Title: White Chocolate
Pairing: Kijin/Shuurei with touch of Ryuuki/Shuurei
A/N: Hello everyone! Although this is most certainly not my first fanfic, it is my first SaiMono one.
The story is slightly AU/alternate timeline, following the anime up until about episode 19 or so before diverging from canon.
Thank you for reading. Please read and review!
"Are you excited, Houju?" Kei Yuuri asked, turning to the masked man walking with him.
"I told you not to call me that," Kou Houjou, known by almost everyone else as Kou Kijin, replied irritably. "And why should I be? It's not the first placement ceremony for examinees that I've attended, and it will doubtfully be the last."
Yuuri laughed nervously. "I suppose that's true, but I would have thought you'd be a little more interested in this one. After all, we get to find out where Shuu-kun will be placed."
Kijin stopped as he remembered the young women one who had dressed as a boy, just so she could work for him last summer. That's right. She was going to be in this ceremony too, wasn't she? Next to him, Yuuri look at him curiously.
Shaking his head, he started walking again. "I told you not to call me that." Before Yuuri was able to apologize, he added, "But you bring up a valid point. Perhaps this ceremony will be more tolerable than the others."
"It would be wonderful if she was assigned to our department, don't you think?" Yuuri asked, a large smile on his face.
Kou Shuurei. The name stirred something deep within him that he couldn't quite place. Kijin remembered when he had first laid eyes on her, dressed in those clothes that made her look like the young boy she was trying to pass herself off as. Even he had been fooled to a degree, although he always felt there was something off. It wasn't until a certain thunderstorm had made it exceedingly clear that the diligent, hard-working boy that was working for him was, in fact, a diligent, hard-working young women.
He could still remember, with surprisingly clarity, the way she had tackled him after the first roll of thunder, her arms wrapping around his waist as they landed on the couch he had been resting on moments before. She had been screaming, loudly and incoherently, her whole body shaking as another roll of thunder filled the room. He had been at a total loss of how calm her down. In the end, he had patted her on the head gently as her tears stained the silk of his robes.
The fact that Yuuri and that man, Ensei, had found them in a - to put it lightly - compromising situation was something he purposefully tried to forget. He was thankful that it had only been those two who had walked in on them or else there would be even more rumors about his eccentricities. Of course, for the next few hours after the incident, he had to ignore the same, annoying questions from Yuuri about his 'sexual orientation'. In the end, a subtle-yet-effective threat of a heavy stamp thrown none-too-gently at his vice-chamberlain's head quieted him.
"If Shuu-kun isn't assigned to us-"
Speak of the devil.
"Why do you still call her by that name? Certainly you know by now she is not a young boy," Kijin said as they made entered the room the ceremony was being held.
"Ah, you're right. I got so used to calling her that, the name just stuck. Anyway, if Shuurei isn't going to be assigned to us, where else do you think she'll be placed?"
"It doesn't matter. Wherever she is placed, she'll thrive. That's the type of person she is."
Kijin had no doubt of her abilities. After all, she had a strength that no one he knew possessed. She had been through a lot these last couple of months, but he knew - and, he was certain, she knew - that everything would be worth it in the end.
And so, here he was yet again, watching all the examinees accept their new positions. One-by-one they were called to the front, and assigned to the different departments. So far, none of them had been assigned to him, a fact that hadn't escaped his vice-chamberlain's attention.
"Do you think this means we won't get a new official this time around?" Yuuri whispered as the seventh-ranked examinee returned to his spot.
Kijin shook his head. "I doubt it. The Department of Finance is always in need of new officials."
After the fifth-ranked examinee - whose name he could not recall, even if he had the desire to do so - returned to his spot, he breathed a small sigh of relief. Only three more people, since the Bougen, Ran Ryuuren, was - not surprising - absent from the ceremony.
"Kou Shuurei," Ryuuki said. "Come forward."
Kijin frowned. He knew there was someone who had ranked lower on the examinations than Shuurei that had not been called, and yet he had been skipped. What did the emperor think he was doing? He watched as she walked calmly and assertively to the front.
"Yes," she said, bowing deeply, her hands in her sleeves.
"Kou Shuurei, who passed as Tanka. You are to be assigned as a junior official to the Ministry of Finance, Department of Finance."
Less-than-subtle muttering had picked up among the officials, the noise getting progressively louder as the seconds passed. Apparently, her placement within the Department of Finance had been unexpected. Granted, it would have come as something of a surprise no matter where the young emperor had placed her. It would take time getting used to the concept of a woman as a government official.
"At least she wasn't assigned to us."
"Having to deal with a woman would have been unbearable."
"She'll fit in there very well, considering the department's eccentric chamberlain."
