Snatching his overstuffed duffle bag from the luggage cart, Sugizo waved to Heath, hoping to hurry him along a bit.
“Grab your bag before they move the cart again, slow poke,” he said to his travelling companion.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” Heath said, sounding mildly irritated. “My back is stiff from that long train ride.”
“Not the train, you’re just getting old,” Sugizo quipped, a mischievous little smile on his lips despite the fatigue.
“Yeah, yeah…whatever,” Heath shot back, moving over to pull his own duffle off the cart. He had to put down his guitar case in order to drag the heavy bag down. “Now we have to lug these things on our backs. Wish I hadn’t bought so much on the trip now.”
“Surely we can get a taxi to take us at least part of the way,” the auburn-haired man said.
“At this time of night? I don’t know…maybe.”
“Yeah, if the trains are running, there’ll be taxis. Come on, let’s go see.”
“This isn’t the city, Sugi. We were lucky to even get a train stopping here at night.”
“Still…we can check. If not, maybe we can get a ride from someone. You got any Japanese currency left in the deep recesses of that coin purse?”
Heath pulled out his wallet and looked inside. “Hmmm…a little. I need to find a currency exchange tomorrow when more things are open. Most of my money is either in Russian rubles or Romanian leu.”
The two had been on an extended trip and were finally making it home to their little seaside town. Having been away for a while though, they were in for a few surprises when they walked out of the train station looking for transport.
It seems that tourism had taken hold in the area, turning their quiet little town into a quickly growing, albeit small, city.
“What in the world…” Sugizo started, getting his first glimpse of the traffic outside the station. “Where did all this come from?”
“Okay, I stand corrected,” Heath said, eyes open equally as wide as his mate’s. “Maybe it is the city…now.”
“Hey! You two need a ride somewhere?” the taxi driver shouted from the vehicle that had just pulled up and stopped in front of the two weary-looking men.
“Umm, yeah—as a matter of fact we do,” Heath responded, nodding at Sugizo.
Once they’d tossed their duffle bags into the trunk, they slid into the back seat holding onto their instrument cases.
“Where to, gents?” the driver asked.
“Ummm…what was the address again?” Heath asked Sugizo, looking a bit flustered that he couldn’t remember.
“Come on now, we haven’t been away that long,” the auburn-haired man said with a grin and then turned to the driver. “You know Noyama Street?”
“Noyama? Noyama…” the man mumbled as he thought. “Oh, in the old district? Near the river?”
“That’s the one. Can you just drop us off in that area? We’d like to walk a bit and check out the old neighborhood. We’ve been gone for a while now and it looks like things have changed since we’ve been travelling,” Sugizo responded.
“Sure thing. You’re the boss,” the driver said and quickly pulled out into the flow of traffic.
All along the drive, the two men were astounded at just how much things had changed in their once traditional little town. There was actually a city center now with several multi-storied buildings and what looked to be a modern entertainment district.
“Damn, you’d think the family would’ve told us how much building has been going on,” Heath said as they continued to drive.
“How long you guys been gone?” the driver asked, seeing how amazed the two were.
“About fifteen years,” Sugizo answered matter of factly.
“Fifteen years?! Well hell, no wonder you’re surprised!”
The driver shook his head and continued. “Yeah, all of this started…I guess it’s been about ten years ago now. Began with a couple of new resorts on the beach and then new restaurants, followed by loads of stores and such. It’s just exploded.”
“I see that,” Heath said, eyes still glued to the scenery of lights and buildings as they drove along.
After about twenty minutes, they reached their destination and the driver pulled over to let them out.
“Is this close enough? I can take you to a specific address if you prefer—those bags look heavy.”
“Oh no, it’s fine. This is plenty close enough,” Sugizo responded with a smile, pulling out his wallet.
Together, the two men had just barely enough to pay the fare and give the driver a tip.
“Thank you. Have a good night,” the auburn-haired man said as they hoisted their bags onto their backs once again.
After watching the taxi pull away, they looked around and tried to get their bearings. Luckily for them, the old neighborhood didn’t seem to have significantly changed while they’d been gone. They started walking.
“Oh damn, I just had a thought. What if he’s not living in the same place? We didn’t bother calling,” Heath remarked.
“Hi-chan, the family has been in the same house in the same neighborhood in the same town forever.”
