"Where is it?" Dokugaku asked.

"Between these hills," Kougaiji said. "This is where it always appears."

"Mh. It'll attack us on its own?"

"Doubtless. It seems ferocious enough. But if not, I can call it up. You'll have to hold it off longer, though."

"No problem." Doku looked about, sword on shoulder, for any trace of the demon beast. He and Kou walked forward slowly into the treeless grassy valley. Peaceful seeming to the eye, but somewhere below the level of sense there lingered a trail of something hideous, in this place where innocent travellers had been attacked and devoured. Both stopped at once. Not noise- a psychic disturbance ahead. Malice, anger, a twisting coil of emotion that came from nowhere definable but was just, palpably, there. Doku ran ahead and took his stance well forward to cover the prince. Behind him Kou's voice began its low chanting- eyes closed, focussing his energy, vulnerable for the moment. And in front of him--

††††††† The empty air of the valley wrinkled like the wavy heat above a fire. It became a hole, and from that crack in the dimensions a beast from between-worlds erupted onto the grass thirty feet in front of him. Long claws, curved, on each of its four feet, that made it walk in an oddly mincing fashion as it set each ponderous leg down. Not fashioned to move with speed, but with a wicked reach and, Doku guessed, probably fast when it came to slashing. He moved closer but to the side, drawing the beast towards him and farther away from Kou.

††††††† "Oi, pooch! Over here! Come and get me!" He waved his sword at it. The head turned blindly- no, not blind, it had eyes that were set at the side like an insect's. Hmm... That shiny skin he'd thought was leather, maybe that was an insect's carapace as well. In which case--

††††††† The beast came at him. He'd been wrong about the speed. It moved like a horse, back and front legs together. He ducked and slashed and felt his sword slip off the hardness of its body. OK. It turned and slashed back at him, and he curled away out of reach, the talons just missing him. He needed a leap to get him at its eyes, but as it was, just dodging those quick claws was as much as he could do. But since it couldn't see him from directly in front, if he wanted to chance it--

††††††† He rushed in, quick and low, and sprang through the air onto its shoulder, scrabbling on the smooth surface. It batted at him with its other arm and the claws' tip raked his skin open. But he was leaping again, on to its head, and shoved his sword straight into a multifaceted eye even as it shook itself violently so that he slipped and began to lose his footing.

††††††† "Dokugaku! Jump!" Kougaiji's command reached him, and he leapt straight through the air to hit the ground rolling and half-winded. Behind him there was a psychic explosion as Kougaiji's spell hit the monster. Doku stopped his forward roll at what felt to be a safe distance and turned his head to watch. Great crimson streams of energy, dragon headed, emerged from Kou's cupped and upraised hands to envelope the beast. It roared and bellowed, but the dragon's fangs found its throat and bit through it. The thick stumpy legs thrashed in the air, and then the thing's body lost cohesion and simply melted. Little wisps of psychic energy drifted among the curling red of Kou's dragon and vanished.

††††††† Kou turned his hands around, head bent, and drew the dragon back into himself. He took a deep breath, shook himself once, and looked over to where Doku had gotten to his feet and was coming towards him.

††††††† "Nicely done," Doku said, grinning at his prince.

††††††† "You were to contain its movement only," Kou said, displeased. "Not risk your neck trying to kill it."

††††††† "Warii. It's hard for me to hang back from a fight."

††††††† "Learn. I don't want to have to find myself another bodyguard." Kou pointed a long-taloned finger at the ground. "Down."

††††††† "Unh-? OK." He knelt. Half a year into his service with Kougaiji and he was still finding the limits of their relationship- or to put it more accurately, finding how far he could go with Kou before Kou slapped him down for his impudence. He knew by now that it amused Kou to have Doku act like his big brother, and that the prince even found something obscurely comforting about it, though he only knew it from the fact that Kou let pass without remark behaviour that turned the castle courtiers puce with shock. But now it seemed there was a reckoning coming. "Want an apology?"

††††††† "No. I want to look at your back, you damned man-mountain." Kou's hand touched his bare shoulder above the burning gouges. "Poisoned. I thought so. Stay still. I'll have to cauterize it." The low focussed chanting began again- 'Nen kiri on hata ken gon hei myou hei myou--' Doku clenched his hands and waited. '--raksha hen hata hata JOU!!' Liquid fire ran down his back. He gasped once, then clamped his mouth shut and glared ferociously at the ground before him. Little grunting sounds tried to make it out of him and he closed his throat against them. Shit this hurt. Shit this hurt. Shit this hurt so much he thought maybe he was going to puke from it---

††††††† The pain stopped abruptly, replaced by something silver and cool. Doku shook with the relief. Hands clenched still, almost over...

††††††† "There," Kou said. He looked down at Doku, expressionless. "Don't do that again, ahou."

††††††† Doku grinned, even if it felt a little wobbly to him. "Trust me."

††††††† "Hmnh," Kou said, letting Doku make what he liked of the sound. "Home." He twirled his earring and they were--


††††††† ---standing in Kou's bedroom in the castle. Two servants hastened forward from the door.

