Chapter 47:

Hokutoshichisei Arc: Part Six

A/N: When the sickle-shaped seven stars appear in the sky…

Disclaimer: See (chapter one)

Warning: Mild MXM lime content.

"I don't wish to dally," Saburo finally said to Naoe after a short stammer. He opened the doors to his inner chambers and picked up the low-burning lantern on the second step of the entryway to bring sufficient illumination to the place. His movements were indifferent at least until Naoe himself spoke, "Just a spare cloth would do. A salve would be unnecessary."

Some things clattered and fell to the floor. Naoe heard the youth cursing.

Saburo reached for the fallen porcelain jars and was only successful in making more of a mess. In his haste, he had knocked adjacent items on the shelf. Naoe worriedly called out, "Is everything alright, Saburo-dono? Do you need help?"

Predictably, the youth spat, "I am fine!"

He straightened and gave up the search on the correct medicinal preparation for incised wounds. Instead, Saburo busied himself next on the ornate dresser for linen and clothing. He rummaged for a cloak that was wide enough and clean towels. It irked him how oddly nervous he was around Naoe and could only blame it on the man's intense scrutiny. Can he not experience brief respite from that obsessive attention? Naoe had been like this since the banquet. Does he not get tired of watching at all?

"What? Is this the first time you have seen a young man who is very unfamiliar with his own room?" Saburo sniped, carrying a wooden bucket of tepid water from the bath. On the way, he had caught sight of the container filled with concentrated herbal paste and knew that it would sting upon initial application. When he thought Naoe wasn't looking, Saburo nonchalantly scooped a generous amount and dumps it on the water.

"It is understandable since you spend most of your waking hours outdoors and the servants are responsible to keep everything in your palace well-maintained and orderly." Naoe remarked objectively.

"Ah, I keep forgetting you were once a high-ranking official or general in your own right, Naoe. You must have had numerous concubines." The lordling snorted while he took a seat across the man and laid the dressing set on the rug between them.

"But none of them had I taken with so much consideration or tasted their flesh inside my mouth. It was always the other way around. They all had to devote themselves to my pleasure and nothing else, after all." The line of Naoe's lips was undeniably smug, irritating the discomfited Saburo further.

"Let us just get this over with before one of my attendants or Haruhie appears." Saburo said dismissively then commanded in sheer bravado, "Take off your blood-soaked garment, Naoe."

Naoe wordlessly obeys but a transient glint in his eyes was anything but submissive. As he sat half-naked before Saburo, the youth silently observed him in return—no, the lordling's gaze was drawn to Naoe's body.

Clearing his throat after a period of discreet staring, Saburo awkwardly wetted his lips and grasped the smallest towel soaking it on diluted herbal mixture. He intentionally forgets to warn Naoe of the medicine's potency and presses the cloth straight to the wound. Naoe makes the tiniest flinch but says nothing.

Saburo's mouth almost quirked up in childish satisfaction, "My physician once said, a little pain means getting better along the way."

The man only silently endures; not taking the bait this time. As a result, the lordling was left to fumble with his hands and to fight his strange edginess once again. He was unused to an uncompromising Naoe. Unbeknownst to him, this was the cunning swordsman's way of gaining the upper hand.

Naoe closes his eyes and loosens his posture, giving Saburo the illusion of control. His pain tolerance was very high and he was immune to most toxins and resistant to corrosive substances. The lordling would have to try harder to get his desired reaction and take his 'astringent' elsewhere.

Saburo pours all his concentration towards the man's injury. As time went by, he was getting increasingly distracted (and tempted) to feast his eyes on a gloriously-shaped torso for whatever reason. Plus, the nerves would not subside. What was wrong with him? It was just Naoe's body. He should not be this tense to handle someone very familiar, right? Or was it in fact, Naoe's closeness that provokes such a queasy feeling in him?

His patient made no move to contribute and so the youth not wanting to lose in their nonverbal interplay, brought himself closer lest he break his back due to overreaching. How could one man practically tower over another despite his sitting position? Even while standing, their differences in stature was marked by the youth's head barely coming past the base of Naoe's sternum. Grimacing, Saburo manages to stop the bleeding, puts the stained towel away and applies (slaps) a clean cloth over the torn skin (Now, Naoe's scar has an extension). Naoe did not react, however.