Yuuri turned to him, obviously trying his best not to say anything to the officials around them that he might later regret. "Can you believe all this? How can they say these things?"
"You're surprised?" Kijin questioned disbelievingly, watching Shuurei's expression carefully. He noticed a small twitch of her eyebrows, but nothing else. "I did not expect anything less."
"I suppose. Still, what fate we have, huh?" Yuuri asked. "I never expected her to be assigned to our department so soon!"
"Hm," he replied, not bother to look at his vice-chamberlain. He was inclined to agree.
Closing the scroll, Ryuuki held it out. "The Department of Finance is challenging, but I'm sure you are more then ready to meet the challenge. We're counting on you."
"I most humbly accept," Shuurei said, taking the scroll from him, her head bowed slightly.
Slowly, she walked back to her place, the chattering in the room dying down as the officials waited for the last two examinees to receive their assignments. Kijin, on the other hand, couldn't have cared less. If it weren't for the fact that it would have been considered exceedingly rude to leave before the ceremony was completed, he would have done so. Instead, he chose to tune out the young emperor as he called the last two people to the front.
After all, the only part of the ceremony he had any interest in was over.
Early the next day, at least an hour before most of the other officials would step foot into the office, was quiet, the sunlight filtering in through the windows. It was Kijin's favorite part of the day, since he could get the most work done before the rest of the idiots would bother him.
"Good morning, Houju!" Yuuri called out, bowing slightly before taking his seat as his desk.
Thankfully for his vice-chamberlain, Kijin didn't have the patience to correct him. He didn't even bother looking up from the work in front of him. "Hm."
Another half-an-hour passed as they worked in silence, save for the slight creaking of the chair as Yuuri tried to find a more comfortable position. The pile to Kijin's left was almost half its original size when he heard light footsteps.
"Good morning!" a feminine voice said.
"Good morning to you too, Shuurei," Yuuri replied, turning back to face her. "You're here early."
"So are you and Kou-shousho," she pointed out. Looking around, she blinked in surprise. "No one else is here yet?"
Yuuri chuckled. "I'm afraid not. It's always like this, so I would get used to it."
Kijin looked up, only to see her frowning at his vice-chamberlain's words. "Kou Shuurei."
"Yes!" she said, walking quickly to his desk with her familiar, bright smile. "What can I do for you?"
He had a feeling of a déjà vu. Her words and actions were familiar, although it didn't really surprised him. How many times had he heard her ask him that question last summer?
This was different, though. Last time, she had been Kou Shuu; this time, she was Kou Shuurei. She didn't have to hide the fact that she was a woman.
"You'll be working over there, with the other officials in the department," he said, pointing to a desk, stacked haphazardly with books and other loose papers, at the other end of the room. She turned around to look at it before returning her gaze to him. "Clear the desk: throw away anything that isn't needed, return any books or scrolls that don't belong in this department, and finish any work that hasn't been completed."
She nodded once and, turning around, nearly bumped into another official who had apparently come in at some time during his explanation. Shuurei blushed and bowed.
"Excuse me. I didn't see you there."
"Hmph." The official's eyes narrowed as he watched her make her way to the desk. Turning back to face Kijin, he said, "Good morning, Kou-shousho. I've already completed my duties from yesterday. What do you need me to do?"
Kijin rolled his eyes and sighed. He could tell it was going to be a very long day. After giving the official, Daiwa Lei, his duties for the day, he returned to the seemingly endless paperwork stacked on his desk. Soon, more officials trickled into the department, and started working on the various projects that had been left incomplete for the previous day.
To be honest, he was surprised there weren't any objections to the newest addition to their department, although he certainly wasn't complaining either.
Looking up from his work, he saw Shuurei, a huge pile of papers in her arms, and, in front of her, was Lei. She stepped to her left, hoping to get around him. With a smirk, he stepped to the right, so he was directly in front of her again. Sighing, she stepped to her right, only to find that he had stepped to his left. They continued their awkward, almost dance-like movement, earning snickers from the other officials.
Kijin sighed, not for the first time that day. He feared it wouldn't be the last, either. He should have known it was too good to be true.
"Excuse me," Shuurei repeated for the fifth time, her voice firmer and more insistent.
Lei smirked, brushing by her roughly, knocking some of the papers from the pile in her hands to the floor. "Forgive me, hime-san."
She said nothing, but her eyes narrowed as she knelt down, placed the stack of papers on the ground, and picked up the scattered sheets around her. Once she was done, she placed the loose sheets on top of the pile and brought them over to her desk.
Letting out a heavy sigh, she picked up her brush and started writing.
Kijin could tell Shuurei was starting to get annoyed, but it wasn't like she couldn't handle a little abuse from one of her fellow officials. After all, the last couple of months had proved that she could handle more than people gave her credit for.