††††††† "Kougaiji-sama!"

††††††† "Kougaiji-sama!"

††††††† "Wine," Kou commanded. "And fetch Yaone. Tell her to bring her ointments." They ran off to do his bidding. Kou kicked off his slippers and climbed onto the high divan that was couch by day and bed by night. He ran a hand across his forehead, massaging his eyes a little as he leaned back against the purple cushions.

††††††† "Tired?"

††††††† "Anhh," Kou agreed. "Some."

††††††† The first servant returned from the neighbouring room bearing a tray with a crystal flagon and two silver goblets. Always two now, for the Prince and the guard who never left his side. Doku took the tray from her, nodding a friendly dismissal, and placed it on the low table by the bed. He poured one goblet and handed it to his prince.

††††††† "Mh." Kou took it and sipped. Doku poured for himself and straightened up. "Sit down," Kou said.

††††††† "I'm fine." Aside from the aching in his shoulder and a little dizziness...

††††††† "Sit." Doku sat. They drank in silence. Kou wasn't one for chatter, and Doku was developing a sense for when his prince wanted to be distracted with talk and when he didn't. Right now, he didn't.

††††††† "Kougaiji-sama?" Yaone's low voice spoke from the door. "Is something the matter?"

††††††† "Yaone." Kou didn't exactly smile, but his face grew indefinably softer. "Come and look at this fool's shoulder. He went in under a dimension beast's claws and got himself laid open for his pains."

††††††† "Oh-- Dokugakuji!!" Yaone hurried to his side. Doku rolled his eyes expressively at the ceiling but turned obediently for her inspection.

††††††† "No infection-- you cleansed it?"

††††††† Kougaiji nodded.

††††††† "Then I'll just put something on it to speed the healing..."

††††††† It smelled nice, whatever it was, even though its touch on the raw cuts hurt some. She put a pad over the wound and wrapped bandages about it to hold it in place, over and under his shoulder.

††††††† "Try not to sleep on your back for a few nights," she advised him, "so this can heal."

††††††† "Mnh. Will do."

††††††† "Stay and have a drink with us," Kou said, raising a finger to the servant at the door.

††††††† "Oh- I'm sorry, Kougaiji-sama. I have another patient in my rooms still..."

††††††† "Anh. Suman'. I shouldn't have called you away."

††††††† "Not at all." She gave him a little smile.

††††††† "I won't keep you then."

††††††† She bowed and left. Kou's eyes watched her out the door.

††††††† "Nice girl," Dokugaku observed.

††††††† "Yes."

††††††† Doku cocked his head to one side. "She likes you too."

††††††† Kou looked down at his wine and said nothing.

††††††† "Why not?" Doku pressed.

††††††† "You know how she entered my service. I'm not Hyakugan Maoh."

††††††† Doku snorted. "Thatís obvious. No reason not to ask her. You wouldn't be making her do anything she doesn't want to-"

"Not possible. She owes me her life.

††††††† "So what?"

††††††† "She'd feel she was obliged to say yes. I can never ask her equal to equal."

††††††† "You're the prince. You don't have equals."

††††††† Kou sent him a slanting glance.

††††††† "Yeah yeah- except me. And we both know how much that's worth."

††††††† "What is it worth?" Kou asked.

††††††† "You made me, you can break me," Doku shrugged.

††††††† "Break you?" Kou mused. "Hmpf."

"Don't try to change the subject. Kou, she likes you and she'd be happy to. So why not?"

††††††† "Because of what happens when she stops being happy to."

††††††† "Who says she would?"

††††††† "Anyone with a grain of sense. Women want to come first with a man and they can't, with me. Once in, she'd have no way out. She's in my debt, and for overweight, she has no-one else to depend on but me. And besides--"

††††††† "What?" when Kou fell silent.

††††††† "I like her. I don't want to risk making her unhappy just to satisfy an itch of the flesh. She deserves better from me than that." He drank off his wine.

††††††† "Kou-- you know what your trouble is? You think too much."

††††††† "Better than thinking too little. You like her yourself, yes? Why don't you try for her?"

††††††† "Annh- not my type, really."

††††††† "What type is your type? I don't think I've ever seen you with a woman since you arrived."

††††††† "No, I suppose not. Women-- I don't know. They want a guy who'll settle down, give them babies, that stuff. I guess I'm not ready yet."

††††††† "You're talking from experience, or not?"

††††††† "Unh?"

††††††† "You've had a lover of your own?"

††††††† Doku felt his face go red, unaccountably and terrifyingly.

††††††† Kou was watching him. "Perhaps I shouldn't have asked."

††††††† "No, no-" Doku waved the words away, pulling himself under control. "I did, yeah. She's dead. I don't talk about her."

††††††† "Ahh. My apologies." Kou got off the divan to pour himself another glass of wine. Doku jumped to his feet.

††††††† "Would you let me do that? You're supposed to be the prince-" His shoulder twinged him and he pretended it was anger that stopped his words.

††††††† "I am the prince, and quite able to refill my own glass. And yours too, if you think you can stand more."

