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Someone passes,  
And while I wonder  
If it is he,  
The midnight moon  
Is covered with clouds. 

Murasaki Shikibu   

 

It is difficult to look at her at first, but soon he sees her and is unembarrassed.  

The little Land God is hardly womanly; she’s tender as new grass. Barely sprouted. Nearly indistinguishable from him in figure, but he isn’t going to fool himself.  

She is easy to love.  

It’s in the coltishness of her demeanor and the carriage of her body; the way her hair falls over her face that is not boyish. 

He sits alone, away from the rest of the party goers. Occasionally he holds a younger brother on his lap for a few moments before pushing them off to play again.  

He smiles as Shinjurou mingles with the other tengu. He is bashful greeting them. Suirou is proud – Shinjurou has grown up fine and strong. It is a strange relief to see him so tall, and his features have lost all the baby roundness. Somehow, through no fault of his own, he has become a proper young Lord.  

As his attention lulls he looks down into his cup, his wavering reflection glimmering in the torchlight.   

There is so much cause to celebrate. Things are returning to as they were, and the anxiety he has felt for so long will surely ease. The air is heavy with the scent of flowers and the wine is warm and sweet. It’s almost as if it’s become spring, though there are weeks to go before anything other than their eternal tree takes blossom.  

He should be so grateful, he thinks. Their clan is happy, the weather is good. The beloved third is restored, and his beloved Shinjurou is here. 

There is so much reason to be glad.  

He feels Jirou’s presence leave like a robe slipping from his shoulders.  

“Your lady is so admirable,” he says later, to the fox. “She is so lovely...”  

He tries his best to sound sincere.  


“Why do they love you?” Jirou demands.  

The boy is standing in the yard away from the doorway where Suirou had been resting in the shade. His pants and shoes are dusty from training all morning. Suirou looks nervously at Jirou’s tense face. His hair is black as bear fur and his hands are large enough to hold his training sword easily. He is tall and big-footed; by six he is towering over the other fledglings from their year. He has caught Suirou alone, away from the cluster of doting older brothers, and, as usual, is spoiling for a fight.  

“You cannot even spar,” he shouts, wings twitching open. “You are weak! You always lose!”  

 “I am the best one,” he continues, haughtily drawing back his shoulders and puffing out his thin chest. “One day I will be the Respected Fourth. You will all have to bow to me!”   

Suirou takes a step out of the doorway towards the other boy, looking down at him meekly. He lifts his hand out for Jirou to take.  

“Won’t you come and rest with me? It’s pleasant in the shade!” 

Suirou wants to appease him. If they could just spend a little time together, perhaps they would learn to get along. He isn’t used to being disliked; the other brothers enjoy him so much. Suirou is a rare beauty, they say. Suirou is like a precious jewel 

It’s why they let him learn the flute and tend the garden and serve them meals. It’s why they stroke his long hair and nuzzle him like he is still a baby, even when he’s fully fledged. 

Sweet Suirou, gentle suirou. They tell him that he is their treasure. They tell him that he is of a special shape; ones like him do not come along often.  

Jirou stiffens even more, glaring back.  

“Your face is so womanly,” Jirou taunts. “It’s bad luck! A proud tengu wouldn’t be so fair!” 

Suirou holds his hand out, fingers splayed, but Jirou smacks it away. Suiriou feels his fingers coil against his chest into a fist over his heart which is beating nervously. 

“Won’t you come to me?” he says, finally, settling on an easy smile. “It’s hot, I will bring you some water -”  

“One day even you will have to bow to me,” Jirou scoffs, eyes blazing. “Even you!”  

Suirou looks down at him, and he bites his lip.  
 
“Of course – I will be so glad, if it’s Jirou-kun. I hope we can serve each other,” he remarks, playing to Jirou’s ego.  

Before he can think he is on the ground, and Jirou has his foot planted on his chest. The clay bowl he’d been drinking from rocks and tips over, splashing water onto the wooden beams.  

“You are pathetic,” Jirou says, leaning his weight down, watching Suirou struggle. He grasps Jirou’s ankle, squeezing with both hands, but it doesn’t do anything to move him. “Why do they love you?” he demands, Suirou unable to deliver him an answer.  

“You are so ugly and helpless...” Jirou appraises, glaring down, mouth twisting into a wry smirk.  

Suirou looks up into his dark eyes, the wicked shadow over his face. He takes his hands from Jirou’s leg and lets them come to rest at his sides, palms down. His wings twitch where they’re smashed against the porch, angled uncomfortably, prickling with that feeling of an asleep limb.  

“Jirou-kun,” he starts. “Are you jealous?” 

Jirou’s brow furrows in dimwitted confusion.  

“What?” he snaps, and Suirou tilts his head, taking a shallow breath, noticing that his foot has eased up on its own.  

“You do not need to be,” he says plainly. “I will love you, too.” 

At that Jirou scoffs, pulling away from him, repulsed.  

“Disgusting,” he says, but his voice is wavering more than it had. He bows his head, turning away, leaving Suirou splayed. He hops down off the porch, picking up his training sword on the way.  