“True, but with all this expansion and growth of the town, he might have decided that it’d be safer to relocate.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it. The estate is practically the ‘seat of power’ and with his promotion and all, I just can’t see our dear uncle moving. No, he’ll be there—wait and see,” Sugizo assured his mate.
“I hope you’re right. Now, if we can just find the damn place. I’m worn down to the knees—I need a long rest. We’ve been trying to get home for what? Almost two weeks now?”
“Almost. We left Bucharest twelve days ago.”
“And my back feels every damn day of it too,” Heath grumbled, readjusting his pack.
The two walked on for a while longer until Sugizo finally stopped and looked around. “Are we even on the right road?” he thought out loud.
“What?!” Heath exclaimed, stopping and dropping his heavy bag, narrowly missing the other man’s feet. “We better fucking be, Sugihara!”
To his credit, Sugizo managed to look slightly worried for about twenty seconds before spotting a street sign and smiling.
“Yep, we are. And I think we’re almost there too,” the auburn-haired man said. “Come on, old man.”
The brunette grumbled and rehoisted his pack. “Old man my sweet ass…” he mumbled and gave his mate a somewhat nasty look, but followed along in spite of himself.
The family estate was set back off the road a fair distance and the house itself was mostly hidden in the trees. On top of that, the path to the entrance gate was purposely concealed. A person pretty much had to know where to look or they’d never find it. Having been away for fifteen years wasn’t helping matters either when it came to locating their destination.
At long last, it was Heath that finally spotted the telltale painted fencepost.
“There!” he exclaimed, excitedly pointing and causing Sugizo to stop abruptly. “There’s the fucker right there.”
“Oh thank the maker! I thought you weren’t going to make it much further…”
“Ya know, you can fuck right off any time now,” the tired brunette responded, pushing aside the seemingly overgrown bushes and purposely letting them fall onto Sugizo as he followed.
“Thanks! Love you too…asshole,” the auburn-haired man said with a chuckle. “So spicy.”
They followed the path that they knew led to the main house and several minutes later, they were standing at the front door to the family home that they hadn’t seen in so many years.
Sugizo reached up and pulled the old-fashioned bell pull that sounded the doorbell inside the house. Before very long at all, the door opened just a crack and a pair of eyes stared at them from inside.
“Can I help you?” the female voice asked, not willing to open the door any further just yet.
“Sugizo and Heath…we’re family. We came to see our uncle.”
“Sugi-san?! Heath-san?! Is it really you?” the woman asked, pulling the heavy door wide open.
“Morihito-san? Are you still here?” Sugizo responded with a big smile to the lady he recognized as one of the longtime servants of the family.
“Of course! You know I’d never leave!” the woman said happily, hugging each of them. “Come in, come in! Your uncle will be so happy to see you both! He’s in his library, I believe.”
“I hope he’s happy to see us…we need a place to stay!” Heath said.
“Oh, I’m sure that won’t be a problem. The house has been added onto since you’ve seen it. There’s plenty of room!” Mrs. Morihito informed them, still smiling. “I’ll get one of the boys to take your bags to one of the guest rooms once you’ve seen your uncle.”
“Boys? I thought Hisashi and Teru had moved out. No?” Sugizo questioned.
“Oh yes, they have, though they’re not far away. No, these are new boys that you haven’t met yet. Five of them!”
“Five? Seriously? Uncle has been busy then!” Heath assessed. “Let’s go see him and make sure he isn’t gonna turn us out into the cold now that he has a house full of new playmates.”
Mrs. Morihito just shook her head and chuckled. “You know the way. I’ll see you both in a little while. Come to the kitchen for tea, okay?”
They promised that they would and made their way through the dimly lit old house until they reached the ornate, polished wooden doors of the library.
Looking at each other and taking a deep breath, Heath reached up and knocked on the door.
“He won’t turn us away, Hi-chan. You know he won’t. We’re family,” Sugizo said quietly. “Especially not after what happened to Dad.”
“Enter!” was heard coming from inside, muffled by the thickness of the doors.
The two men pushed the doors open and entered, looking around in the expansive library for the man they called Uncle. They spotted him across the room, sitting at his desk, reading glasses on, pouring over some papers.
“Umm, sir…sorry to bother you while you’re working,” Heath said quite respectfully.
The slightly older man looked up from his papers and his mouth dropped open. He rose from his chair and came out from behind his desk, silk robes flowing.