††††††† "I'll take another, thanks." Kou handed it to him and Doku drank, sighing. Looked up to meet Kou's crimson eyes watching him.

††††††† "What's the matter?" Doku asked.

††††††† "I could ask you the same."

††††††† "Nothing. I'm fine."

††††††† "Mh."

Kou had never asked him about his past before. He'd thought Kou never would. It was just the surprise that had made his insides jump like that. And anyway, Kou had backed off at once, with that delicate consideration of his, so it was OK. He didn't have to worry about it. And the fact that he didn't like the idea of Kou being considerate with him, and the fact that he didn't like that little awkwardness it had caused, was just so much tough shit. But still- instead of starting a safe new topic, he purposely picked up the old one, as if daring the monsters of the past to come attacking him again.

"Look, Kou-- maybe it's not my place to be saying this--"

"Reticence, from you? I'm amazed."

"Yeah, yeah. I'm not a total bumpkin. I know when I'm sticking my neck out. But listen- you and your scruples and all, they're all fine and good, but you're the prince here. You're not going to stay alone forever, right? There's lots of women who don't want anything more than a good time, so why not give it to them? You don't have to sleep alone every night."

"It doesn't trouble you. Why do you think it troubles me?"

"It's different. I'm not going to be like this all my life."

"Nor I. Once my mother is free and the world is the way it should be, then I can be an ordinary man again. But until then..."

"It'll be a while before the world's put right. Long time to be by yourself."

"I'm used to it. Besides--" he shrugged. "You wouldn't know this. The ki energy I use in my spells. It has to come from somewhere. Where do you think it comes from?"

"Hunh?? You mean-- you can't have it unless you live like a monk? Kou- that can't be worth it."

"Not that bad." Kou was almost smiling. "But you have to be selective. If it's only physical- if you're alone, or feel nothing for the other person- that wastes ki. Pleasant, I agree, but I need my energy for other things." He yawned. "Like dimension beasts. It takes it out of you."

"Yeah, I see it does. Nap?"

"Mm, I think so. Soon, anyway."

"Here." He clapped his hands at the servant by the door. "Get you tidied up a bit at least."

"Mnnh. Are you really up to it?"

"Stop treating me like an invalid. I got a scratch, is all. You cleaned it and Yaone put her stuff on it and it feels just fine." It did, in fact, but whether that was Yaone's ointment or the wine at work he wasn't going to guess.

††††††† After a moment the servant returned, walking carefully so the water in the deep basin he carried wouldn't slop over. Doku took the linen towels from the man's arm and let him place the basin by Kou's bed. The man retired, invisible by the door.

††††††† Doku dipped the smallest towel in the rose scented water. His nose wrinkled involuntarily. Well, if that was what Kou liked, and it was, then fine. Kou stretched a leg out to him. Doku washed one foot and dried it, achingly careful not to tickle as he wrapped the linen about the sole. Then the other- carefully washing between the long toes with their curving nails and drying them after. He saw in his head briefly another pair of feet, smaller, chubbier, washing them in an iron tub as their owner sat on his lap, before the memory winked out, all but unremarked by his brain. Kou took off his jacket and Doku dipped the towel in water, wrung it out, and wiped down Kou's neck under the two round collars that he wore, and down his back. Rinsed the cloth again and took the dust off Kou's chest, then dried him with the third towel.

††††††† "Anhhh," Kou sighed. "That's good." He lay back on the cushions, eyes closed.

††††††† Doku signalled to the servant, who bore the basin away. He drew the curtains about the divan, creating a purple-red twilight.

††††††† "Stay," Kou said, eyes still closed.

††††††† "I always do, you know that."

††††††† "Stay here." The red eyes opened a slit. He gestured to the divan. "With me."

††††††† "OK." This was something new. He sat down again, looking at Kou's compact muscled body, naked chest narrowing to the flat abdomen above the low-slung trousers. Thin silk trousers, dark burgundy, that bulged now below the belt.

††††††† "Kou...?" Doku's eyes shifted uneasily.

††††††† "Well?" Kou asked. "What about it?"

††††††† It. Doku's mind registered what Kou was saying at last. "You want... me--?"

††††††† Kou nodded. There was a little gleam in his eyes. "Since you're my equal, and you can always say no."

††††††† To his amazement, Doku found his mouth stretching in a grin. "Right." His mind was still slow with surprise, but not the surprise he'd have expected. Kou wanted to screw him and amazingly enough, all he could feel was Hell, why not?

††††††† "Sure," he said.

††††††† Kou sat up slowly. "Really? You mean that?"

††††††† "I mean that." He shrugged. "I gave you my soul already. You might as well have the rest of me to go with it. Mind, I've never done it with a guy. You'll have to tell me what needs doing."

††††††† "Ahh." Kou gave him his rare, sweet smile, the one that made Doku go a little funny in the chest. "The ointment, for a start. It's over on that shelf. The blue jar."

