Shien has always been alone. He has never opened his robe for a woman or lifted his robe for a man. But now he has undone his girdle, removed his underrobe, and bent himself over Homura's carved wooden bedstead. He waits for Homura, the toushin who performs the filthy and necessary work of Heaven, to do this filthy and necessary thing to him. His heart jars unnervingly in a way it never has before. His mind holds feelings it has never known before. The feelings are hard-edged and faceted like jewels, bright against the unobtrusive beige determination that has brought him to this deed. He caresses them with quiet satisfaction. Fear and shame. Shame and fear. He burns slowly with them both. Shame in his face, fear in his gut. Shame at his nakedness, at the position he is in, baring all that decency requires be kept covered. Shame at becoming another man's urinal, prepared to take the leavings of that man's body. Fear of the thing that will be done to him, fear at what he is doing, fear most of all perhaps of Homura himself- the unknowableness of what is inside the itan's mind.


            Homura unnoticed for five hundred years. Homura whom he did not wish to notice. The battle god, the toushin taishi. The new one. Homura unnoticeable for nearly that long. Heaven's servant, Heaven's puppet, an obedient killing machine. A nonentity. Until the day Shien began to notice Homura, because Homura had changed, or because Shien himself had, no saying which. Saw the spirit inside the quiet figure that stood forever by itself in the fields of Heaven, saw the odd light in his odd eyes when they slid over to meet his briefly, and began to sense that something new was afoot. In Homura or in himself, no saying which.


Because he'd started to notice Zenon before that, the outsider, the one who'd gone down to earth and taken a human woman to wife. Suddenly saw him as more than an ill-mannered eccentric, deliberately uncouth. Something different. A man who has gone away, left heaven, gone elsewhere and done things unimaginable, and who must therefore have a whole part of his soul that doesn't match the endless unchangingness of the world Shien has lived in since forever. Zenon, Homura. Something different. Inhabitants of a world Shien can enter himself perhaps, if only, if he can find the door into difference.


            For five hundred years, the same thing. Nameless, inside him, the feeling he carries, grey as his robe, grey as his hair. Nataku-sama. The regret of that name, the endless regret... for what? That's the thing Shien doesn't know. There are no words, there were never any words to fit the thing that he felt for Nataku. Service, loyalty, devotion yes, all those. Admiration for Nataku's gallantry and his bravery and his own dry-eyed loyalty to what he knew, child though he was, to be not worthy of his loyalty. Love, maybe even, the love a man feels for a great commander and hero. But the thing that hurt Shien most when Nataku was alive, the thing that hurts him still, the thing he wanted then and will never have now, for that he has no words. Only once has someone ever come close to saying what it was. Escorting his commander to the prisons, standing in the shadows at his back, and hearing from the cell that jaunty voice, reflective now and dark as a bruise- And the thing that hurts the most is that he has no-one to even say 'it hurts' to. But that voice is gone now, and no-one since has been able to put a name to Shien's pain.


            Meetings. The beginnings of an acquaintance- you couldn't call it friendship- with Zenon. Moving slowly into the other world. Seeing from his closed eyes, while he talked to Zenon, the unchancy figure of the toushin taishi in the distance. Always with his back turned on them, always with his gaze fixed on something else. Purple coat blowing in the wind. Brown hair lifting from his neck. Shien made an occasion to put himself in Homura's path. Exchanged some small remark with him. Homura's odd-coloured eyes sized him up, looked below his surface for what might be seen. What did he see? A disaffected Heaven-dweller seeking a change, any change? A will to service lost without someone to serve? No-one else has looked past Shien's face, past the closed eyes that deny the world entrance to his mind, and into the place in his heart where Shien stands, obscurely wounded, feeling himself somehow... insufficient. No-one else could see so far. Homura's itan eyes, yellow and purple, did. That was when it began, the fear and the shame. Little trickles like sand sifting out, before the whole building collapses. Fear that Homura could see him, shame at what Homura saw. And the quiet happiness that change was still possible for him.


            "What do you want?" Homura asked, smiling as if he knew already.

            "Use me," Shien said.

            So here they are.


