"What do you mean, 'the door is snowed shut'?"
Shuei sat with his head propped up in his hand, watching his colleagues as they each took turns kicking at the frozen doorway. It had been going on like this for a good ten minutes since their private meeting had ended – a meeting far from the prying eyes and ears of the rest of the court, in an old, near-forgotten section of the administrative section of the palace. It was getting dark, their lantern would be running low soon, and the awful weather outdoors had degenerated to a near-blizzard in the time they'd locked themselves away from the rest of their colleagues. They'd even adjourned early, when they'd felt the temperature dropping too drastically to be normal for late afternoon.
"This isn't funny, you lazy hedonist!" hollered the aqua-haired man. Eyes wild and wide while his hair stuck out at odd angles from his (losing) battle with the heavy wooden barricade, Kouyuu whirled to face his rather unhelpful friend. "We'll be stuck in here until morning if you don't hurry up and start helping us push this open!"
"Please, Shuei!" gasped the dark-haired woman who was leaning with all her might against the door, her heels dug stubbornly into the stone floor. "If we can just budge it enough to open it a crack, then-."
"Someone needs to dig us out from the outside—or, one of us needs to holler loud enough to get the guards' attention to open up the emergency evacuation tunnels. Either way, we aren't getting out until first light, when the sun's had a chance to thaw the ice that has frozen the door shut."
"Stop being a pessimist and get over here!"
"Give me your sword! If you won't use it, I will!"
The military man regarded his desperate friends with a tired, resigned expression.
Really? Shuurei thought she could handle his sword better than he could?
Suddenly he couldn't hold his laughter in any longer.
…It didn't help matters.
The ice along the bottom of the doorway had sealed the room shut against the snow seeping across the threshold, however the wind still managed to reach through the cracks and chinks in the walls.
"Why did the meeting need to take place so far from the main palace?"
"You agreed to it!"
"What was I thinking letting you lead us out here!"
"Then you get to book the private meeting room next time!"
"Kouyuu, is this the building you booked?"
"Are we even in the right section of the palace?"
"So no one knows where we are," sighed Shuurei, shivering a bit as the temperature continued to drop inside the old dwelling—which she was beginning to think, more and more, was outright abandoned. "Ahhh, I'd hoped I'd live a full life serving his Majesty… but it looks like I will die in his service, locked away in a forgotten store-room…" Clutching her cloak a bit closer, she eyed the stacks of scrolls and bound papers nearby in speculation.
"How important do you wager those are?..."
Obviously, the young official was weighing the value of the store-room's contents against her comfort and self-preservation through the bitter night.
Kouyuu curbed his sulking just long enough to follow her gaze. "These are old…" Recognition tolled like a funeral temple bell inside him. His voice trailed off as his cheeks coloured. He recognized the titles of those books and tomes. A young woman may not, and certainly not an unmarried one, but to a young man, these were very famous records indeed.
Curious to his reaction, Shuurei glanced between Kouyuu and the stacks.
Kouyuu's eyes widened in alarm; he started to rise, reaching out to stop her—
But Shuei beat him to it.
-and by that, he meant that Shuei had moved swiftly to place several of the books in Shuurei's outstretched arms.
Kouyuu paled as his heart leapt up into his throat.
He'd never realized that Shuei had a death wish, because what he'd just done was certainly suicide. Everyone knew about Shuurei's last encounter with the Peach Books. It was a joke through the palace; but one kept very quiet, due to His Majesty's doting on his favourite little scholar.
"Perhaps these will help our Kou-clan princess… warm up?..." Shuei's silk-smooth voice intoned.
Back to the present, a choking, sputtering noise erupted from Kouyuu; a sound that could most closely be likened to that of a cat dying of strangulation, perhaps.
… and both men watched—one in horror, the other in amusement—as the innocent young woman opened a very detailed, very thorough, very graphic recounting of a very carnal encounter between—
Shuurei slammed the tome shut between her spontaneously powerful hands.
Then she leapt at the door again, her cheeks flaming and her tiny fists beating madly at the door in an attempt to escape.
"HELP! HELP! I'm trapped inside the Imperial Saiunpornium!" she cried desperately.
"—and how can there be so much of it! It's like we're drowning in it! Is there really this great a calling for pornography in the kingdom!"
Head bowed over his knees as he sat on the floor, leaning against the cold wall, Kouyuu groaned at Shuurei's continued tyrade.