††††††† Doku went and got it, hearing the whisper of silk as Kou slid his trousers off. When he came back into the curtains Kou was naked, wearing only the two gold circlets about his neck and the jade bangles about each wrist, with the long wine-red hair falling to his waist. Doku stopped, swallowing hard. The smooth terracotta skin, and the sculpted planes of muscle, and the slender arching cock- all familiar but looking now totally different, now that Kou's nakedness had something to do with himself personally. The dark serious eyes were watching him and way down in their depths there shone a light of happiness like the dawn over mountains. Doku's head swam. It was worth it, whatever it was like, even if it turned out that it hurt like hell, anything was worth it just to make Kou look like that. He pulled his own trousers off him and found, rather to his surprise, that he was as hard as Kou.

††††††† "You're sure you don't mind wasting a little ki like this?" he said, to cover the odd fluttering in his heart.

††††††† "I won't be wasting it," Kou said. It took a second for Doku to understand what that meant, and when he did it made the funny feeling in his chest even worse. This must be what they called happiness, and if he got much more happy than this it felt like he might just burst into tears. That threat steadied him a little. He took a deep breath and unscrewed the stopper of the ointment jar. It smelled of jasmine.

††††††† "So I suppose-- I put this in me?"

††††††† Kou blinked. "On you."

††††††† "Uh-- Huh?" He looked at Kou blankly. "Wait- what's-- on??"

††††††† Kou's eyebrow quirked, puzzled. "On your cock. For lubrication."

††††††† "Uhh- I--" Doku's mind wasn't quite functioning. "You mean- you can't mean- you want me to screw you?"

††††††† "Of course. How not?"

††††††† "You're the prince," was all he could think to say.

††††††† "The prince, not a mountain climber." Kou's ironic eye reminded him of the head and a half difference in their heights. "I wouldn't ask you to have me in you. There are limits."

††††††† "You don't mind- having me in you," Doku said, through suddenly numb lips.

††††††† "No, I don't," Kou said, genuinely offhand. "It's much the pleasanter role."

††††††† "I -uhh, OK."

††††††† "What is it?" Kou asked.

††††††† "Nothing. Nothing's the matter." He took a scoop of ointment and put it on himself, on the hard-on that was trying to die on him. He didn't know what the matter was, just that the idea of screwing Kou-- was... No, fuck it-- Kou was his prince that he'd given his life and service to, and what Kou wanted Doku gave. And he was not dammit going to go limp on him now- on the man who'd taken him in and taken him on, no questions asked, a complete stranger off the streets, if not something worse. That kind of trust you didn't find twice in a lifetime. The memory of Kou's hand stretched out to him, six months ago, came back to him full-force now, and he smiled as he always smiled when he remembered that, the first warmth he'd had in the frozen grey desert of his life since the day his life had ended four years ago.

††††††† "OK." He smiled at Kou. "What next?"

††††††† "Give that here. I need to get myself ready." Kou reached for the jar.

††††††† "Want me to do it?"

††††††† "If you don't mind," Kou said, looking surprised. "But there's no need to force yourself."

††††††† "I don't mind. Just- show me--"

††††††† "Here." Kou lay down on his back, legs bent. "Come here." Doku sat where he pointed, next to Kou's feet. Kou lifted a leg and laid it on Doku's shoulder. It weighed on his neck like a heavy arm. "Can you reach me like that? Come closer." Doku shifted forward, close up to Kou's groin. Easier if he knelt. He came up on his knees, lifting Kou with him, and slipped his hand between Kou's legs in back. His greasy finger slid down the crevice of Kou's butt and found the circle of flesh it was looking for. Kou's eyes were watching him, red and unreadable. Carefully Doku poked his finger inside, and watched Kou's eyes close, heard Kou catch his breath.

††††††† "That OK?" he asked, trying to keep his voice level. Kou's flesh around his finger, tight, tight, and Kou's inside, so amazingly hot--

††††††† "Nnhhh," Kou said. His breath had gone deep and ragged. Doku slid his finger out and Kou moaned. Doku's stomach went strange, churning a little.

††††††† "How- how do we--" He couldn't seem to speak right somehow.

††††††† "Like this." Kou reached for him, put his hands about the back of Doku's neck and pulled Doku forward to crouch above him. Kou's ass was wide open beneath him, sweaty and heavy-smelling, the part of Kou he never saw, laid open now to strike at all of Doku's senses. His breath was stifling in his throat. There wasn't enough air all of a sudden. Kou's stiff cock rubbed against Doku's belly. "Put it in- like that- now," Kou's hoarse voice said in his ear, as Kou pushed against him. Hot eager arms about his neck, strong little fingers digging into his shoulders, legs in the air grabbing his sides, long hair sliding down his arms Put it in Jien put it in me good boy ohhh such a good boy

††††††† Bile rushed into his throat. He choked, clenching his jaw, and swallowed the scalding stuff back down. He broke free of Kou's arms and crouched on the bed, a hand pressed across his mouth. He felt Kou sitting up next to him.

††††††† "I can't," Doku said. "Suman'. I can't."