While he was wrapping the bandage, Saburo realizes he could not do it properly with one hand. "Could you at least hold the dressing yourself while I tie the ends?" He asks as if it were bothersome.

Naoe typically obliges, "Like this, Young Lord?" He overlaps his palm over the back of Saburo's hand.

"I see you have not given up on harassing me. Let go," Saburo orders him imperiously.

"But Young Lord was doing it worse than I: devouring my flesh with his eyes so eagerly." The man releases him but his words have might as well not. He lands a direct hit on the noble youth's ego.

Saburo was furious now. "Get out,"

Naoe merely sighs. "Why do you burn with such hatred for me? What have I done to earn your deep loathing? Did I not follow you to your homeland as promised? The only condition I have to fulfill however was to pledge myself to your elder brother."

"Quite on the defensive, aren't we? You should have refused. You belong to aniue now. And do not think I will contest him for you. If that is what you secretly wish for then you will be disappointed." The serrated tongue the tiger was equally known for came lashing out.

"I erred. I pledged myself wrongly indeed. But that does not mean I cannot rectify it. Young Lord, in this world there are times you have to bow like a bamboo to the storm so her winds do not crush you outright. It was the only way I was allowed to stay by your side." Naoe explained as calmly as ever.

"Do not lecture me!" Saburo snarled. Appeasement was the farthest thing in his mind. "You are no mentor of mine! Do you think Aniue would release you from his service just because you appealed for it? He might as well kill you first."

"And who is to say, I fear? Perhaps this is where your guardian and I would have seamlessly agreed. We both might be under the rule of the daimyo but neither of us would hesitate to risk ourselves for your sake." Again, Naoe tried to soothe him using a different approach.

"Don't you dare drag Kotarou into this discussion, Naoe Nobutsuna! I have dismissed him myself." Saburo's lip trembled with rage, something that Naoe found rather enticing in his slowly warping mental state.

The man chuckled. "Your childish tendencies are downright amusing. I can see clearly now. You shun and discard companions for a chance to be pursued. I do not mind playing the part of a hapless fool. Is that what you wanted? Like I said, I can follow you for eternity."

Saburo laughed derisively. "You will eventually tire of the chase."

Naoe stood up and swiftly strode forward. In just a few steps he had Saburo trapped against a wall using his larger frame. "Shall we put myself to the test? Does this not mean I caught you?" Naoe hinted at their enclosed stance. The man's lower body was enough to keep the youth's rear plastered on the hard surface. Naoe's broad hands mark their territory just above the lordling's head. Slender arms were yet to be held but Saburo could not break free even if he wanted to.

"Courting me in this way… how crude, Nobutsuna." Saburo cut him up prettily with a darker glare.

"I did not think you were the soft, pliant type so wasn't this better?" Naoe purred. "I may pledge myself to anyone but my loyalty will always be yours."

To the man's surprise, the youth's eyes softened before looking away. "Aniue would not let you go. He would see to it that you serve him alone."

Naoe delighted in Saburo's soft gasp as he embraced the beloved tightly. "Let me fight that battle myself. I assure you, I will not lose so have faith in me."

"Naoe…" Eventually persuaded by those words, Saburo wraps his arms around the man. He finds the other's warmth soothing and sighs. His cheeks reddened when he realized what he was doing but it was too late anyway. Naoe was already nuzzling his neck, licking his jaw, murmuring lewd phrases on his ear and teasing it gently with teeth.

Saburo's body stirred. He begins to pant as his pursuer loosens his layers of garments until the sleeves fall off his shoulders so Naoe could indulge himself on a sensual chest. The man tastes smooth, heated skin and utters a needy groan. It stokes the youth's desires into fevered want. Saburo's senses were heightened more than ever.

The man has gone as far as to expose Saburo's upper body; the haori opened to permit Naoe's questing hands upon tender flat breasts. Saburo bites a whimper when Naoe swirls his thumb on a sensitive nipple and squeezes the other. The lordling retaliates by reaching low and grasping Naoe's interested manhood firmly.

The swordsman jerks but silences himself by sucking a pert nub.

"Mmh!" Saburo's arches his neck and struggles to keep quiet.