"Everyone has different tastes, and this seems to be where things were stored when each new emperor came into power. Some are very old, others fairly new, others re-editions or modernized takes on historical tales."
Shuurei glared at Shuei. "You sound so well-versed in this topic. Will wonders never cease?"
He grinned at her unashamedly. "Have you ever sat down to read one?"
"Of course not!" Her cheeks blazed.
"Because—because—because-… these are for men, and they're…" By now her whole face and neck had gone crimson. "They're… dirty. And naughty. And not what polite young women should read." Yes, she understood they had their place, and really, there was nothing wrong with sex or masturbation (it was natural and healthy, she truly believed that), but it was something private, not… Her eyes took in the shelves and racks and boxes full of mature content that surrounded her. It was never to be spoken of casually or sold or so…
Words failed her.
Amused at, and sympathetic to, her blustering, the imperial guard and military tactician uncrossed his arms and went to the stacks, looking for something specific.
"Aha," he crooned softly, the smile on his face changing. However, it wasn't a Cheshire grin now, but rather a compassionate one.
"Obviously, this doesn't apply to all women," he began in a softer, more serious, knowledgeable tone, "but one thing you need to understand, Shuurei, is that most women are raised to be, for lack of a better word, servants. They are raised to serve within their family, and when they are married off, they are to serve their husbands. As such, on their wedding nights, women often share with each other 'Manuals', among other books, on how to endure their first night, and subsequently, how to enjoy themselves with their husbands, later. Some are filled with wives' tales, others fairy tales, others fantasies, and still others, simply lists of positions and… procedures, if you will." He looked at her thoughtfully. "Normally it is given from mother or aunt to daughter. If you'd like, I can speak to my younger sister; she's been undergoing her bridal training for years now, and I'm sure there has been talk of intimacy and child bearing and rearing."
Hands fisted inside her long sleeves, Shuurei glared at Shuei. "No. Thank. You. I'm perfectly aware of how children come about."
Sighing from his spot on the floor, and shifting slightly to try and become more comfortable, Kouyuu looked over at the pair before him. What did he have to lose? They may all freeze to death by morning, anyway… And such an inglorious death, indeed…
"He isn't talking about sex, he's talking about making love, sharing fantasies; sex as recreation, not reproduction. These books," his arm swept out to encompass their surroundings, "are all about helping couples reach their…" he coughed, "er, climax. Pleasure. Whether on their own or individually," he muttered, tucking his aqua-coloured head down again. Despite the warmth provided by his cloak—and his discomfort with the level of privacy the conversation could threaten-, he shivered a bit as another gust hit their building.
"Exactly as Kouyuu said," confirmed Shuei.
He passed the book he'd found to Shuurei, and went to sit down beside Kouyuu, huddling close to the younger man to share warmth.
"Get away from me."
"Be quiet; if we don't share body heat, we could freeze to death in here tonight. Do you want Reishin to find you frozen solid in this kind of place in the morning?"
Mumbling surly epithets, Kouyuu growled and conceded, leaning slightly into Shuei's solid frame.
"That book is one that many women have passed through their noble families to their daughters," the dark-haired man lectured from his spot on the floor now. "It has good descriptions of positions and such, but also descriptions of women's health and conditions, home remedies, midwifery skills, and what to expect during the first months of marriage. There are also romantic, or at least romanticized, stories within it, too."
Shuurei dropped it onto a nearby shelf. "I have no use for such things."
Shuei simply sighed again at her stubbornness.
"You can stand there being bored to icy tears, or you can take that relatively harmless book—probably one of the tamest in this building—and come over here where it is warm and at least make it through the night," he said finally. "Or just come here and join us; the more of us there are, the warmer we are."
She glared at him a moment, then looked at Kouyuu, the tight line of her mouth softening slightly as she saw him shiver.
"If you lay one hand on me, I'm having His Highness burn this place to the ground within a day, with you in it."
"Understood." He paused. "And if you aren't going to read that book, could you please bring it over here? I think there are a few areas Kouyuu needs to brush up on."
Rolling her eyes, Shuurei picked it up again, along with a few other, very large, heavy scrolls, and made her way to the pair of men huddling together for warmth on the ground.
Her mouth twisted slightly in distaste, she glanced down at them dubiously.
