Prologue

Shinomori Aoshi was never the type of man who liked crowd or to be in one. Yet he often found himself being the center of people's attention as he easily stood out in a crowd with his natural grace and charisma. Being the first and only son of a respectable family in Kyoto, he had been taught all his life how to behave around and among people of every class and more importantly how to stand out in the sea of people so that they would pay immediate attention to him.

Still, he detested it with passion. He would rather stay in either his family's private shrine or his study than to attend a pointless party. He found tea ceremony and painting far more interesting than having a party or going to one. People often found his idea's of 'fun', odd and told him so. After all how could a dull and deathly boring ceremony be more interesting than a laughter-filled party? He never bothered to explain, though, and no one expect him to do it instead of hiding in the quietness of his room.

Which was what he sorely tempted to do now. He didn't know how Ogina and Misao managed to talk him into it but he now found himself in the annual summer festival. It's something he deserved after dealing with many customers, rival merchants and delayed shipment during winter and spring. But that was according to Misao. He still firmly believed the only reward he deserved was to be left alone in his study until the next shipment of goods arrived from Tokyo.

He glanced around him. It seemed like everyone in Kyoto decided to go out and celebrated the coming of the long-awaited season. People littered the streets everywhere in the city, their excitements filling the air. Constant streams of people and the colorful yukata they wore for the occasion around him making Aoshi felt as if he was lost in the sea of color he clearly didn't belong with.

He glared at Misao with light annoyance and desperation but the young girl was oblivious to it. She was busy skipping happily from one game stall to another, Ogina followed closely behind; ogling at some young girls he passed.

Intense jade eyes softened lightly at the sight of these two's obvious happiness. They were the closest things for a family for him especially after the death of his late parents, and even long before it. Misao, also an orphan, was his cousin and had stayed with him ever since his teenage years. She had become a sister to him yet he noticed that lately Misao had view herself as something like Aoshi's future bride. The tall man had no intention of neither making the young girl's wistful dream come true nor to hurt her by rejecting her, thus he remained silent. Ogina, on the other hand, had stayed with his family for as long as he remembered. He had been a mentor for Shinomoris' heirs for years and Aoshi's only role model of a real parent. If not for these two he knew the large manor he lived in would've been dull.

He sighed to himself softly. Misao didn't seem to be inclined to leave the game stalls any time soon and he was already tired and dizzy from all the noise and color around him. After a moment of consideration, he slowly walked away from his companions to find a place less crowded.

His feet led him to the quiet riverbanks. Carefully, as to not stain his dark blue yukata he went to sit on the riverside. Grass blades tickled his ankles and fireflies surrounded him as he settled comfortably on the soft earth. He let out a long-suffering sigh as he gazed up to the starry summer sky. So much for having fun in the festival. Briefly, an absurd thought entered his mind as he envied the distant stars for their peace, something he couldn't possibly have with the entire racket going on around him.

A soft chuckle made him turn his head; light frown marred his handsome feature at the disturbance. Yet as soon as he turned his head from the lovely night sky, he found himself captivated by a sight prettier than the stars. His annoyance melted into entrancement as he took in the view before him.

A few feet from him, a boy sat. One of his legs drawn up but the other stretched so that his toes touched the surface of the dark water. This position made the pale blue yukata the boy wore fell down to expose stretched slender leg. The boy's hand rose to playfully try to touch the fireflies surrounding him. His other hand supported his weight behind him. A soft sweet smile was on his full lips as the fireflies evade his fingers. With dark yet starry night sky as the background the boy seemed almost surreal and Aoshi felt his heart beat faster with sudden thrill and excitement.

Jade eyes followed the boy's movements as he lied down on his back onto the grass. The collar of the leave-printed yukata that rode a little low on the boy's shoulder went even lower to show long graceful neck and a patch of creamy flat chest. Aoshi felt his body responded to the sight and he couldn't tear his eyes away from it. He ran his eyes down the boy's lithe body from the pale neck to the half exposed leg. His throat went dry as his eyes reached the slender leg.