††††††† "Ah," Kou said. There was a pause. "No matter. If you have a distaste for it there's no help. My apologies-"

††††††† "No," Doku said. The shaking in his gut was still too bad to let him speak, but he couldn't stand to hear Kou apologizing when Kou was the one who'd been hurt. "Kou--" He looked up. Kou had that look to him, polite and a little weary, the one he wore with strangers who had no need to know his thoughts.

††††††† No. Oh no. Oh no.

††††††† Doku slipped off the bed and on to his knees. He gripped the coverlet in both hands, for what little warmth it could give him, and told his body to stop shaking and his voice to speak straight. I swore myself to him. If this is the end of it between us, he's going to know all of me before I go.

††††††† "I killed her," Doku said to the purple silk before his eyes. "That woman you asked about. She was crazy. She was crazy and I couldn't make her better no matter how hard I tried." His voice shook again and he took a deep breath. "She hurt too much and it drove her mad. So I killed her. There was no-one else before her and no-one else since, and it looks like- now, there never will be." He could still taste the acid in his throat. "She wanted all of me, and all of me is what she got."

††††††† "I see," Kou said after a moment, more normally. "No need to get yourself in such a state. It doesn't become you." Doku went weak with relief at his tone, though he knew it wasn't over yet. Kou was still the prince.

††††††† "When did this happen?" Kou asked.

††††††† "Four years ago."

"How did you kill her?"

††††††† He swallowed. "A sword. I ran her through."

††††††† "A quick death?"

††††††† "Yeah. In and out, and she was dead."

††††††† "Mmh. You loved her."

††††††† "Yeah." He swallowed again. "Still do. In spite of--" His voice trailed away.

††††††† "Ahhh. What was her name?"

Ice ran through him. He froze. All of me... No way out, now. He closed his eyes, walking through the final door.


††††††† Silence. "Ahh," Kou said after a moment, expressionless. "I see."

"You can do what you like to me," Doku said. "I don't care any more. She was my mother and I did that with her and then I killed her. That's what you took into your service." There was no more to say. He crouched by the bed, staring at his hands, and waited for the man he'd betrayed to pass sentence on him.

Kougaiji's hand touched him on the head, briefly, the long fingers trailing through his shaggy hair.

††††††† "Ahou," Kougaiji said. "Did you never ask yourself why I took you on?"

††††††† "No." He hated the way his voice sounded, rough and shaky and high like a kid's. "I never did. It just seemed a you thing to do."

††††††† "Your face was white and there was blood on it from a wound that wouldn't stop bleeding. And the self that looked out of your eyes was white too- clear and transparent, like a man who's lost too much blood. People in pain aren't much different from animals. They rend anyone who comes near them, as you know. But I could feel no malice in you, and no anger, and no violence. And I thought, what a waste to let a man like this go, who can somehow keep on walking straight though he's bleeding to death inside and out. So I took you for myself. Any complaints?"

††††††† After a moment, Doku said, "None. None in the world. But you didn't know what you were getting."

††††††† "I do now," Kou pointed out.

††††††† "And?"

††††††† "What I said. I don't want to have to find myself another bodyguard. Don't make me tell you the same things twice. And get up here. I don't like talking to the top of your head either."

††††††† It seemed to take all the energy he had left, getting onto the high divan again. "Sorry," he said, when he was there.

††††††† "Apology accepted. You owe me nothing," Kou said. "You were free to say no. You should have said no."

††††††† "I didn't want to." The truth came out, just like that. "I don't want--" He didn't know how to say it. "I don't want there to be anything I can't give you, if you want it. And I hate that there's something I can't give you."

††††††† Kou looked away from him. "None of us are free of our pasts. If your mother's spirit requires you to give up your manhood for a time, then you'll have to give it up until she's satisfied."

††††††† "She won't ever be satisfied," Doku said, facing the fact.

††††††† "You're prepared for that?" Kou asked seriously.

††††††† "What choice do I get? There's a pricetag on everything, and that seems to be this one."

††††††† "You'll pay for your freedom by being alone all your life?"

††††††† "My free--" It was like a knife in him, utterly unexpected. "No. No- that's not--" He stared at Kou, numb with shock. That's not why I did it. Does she think that's why--? "If it was just me, she'd still be alive. It didn't matter, I didn't mind if she wanted- all of me. I'd have done anything to make her happy. But- she thought- she was going to kill to have me for herself. That was when I knew there was no other way out--" His mind floundered as his stomach churned. I didn't do it for me. It was for Gojou...

††††††† ...and where is Gojou now? Alive? Dead? You walked out and left him alone. Was it really for Gojou after all? The nausea gripped his stomach and he began to shake again.

††††††† "You look terrible," Kou said. "Get under the covers." He held them open. Numbly Doku obeyed. Kou lay down beside him and pulled the thistledown stuff up about them. Kou's body was warm, very warm, the only warm thing in his world where his hands and his feet and his heart and his gut seemed suddenly made of ice.

††††††† "Hold me," Kou said. "And stop shaking."

††††††† Doku did the first, and after a minute he was able to do the second.

††††††† "Suppose," Doku said, through dry lips, "suppose that was why I did it. To get myself free of her." But I loved her- I didn't want... "What would you think of me then?"

