“Uncle, please forgive us for just showing up like this. We really should’ve called,” Heath said, bowing to Sakurai again.
The tall, dark man just shook his head, putting a hand on a shoulder each.
“Don’t be silly. I’m just happy to see you both! How long has it been now? Ten? Twelve years?”
“More like fifteen actually,” Sugizo corrected.
“Wow…too long, that’s for sure. I was beginning to think you two would never come back,” Sakurai responded. “Last I knew you were in France, I think. Or was it Spain?”
“Could’ve been either—we spent a while in both. And in Germany, Romania, Russia, China…you name it,” the auburn-haired man added.
The two younger men took seats around the small table with their uncle joining them once he’d rang for one of the staff.
“Let’s have some tea and talk for a bit, shall we?” Sakurai suggested, smiling again at his nephews.
Even though Heath and Sugizo were road weary and in desperate need of a bath and a change of clothes, they knew better than to turn down their uncle’s hospitality—especially since they were in need of a place to stay.
A few minutes later, Mrs. Morihito came through the door to see what it was that her employer required.
“Sakurai-san? How may I help?” she asked, bowing as she spoke.
“Tea for us, please. And maybe a few of those little pastries of yours if you have any?” Sakurai requested with a slight smile.
“Right away, sir,” she answered, bowing and turning to leave. Suddenly, she stopped and turned back. “Oh and may I have the boys put Sugizo-san and Heath-san’s things in one of the guest rooms?” She flashed a quick wink at the younger men.
“Oh yes, by all means. Put them in the large room with the nice view of the garden,” he instructed.
Sugizo and Heath bowed to the man.
“Thank you so much, Uncle. We really appreciate your generosity,” Sugizo said.
All at once, Sakurai tilted his head and looked at the pair of them.
“Wait…is the one room okay or do you prefer separate rooms?”
Heath chuckled. “No, one room is fine. We’re still a couple,” he said, looking over at Sugizo and making a face.
The auburn-haired one made a face back and then slapped his mate’s arm. “Yeah, I’m still putting up with him after all these years. Don’t ask me how.”
Their uncle seemed amused by them.
“You’re very lucky to have each other, you realize that, right?” he said, looking back and forth between them.
Heath and Sugizo both nodded. Even though they occasionally got sick of each other and they regularly got on each other's nerves, they really were still in love after all that time. If they were honest, they’d say they wouldn’t know what to do without each other.
“What about you, Uncle Acchan? Surely you’re not still unattached,” Sugizo asked.
Sakurai shrugged a little. “Afraid so.”
The younger men were shocked.
“But why? You’re the head of the clan! Respected, well off financially, and, if you’ll pardon my directness, extremely handsome,” Sugizo responded.
Sakurai seemed to blush a little as he grinned at his nephew’s estimation.
“Well, thank you. I mean, I’m not lonely—not by any stretch of the imagination. I have my pick of lovers. It’s not the same though.”
A few minutes later, Mrs. Morihito returned with their tea and pastries. Placing the tray on the table in front of them, she turned to the nephews.
“I had Kai and Uruha put your bags and instruments in your room for you and I’ve laid out fresh towels and yukatas for you both. When you’re ready for a bath, just let me know and I’ll draw the water for you,” she said, doting on the pair of them.
“Oh, Morihito-san…you didn’t have to do all of that, but thank you so much,” Heath said, giving her a slight bow and a warm smile. “A bath will certainly feel good.”
“Yes, thank you! So who are Kai and Uruha?” Sugizo queried.
“I’ll let your uncle explain that,” she said, bemused.
Sakurai looked up from where he was pouring tea for everyone and gave her a grin. Putting the teapot down, he passed cups to each of his nephews.
“Well, I’ll keep this short since the two of you are no doubt tired and definitely in need of baths,” he said, waving his hand in front of his nose slightly.
Both of the men blushed.
“Sorry about that. It’s been difficult to find proper accommodations for the last week or so. Russia can be dangerous for people like us, you know,” Heath offered.
“Oh, I have no doubt. Glad you both made it safely back home though. We’ll have you clean and re-civilized in no time, I’m sure,” their uncle said with a bemused grin.
“So…these boys. Where did you find them?” Sugizo asked, taking a slow sip of his tea.
“Kai and Uruha have been with me for about two years now, I guess it is. Tried to pickpocket Imai-san and myself out in town. Poor kids had grown up on the streets and didn’t have anyone, so I took them in,” Sakurai explained.
“How old are they?” Heath asked.
“Ummm, I think they’re both about 23 or so.”
“And they’re part of the family now?” Sugizo asked while reaching for a pastry.
“Sure are. So you have nephews now—new ones,” the older man responded.
“So how is our dear old Uncle Imai? He still living here with you?” Heath asked.
Sakurai rolled his eyes but then laughed. “Eccentric as ever and yes, he still lives on the estate, but not here in the main house. He has a small house of his own over on the other side of the gardens. You’ll see him soon, I have no doubt,” he said, rolling his eyes again.
