Disclaimer : I don't own Saiunkoku Monogatari. It belongs to Sai Yukino.
Rating : PG13
Genre : Humour
Warnings : Yaoi, suggestions.
Pairings : Shuei/Koyu
Wordcount : 1985
Summary: Even steamed buns and volcanoes take on sexy overtones when one is overheated.
Time-Fit: Before Not Enough Layers; in relation to Twin Irises, between Chapter 2 and Chapter 3.
Shuei crept nearer, half-expecting a growl. Nothing happened. He became bolder and edged a little closer, peering over the aqua mop of hair. He loved to watch Koyu write. And on lucky days, when Koyu was too absorbed in his work to notice, he could enjoy it for an extended period before being shooed away.
It was well-accepted that Assistant Secretary Li Koyu's calligraphy was unparalleled. It was also a known fact that the Department of Personnel's correspondence had a habit of disappearing enroute to other Departments. The most popular rumour was that calligraphy fanatics had hijacked these letters for their private collections.
Shuei smiled. He supposed it must be true, given how rarely Koyu made a gift of his calligraphy. Even those rare occasions only came about after much pestering on the recipients' part … AND only if Koyu liked, or in some way respected, them.
"Oi. Stop breathing down my neck."
Shuei reluctantly moved to stand next to Koyu's desk.
"So stingy. I wonder, Li Koyu, if I asked nicely, would I receive a calligraphy gift?"
"Don't ask. Just keep wondering."
"Stingy, and mean. Totally undeserving of the 'best friend' label."
Koyu chuckled, putting down his writing brush.
"Stingy, mean, and demanding."
Shuei arched one brow.
"Oh? What demands would those be?"
He uncrossed his arms, and bowed deeply from the waist.
"My body and I are at your service."
Feeling his face heat up, Koyu laughed to cover his embarrassment.
Damn, Shuei, you and your innuendos!
"Seriously, Shuei, I need a favour. You know how it is that every cohort of student-scholars has to go through the redundancy and indignity of the Physical Training Programme, don't you?"
"Redundency … alright, I get that. Most of you scholars don't exactly pick up the habit of exercise after those weeks of enforced training."
Shuei grinned at the look Koyu gave him.
"But why indignity? It's just rudimentary stuff like jogging, stretching exercises, group activities and games …"
"DING! DING! DING!"
Accompanied by a bobbing aqua head.
"The games to encourage bonding?"
"Hah! Bonding! What are they trying to make us into? Sedimentary rocks?"
Staring solemnly at his friend, Shuei raised his right hand slowly.
"Please, Sir, I do not understand."
"Sorry about that, Shuei. I forget that normal people do not spend hours reading and remembering useless bits of information."
Shuei shrugged, grinning.
"So what's this about the what's-its-name rock?"
"Sediments, like soil and fragments of rocks, accumulate on the earth's surface. Over time, the lower layers get compacted by the weight of the material above. The high pressure and intense heat causes minerals like quartz and calcite to melt, which bonds the sediments together, giving rise to sedimentary rocks."
Chuckling apologetically, Koyu explained.
"My mind jumped through these associations: One, as student-scholars we were constantly under high pressure; Two, being forced to engage in strenuous physical activities in the blistering late morning sun meant we had to suffer the intense heat; Three, under such circumstances, we were expected to bond!"
Shuei, used to such scattered and unfocused conversations with his friend, gently prodded Koyu back to the topic.
"And the indignity would be …?"
"Being forced into close contact with total strangers! And for absolutely no meaningful purpose! I mean, seriously, how is piling together in a human Longevity Peach-Bun Mountain supposed to promote bonding?"
Longevity Peach-Bun Mountain …
Shuei could see the imagery clearly. Voluptuous peach-shaped steamed buns, with their pink blushes, stacked in a knee-high pile, their edges squashed against one another.
He looked at Koyu's flushed face. As a child, Shuei adored Peach-Buns, and not just for the taste. He loved running his thumbs over the smooth, rosy, soft and plump bun cheeks. Shuei had always thought Peach-Buns resembled the pink chubby cheeks of infants. Koyu's cheeks were by no means plump, but Shuei's thumbs twitched just the same.
And then Shuei had a sudden realization. Twenty years on, and in lust with his male best friend, the voluptuousness of Peach Buns looked a whole lot more like butt-cheeks … Shuei twitched in his pants.
Ah-haha … innocence lost!
Shuei leaned in close and whispered. He didn't need to fake the huskiness in his voice.
"Hmmm … let's see … pressed up against you like two buns in a Longevity Peach-Bun Mountain … that would certainly get me overheated, and aching to bond with you!"
Koyu felt intense heat course through his body, like veins of molten magma within the earth's rocky interior.
I am ridiculous!
Flirting is second nature to Shuei.
Calm down …
Think of something academic.
Magma is liquefied rock that flows within the earth.
