Hours had passed since Goushou had stormed away. When it got to be past midnight Goukou sent his pages to bed. The two had tried to conceal their heavy eyes and their weariness, but to no avail.
"Go," Goukou said, in a voice that allowed no protests of loyalty or service. "I will see you in the morning." Silver Bell and Golden Bell bowed, hands in sleeves, and wished their master goodnight. Their manners were well-schooled but they were still young. Goukou saw the exchange of glances that said clearly that neither would care to be Lord Goushou when Lord Goushou finally came back.
Goukou went out onto the broad balcony and took a seat, watching the skies and letting his mind widen to take in the thought of his brother. Goujun hadn't been trying to anger him, of course. Phlegmatic Goujun had no conception of how his steady unrelenting questions could irritate the second brother beyond bearing. It was too late by the time Goukou intervened in their heated discussion. Goushou's temper was gone. He'd bellowed at Goujun and, more unforgivably, at himself, turned to his dragon form and taken to the sky.
"I made him angry," Goujun said, a conclusion that was news only to himself.
"Indeed," Goukou agreed.
"Your pardon, ani-ue. Your foolish younger brother was at fault." He bowed his head.
"You were. You provoked your older brother into forgetting himself and insulting me. You will beg his pardon in the morning and ask for his correction."
"And learn not to press an argument with him. With me if you like, and Gouen as you please. Not with Goushou."
"Yes, ani-ue." Goujun remained with head bent, waiting for his punishment.
"You may go." Goujun looked up in small surprise at his reprieve, then came to kneel and bid him a formal good-night.
"Have good rest, ani-ue." He put Goukou's hands to his forehead and bowed over them.
"You also, Goujun." Goujun rose to go. Goukou stopped him, drew him over and gave him a kiss on either cheek. He could feel the relief in Goujun's body. Under his settled and unmoved exterior, Goujun's feelings were deeper than he would show. Discord within the family disturbed him; especially he hated being at odds with his oldest brother. The grave and formal aspects of the dragon nature had come out strongest in this third brother of theirs. It made him prize harmony and order even as it made him generally unbending and humourless. An irony, that Goujun's virtues should be such a problem at times. Goushou of course had too much of that other side of their heritage, the untamed and unhappy one. Small wonder that the two of them clashed. It was to their credit, and a little to his own for keeping them within bounds, that it happened as rarely as it did.
It was much later that Goushou returned. He flew onto the broad terraced balcony and resumed his manform. Stood for a moment as he registered that Goukou was waiting for him, and the inevitable consequences of that. Then he came over to Goukou's chair and knelt. No quietness there. Whatever peace he had thought to find winging the heavens had clearly eluded him.
Goushou bowed to him with his right fist in his left palm, held at forehead level so that his face was, perhaps not coincidentally, hidden from view. "This worthless person has offended his older brother," he said. Remorse warred in his voice with resentment, with sheer brute misery running through them both. "Let my ani-ue's rod teach his foolish brother to know his duty better."
"You're angry still," Goukou said. "Punishment would be wasted on you. Blows have never softened your spirit. They only make that stiff neck of yours stiffer." His brother's unhappiness was almost tangible. "Come to bed, Goushou. This will wait until tomorrow."
"As my older brother pleases." Goushou had hoped to have it over with now, of course. In time, Goushou, in time. And in my own way. Goushou put his hands out to take Goukou's and bid him good-night, but Goukou stood up instead.
"Come to bed," he said. Goushou drew a small sharp breath, then bowed acquiescence. Silently he followed Goukou to his room. Goukou spoke no further word to him. His brother was willing himself to obedience, but he was like a hawk that might take wing at any moment. Goukou sat down in the room's one chair and began tugging at his bootstraps. Goushou knelt in silence and did it for him. Took off Goukou's boots, unfastened the ties and buckles of his clothing, and set his robe aside in the press as if he were Goukou's lackey. Poor Goushou. His younger brother loved him, but he was tormented by his nature, pulled always in two different directions. Goukou gave him an affectionate look as he put on his bed robe, but Goushou was removing his own clothes, withdrawn into himself, and his eyes were on the floor.
Goukou sighed and turned down the
heavy cover of the bed. Goushou blew out the lamp and slid naked in beside him,
back meekly turned towards him. Go
ushou was so close that the roiling
feelings inside him filled the air, seemingly part of the scent that rose off
his skin. Anger and unhappiness, stubbornness and misery, a need to hit out and
a wish to be comforted; and below that, fear and soul-sickness and simple
exhaustion of spirit. Goukou could sense them all, flickering through Goushou's
body like lightning on the underside of a cloud.
"This way, little brother. To me."
Wary, Goushou turned to face him.
"Embrace me," Goukou said. Shock went through Goushou, making his body rigid where it touched Goukou's.
"It will quiet your anger and ease your spirit." Goukou touched him lightly on the cheek and then moved over to lie half on his face. He waited, mind calm as the dark calm of flood tide at sea, to find out what would get the upper hand in his brother's soul, anger or unhappiness or some other unknown thing. Goushou's weight and heat came and pressed down upon his back. Goushou's face was against his neck, and his fingers sank into Goukou's shoulders. "Ani-ue," he said in a thick voice, hot breath lost in Goukou's hair, "ani-ue", the struggle in him fiercer than before, as if it was tearing him apart. Goukou reached a hand back and put it over Goushou's where it clung to him.
"It's alright, Goushou. Come inside. We are of the same flesh. It will make me happy to have you within me."