He forced his eyes to lift and meet the boy's curious yet smiling eyes when he felt them on him. For a moment they said nothing to each other.

"Oyasumi." The boy greeted politely with a light bow of his head.

"Oyasumi nasai." Aoshi replied softly. He averted his eyes to the now-seemingly distant crowd. From the corner of his eyes he watched as the boy amused himself with the fireflies and disrupting the calm water's surface. Aoshi never knew he could be so tense yet calm at the same time before he laid his eyes on this beautiful boy.

"Soujiro! Where have you been all this time? Yumi-san is looking for you!" A woman yelled from the street near the riverbank. Aoshi's light displeasure was pushed aside as he saw the boy got up to his knees from the corner of his eyes.

"Ritsuko-san! Gomen, I completely lost track of time. Matte kudasai." The boy got up and wipe grass blades from the back of his yukata, adjusted it to cover his previously exposed thigh –something which Aoshi regretted-, and put on his forgotten sandals. When he was presentable he bowed down to Aoshi with an apologetic smile before running to the waiting woman.

Aoshi's eyes followed him until the pair disappeared from his sight. Soujiro. It was a name he would never forget.


"Where have you been? How's the festival, bouya?" Yumi absentmindedly asked the smiling boy before him.

Soujiro paused in his way to put down the cakes he bought for Yumi onto the table. His eyes completely closed and his head tilted to the side in contemplation. "It's great! I think it's even more crowded than last year. There were some gaijins there, too."

Yumi didn't seen to pay attention, though. She only nodded as she gazed through the open shobi to the quiet garden. Though the house they resided in was not that far from downtown Kyoto, the garden was almost deathly quiet save for the occasional sound of stirring pond water. The large contrast from the noisy and crowded festival to the silent house made it difficult for Soujiro to believe that just outside the house was one of the country's biggest festivals. It's almost seemed like he had entered a completely different dimension.

A glance at Yumi told him everything. Now he knew why Shishio-san told him to stay at Yumi-san's house today. It wasn't as if he hadn't had any suspicion; after all he was his page. He was almost constantly with Shishio-san and thus he had seen this coming. He knew Shishio-san had a business meeting he must attend tonight. It was a party to celebrate both the coming of the beautiful season and the successful deal of the past year. Soujiro also knew that there would be a discussion concerning a rival and soon-to-be partner merchant. It was the exact reason why he couldn't come to celebrate the festival with Yumi-san nor take Yumi-san to party with him.

Shishio-san had expected Soujiro to entertain Yumi-san in his absence. But Soujiro had absolutely no clue as of what to do. The only form of entertainment he knew and was capable of doing is story telling, or perhaps he should call it story babbling. Yet he wasn't sure Yumi-san would want him to explain at length about the festival she had always attended every time it was held in town. Surely Yumi-san would want to hear something more interesting and profound. Or perhaps he should pour her some sake? Besides he really had nothing to speak of the festival for there weren't many things new. The only thing that truly caught his attention was the scene that took place in the riverbank earlier. The man he had had the opportunity of meeting had printed an image in his head. The look on the man's eyes had been particularly intent. He almost thought the man was going to devour him with those blue-green orbs. He never had anyone looking at him like that- in fact he was used to having people not seeing him at all. But should he speak to Yumi-san about the way this stranger looked at him? It'd probably get the woman laughing, but would it entertain her long enough?

He watched Yumi-san through closed eyes, considering this option. Giving sake to Yumi-san while she was at this state only meant getting her drunk. He knew Shishio-san wouldn't be pleased to see it and he would probably get a punishment for it. Not that Shishio-san would see that, really. He knew Shishio-san wouldn't return until around midnight, and thus he would surely return to his own home instead of his mistress's. And when Shishio-san came to Yumi-san's house the next day Yumi-san would already be sober enough he couldn't tell she was drunk last night. Right?