Sugizo and Heath chuckled at that, remembering just how odd Imai could be.
“Morihito-san said there were five new boys. What’s the story with the other three, if I may ask?” Sugizo inquired.
“Well, after Uruha and Kai had been with me for about six or seven months, I brought home Reita.”
“Another thief?” Heath asked.
“No, this one was just a sickly little street urchin who couldn’t afford medicine and food, so he either stayed sick or hungry all the time. I just couldn’t leave him there,” Sakurai answered, taking another sip of tea.
He noticed the expectant looks on their faces, so he proceeded to tell them about the other two boys without further prompting.
“Then came Aoi. He was tossed onto the streets by his birth family and was having to…umm…sell himself in order to live. I rescued him from a very abusive master. He’s only 21. Sad situation.”
He paused and tossed a bite-sized pastry into his mouth. After taking another sip of tea, he continued.
“And my pup is called Ruki. I’ve only had him about six months now. Sweet little 19-year old—beautiful boy. He was being mistreated as well. I sincerely hate people sometimes.”
Sugizo nodded. “Know the feeling. But it’s so good of you to help these boys out like you do and I know they’re not the first.”
“I do what I can. They understand what’s expected of them when they decide to stay here and become part of the family. They know they have to work and do as they’re told as well as being loyal to me and the clan.”
“Pretty much the same as when we joined, huh?” Heath responded, looking over at his mate.
“Sounds like it, yeah. Some things never change,” Sugizo said with a smile.
Once tea was finished and they had thanked their uncle once again for opening his home to them, Heath and Sugizo were led to their bedroom by Sakurai himself.
“Will this do, my dear nephews?” he asked, opening the door wide to show them the well-appointed, large bedroom.
The younger men’s mouths gaped open.
“Ummm, wow…yeah, this’ll do just fine!” Heath exclaimed, looking around at the beautiful furniture, including a Western-style bed, expensive, ornate rugs and window dressings, and the large windows which looked out onto the garden where candles and torches were lit along the path.
“Sakurai-san, surely you reserve this room for high-ranking visitors…we can’t take your best guest room,” Sugizo protested, glancing around the room along with Heath.
Acchan just smiled. “You can and you will. You’re family and you’ve been away for a long time. I don’t want my brother haunting me for not treating his sons right,” he said, putting a hand on Sugizo’s back. “Besides, you’re probably now used to that kind of bed and this is one of the only rooms in the house that has one.”
“Well…okay, if you’re sure. But if you should need this room for someone else, promise you’ll let us know. We’ll be just fine on a futon,” the auburn-haired man said.
“Considering some of the rat holes we’ve lived in over the past fifteen years, this house is like a palace. Sugi is right—we’ll be just fine on a futon in a smaller room,” Heath offered.
“Alright. But for now, you stay here. Now let’s get you two bathed…you’re stinking up my home,” Sakurai said with a wicked grin.
Finally slipping into bed, the two weary travelers stretched and snuggled down to get some sleep. Heath decided to shuck his nightclothes once he’d gotten into bed.
“Now listen…I love you and all, but I am way too tired to get up to anything right now,” Sugizo whispered and then chuckled.
“Oh, shut up. I just want to enjoy being clean…in a clean bed…with clean sheets…in a clean room. I’m so over being filthy,” Heath whispered back.
“Good idea,” Sugizo responded, stripping down as well. “Oh damn…that feels so good,” he said, stretching again and just taking in the feeling of the cool, silky sheets and the comfortable mattress. “I’m gonna get spoiled.”
“He does seem happy to see us—I’m glad about that. I don’t know where we would’ve gone if he’d turned us away,” Heath said.
“I honestly never thought that he would. We’ve always been on good terms with Acchan. He’d have no reason to turn us away.”
“Well, that’s true I guess, but we did make the decision to take off and leave after Dad was killed and we honestly made no real effort to keep in touch while we were gone. We didn’t know what we were walking back into—what the situation was here,” the brunette reasoned.
Sugizo pondered that for a minute. “Okay, you have a point. For now though, let’s just enjoy this.” He turned toward his mate and ran a hand down Heath’s naked body. “Love you.”
“Love you too,” Heath said, giving the other man a slow, gentle kiss.
In no time at all, they both drifted off into a deep sleep, smiles on their faces.
As it was a pleasant spring night, Sakurai decided to go for a walk in the gardens. He could always think better out there. Taking one of the lanterns from their place beside the back door, he gathered his haori around him and stepped out into the cool night air.
Of course he had flashlights he could’ve used, but they were mostly for emergencies. He preferred the gentle light of an oil lantern to the garish overkill of a modern flashlight.
He wandered along one of the paths, inspecting some of the newer plantings. The garden itself was about two hundred years old, same age as the original section of the main house, and Sakurai was bound and determined to protect and maintain both. It was entrusted to him when he became head of the clan and he saw it as one of his most important and pleasant duties.