††††††† "I'd think you were Dokugakuji and my man." Kou was lying so close to him he could feel Kou's breath as he spoke.

††††††† "A murderer. A liar."

††††††† "Think of yourself as that if you find it more comfortable," Kou said obscurely. "Have you less right to freedom than anyone else?"

††††††† There was silence. "I don't know the answer to that one," Doku said.

††††††† Kou sighed soundlessly. "Nor I."

††††††† "Kou?"

††††††† "Nothing," Kou said. His long silky hair covered Doku's hands, covered his arms. Doku let his fingers feel it, and the fresh skin underneath it. His mind looked for some light in the middle of this dark unhappiness-- Kou far away from him, even though wrapped in Doku's arms, and the shame that ate at his heart now that he knew himself for what he was. And to balance that, from what seemed a long time ago, that happiness in Kou's face when Kou had- when Doku'd thought Kou was going to-- There was only that to hold onto right now. Still, maybe enough. This was bad, but he'd been through worse. You got through the bad patches somehow- survived one day and then the next, and the one after that until you got used to it. And before he hadn't even had the thought of Kou to keep him going, and the memory of the shining light in Kou's eyes.

††††††† Kou gave a tiny snort of satisfaction in his arms.

††††††† "Better?"

††††††† His heart was still in surprise. "How did you know?"

††††††† Kou shrugged. "I know how it is with you. I always have."

††††††† "Oh." The idea was vaguely disturbing. "Didn't mean to-- whatever. Bother you. With my feelings and all--"

"Bother?" Kou sounded bemused. "No bother. It's pleasant, having someone else there."

That solitariness of Kou's, that he'd always sensed... "I thought you liked it - being alone. It always seemed like that was where your strength came from."

"Maybe. But now I get my strength from you. Having you with me is like having a wall at my back."

††††††† That hurt more than he could say. "Not now," he said. "Not after what you saw tonight."

††††††† "Nh. Now more so. The broken bone heals stronger than the bone that has never been broken."

††††††† "That makes no sense."

††††††† "It wouldn't, to a fighter."

††††††† "What do you call yourself?"

††††††† "A spell-worker," Kou said. "It's magic's main principle, that everything comes from its opposite. Life comes from death, strength from weakness--" He fell abruptly silent.

††††††† "Mhh? What?"

††††††† A long pause before Kou answered. "It might- yes, it might work."

††††††† "What?"

††††††† Kou pulled away from him and propped himself up on one arm. "Your mother's spirit has taken your manhood. Do you want to be free of her curse?"

††††††† "Yes," Doku said, but it sounded less decided than he'd intended.

††††††† "Will you do what I tell you? Without grudge or question?"

††††††† "Yes," he said, and there was no uncertainty about that.

††††††† "Very well." Kou sat up straight, looking down at him. His eyes were different, the way they went when he called on his power- as if Kou no longer saw quite the same universe that Doku did. Kou put two fingers to Doku's forehead, directly on his skin marking, and Doku gasped. It was as if Kou had touched a nerve there he hadn't even known about.

††††††† "Outside this room and outside this bed you are Dokugakuji and my man. But in this room and in this bed you are no man at all. Your mother has made you as herself. Therefore for this space I name you my woman, and I will use you as such, that her spirit may know you have felt in your flesh what she felt in hers. Content?"

††††††† Doku licked his lips. "Yeah."

††††††† "Give me your name, the name she called you by."

††††††† He took a deep breath. "Jien."

††††††† "Jien." Kou pulled the cover off of him, where he was lying naked on his side. Kou turned and found the blue jar among the bedclothes.

††††† "Raise your legs."

††††††† His shoulder twinged as he moved onto it. "Can't you do it the usual way? Me on my face?"

††††††† "That's the position for taking a man. You're a woman now. Up."

††††††† Reluctantly Doku bent his knees and opened his legs.

††††††† "Hold them to your chest."

††††††† Oh god-- This wasn't how he'd thought it would be. This was-- He obeyed, pulling his legs towards him and hating how open and vulnerable it made him feel. And stupid- big lunk on his back grabbing his legs and showing his asshole to the world. He shut his eyes.

††††††† "Look at me," Kou's voice said from above him, oddly gentle for a command. He did, because he had no choice, and found himself looking into Kou's magician's eyes, grave and serious and separate from the world. "Watch me," Kou told him. "Don't close your eyes. You have to be here for all of it."

††††††† "OK," he said, feeling suddenly better. This was Kou's territory. This was where Kou knew what he was doing and Doku didn't. Spells were for Kou to handle, and Doku's job was to make it possible for Kou to get on with them. He smiled at his prince. "I'm here."

††††††† And he was, as Kou's finger slid inside him and turned greasily about. He watched Kou's careful eyes watching his, and Kou's face intent with concentration as the finger left him, and almost didn't notice the hot feel it left behind. Kou pressed close to him, red hair and red eyes filling the world.

"Jien," Kou said.

††††††† "Kou..." he managed.

††††††† "Say it."

††††††† "Put it in," he whispered.