Still, Soujiro wouldn't risk his being punished. He considered his other options quietly. It wasn't like he had any other really. Ever since he was taken as Shishio-san's page all that he was taught to do were pouring tea and sake and running errands. It was at times like this he wished he were taught more. Maybe learning ikebana and some cha-no-yu would be interesting and useful.

"Ne, bouya." Yumi-san suddenly called. Soujiro perked his head up and looked at Yumi-san questioningly. "Bring me some sake, will you."

The boy weren't sure whether to feel relieved or worried about the request. "Are you sure, Yumi-san? You know Shishio-san doesn't like to see you drunk."

The beautiful woman gave Soujiro a look at which Soujiro bowed in apology. He lifted to his feet gracefully and left the room to retrieve some sake, his earlier thoughts pushed to the back of his mind, keeping in mind to ask Shishio about this matter.


Aoshi looked out of the window as he set his quills down. He had locked himself in his room with the intention of writing something. He had thought of writing haiku as he had preserved a book especially for this particular kind of poem. Yet all ideas that had flooded his mind while he was in his office, signing papers of deals among other things, suddenly disappeared and all attempt to recall them proved useless.

Then he had thought of painting. Although painting wasn't his strong point, he had learnt to do it in his younger years. And though he wasn't a great artist, his skill was quite plausible. But he couldn't think of anything to paint. The garden visible from his room, which usually became a model for his paintings, he had found uninteresting. So he had stayed in his room in silence, pondering an object to write or paint.

All thoughts, interestingly enough, centered to a certain point. Rivers and light blue yukata seemed to dominate his mind as of lately. He even began to visit the town more often in hopes of finding the source of his new infatuation.

Misao was delighted at this new development. The girl of course found this change exciting as she could spend her time to do two of her favorite things at once: being with Aoshi and sightseeing in the town. The young man idly wondered if she'd keep her delight when she found the true purpose of Aoshi's new habit.

It had surprised him when he realized how calm he was at accepting his obsession with the boy he met only once. Perhaps he had known it all along and had been waiting for this to happen. He had known that he wasn't interested in any girls Ogina had introduced to him in his desperate attempt to provide the family an heir. No matter how many kinds of girls Ogina brought, none could catch even a small amount of his interest. And indeed there were many that the old man introduced to him, ranging from quiet, modest girl to flirty young ladies, Ogina even had the audacity to bring him a thirteen year-old and –at different time- a woman who smelled of cheap sake then. Yet all he felt for them were respect and light annoyance when the girl was bold enough to openly seduce him. The most things he could feel for a girl was the feeling he had for Misao, which was a brotherly affection.

So this revelation that he was attracted to a boy didn't shock him at all. His only concerns were about his 'family' (who only consisted of Ogina and Misao) who was of course expecting an heir from him soon. He was well in his mid twenties and he hadn't even touched a girl the family presented him. Being the sole heir, for his only competitor was Misao, had its own advantages and down points. The advantages were, for one, he didn't have to worry about any member of the family competing with him for the position as the owner of the company. Misao was completely content with being a normal girl and had no wish whatsoever to take his place.

The down point, however, was the constant demand for an heir. Because despite his different preference, he had spent most of his childhood constantly reminded to his responsibility to provide an heir. So although he had the least intention of doing so, he knew he would feel burdened by the guilt for he was, after all, a responsible man.

So, what was a man to do?

Aoshi left his room quietly. Returning to his work would be the only option he had. Well, he could also go to the town, torturing himself with the hope of meeting the boy again. It seemed almost funny how he always stopped to have a look every time he heard a name resembling the boy's or saw boys who resembled him or wear a kimono with the same shade of blue.

But then again, he would have a business meeting with Shishio-san, a fellow merchant, the next day. It would better for the young man to prepare all he could for the meeting. Perhaps after this he would finally get his mind to focus on his work instead of the memory of the lean, smooth, creamy thighs.