"You ch-ch-changed your mind?" stuttered Kouyuu, the cold worsening his shivers.
"Absolutely not." She started unfurling the scrolls. "Now, get up and we'll lie these on the ground; paper is a very good insulator. Also, the activity will help keep us moving and thus warm. Once we've lined the wall and floor with these, we'll get some more to cover us like a blanket." She glanced one last time at Shuei. "If burning them is out of the question, we might as well make them work to our advantage. Agreed?"
"Do we have to use this particular one on the floor?" began Shuei cautiously as he unwound an ancient sutra—a beautifully illustrated, ancient sutra-, "it is of great historical-."
"Just do it!"
With a sigh, the trio prepared their sleeping pallet with the best pornography the kingdom had ever produced.
"You know, this is actually working rather well," Kouyuu marveled as they huddled under the heaps of paper about an hour later.
"It's too hot, you mean," groused Shuurei.
"No, it's almost perfect."
"And we aren't bored. There are some passages that are pretty fascinating. If you look just down here by my-."
"I AM LOOKING NO WHERE NEAR YOU, AT ALL, TONIGHT."
Shuei couldn't help it, he laughed. "This is actually part of a religious text. It looks like it was part of the earliest marriage ceremony rites, and was a gift to one of the first emperors."
"Oh, really?" This did get Shuurei's attention. "Oh, you're right." She looked closer. "There's a fair bit here about agricultural practices, too… Would you mind…"
"Not at all," he passed her the 'blanket', which she traded in turn for one of her graphic 'pillows'.
"This is very similar to what we do today, in the Kou orange orchards, from what I understand," she mumbled aloud, and Kouyuu leaned closer to read over her shoulder, his arm reaching around behind her to stabilize himself. Shuurei didn't notice, too wrapped up in the parchment's contents. They were all simply happy to be snug as bugs in a paper rug, for the time being.
"The cycle is the same, and some of the individual processes, yes," agreed Kouyuu, who'd accompanied his 'father' more than once to Kou province in his youth. His cheeks coloured as he read through the lines of another section. "Ah, but… this isn't entirely what goes on now…"
She glanced up over her shoulder at him. "Really? What has changed?"
Kouyuu coloured further, and muttered something unintelligible under his breath.
Blowing out hard through his nose in a huff, Kouyuu ignored his discomfort to explain.
"This part here, where it talks about making the mounds rise, preparing the fields with strong but gentle hands, parting the earth in furrows, gently inseminating the moist, fertile soil with a farmer's seed, and repeating it over and over until they bear fruit, then raising the plants until they bear seeds to grow of their own…" He coughed as he noticed the back of her ears and neck reddening now in comprehension.
"Oh. I see."
Of course, his arm was still across her back, and the contact burned them both in the uncomfortable silence.
Thank goodness Shuei was there to make it worse.
With a chuckle, he smirked and reached over for it. "Perhaps I should take that one back before it blinds your poor, virgin eyes?"
"Would you knock it off, it's fine!"
"You know I'm not a virgin, so why do you insist on-!"
At Shuurei's surprised reaction, Kouyuu stiffened.
Shuei's grin widened.
"So you and His Highness really haven't? Not even once while you worked in the harem?"
Shuurei shrugged. "It wasn't really an issue, at the time."
"But with him being pressured to secure his position recently, you're getting pushed into a difficult spot," theorized Shuei knowingly.
"Yes. We are trying to avoid making things… complicated, though. We're still very close friends… but there's more I want to do, to be, than Empress or Consort."
"You're too smart to limit yourself to that role," agreed Kouyuu. "And if His Majesty doesn't realize that by now, he'll lose someone who could be one of his most loyal supporters and advisors."
The three huddled together more comfortably. 'The Talk' had loosened them up considerably, and time had been passing quickly.
It was still bitterly cold, however, outside their small, paper-wrapped cocoon.
"Do you ever wonder what the fuss is about?"
She glanced up at the teal-haired man whose side she was curled into. "I don't really have time to," she admitted. "Despite working with Kouchou-neesan, and even being a member of the Imperial Cat House," she joked, making them all laugh, "I've made my own decisions, but haven't lived for myself. I've lived to serve." Her eyes took on a darker, more downcast tint, then. "Perhaps not as a traditional woman would," she was making reference now to the book that covered her legs—cover up, pages down—and Shuei's earlier conversation. "But I'm married. To my duty. And I'm proud of my accomplishments. I don't regret anything."