Naoe immediately tortures the other tit inside his mouth and relishes Saburo's muffled cries. He was probably suckling too hard… just how the youth liked it.

Saburo was breathing heavily when Naoe released rosy peaks. "Tonight, I'm going to painstakingly court your body in the most wicked of ways."

Amber eyes were slightly wet and half-lidded with unrestrained passion. "I will accept your courtship if you let me dominate you."

Naoe licked his chin, "Is that a challenge, Young Lord?"

"An absolute order," Saburo drew the man closer.

A gentle rapping by the doors interrupted their intimate moment. Naoe's temper flared. 'Who could this nuisance be?' He helps the youth back into his robes and retrieves the cloak to cover his nudity when a feminine voice spoke, "Saburo-sama, are you still awake? Can I… speak with you?"

Hanaiin-hime.

The lordling all but dragged him to the bath. "Stay here for a while." Saburo's still flushed appearance was the only thing that pacified Naoe.

Naoe nodded. "Do not take too long."

Saburo huffed in response with an adorable frown.

Once the lordling disappeared to the drawing room, Naoe quickly discovers he was not alone.

"Is this a favored hiding place for shadows, I wonder?"

Fuma Kotarou stared at him in brooding silence before responding flatly, "I am here to ensure Wakasama is not taken advantage of."

"Really? Are you to take the role of the passive observer or the passive lover? Either way, I will make love to Saburo until he is satisfied." Naoe smoothly counters. It seems no hate is lost between them.

Brisk footsteps were heard before the shoji hastily opened with a scowling Saburo in the doorway. If Kotarou's appearance threw him off, the lordling did not show it. "As one of you may not know, the walls around these parts are 'paper-thin' if the pair of you made as much as a commotion—"

Naoe had already landed a successful, vicious blow on the side of Kotarou's face before Saburo could finish. The youth stepped in between them but if Naoe did not exhibit more signs of aggression then Kotarou was perfectly tame with accepting the hit. "The two of you are such a handful!" Saburo groused lowering his voice to the level of a disgusted hiss.

"Saburo-sama, is everything alright?" Hanaiin-hime's worried voice drifted easily through the dividers.

"There were stray cats! I left the bath's window open." He called in reply while with arms crossed he waited for Naoe and Kotarou to explain themselves.

"That was for administering a stimulant against Saburo's will. You did not think I would quickly forget, did you?" Naoe growled.

"Though that was essentially underhanded of me I suppose I will allow you to exact justice only once." Kotarou acted strangely subdued. The fact that the shinobi did nothing to retaliate was promising but Saburo was still wary.

"Kotarou, how dare you stalk me in the bath of all places? Now how can the both of you coexist here* in peace?" The lordling dropped caustically.

(Naoe and Kotarou to coexist in the bath* Pft)

"I understand, Wakasama. Do not worry, Nagashiro-dono and I have no desire for your wrath. We shall report to Ujimasa-kou then retire separately." Kotarou politely answered and almost immediately, exited. Naoe taking the hint, reluctantly left in the same method.

Saburo stared at the starry sky. So much for spending a second night of passion... he bit the inside of his cheek. At this rate he could no longer deny it. He had never yearned so greedily for someone.

XxXMOBXxX

That night, Hanaiin-hime confessed her troubles. In all honesty and courage, she confided in Saburo that she could not be faithful to the daimyo if she becomes his wife. There was only one person constantly on her mind: Yasuda Nagahide. She also revealed that she had sent him letters but was yet to receive a response.

At first, Saburo did not know what to say. How was he supposed to offer advice when he himself was incompetent in such matters? Then taking his silence for displeasure, she apologized severely.

The wedding was in seven days' time! How can anyone think of a remedy in such a short period? He asked if she already told her father. She shook her head and he groaned silently. Wracking his mind for possible solutions, the logical choice was to search for another candidate. But where does he start?

When she thought she had imposed herself enough, she apologizes once again, thanks him for listening to her predicament and hopes positively for things to settle on their own. Saburo doubted it would and was left to ponder 'til late in the evening.

XxXMOBXxX

Hideharu was drying his hair as he emerged from the baths. Dressed lightly in a thin sleeping robe he spots the daimyo seated on his desk: hair dripping and undone, kosode haphazardly tied, and wearing a pensive expression. Ujimasa-kou studies the infamous letter by the candlelight probably analyzing it word for word.