Goushou's breath sounded harshly, strangling in his chest. His body gave a little jerk against Goukou's. "Ani-ue," he said brokenly. His touch had become desperate- ani-ue, turn to me, hold me. Goukou turned over, put his arms about Goushou, and held him close in the hot darkness of the bed. A small scalding wetness slid against the side of his neck. Tears, a few, the sign of Goushou's stubbornness melting- But then the clouds broke, and Goushou was weeping against his chest, heavily and without noise, shaking as the jungle trees shake when a monsoon wind lashes them. Goukou felt himself relax inwardly, as if he too shared in Goushou's relief that the storm within his soul could release itself at last.
He smoothed Goushou's hair as he cried himself out, making small meaningless noises of comfort. "Be at ease, Goushou," he said finally, when his brother lay heavy in his arms with his face buried in the crook of Goukou's neck. "Your nature whips you more cruelly than ever I could. It pains me to see how you suffer from it. No-one blames you if it makes you angry."
"Ani-ue," Goushou's roughened voice whispered below his ear. "You hurt me..."
"I must at times, to do my duty by you. Remember that we love you and wish you well, and none of us wants to add to your troubles. Maybe that will make it easier to restrain your wrath when it goads you to forget yourself."
"Mmh." Goushou drew a shaky breath.
"Goujun too will learn to curb his nature so it rubs less on you. Forgive him that he did so last night. There was no malice in it."
That was enough, Goukou judged. Any more and Goushou would break down again. He kissed his brother's mouth, then reached between his legs to do that which would bring peace to his body, and quickly sent him plunging headlong into a sleep too deep to waken from. After that he was free to attend to his own needs, and did so, sliding at last into the welcome darkness himself.
Goushou woke with a feeling of relief, like a man who has thrown off a fever. Goukou's warmth was behind him, and Goukou's arm still held him in his sleep. Goushou put his hand over his brother's. He could feel the heavy burning in the back of his body that meant Goukou had been inside him. That was cause to be glad, even though he couldn't remember it, that his older brother had had some recompense for his patience last night. His heart hurt him to remember the temper and insolence he'd shown earlier, forgetting how good Goukou was to him, forgetting what was owed to a brother and a king. Time now and past time to make amends. He kissed Goukou's hand and his brother came slowly awake.
"Goushou," he said. "How is it with you today?"
"Ani-ue, your worthless brother is ashamed."
"Mnh?" Goukou said. He cuddled closer to Goushou's back. Their fingers interlaced.
"I behaved like a child last night," he said with difficulty. "I deserved only outrage and blows, not to be taken to your bed and treated with kindness. My brother is far wiser than I am. I was indeed angry, without cause, and my spirit was stiff against the one I had offended. Forgive me for being a sullen and ungrateful fool. I am in a better mind now, and will happily accept your correction."
"Happily? That's more than I expect." Goukou sounded amused. "But I'm too content for such exertion just now. Justice can wait till after."
Goushou's heart clamped in
clamped dread. He should have realized. He had insulted his brother
publicly last night, and Goukou, just in all things, would exact the proper
penalty for that. He bowed his head where he lay, schooling himself to
resignation. My older brother would have sacrificed his body and his pride
to soothe my anger when I was past reason. Such a thing is unheard of. It is
right that I, his junior, should sacrifice my body and my pride now to appease
his anger, which is far more just than mine.
"Mnhh?" Goukou asked, sensing his distress.
"Let it be as my ani-ue wishes. If I must suffer my stripes before the others, so be it."
"What do you mean?" Goukou asked in surprise. "You are the king of the southern ocean and my nearest brother. I would never expose you to shame by correcting you before your younger brothers and your servants. Goushou, how could you think such a thing?"
"I deserve no more than that," Goushou said, weak with relief. "But how long will you allow justice to wait then?"
"Until the next time you behave like a sullen and ungrateful fool, no doubt."
At that Goushou smiled in spite of himself. "Your kindness is beyond what I can ever deserve, ani-ue. But what will our younger brothers think if they see me at breakfast sitting at my ease? They will lose all respect for your whip arm."
"Then we must see to it that you cannot sit at your ease. Lie on your face, Goushou, so that I may instruct you again in what is owing to one's older brother."
Goushou turned to his belly and raised his hips. The loving touch of Goukou's hand on his buttocks made his heart melt, though the pain of his entry caused him to cry aloud unthinkingly. The heaviness of Goukou's sex burned him like fire. He wept as heartily as he would have from a whipping, but half his tears were of happiness. Goukou hurt him because Goukou loved him, and if the love and pain must come together, he knew it was his own doing and not Goukou's will. It was his fortune to have Goukou to steady him and to provide the strong hand that kept his passions from tearing him apart. Without his brother and his brother's love he would be lost, and that fact he trusted never to lose sight of.
They rose up and dressed and went out to the morning room. Goujun, all white, and Gouen, all black, were waiting to greet them. They knelt and bid the oldest good morning, and when he had greeted them, Goujun came to kneel before Goushou. He had brought a bamboo rod with him and laid it at Goushou's feet.
"Second older brother, forgive your foolish brother for angering you," he said. "I am ready to make amends." Goushou kicked the rod away. He took hold of Goujun's shoulders and pulled him up.
"Goujun, one can beat white black, but it will not stay that way. You are as you are and you will never be other, and I am I and likely to remain that way as well. Let us bear each other as best we can."
"Thank you, second brother." Goujun bent to kiss his brother's hand, but Goushou raised him and kissed his cheek.
"It is good to see you two at peace," Goukou said, satisfied. "Now, let us get some breakfast in you before your empty stomachs can set you to jangling again." And he led them in to the dining hall.