            Homura comes behind him, heat from his body against Shien's legs even though their bodies do not yet touch. Homura's hands are hot, dry and hot. Homura presses up against his hips, and something hard and hot drives itself into the only opening in Shien's body, the only possible breach in his walls. Hard as iron, hot as iron, burning with a pain like fire, and he is run through, spitted in his shameful parts by Homura's shameful part. In his darkness Shien breathes in and out, shallowly, around the little space that Homura's sex allows him. He waits for that huge hurtingness to move back. He breathes and waits for the pain, more pain, but the pain doesn't come. Homura's hand comes instead, reaching under him, around him, large and hot. Shien's breath catches in his throat; his hands tighten on the coverlet. Large, hot, stroking him into heat, touching the part that aches with pleasure, aches with need- Touch me there, just there, touch me again touch me touch me-- Shien is making little sounds in his nose, in his throat, that he can't stop. So hot so good Homura's strong hand all about him, working him hard making him hard, heat running through him like the huge flames of a bonfire, all along his sex, into his bowels, up through his chest. The bindings across Shien's heart turn to ash in a moment. Homura's hand is on his heart and his heart is melting inside him. Shien is undone. His head lifts and his face twists, and what comes from his mouth are cries aaanhh aanhhh annNNHHH of pain and pleasure fused together. Inside him the workings begin, out of control and stronger than ever before, heat rushing out from the centre of him molten as lava and up through his groin and out as he screams like a man burning alive.


            And drops back onto the bed, drops back into himself, in the darkness of his head and the darkness of his world. Hides his face in the coverlet as the scalding water runs from his eyes. Shien has never wept. Shien has never known any reason to weep. But now the tears run out of him like blood, and he lets them run, burning alive with what he now knows. Homura begins to move within him. In his darkness Shien feels the pain of it, red and aching, the counterpoint to the red and aching pain inside him. It goes on and on, and the water runs from his eyes, on and on, five hundred years' worth and more.


            Homura finishes, draws out of Shien and back. There is nothing left to do. Shien stands up and lets his robe cover him as before. Steels his spirit to do what he fears to do and must. He turns around so that Homura can see his shame fully. Homura's woman, brought to screaming pleasure and reduced to foolish tears at Homura's will. He stands naked in spirit before Homura and all that clothes him is his Shien-ness, that poor ragged garment of his self, pitiful and all he has.


            Homura speaks, voice no different from before. Contained, reflective, perilous. "If you forgive me for this, come and join me. If you don't forgive me, go and be my enemy. The choice is yours."


            "I'm not so small of soul as to blame the man who shows me my heart, just because I don't care for what I see there," Shien says, and hopes it is true. "I will join you."


            "Did I?"


            "You did." He opens his dead eyes and looks at Homura. The toushin taishi. The new one. "He was a great warrior and a great heart," Shien says, "but he was only a child. I would have cherished him with all that is in me. I would have kept his enemies from him with my own body and let him be free, because I was a man and he was only a child. That was what I wanted to do, though I didn't know it until now. But his father would not allow it and he would not allow it, and there was nothing to be done. He chose to be what he was, though he had no choice in the matter. I chose to let him, because I had no choice in the matter. I thought I had no choice, and who knows whether that is the truth or not? Either I was a coward or I was a slave, and which it was I hope never to find out."


            "Do you blame yourself for that?" Homura asks, eyebrow lifting. He tilts his head in inquiry, and his odd-coloured eyes, his all-wrong eyes, look straight into Shien's. "When they let me out they took wagers, I think, whether I'd find something to keep me alive for even a year. I did, eventually, but it took me long enough. I *was* a coward and I *was* a slave, for five hundred years, and what of it? I am Homura now, and Heaven will pay me for the service it exacted from me." And he smiles.


            The words drop into Shien's head. The pain begins to ease inside him and the shame to recede. He closes his eyes, and he can see Nataku-sama in his head, Nataku whose name always meant I could do nothing to Shien, as Shien now knows. Nataku is standing beside a man, a grown man, the man he never lived to become, who will protect and avenge him at last. Homura, whose name means I can do something now. And with the promise of that, with that decision made, Shien becomes himself again, made somehow whole at last.


"Us," Shien says. "Heaven will pay us."

"Anhh," Homura agrees. "Us."




Dec '02