"You sound lonely, though," remarked Shuei quietly, trying not to offend or insult her.
"So do you," retorted Kouyuu, defending Shuurei in his own way by trying to deflect the attention off her.
"We all are," the young woman realized aloud.
Silenced reined between the collected tensai once more.
"Yes, I have been… curious… but it wasn't as if I could trust anyone or ask questions without…"
Both men nodded.
It was different for women than men.
"I'm sure your 'big sis' wouldn't mind, but you don't want to worry or bother her. Correct?"
Large feminine eyes turned to indigo in surprise.
"You're sensitive and observant, when it suits you."
"And you're abrasive and insecure when you're not putting up your know-it-all front."
"None of us really has a leg to stand on in this conversation, when you think about it," said Shuurei. "It isn't like any of us are married, or seriously, exclusively involved with anyone. At least the two of you have each other to talk to about… personal matters."
"You could talk to Seiran?"
She laughed aloud.
"I think he'd… oh, I don't know what he'd do…," she kept laughing. "I've never really been approached by men before," other than… but no one mentioned him, for so many reaons, "and I have a feeling he's had something to do with it. I've never caught him outright, but it's just my intuition that if it were up to him, I'd die a virgin."
"You poor, poor woman…"
"Let us know if you really get stuck—we'll help you find someone."
"Thanks. I think."
It was quietly awkward for a moment.
Then they all laughed.
"Until Seiran hunts us all down and murders us in cold blood, of course."
"I'll tell him I tricked you into it. With my feminine wiles."
They kept laughing.
"So is this one here even possible?"
"Yes, but it involves a great deal of trust and flexibility."
"It works better between two women."
"Ah, that makes more sense… How did you know that, Kouyuu?"
"And moving on… Ok, this one. I think I've heard of it, but it seemed a bit too…"
"Forward? On the woman's part?"
"No need to be embarrassed—we're here to answer your questions. Ask anything."
"Why is she sitting backwards in his lap? Is it comfortable? I thought two people were supposed to face each other in these things."
"Reverse Horsewoman is actually a woman-superior position that emphasizes her pleasure. The way she'll feel him inside her will be very arousing. And very comfortable. Especially if he uses his hands well."
She harrumphed a bit, but wasn't daunted.
"And where do the mouths fit in?"
"Whose? And where?"
(That explanation went on for a long time, with all actively participating.)
"I'll take your word on that last bit," she said, unconvinced.
Kouyuu shifted his arm a bit as Shuurei stretched her back, and laid it casually across her middle when she yawned and leaned back against him.
"You can go to sleep if you want. We're nearing daybreak, anyway. We'll be able to start calling for help again in a few hours. Rest while you can. We're nearly out of the woods," he mumbled against her hair. The intimate murmurs resonated through her, and she felt her stomach warm, and something curl tighter in her lower belly at his low voice.
That was odd.
"I don't want to sleep. I may never be able to ask someone these things again."
"You'll still have us."
"Are you worried about others finding out, if we end up talking outside these walls?"
Both men saw her shoulders slump, and Shuei reached an arm around both Shuurei and Kouyuu affectionately.
"We can be very discreet. You didn't even know about Kouyuu, did you? And despite what the rumours suggest, I'm not nearly as promiscuous as my reputation implies. I keep my private matters private, when possible. There are some things the clan doesn't appreciate."
Did they all know that rule.
"Still, at least you've both been able to enjoy your experiences, despite your clan ties." Her voice was almost sad, and she felt their warmth surround and comfort her. "Once I leave here, I go back to being the 'Kou Princess', servant to the court and Emperor. If my reputation suffers in any way, it will reflect on His Highness' decisions and reputation. And any hope I'd ever had of leading by example will be ridiculed, and tossed away."
She just couldn't risk it, in the future. Her 'bridal training' consisted of a single night of anecdotal description with the palace prude and the court gigolo.
She would have laughed, if it wasn't so pitiful.
"But… what if it wasn't outside these walls?"
Such a quiet suggestion, nearly breathed instead of spoken.
She stilled; she was still quite relaxed, but those words… they held danger in them.
Shuei glanced at Kouyuu over Shuurei's head; their eyes met, and held.
For a moment, nothing happened.