††††††† "Yes?"

††††††† "Put it in me- I want it--" He swallowed. "Fuck me."

He watched Kou's eyes as hardness pushed at him and stretched him wide, and it hurt, pain red as the red of Kou's eyes, but he was watching Kou's eyes looking down at him from between his own upraised legs, and feeling Kou's hands on his chest as Kou balanced himself, and that was what he concentrated on. The red hardness moved out of him and he gasped and swallowed, and it came back inside and he gasped and swallowed again.

††††††† "Jien, do you feel me inside you?"

††††††† "Yes..."

††††††† "My sword is in your flesh. My manhood is in your womanhood. Do you understand?"

††††††† "Yesss..." breath hissing in his throat. Back and forth, sawing redly at him, and only Kou's red eyes to keep him anchored.

††††††† "Is this good?"

††††††† "It's good," Jien gasped, "it's good. Good boy, that's so good--" Tears ran from his eyes and into his ears. He let go of his legs and reached to grab Kou's shoulders, his big hands on those narrow little shoulders and his talons going into Kou's skin, "Do it to me, do it, you're the only one, you're the only one I want--" back and forth burning and Kou's long hair sliding forward to curtain Jien's face he loved Kou's red hair he loved that sad face that always seemed to be saying make it better he loved the long mouth that so rarely smiled and naturally not when it hurt as much as this-- "you're the one I want, you're the only one I need," he said over the pain, "Mama's happy as long as you're here" and then the pain was too much for him and he had to go somewhere else to get away from it.

††††††† " man, Dokugakuji," Kou was saying. "I take him for myself. Your place is in his heart, and you need never leave it. But his body is mine, sworn to my service, and that I claim as my own. Content?"

††††††† Doku lay still, listening to Kou's voice, low and authoritative and not talking to him at all. Tears were running from Doku's eyes and he couldn't stop them, but he wasn't having any part of them either. He lay and let the water run from his eyes and felt the pain in his shoulder where he lay on the open cuts and the pain inside his ass like another cut and the pain in his heart like a sword run through it and the hardness aching between his legs, which was now part and parcel of the other three. There was silence. Kou's body shifted beside him.

††††††† "Dokugakuji," Kou said.

††††††† "Yes."

††††††† Kou looked down at him, still with the sorcerous light in his eyes and the curve to his mouth that said Kougaiji prince of Tenchiku son of the emperor Gyuumaoh. The red eyes blinked, and then it was the everyday Kou again.

††††††† "Alive?"

††††††† He nodded.

††††††† An eyebrow quirked. "Functioning?"

††††††† He swallowed. "Yeah."

††††††† "Then let's continue from where we were before. Move over. That's my place."

††††††† Doku sat up and shifted over. Kou lay down where he'd been lying and looked up at him expectantly.

††††††† "Kou."

††††††† A small frown appeared in Kou's eyes at his tone.

††††††† "You said that's the position for a woman. But you're a man."

††††††† "Indeed." Kou's face closed and he said no more. Doku waited. It was like walking in the dark, in a room full of unseen furniture, never knowing when you'd hit yourself against a sharp corner or break something. He couldn't quite see where he was walking, but he was walking there anyway.

††††††† "I prefer it this way," Kou said, giving nothing away.

††††††† Doku waited, and didn't know what he was waiting for. Something moving in back of Kou's words, something so intangible he wasn't even sure it was there except some sense he'd never had before said it was.

††††††† Kou sat up. His expression was dangerous. Doku knew he should back down and do what Kou wanted, knew he should be afraid even, but the knowledge wasn't as clear and sharp as it ought to be. Not like being drunk. Like being someone else.

††††††† "If you dare so far," Kou said, and his eyes glowed like a great cat's, "give me the order to lie on my face."

††††††† "There's no ordering about it," Doku said. "This way's for women, and you're a man." Their eyes locked. Far far away in the depths of Doku's chest his heart cramped a little at the immovable look on Kou's face, but he had no choice, he had to do this, and he still didn't know what 'this' was.

††††††† Kou closed his eyes. His shoulders lowered. When he opened them again he wasn't looking at Doku. He turned himself about and folded his legs beneath him. Put his face down on the mattress and raised his hips. The small brown buttocks, hard with muscle, and the heavy redness of Kou's balls between them... Doku was mesmerized. He had to touch a hand to the smooth skin. Had to bring his mouth down and kiss Kou there, where the swelling curve came down, and follow the curve down to where it met the leg. From far away he could hear Kou's gasping breaths strangling in the silk of the coverlet. But his mind was too full of the Kou smell, sharp and brown with a bite to it, and the Kou taste on his tongue. He kissed Kou's skin and nibbled at it with his lips, and felt Kou buck against him. Doku crouched and worked at Kou's ass with his mouth and tried not to think about his aching cock that wanted to get inside where Kou was, because he wanted to go on tasting the red-brown skin and taking all of Kou in with the sharpest of his senses, and he couldn't quite let go just yet. His tongue licked against the roughness of Kou's balls and he heard Kou make a high shrill sound like a bird's deep in his throat.