Sighing, Hideharu approached. He unobtrusively picks the forgotten towel on Ujimasa's lap and wraps it around broad shoulders so wet hair stopped soaking the garment. Meticulously and carefully he assumes the task upon himself. "At least dry your hair properly." He chides, gathering the strands and wrings the moisture with the towel.

Ujimasa's lip curls. He leans in closer to Haru's ministrations and whispers, "Sometimes, your thoughtfulness could be quite endearing."

Hideharu snorts. "Do not tell me you did this on purpose?" He continues to rub the daimyo's scalp vigorously.

"Be careful not to get any droplet on this paper else I would be very incensed, Haru." Ujimasa warned with a sly smile.

Hideharu ignores him. "Have you deciphered it yet?"

One fat drop of water flies and manages to land on the white surface particularly on the intended space for written characters. The overlord glowers. "Haru, what did I tell you?"

Hideharu lets go of the towel and stares at the damage he had caused. The drenched part appears whiter and slightly raised particles become visible the closer he peered. "Tono-sama, Is that what I think it is?"

The daimyo chuckled. "Do not tell me you discovered what the letter says."

Instead of replying, Hideharu gingerly runs a fingertip on the soaked page and to Ujimasa's bafflement and sudden lust places it inside his mouth. "I was right. It tastes like salt."

"Salt? Salt on paper… Hmm," After a brief musing, Ujimasa proceeds to pass the letter lightly over flame while Hideharu watches apprehensively.

"Alright, let us read it once more." The Sagami overlord shows the true message unmistakably written in salted water by Ujiteru. The real one was cleverly done on the spaces between the fake constructed in black ink. "My brother is as ingenious as ever. Rather than producing a blank letter, which would have been entirely suspicious he did write a bold message as if to betray us. Then after the false characters dried, he wrote his true sentiments with 'invisible ink'. No one would have suspected a thing."

Ujiteru-dono… Hideharu blinks joyful tears away.

Ujimasa's lips thin. "Do not forget who you belong to, Haru."

Hideharu shakes his head. "Ujimasa-san, I would not be so presumptuous."

XxX

Aniue,

I am alive and well,

I am currently under the protection of Baba Nobuharu-dono and unexpectedly, Matsuhime who also thinks highly of you because she had been closest to her sister and your late wife, Lady Obaiin. The Takeda are in chaos. With Shingen-dono ailing, some of the family members and retainers are opposed to Katsuyori's apparent succession. Currently, Takeda Katsuyori's greatest nemesis is Kousaka-Danjo. The two never agree on anything at all. Also, the Oda are lying in wait for every opportunity. If the Takeda do not get their act together, I am afraid the Oda will swallow us like a tsunami.

Oda Nobunaga already controls majority of the Imperial Court. There is little opposition left for his tyranny.

To put it simply, I am the least of your concerns. Please concentrate on fortifying Sagami and protecting our people, especially Saburo.

Ujiteru

XxX

Ujimasa's first reaction was to incinerate the letter to ashes but ultimately decides against it. "Brother, you fool." He mutters to no one in particular.

"Haru, we must make haste. We have to amass an elite army and march towards Kai." Ujimasa-kou declared with an immense shift in demeanor.

"March for war? This early?"

"Not for war but to form an alliance. Saburo will lead the campaign while my finest accompany him. We have to stop the Takeda from crumbling so prematurely and retrieve Ujiteru at the same time." From all his life, this decision proved to be the most difficult for Hojo Ujimasa to make. Unfortunately, he was left with no other option.

"But how can you ensure the Takeda to receive us with open arms?" Matsuda-Danjo asked with uncertainty.

"Shinsuke's apprentice, Xin Kuro. He will play a key role," was the daimyo's confident answer.

"Kuro? The reserved young man who toils night and day on the specialist physician's quarters?"

Ujimasa nods with a self-satisfied grin. "Yes. Meanwhile I want you to make a formidable general out of Saburo. Do not for a moment go soft on him. Train him hard."

"You are one cruel brother." Hideharu shakes his head and then shivers when Ujimasa deftly undresses him.