Then the hand across Shuurei's stomach slowly trailed down her side before running gently over her belly, tracing the curves it met with casual ease.
Unbeknownst to her, the young woman's breath hitched.
"K-..Kouyuu?" she whispered.
"What if it wasn't outside these walls?" he asked again, his voice lowering softly, blowing puffs of moist, warm air against her ear as he leaned over her.
She felt another hand join the first, as Shuei shifted, then that hand rub relaxing circles over her back, her shoulders, back across her back again, soon down her shoulders and arms, taking her hand…
Her cheeks flared as her eyes widened.
And she swallowed nervously.
"You can, and you should. We won't take more than you'll give us."
"You know you're safe with us. We won't take your… You'll still be marriageable afterwards."
"Is that even possible?"
"… physically? What does that mean?"
Kouyuu answered. "You remember when we spoke earlier, about the differences between sex, fucking, and making love?"
"There is an emotional, a mental, a spiritual component. That change… That's more telling than the physical, in many ways."
"… so you're saying that physically, I'll still be the same…"
"That is different for each person," Shuei said, brushing her hair away from her face. He ran his hand—still holding hers—through it slowly, watching it cascade through his fingers. He smiled a bit at her in understanding. "In a way, it is different each time it happens. But if you trust us, we can at least help you understand." His hand raised again to toy with one of her hair adornments, teasing it loosely but not releasing it from its heavy coils. He left her hand holding the flower-pin. Waiting for her decision.
"I shouldn't… wouldn't it be cruel, to give this to me when we'll never be able to speak of it again? What if… what if I never… after this…"
Her voice caught, and both men felt her tense, her concerns closing her in on herself.
"If you ever need us, we won't turn you away."
"One of us can run interference with Seiran and His Highness while the other convenes with you."
"That's not funny! I…"
She looked up at Kouyuu's sympathetic expression; his dark-rimmed, tired eyes, his now stubbly jawline, his serious lips and mouth.
"If there is one lesson I learned personally, unfortunately, it is that the most important things should be shared with those you trust. We will never force you, and will never speak of this again, if you so wish it. We'll never betray your confidence. But remember, we offer out of sincere intentions. We have nothing to gain by playing such a game with you, unlike others who may take advantage of you in the future. If you wish to… learn, or experiment… we can share what we know, help answer your questions, and leave you marriageable. It is up to you."
He gave her a light hug to punctuate the statement, to reassure her.
"And what happens in the saiunpornium stays in the saiunpornium," teased Shuei, running a thumb lightly over her cheek to wick away the wetness.
"I don't know…"
"You're anxious? Nervous? Afraid of how things will change?"
She stared openly at Shuei; he grinned back.
"We all were."
"If you aren't a little cautious, you're going to get into trouble," added the soldier ruefully.
"Which brings us back to trust."
"Do you want to?"
"… yes… but…"
"… how about… we start slow," said Kouyuu, resuming his light touches along her side, never veering into inappropriate territory, but simply relaxing her. "And you can let us know when you want us to stop. How does that sound? We won't do anything you don't want us to."
"But… both of you?" She sounded nervous, scandalized… and just a bit curious.
Shuei chuckled, and she could have sworn she felt Kouyuu's chest reverberate deeply, too.
"Starting slow," he repeated.
Shuurei met both their eyes, in turn, for a moment.
Her lower lip pulled into her mouth, and she lightly nibbled it in consideration.
Then glancing down, her grip tightened on the hair-pin, and she pulled it free.
Her hair fell loosely around her shoulders.
Her breathing came in pants, her eyes closed tightly as her mouth hung open; her fists tightened in the papers now scattered around them, long abandoned.
There were hands all over her, over her, petting and tweaking and rubbing, and her robes had been discarded and forgotten.
The naked chest she leaned back against flexed as she writhed against it; the owner's hands fluttered across her chest to lightly trace her engorged breasts, teasing her pink-tipped nipples until they tightened almost painfully. The pooling warmth that had started in her lower belly had spread out through her whole body, sensitizing her to the lightest touch or breath across her skin, bringing her to an unheard of level of arousal.
"Please, once more," she gasped, and shuddered when she felt the pliant muscle moving against her most sensitive, swollen bundle of nerves inside her. The hands that reached around her thighs smoothed along her legs possessively, squeezing and kneading in counterpoint to the slow, rhythmic laps at her core.