Still, Lei was impeding her from completing her work, and, as a result, was delaying the department in its duties. That was unacceptable.
"Daiwa Lei," Kijin said firmly, his eyes narrowing behind his mask. He noticed that the other officials had suddenly gone quiet, returning to their work. "Since you seem so inclined to keep Kou Shuurei from her duties, does this mean you have finished?"
Lei's head snapped in his direction, obviously taken off-guard. He shook his head quickly, his face a bright shade of red. "N-no, Kou-shousho."
"Then perhaps you feel you do not have enough to do." Kijin looked at the steadily growing piles of paper on the floor next to his desk then back at Lei. "Those papers need to be disposed of. Make sure they are out of the department before the end of the day."
Lei flinched. "I understand."
"Also, make sure the rest of your tasks are finished before you leave. That is all," Kijin said with a tone of finality before placing a stamp on the document in front of him.
"I'll make sure to do so, Kou-shousho," Lei said dejectedly, bowing once before taking a handful of paper and leaving.
Shuurei looked back at him, a thankful smile gracing her lips. Kijin nodded slightly, just enough for her to see the action. Her smile widened, reaching to her eyes, before she returned to her work.
As the day continued, the other officials, having seen what had happened to Lei, wisely stayed out of Shuurei's way unless it was absolutely necessary to bother her. Kijin smirked as he continued with his work. He knew it had been a good idea to make an example out of Daiwa Lei. He'd never been particularly fond of the cocky, young official to begin with.
"Kou-shousho," Shuurei said as she walked to him, her eyes still bright and cheerful despite all the work she had done.
Taking that girl as my wife may not be a bad idea...
He had been joking when he had said it. After all, it was a ridiculous proposition, one that Shuurei - let alone the rest of her clan - would never accept. The only reason Kijin had mentioned it was to see Reishin's irked expression, and, like he had expected, his friend started shouting and pointing his fan at him accusingly.
Still, the idea stuck with him, in the some corner far back in his mind, and refused to leave. He pointedly ignore it for the most part, too busy with all the financial 'crises' that had popped up within a few months time. Every once in a while, though, he would entertain the idea and, as much as he hated to admit it, the more he thought about it, the less ridiculous it started sounding.
At the very least, he could admit to himself that having Shuurei as his wife would definitely be more than slightly pleasant.
"Kou-shousho?" she repeated, her voice breaking into his thoughts. She looked worried, her eyebrows furrowing. "Are you alright?"
He frowned, wondering why she would have asked such a thing in the first place. His eyes followed her gaze down to his right hand. It had ceased its stamping and writing for the last few minutes, apparently garnering her attention. Taking the next paper from the top of the stack to his left, he brought it down, gave it a quick once through, then stamped it.
"Have you finished everything?"
Shuurei nodded once. "I did. Is there anything else you'd like for me to do?"
Turning to his right, he saw the pale pink sunlight filtering in through the windows.
Unlike himself, most of the officials working for him did not spend the majority of their waking hours cramped within the confines of the department. Looking around, he wasn't surprised to see they were the only ones in the room. Even the usually-diligent Yuuri had left early, after nearly collapsing from exhaustion.
His department was composed of a bunch of slackers, he thought irritably, noticing Daiwa Lei's desk, still covered in paperwork. Kijin's eyes narrowed. Nothing would save the lower official from his wrath now.
"Ah! That's right. There's still some paperwork for the agricultural research program that needs to be completed," she said suddenly, her eyes lighting up. "If it's alright, I'll finish it before I leave."
Slowly, he returned his gaze to her, his eyes widening. Of course. Shuurei wasn't like the others that worked for him. Behind his mask, a small smirk formed on his lips.
"Do as you wish."
"Before that, though," Shuurei said, catching him off-guard as she went back to her desk. When she returned, she held a lacquered box in her hands, the lid already removed. "Would you like some manjuu? I noticed you didn't have anything at all the whole day, not even a cup of tea. That can't be good for your body."
Kijin looked inside the box at the perfectly formed buns. Her famous manjuu. He eyed the stack of papers that still needed to be completed and then looked back at her, watching him expectantly. He could feel his resolve slipping.
"A small break couldn't hurt," he said finally, placing his brush down.
Shuurei's smile widened as she placed the box on his desk. "I'll be right back with some tea. Please, help yourself while I'm gone."
She turned on her heel and all but dashed out of the room, the sleeves of her clothing fluttering behind her. Kijin chuckled at the scene. Once she was gone, he took one of the buns and, pushing the button on the side of the mask, felt the mouth piece slide out of the way. Bringing the bun to his lips, he took a small bite, chewed it thoughtfully, and smiled.
They were even better than he imagined.