Magma becomes lava when volcanoes ejaculate …
DAMN! Erupt! Erupt! Erupt!
What is wrong with me?
No topic is safe when I'm with Shuei!
Shuei saw what looked like panic in Koyu's eyes. He drew back, crossed his arms, and resumed his role of bringing the conversation back on track.
"What favour do you need from me?"
Transported out of his world of horny volcanoes, Koyu looked at Shuei blankly.
"Huh? Oh … that … is, Lady Shurei is a woman."
"You don't say?"
"I meant, in the event that Lady Shurei becomes a student-scholar. It wouldn't do for her to be in close physical contact with men. Having female student-scholars is unprecedented. It may not occur to Official Ro to exempt a woman from the games, even if not from the Physical Training Programme."
"WHOA! You are wayyyyyy ahead, Li Koyu!"
Shuei stared at his friend in disbelief.
"I know you've said that Lady Shurei would make a great court official, but the reality is that Lady Shurei is just a consort, and a temporary one at that."
"I know. Officially, she's just to sweeten the deal for His Highness, to accompany him during his lessons. But you are there for every one of my lessons, Shuei. You must see her talent, her drive, and her bitter resignation to her fate as a woman …"
Sighing softly, Shuei tried a different approach.
"List them out for me."
"The steps in that genius head of yours! The steps that will get from where we are now, past all the prejudices and bureaucracy, to the point when Lady Shurei becomes the first female student-scholar in history."
Koyu ticked the points off on his fingers.
"One: Suggest to Lady Shurei to work as temporary clerk at the Finance Department this summer; disguised as a boy, of course, since women are not allowed in the civil service. Two: Garner Secretary Ko Kijin's support. He will be impressed by Lady Shurei's talent and attitude. Without the Finance Minister's approval, no bill can hope to be passed in court. Three: Assist His Highness in drafting out the bill to allow women to sit for the Imperial Examinations. Four: Assist Lady Shurei in studying for the Imperial Examinations."
Shuei considered the points. Then he nodded.
"Alright, that may work. So where do I fit in?"
Koyu looked directly at Shuei.
"Someone needs to bring the matter of exempting females from the games to Official Ro's attention. Lady Shurei and I are cousins. It would look better if someone else did it. Will you be willing to talk to Official Ro, Shuei?"
Shuei hesitated. It was a perfectly reasonable request. Even so …
"Sure, not a problem. But as an exchange, not a favour."
"An exchange? For what?"
Shuei, wedged between the rack of weapons and the map cabinet, considered himself very lucky. He did not expect Koyu to agree when he had asked to watch. What surprised him even more was that Koyu wanted to do it in Shuei's office.
Barefooted, Koyu padded around the four feet by seven feet paper, making sure everything was just right. Satisfied, he picked up the large handkerchief, folded it into a long strip, and tied it over his forehead.
Shuei smiled. He knew the purpose was to prevent sweat from flowing into the eyes. But he couldn't help thinking that it made Koyu look exaggeratedly determined, too young for his twenty-one years, and utterly adorable.
Koyu picked up the giant writing brush. He paused, closing his eyes, almost meditative.
Shuei held his breath and waited. And when Koyu moved, his brush and feet crossing the paper in one seamless motion, Shuei was still not breathing!
Did Koyu breathe at all?
That was so fast, so fluid, so flawless!
From where he stood, Shuei couldn't make out the word. He had said "surprise me" when Koyu asked for his request.
Koyu untied the handkerchief, mopped his brow with it, and returned it to Shuei.
"You can send my writing stuff over later, Shuei."
He stuffed his feet into his shoes, blushed when he saw his socks still on the floor, and picked them up hurriedly.
Shuei watched, amused, as the graceful calligrapher of a few minutes ago hobbled out of his office with socks in hand. Still holding the damp handkerchief, Shuei walked around the paper in order to read the giant character.
Standing stock-still, Shuei steadily overheated.
Peaches represent longevity in Chinese culture. In Chinese folklore, the Queen Mother of the West has a celestial peach tree. Consuming the fruits from that tree will grant immortality.
Longevity Peach-Buns are presented at birthday celebrations, especially for seniors, stacked in a knee-high pile. The buns are usually filled with sweet lotus seed paste or black bean paste.
FOR THOSE NOT FAMILIAR WITH THE SAIUNKOKU MONOGATARI FANDOM
(1) "Lady Shurei" is Hong Shurei. She was offered a job by Advisor Sho – five hundred gold ryuto be the young emperor's temporary concubine. Emperor Ryuki showed no interest in running the country. Advisor Sho hoped that Shurei would influence Ryuki for the better.
(2) Koyu's plan for Shurei to work in the Finance Department is canon. Koyu helping Ryuki to draft the proposal to let women take the Imperial Examinations is canon. Koyu tutoring Shurei for the examinations is canon. Shurei becoming the first female student-scholar is canon.
(3) The Physical Training Programme for student-scholars in the palace hostel is not canon.