††††††† The sound was too much. He straightened up. Took hold of his cock and pressed it to Kou's asshole and with an indescribable feeling saw-felt it go in and disappear inside Kou. Pulled back and there it was again, and pushed and felt it go back into hot tight darkness not like anything he'd ever felt before- tight tight squeezing him tight Kou this was Kou, he felt, Kou's insides. He pulled and pushed and pulled and pushed not believing how good it felt pull push pull push push pull and suddenly everything exploded at once in and out of him. He grabbed the body in front of him, grabbed it tight, arms about its waist and belly and felt himself falling down the side of a mountain into nothing.

††††††† When he opened his eyes he was Dokugakuji again. Lying on his side with his arms still about Kou's waist and the waterfall of Kou's hair below his chin. He remembered what he'd just done, and remembered what he'd done before that, and couldn't believe it for a minute except that the Kou taste was still there, on his lips and on his tongue, and his limp cock was still pressed up against the heat of Kou's ass.

††††††† "Kou?" he said tentatively.

††††††† "Unh?"

††††††† "Are you alright?"

††††††† "Unh."

††††††† "Did I hurt you?"

††††††† "Nh."

††††††† "I'm sorry--"

††††††† "No need," Kou's voice said. And Doku couldn't read its tone at all.

††††††† "Kou." His hand moved down, felt Kou's naked thigh. "What happened? I don't- I don't get it."

††††††† "Anhh," Kou said. There was silence. Kou sighed.

††††††† "Your bindings- to loosen them I had to loosen my own."

††††††† "Your what? Kou, you got free of Nataku's bindings years ago..."

††††††† Kou gave a snort of laughter, not amused. "Nataku's bindings were nothing- a show. These were mine. For you to be a woman, I had to be a man, even when we lay together as men afterwards. But I renounced the male position on the day Gyuumaoh was bound and have never taken it since."

"Hunh? How come? You said you just liked it better on your back."

Kou's hand covered his own and brought it up to Kou's chest.

††††††† "We watched them, in the great hall, battling it out. Nataku and Gyuumaoh. It was no contest. Nataku was so young and small and weak. Gyuumaoh cut him to ribbons and Nataku never got near him. Gyuumaoh came in to give him the final blow where he stood, swaying and covered in blood, and Nataku laid the full force of the binding on him from close to. He turned to stone in that moment. The men about me howled in rage and despair, but I didn't. I'd seen from near the start that that was what Nataku was trying for. I came down and knelt at Nataku's feet and surrendered to him on condition that he spare Gyuumaoh's followers, who were now my people. He agreed. We looked at each other, and he knew- don't ask me how, but he knew that I'd known what would happen and had done nothing to stop it. 'Bind me as you bound my father,' I said to him, and he said 'No.' And whether he meant that as mercy or punishment, I never learned. He laid spells on me to confine me within the castle, but he refused to seal my soul and my consciousness. So I stayed myself with the knowledge of what I had done, and that knowledge has held me ever since. You're the first man since Nataku to know of it, and I only tell it to you because we're brothers in crime and share the same guilt."

††††††† "So that was- that's how you punished yourself?"

††††††† "Not really. As I say, I like the female position better. It lets me see who I'm with."

††††††† "But then-" This was making no sense- "why'd you renounce the male way?"

††††††† "Because I was able to, finally."

††††††† "What, you couldn't befo--" He stopped dead, as Kou's meaning hit him. He felt Kou's heart beating under his arm, and the warmth of Kou's hand atop his.

††††††† "Ahh," he said at last, as Kou had. "Brothers indeed," and felt the tiny tension leave Kou's body at the words. He couldn't see Kou's face but he knew it was there again, that white light of happiness in his eyes. He could feel it coming off of Kou's skin and in Kou's body relaxing into his. And it was worth it, it was worth however much pain there'd been, just to have Kou be like that.

††††††† "It won't happen again," Kou said. "No need to worry."

††††††† "You- you won't- want me again?" Doku asked, amazed at how much that hurt.

††††††† "I didn't say that. But next time, you'll be you."

††††††† "Last time I was me," Doku told him.

††††††† "Indeed?" Kou said after a moment. "You know a lot, for one who'd never lain with a man before."

††††††† "Believe it. Maybe not my idea to start with, but that was me all over you back there. I learn fast." He remembered what he'd done, and couldn't wait to do it again."You want me, you got me. That's what I'm here for. You want to do it on your back, we'll do it that way. You ever want to lie on your face again, we'll do that too. You want me to use my mouth, I'll use my mouth. I'll suck your cock and kiss your ass for you any time you like." He realized what he'd just said and bit his tongue. "Well, I'll kiss your ass like that," he amended, "even if I don't do it any other way."

††††††† "Good," Kou said, satisfaction in his voice. "That's the way I like it. The truth to my face- always, even here- and the rest of you to my service."

††††††† "Deal," Doku said.

"My man?"

††††††† "Your man. Every way you want me to be. Count on it."

††††††† "I do."

††††††† And that was enough for him to hear, forever.





May-June 2001