu was more than willing to go without.

"I apologize for my rudeness, Reishin-sama. I was merely startled." He bowed in filial acquiescence.

And I am just not used to anyone touching me using other than their fists.

Kouyuu tried not to stare at Reishin's long, fine fingers, and subsequently at their invisible imprints on the oak table long after Reishin removed them almost too hastily; his father must have noticed his longing gaze.

It was unfair of him to demand of Reishin-sama what he did not want to give.

Kouyuu hung his head. He felt so ashamed of himself.

His appetite vanished completely, and he knew he would not be able to take another bite. His eyelashes dewed with tears of frustration and shame.

Then he felt something brush his forehead very, very lightly; icy-cold and slightly stiff-

Kouyuu stopped breathing. His eyes widened in shock.

Gentle fingers awkwardly yet boldly parted his hair aside, sweeping the heavy strands in the direction of his temple, where they were then held up with the support of a soft palm, warm in contrast-

And Reishin saw enough of what he was fearfully expecting to see..a long, jagged cut that stretched along almost the entire length of Kouyuu's hairline; it was hardly healed, its wound edges red and raw. The hand fell away from his temple, only to sweep his loose hair back and away from his ear and neck.

Reishin's face darkened. Fresh bruises stood out in stark contrast against the creamy paleness of his son's skin.

Kouyuu was as white as a ghost, his gray eyes wide in disbelief and terror.

"Leave us." His father's voice had taken a sharp edge, and the serving girl wasted no time leaving the dining room in haste.

Almost as unexpectedly as it had come, Reishin pulled his touch away. Kouyuu's hair fell back in place, framing his small face, making his gray eyes appear big and scared. Rightfully so…Reishin-sama was glowering.

"Tell me why this wall is so attached to you."

Kouyuu's throat felt as dry as sandpaper. Should he make a run for it too? He frantically eyed the door-suddenly it seemed a mile away, so close, yet so far.

"Far be it from me to fight your fights for you, but you have always held your own, even if only with your temper and little else."

Reishin glared when Kouyuu still said nothing. "Well?"

"He-" Kouyuu hesitated. "He…threatened to tell everyone."

"Tell. everyone. what?"

"That Reishin-sama's my fa-" Kouyuu caught himself in time, or so he hoped. "Sponsor."

Nevertheless, his cheeks flamed.

Reishin was silent as he processed this new piece of information.

"If you wished somebody else had sponsored you, you should have told me earlier," Reishin said frostily. "I'm sure someone of your intelligence and caliber would have no problem gaining support from any other member of the royal court, since you're obviously too proud to be my son."

Kouyuu's face crumbled at the scathing repudiation. "That's not…w-why…"

This was going nowhere. If he had been any other man, Reishin would have long since sighed in frustration. As much as he could not understand Kouyuu's reluctance to acknowledge his patronage, he was more curious as to how such confidential information could have leaked out of the Department of Protocol Registry.

"How did this bully find out in the first place?" He demanded.

His son did not immediately answer, but Reishin caught the way his fingers unconsciously ghost over the memory of the now-faded bruise on his cheek. Reishin's eyes grew small.

"Don't tell me…"

If Kouyuu could look any more miserable, he would.

"Who is he?" It better not be anyone he knew, or there would be hell to pay.

Kouyuu shook his head. "It's not important."

"I decide what is and what is not," Reishin snapped. "What is his name?"

"The fourth son of the House of H-Haku."

From the look on his father's face, Kouyuu somehow knew he had sealed their fate; the Haku Clan would not live to see the next winter.

"Silly boy," Reishin ground out finally, his tone a tad angrier than he intended it to be. "Why did you let him pick on you like this? Without a fight?"

Heavy lines appeared on Kouyuu's forehead as he looked at his father incredulously, almost angrily. Did Reishin-sama not hear what he said? "He was going to tell!"

Frustrated, Reishin curled his fist into a ball. "Why didn't you just let him?"

The anger dissipated from Kouyuu's eyes to be instantly replaced with confusion, mixed with uncertainty, anxiety…fear.

"I-I did not think you would be…pleased."

Reishin stopped to blink for a while.

It was true he did not make a formal announcement regarding his sponsorship of his adopted son's entry into the Exam Registry, but it was because he did not see the need to. Kouyuu's independence and strong will depended solely on the strength of his character, not the name he carried. He had not expected a lowly brute of a lesser pedigree would dare to cross path with hi-

Of course. The oafish yob must have not known who Li Kouyuu was, he must have thought Kouyuu a mere street kid, nameless and penniless and trying his luck with the Imperial Exam.

I did not think you would be pleased.

His dinner all but forgotten, Reishin clasped his hands and regarded the hunched form of his son silently.

"Did you think I would be ashamed?" Of you? He added silently.

Kouyuu said nothing, his downcast eyes hiding a thousand hurts.

Half a decade and still there were a lot of things his adopted son did not know about him.

Long moments of silence passed before any of them made a move, and Reishin was the first to rise; his cold gaze fixed on the top of Kouyuu's bowed head-

In a flurry, he gathered his voluminous robe and stalked off, but before he could get very far, Kouyuu was fast to grab his sleeve-

"Please," Kouyuu begged.

"Please don't be angry with me, Reishin-sama." I can bear it, just one more month and it's the final exam, and it will all be over, I've survived this long another month I definitely can take, just- "Don't…"

Kouyuu breathed in through a screen of tears. "I'll fight him the next time, I promise-I do not wish to embarrass you again-"

Reishin stared at the small hand clenched so tightly around the hem of his sleeve, the knuckles white against the crimson of his robe.

"You will have a fever for the next four weeks, during which time you will be resting here at home and will recover in time for the final paper, but not one day before. I am just about to write the urgent letter now to Ro Kanri to inform him of this matter." A lump rose in Reishin's throat, but he forced it down. It was harder than he thought. "That is, if you ever see it fit to let me go."

His son released his hold immediately as one would a searing piece of coal.

"If you have finished with dinner, you are dismissed." Quite rattled himself, Reishin folded his arms close to his chest. "Do not seek to retire to bed early tonight, for I will have a physician come take a look at those injuries, assuming that there isn't any more you forgot to show me."

"Yes, Reishin-sama."

Kouyuu's slow, dejected gait stopped short at the door when his father called out his name. "Kouyuu."

"Someday it will become clear to you. Not right now, not tomorrow, not the day after-"

Reishin sounded wistful, almost tender, if not for the hard, intense look in his eyes. "Someday you will see."

Kouyuu turned his head around a fraction, his expression of one riddled with confusion. They locked gazes for the longest time.

A lone cricket strung its own melody of the night, a forlorn, sombre tune.

"Someday when I'm no longer here."

But until then…

"Reishin-sama?" Kouyuu was facing him fully now, looking very concerned.

Reishin looked out the window overlooking the koi pond, and admired the silhouette of the moon, reflected across the water in an uneven tier of glistening daubs. Tomorrow he would pay a visit to Ro Kanri to tell him there would be one less person sitting for the final exam next month.

Until then…

"It is nothing. You may leave."

I'll destroy your enemies for you.