A cloud of smoke hung thickly in the spacious room that was police inspector's office. Saito hadn't bothered to open the window when he began to smoke. Perhaps it's a form of revenge in his part because he had been told to wait for this police chief for two long hours when it was actually the chief's own order to come to his office. And two hours with no form of entertainment at all –unless you call drinking tea entertainment- only meant invitation to sate his carving for nicotine. Although he had tried to forego this bad habit at work, this kind of situation called for a special exception.

The tall man inhaled the nicotine into his lungs, feeling heat spread throughout his body and exhaled. He glanced at the closed window on the other side of the room, behind an oak table. The last policeman that came in to ask if he needed anything almost couldn't choke the question out. Perhaps he really had to open the window and breath some fresh air after all. Besides, he had heard the smoking too many of the thin sticks could lead to a severe illness.

Making up his mind, he strolled towards the windows and opened open one of them -he had been kept waiting for two hours anyway. Flicking his cigarette's ash onto the ground below, he glanced at the busy street in front of the police station. Nothing special there, just people hurrying to get to their destination or yelling advertisements to visit a certain shop nearby. Saito glanced back into the room to a western clock. It's two and a half hour now and Kawachi was terribly late.

Quietly, Saito wondered if he should've returned to his boring paperwork instead of waiting for his chief here. Or he could try to solve a case recently given to him. It was a major case, really, so unsolvable that the chief finally dumped it to him. The case was called Sawagejo Chou, an ex-gangster by the way he talked and acted. Saito didn't know how someone like this young punk could join police force and he didn't care. But this kind of case happened quite often; a criminal asked to join police with freedom as a reward, so Saito didn't mind having him in his team, besides this Chou was a good informant and a very resourceful person.

The blonde's resourcefulness was proven the third day he joined Saito's team when he teasingly and thankfully discreetly asked if Saito would join him to a certain red light district which mainly served men not interested in the opposite sex. Saito had coolly rejected the idea but not the implied observation. He didn't feel like he need to because he knew Chou wouldn't have believed him. He wasn't the straightest man alive. So what? Besides it was quite obvious that Chou wasn't only attracted to opposite sex only. They had their own secrets to keep and Saito was confident Chou wouldn't reveal his to anyone.

A horse carriage entered the police station and Saito knew it was too late to go anywhere. Apparently his musings had killed a good amount of time. The lanky man closed the window –the room already slightly fresher than before- and returned to his previous post. He leaned on the wall, the table to his left and the door to his left, and waited patiently for his chief's arrival.

Within minutes, a small man entered the room. He gave a curt nod to Saito and proceeded to walk to his table. "I'm sorry to keep you waiting, Saito. There was an emergency meeting." Kawachi paused and frowned lightly as he sniffed the air. "I have an assignment for you."

Saito glanced at his chief, moved from his post to take a file offered to him, then returned to his previous position. After a quick read, he closed the file, threw it to a nearby table and told his chief his opinion. "You ask me to do a bodyguard job."

"It wasn't a usual bodyguard job. I want you to guard a merchant by the name of Makoto Shishio."

"Yes, I have read it here. It wasn't anything other policemen cannot do. Ask someone else to do it."

"He received threats to kill him and his acquaintances. A good information is required in this case and I couldn't think of anyone else but you to do it."

Saito didn't reply. Instead he turned to leave the room without the report. Just one step away from the door, he heard Kawachi called his name.

"You might be interested in knowing who the sender claimed himself to be."

Partially interested, Saito very slightly turned his head to one side to prompt Kawachi to continue.

"Jine Udo."

At the mention of this name, Saito turned back fully to face the older man. "Jine Udo?" He asked with a dangerous glint in his eyes.

"Yes."

A scary smirk twisted the wolfish man's lips and a look that only meant danger crossed his face. Then without another word, he turned to leave the room.

(--)