"It is for his own good. Or have you not thought of the consequences if ever I fail to produce offspring?" Ujimasa pins his naked body on the bed.

"That is why you have to sleep with your wife. Are you not tired of me at all? You have had me for more than a couple of times already." Haru averts his face when Tono-sama lowers his head.

To Hideharu's mortification, Ujimasa makes a stinging nip on the same spot he marked earlier. "Did you bleed to prevent us from copulating more tonight?"

Hideharu's response was rough moans soon after.

XxXMOBXxX

Waken an hour before dawn, Saburo could not really complain when Haruhie appears to be more sleepless than he. Pale, exhausted, and with dark smudges under his eyes the page presents him a tray full of food before disappearing to the bath to prepare the tub. "Haruhie, it is alright. I shall ask Yuri-san and Sayori-san to send for other servants to warm the water."

Haruhie reappears only after the bath essentials were ready. "I am fine, Saburo-gimi."

"What have you been doing all this time?" The lordling forces the lad to sit.

"Eh? I have been studying apothecary and medicinal applications with Kuro… actually I serve as his assistant sometimes. And then past midnight I trained under Kotarou-dono about freestyle martial arts to help protect you better since it will take months before I am allowed to carry a weapon," Came the lengthy and detailed account.

"All that just after the banquet? Then it means you haven't a wink. What if you fall ill?" Saburo chews the roasted fowl and rice quickly as he braces for the day ahead. He could not help but think Haruhie was pushing himself too hard until the lad replies with, "Saburo-gimi forgets that I was the son of a vassal and though I have not participated in actual blood baths I have been subjected to marching for days on end. Compared to that this is nothing—ah, forgive me. I meant no arrogance or disregard for Saburo-gimi's concerns."

"You are amazing Haruhie." Saburo did praise him with a small smile. Breakfast was delicious and he finished faster than usual.

Haruhie glowed. "Ah, I forgot something." He said probably as an excuse to cover his embarrassment. The page retrieves a nicely wrapped package and wearing a wide grin passes it to a puzzled Saburo.

"What is this? A present? It came a month early." The lordling mumbled nonsensically.

Haruhie laughed. "…From an admirer. Go ahead, open it. It contains no serpent." He lightened the mood when the youth stared as if the package might bite.

Saburo tore the wrapping only to see a straw box and a facedown note. He grabs the note and ponders at the unfamiliar, neat handwriting.

It was poetry.

It was poetry about him.

He reads; eyebrows furrowing until he came upon the endearment used for him at the end. "My beloved Tengu," It said, "Do your best with the horses."

Naoe.

That annoying sap…

He lifts the lid and neatly arranged below yet another tiny package were Waraji. The sandals were made of treated leather and designed for horse riding. The pair seemed exquisitely crafted and excellently fitted to his slender size. They were also comfortable and sturdy at the same time. To test the material's worth; he walked around the room uncaring if it was outdoor footwear. He tried not to get too excited or to be overwhelmed with delight and failed miserably as he felt his whole face brighten.

"Saburo-gimi, they suit you. That Naoe-san surely knows how to please a beloved. Ah— forgive my mouth. But wait, there seems to be another present." Haruhie opens the pouch-sized container to reveal a blue, silk, elegant riband.

There was one last note and this time it was a suave invitation. "After your training, please proceed to my quarters for a meal and pleasant company. I will be patiently waiting,"

'Saburo-gimi is being spoiled rotten,' Haruhie mused. He feigns ignorance. "What does it say?"

The lordling unclasps the waraji with care, puts the ribbon on his dresser, and goes behind the partitions. "I am soaking before the water gets cold." He silently hopes Kotarou was not lurking in there this time.

"I'll keep you comfortable." Haruhie jumps for the furnace used to generate heat for the tub.

Saburo was finally able to have his much-desired dip while he sulked simultaneously. "That Naoe… treating me like a woman…"

Should he wish to accept the man's proposition what will the future night entail?

His overactive imagination provides him with a 'morning problem' to deal with instead. He irritably stares at the 'untamed thing' that had risen from indecent thoughts. All the while he was oblivious to the shadow who was content to steal moments just to be by his side.

TBC~

Post A/N: Feels giddy and fluffy she could fly. Saburo is the luckiest darling in the world until he goes to war that is…

Read and review please!