This particular path that he was walking took him near the back of the house close to the windows of his own master suite as well as those of the guest room currently occupied by Sugizo and Heath. The blackout drapes would keep them from being disturbed by him or by the sun that would be rising in just a few short hours.
The advent of blackout drapes and blinds had been so great for Acchan that he’d gone right away and had them installed in every room of the house. Not only did they keep him protected, but they also kept the antique wallcoverings, flooring, and furniture from being damaged by the strong sunlight, particularly in summer.
But right now, drapes weren’t on his mind—his nephews were.
‘I’m really happy to see them and I’m so glad they’re both well, but I can’t help but wonder why they’re here. What prompted them to return and why now? Did they just get homesick and tired of traveling or did something else happen?’
He continued to walk until he got to the koi pond where he took a seat on one of the heavy benches there. He sat, watching the light from the various lanterns play on the water. He heard a familiar sound coming from nearby and smiled.
‘Imai’s guitar,’ he thought. ‘I wonder if he’d teach a couple of the boys to play…they’d like that.’
Sakurai sat there, lost in thought, for quite a while. He just couldn’t get the situation with Sugizo and Heath off his mind. So lost he was that he didn’t notice that the music had stopped. He also didn’t pay any attention to the sound of footsteps on the gravel path.
The man stood and looked at the figure on the bench for several moments before speaking. Acchan was sat on the bench staring straight ahead, leaning forward with elbows on his knees, hands clasped but his thumbs rubbed back and forth as if rubbing a worry stone.
“Hey, brother…what’s wrong? You look like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders.”
It was Imai, Sakurai’s older brother and eternal confidant.
Sakurai jumped a little when the other man spoke, but turned to give him a small smile. Imai sat down and placed a hand on his brother’s back.
“Anything I can do?” Imai asked.
“Sugizo and Heath are back,” Acchan stated plainly.
Imai’s mouth gaped open. “They are?! Are they here?”
“They are. I put them in the large guest room. They were so tired from traveling that I’m sure they’re fast asleep.”
“When did this happen? Wait, did you tell me already?” Imai asked.
He didn’t trust his own memory as it wasn’t the best and he tended to lose hours sometimes even days with no recollection. A head injury during the war was the cause of that. It was also one of the reasons why leadership of the clan was passed down to Sakurai instead of Imai even though the latter was the elder son.
“Oh no, it was just tonight. A few hours ago, actually,” Sakurai answered.
“Well, that’s a good thing, right? Two of Ichiro’s sons back where they belong?”
Acchan smiled. “Of course it is and I’m very glad they made it back safely. Apparently, they had some trouble coming through Russia. Not very friendly to our kind, Heath said.”
“Those trains can be terrible, I’ve heard. Why didn’t they just fly?”
“Can’t—not with all the upgrades in airport security. X-rays and trained dogs and all, they’d never make it through. Remember, I told you about the airport thing,” Sakurai prompted, giving his brother a concerned but supportive look.
Imai looked a little lost and shook his head.
“It’s okay. But yeah, they’ve had to rely on trains and ships to get around country to country for the past fifteen years. Can you believe they’ve been gone that long?”
“Damn. Has it really been that long?” Imai asked.
“And how do you really feel about them being back? Particularly Sugi-chan?” Imai queried with raised eyebrows.
“I told you, I’m glad they’re back home safe and sound,” Sakurai answered.
“That’s not exactly what I asked you.” He knew when his younger brother was being evasive.
“Imai…that was a long time ago.”
“1. No, it wasn’t. And 2. Amount of time is meaningless,” Imai responded.
“And 3. He and Heath are still a couple,” Sakurai countered.
“And 4. You’re head of the clan. You can have whoever you want. Don’t forget that, Acchan.”
Sakurai just shook his head and gave Imai a look.
“Okay, okay,” the elder brother responded, holding his hands up. “So how do they look? Did they say why they finally decided to come home?”
“They look tired, a bit disheveled, and hungry, but no, they didn’t really give a reason. There’s time to talk about all of that. Morihito-san and I made sure they got bathed and had clean clothes to wear. Once they wake up, I’ll make sure they get properly fed.”
“I wonder if their crazy brother knows they’re back yet?” Imai asked with a grin.
Sakurai knew just which brother he meant and had to chuckle. “I don’t know, but probably not. I was under the impression that they had come straight here from the station.”
“See, that’s something you have in common with them—you all have a crazy brother. They have theirs and you have me.” He punctuated the statement with that quirky grin of his.
Acchan tilted his head and looked at Imai, smiling. “I wouldn’t say you’re crazy, but you definitely keep things interesting!”
He stood up and stretched. “I have some work I need to try to finish before bed. Come up to the house later and see your nephews, okay?”
With that, Sakurai patted his brother’s shoulder and started back toward the main house, looking again at the windows to the guest room where Sugizo and Heath slept. His mind began to wander back to a simpler time when they were all younger…