The winding in her body coiled into an impossibly tight spring, and as the soldier kissed the juncture of her shoulder and neck, she felt the spiral snap and unleash a wild torrent through her when Kouyuu suddenly sucked hard on her nerve-bud.
Her back arched right off Shuei's chest and she felt her arms and legs struggling against the men, a natural reaction as her climax flooded through her.
Her trembling as her body fell back to them made both men smile in male accomplishment.
"I think she may have passed out on that last one," remarked Shuei softly as he brushed tendrils of Shuurei's hair away from her flushed face. It surprised him how much he'd enjoyed leading her on her 'voyage of discovery'; he almost hoped they'd be able to discuss it together, and possibly…
No, no, he wasn't getting attached. It was just…
For her to be so self-controlled most of the time, when it came to her sexuality, and then to have her begging them for more. It was the most erotic thing he'd heard in… well, all right, recently. He was a man of experience.
But he also noticed how Kouyuu's eyes softened as he looked down at the woman between them.
Ahhhh… that one will have problems letting go…
"I'm amazed you held back," said Kouyuu, pulling papers and cloaks up over them all, even as he saw the dawn-light peeking through the cracks in the walls across the room.
"This wasn't about me," replied Shuei.
Both nodded a bit at those words.
"You've gotten much better with your mouth."
Kouyuu's cheeks reddened slightly, but he otherwise didn't react. "I've learned to take my time, and to listen." His look turned thoughtful as he settled against Shuei, who supported both of them. "He doesn't deserve her."
"Such talk is treasonous, remember…"
"We both know she's more suited to staying in the service of the Court, not the private chambers of a King, hidden away and brought out for show during ceremonial processions. She's far too valuable in her role as an official."
"Hypothetically speaking in strategic terms," Shuei gave Kouyuu a bland look, "what could we do? It isn't our decision."
Kouyuu huffed grumpily.
"She trusts us."
"And we, her. Your point?"
"Do you think she trusts Him?"
Shuei looked at him suspiciously.
"She trusts him enough to know he won't touch her unless she gives him permission, true," he thought aloud. "But… I think she's afraid of what will happen… after, if they were to marry."
"He would never mistreat her."
"And he's vowed monogamy."
"As long as she gives him an heir."
They stared at each other.
"We don't need heirs. We're all married to our work."
"You're sounding awfully possessive and committed for something that was only intended to be a single educational experience," said Shuei slowly.
"It would keep her in her official position. She would not be bothered by suitors or the same politics, once she was allied with one of our clans."
Shuei's eyes narrowed at his colleague.
"What do you mean, 'one' of our clans? She'd marry into mine before yours. Who'd want your overbearing fruit-basket-provider for a father-in-law?"
"And who'd want your crazy brothers for in-laws?"
"It would have to be her choice."
"There isn't really a choice, though, is there?"
The pair glowered at each other.
"She'll need a reason to marry us, though," said Kouyuu then, more to himself than Shuei. He paused, his eyes widening. "Wait a second…"
Something sparked in Kouyuu's eyes, and he immediately bolted upright and set to rifling through the (now rumpled, sometimes torn) papers that surrounded them.
"Where is it, I know I saw it, where was it?..." he muttered through his teeth, leaving Shuei to regard him like he'd grown a second head.
"A-ha!" he held a parchment aloft proudly.
His eyes gleamed as he passed the paper to Shuei, shouldering Shuurei's light bodyweight welcomingly as his partner read the contents of the ancient record to himself.
"Do you really think she'll agree with this?"
"It's worth it. It'll mean a life of freedom for her."
"… relatively speaking…"
"And she trusts us. Who else is as intelligent as she is, as caring, as determined? Who else understands our roles and positions like she does?"
Shuei watched Kouyuu skeptically. "Quite thought-out for a split-second evaluation, isn't that? This… isn't the first time you've thought of her like this, is it, Kouyuu?" Suspicion turned to confirmation as he saw the sadness that rimmed his friend's eyes.
"She's the one, isn't she? The one you said you wanted to wait for?"
Lips tightening, Kouyuu remained silent.
Shuei sighed. "I'm sorry."
Letting a breath out slowly, the younger man's eyes fell to Shuurei's face, now sleeping peacefully in his arms.
"I'd never leave you for another man, Shuei," he said quietly. "But… I don't want to split myself between two relationships, either."