Suirou touches the dusty footprint on his yukata, brushing the debris away, very slowly. He smells like dirt now - clay.  

He’s become sweaty from the commotion, hair sticking to the back of his neck and his cheeks. He rolls lazily onto his side, flexing his wings and leaning his head on his arms, watching Jirou’s back wander away around the outside of the palace. 

He doesn’t know why, but he feels pleased. 


 

It has been many years, and Jirou is huge, the biggest of their yearlings. He’s broad and tall as a doorway and his step is heavy and sure. He’s gruff and as bad tempered as ever. 

Suirou is still and soft – a pearl.  

Jirou is jealous, but his childish envy has changed shape. It clutches Suirou, it clings to him the way the fledglings do. Jirou backs him into walls when he carries water and the bucket spills at their feet. He comes into his house without announcing, at nightfall. Jirou’s hands are always reaching. 

Suirou lifts his body from the sleeping mat and watches Jirou wash his face and dress. 

“Jirou-kun used to hate me, ne,” he laughs, lazily stretching. His hair falls around him in a soft lavender curtain. “Now he keeps me like this…” he trails off, the unspoken words remaining there.  

He watches him dress and Jirou is silent as ever. His bossy childish voice hasn’t raised in a long time.  
 
He doesn’t have to yell anymore.  

“Jirou-kun…” Suirou whispers, and he turns, glancing over his shoulder. Suirou tilts his head, hand sweeping the warm place Jirou was for many hours. Jirou’s hands still and, so slowly and methodically, he begins to undress again, but only halfway.  

He kneels on the mat and Suirou lifts his arms to fold around his neck and bring him closer. 

“I am not supposed to like you,” he chides himself, nosing at Jirou’s ear. “It is terrible to be so selfish.” 

“What worries you? Being disapproved of by children?”  

Suirou’s face becomes more serious, looking at the dark glossy wings over Jirou’s shoulder. He rests his mouth against the muscle of his bicep for a moment, leaning on him. His hands traces swirls in the short hair at the back of his head, coarse and prickling.  

“You are spoiled,” Jirou rumbles. “They ruined you, making you a pet. Now you can only stoop, and simper...” 

“I cannot help what I am,” Suirou whispers, glancing up at him finally. Just as you cannot help what you are. 

Jirou’s expression is blunt and unimpressed. “And they are long gone now,” he continues, lifting his hand to glide it along Jirou’s jaw, thumb touching the center of his chin for a moment. “Shall you take responsibility for me, Jirou-sama?” 

“Useless,” Jirou says, grasping his wrist so tight it makes Suirou moan and pull away. Jirou unhurriedly uses his weight to twist Suirou’s back to him, looking at the scarred skin, long healed. “Skinny, wingless,” he says. “I should have killed you and saved the rice.” 

Suirou feels his hand fist into the blankets during the heavy silence that stretches between them.  

“You do not mean that, Jirou,” he murmurs, trying to turn and face him. He tires of the way Jirou is always proving something to him, as if he doesn’t already know. 

“No,” Jirou says, and then his hand is at the back of his neck, pushing him down and holding his cheek against the mat. Jirou’s voice has dropped to a rasp that makes Suirou’s stomach feel hot. “You are too beautiful. It’s an insult.” 

Suirou gives in, at a loss, relaxing into Jirou’s grip. It doesn’t take very much time for Jirou to adjust himself – it's easy like this, when everything is loose - and he languidly reaches a hand back, blindly feeling for the corded muscle of Jirou’s forearm, a veritable tree branch in his slim fingers.  

The fullness makes him sigh, satisfying the ache he felt seeing him beginning to leave. He feels clever, like he really is the witch Jirou professes he is. There isn’t any denying that he can assert very specific reactions from him; he can always move Jirou’s head in his direction.  

He used to pretend to be self-effacing, degrading himself this way, but, as Jirou is always quick to point out, they've known each other too long to imagine it is anything but what it is. Suirou is not trying to deflect some of Jirou’s energy to spare the others.  

He covets it.  He wants it all for himself.

It is, after all, Jirou who is the better specimen of their breed – a fact Suirou turns over in his mind often. 

 He nearly comes thinking of how Jirou entered his room silently and took his comb from his hand without a word, twisted his hand in his hair like a rope. How he watched Jirou in the mirror before he came close enough to touch. He watched him removing his shoes, Suirou’s expression soft and unsurprised – nearly bored - his pulse quickening.  

How much space he took up, in the little mirror, looming behind him like that, how cramped and small his room became when he entered. A marvel, truly.  

Jirou drops his head to rest it between his shoulder blades, hands holding him still as he catches his breath.  

“You are so weak hearted,” Suirou whispers. “How troublesome for you, Jirou.” 

“You must teach me how to be so cold, Suirou,” Jirou replies, matter-of-factly. "To accept such a state..."

He traces down the line of his spine with a calloused hand, tongue darting out to follow it, deciding whether or not he will pull away just yet.