"So this 200 year old edict?"
Kouyuu's expression lightened.
"Officially makes our whole relationship legal." And he watched his friend's impassive features a moment. "I know you like her, too, Shuei. Perhaps just as a bit more than a friend, but definitely not as a sister or relative. You respect her. I think she's good for us. You need someone who sees you for who you really are, too. The act needs to drop sometime."
Groaning tiredly, the other man rubbed his eyes and folded the paper, sliding it into one of his pockets.
"So, we've decided to propose to the woman who has a homicidally overprotective father, retainer, and uncle."
Kouyuu shifted nervously.
"I think I can talk Reishin and Shouka out of murder, if you can handle Seiran."
"We'll have to talk to them individually—I don't think we could hold out against them if they were to team up."
"So… when should we ask Shuurei?"
"What do you mean, 'may not be marrigeable'?" she croaked, her voice strung tighter than a shamisen string.
"Emotionally only," clarified Kouyuu.
"We feel it would be best to protect your heart, your interests, and your abilities by, ah…"
"Yes. The three of us would be lawfully wedded. Today. In about two hours, actually, if you're not opposed."
"Are you both suffering from hypothermic delusions?" she burst out, then reconsidered. "Am I?"
"I assure you, we're all quite well in the head."
"Can a delusion really make that affirmation about itself?"
They ignored her sarcasm.
"So I'm still, physically, a virgin, and yet you two feel… honour-bound?" she looked at them incredulously, "to defend my honour and ask for my hand in marriage?"
"I am definitely delusional…"
"But think of the benefits!"
"Being able to see us at work!"
"Always having company!"
"Thank you, I appreciate the offer, but I think I'll just kick down this door right now and make my way home to my-."
"We'll do you any way you want, and you will always come first."
"We're very open-minded in the bedroom."
"You get two husbands for the price of one, we already know we're compatible in intimate company, and Kouyuu makes a killer dim sum."
"What are the terms?"
"What have I done?" she whispered, her face ashen as she stopped dead in her tracks, the small scroll in her hands trembling.
"You've made us the happiest men in the kingdom," assured Kouyuu, squeezing her to his side with a quick kiss to her head.
"Indeed. We'll have to discuss moving arrangements soon. Do you think Seiran will still remain your retainer now that you're married? To two other men?"
"… I think I'm having heart failure…"
"We'll help you with that," assured Shuei, ruffling her hair slightly.
Oh yes, there were benefits to this arrangement, he decided as he watched his adorable new husband and wife out of the corner of his eye. The way those two blushed and harangued each other already, the way Shuurei was already nagging him to button his coat up higher and for goodness sake, cover his ears with at least his hood, looking after him… No one had ever really focused on him before, as an individual, with any real sense of caring or respect. Expectation, sure, temporary awe of his clan or assumed wealth, sometimes. But him as a person? Beyond the Emperor himself, hardly anyone.
In front of him, Kouyuu and Shuurei had stopped to bicker about which direction to turn. (Of course Shuurei was right, but seeing Kouyuu arguing and refusing to back down out of sheer pig-headedness?... With someone other than himself, for once? And giving in when she conked him on the head and pulled him by the ear anyway? Oh, he was going to love this new arrangement, if only for its entertainment purposes.)
Ran Shuei never would have admitted he had a soft spot for romance before, but…
At that moment, Kouyuu looked over at him and smiled a smile only the two of them had ever shared.
Yes, there were definitely benefits to this new arrangement.
To his surprise, then, Shuurei cautiously reached across and held out her hand to him.
Kouyuu stopped, then, too, and did the same.
Expression softening, Shuei let them take his elbows in theirs and lead him 'home'.
… or at least in the direction of the exit gate. There was still a lot of planning to do.
"So, who wants to help me plan the honeymoon?" he asked warmly.
AN: Hope you enjoyed this 'prequel'. It is based on the May 2010 prompt "Undiscovered Territory" for saiun challenge, but I didn't finish it in time. D'oh! The other parts will be posted after the voting has ended for the saiun_challenge LJ comm. (Which is where this whole debacle started.) Also, the 'saiunpornium'? It's actually an LJ comm, too - filled with all the pr0n-worthy treasures of the SaiMono fanfic and fanart universe. Come join us!
Posted June 6/7, 2010.
[EDIT: Thank you for catching my grammar!fail, Niko!]