“Heath-san? Sugi-san? Am I hallucinating?” he said, breaking into a wide smile as he moved towards them. “My heavens, it’s good to see you!”
The man was only marginally older than Sugizo and Heath, being the younger brother to the man they referred to as Dad. He was tall and regal-looking in his antique silk kimono, long blue-black hair tied back at the base of his neck with a simple ribbon. His large, expressive eyes danced when he smiled.
“Sakurai-san,” they both said at almost the same time, giving him a deep bow.
“It’s wonderful to see you too, Uncle Acchan,” Sugizo said, returning the smile.
I know everyone is needing new content to read right now since so many are stuck in their homes, so here's chapter 2! Chapter 1 was rather short, I know, so here's a little more to hopefully draw you in a little further... ;)
“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…
Several hours after the household had awakened again, Sakurai came into the kitchen in search of tea and found three of his sons sitting around the table talking. Kai, Aoi, and Ruki all looked up and then gave him a small bow.
“So, Dad…I hear we have house guests,” Aoi said.
Sakurai nodded. “Yes, two of my nephews came in last night after having been away for several years. It’s really good to have them home,” he said with a warm smile.
Ruki got up from the table and went to give his new dad a hug while the tea was steeping. It had been a couple of days since he’d seen him and as all of this was still fairly new to him, he was feeling a bit…needy.
The older man readily accepted Ruki’s affection by wrapping his arms around him and holding him for a bit. He noted once again how the boy’s face only came up to the middle of his chest. Sakurai sometimes had to remind himself that Ruki was technically an adult, as his small stature and somewhat childlike ways made him seem so much younger.
“When can we meet them?” he asked, looking up into Sakurai’s face.
“Well, as soon as they wake up and come out of their room, I suppose. It took them nearly two weeks just to get home, so they may sleep for a while,” their dad told them.
“Two weeks? Where were they?” Kai asked.
“Let me get my tea made and I’ll show you on the globe in the library, okay?”
Sakurai knew that these boys were never given a proper education, so he took it upon himself to teach them whenever he had an opportunity.
A few minutes later, a procession of kimono-clad men walked into the library led by Sakurai. He motioned for them to follow him over to where the large globe stood in its carved wooden stand.
“Okay, let’s see here. Now, this globe is old, so some things have changed since it was made, but it should suffice. Here’s where we are—this is Japan,” he said, pointing to the familiarly-shaped island where they lived. Holding a finger there, he searched and pointed to Spain, France, Germany, China, and Russia in turn, explaining how the USSR had dissolved and telling the boys how Sugizo and Heath had come back home on trains and ships.
“No wonder they’re exhausted. Glad they got back safely,” Kai said. “I can’t wait to talk to them and hear some stories. I’ve always wanted to travel.”
“Ooh, not me. I’m happy right here,” Aoi responded with a smile toward Sakurai.
“Have you ever been to any of those places, Dad?” Ruki asked, running his hand over the slick surface of the globe.
“I’ve been to parts of China, but that’s all. I’ve wanted to visit Europe, but I have too much responsibility now to leave Japan for any length of time,” Sakurai responded. “Hopefully I can get Sugizo and Heath to tell me all about those places and I won’t feel like I’ve missed out.”
He continued to answer all of their questions until they were satisfied and then got back to work on the day’s business. He kept expecting to see his nephews come in at some point, but when it didn’t happen, he just assumed that they must have been thoroughly exhausted and needed the extra rest.
When the next evening rolled around with still no sight of Sugizo or Heath, Acchan decided to check on them.
‘I’m sure they’re okay, but I just need to see that for myself,’ he thought as he slowly and quietly opened the bedroom door and slipped inside after leaving his sandals outside the room. Letting his eyes adjust to the almost complete darkness of the room, he silently padded over to where he could see the two soundly sleeping figures in the bed. He looked closely to see which man was which and then moved over to Sugizo’s side, kneeling beside him.
Sakurai could sense that his nephew was quite alright, just sleeping, but he still kept his spot on the floor and just watched him for a few moments.
‘I’ve missed you…why did you have to leave for that long?’ he thought. He wouldn’t admit it to the man, but he knew exactly how long Sugizo had been gone. The guess that he had made when they were talking before was intentionally wrong, not wanting to let on that he knew the length of time precisely.
He reached up and gently pushed a lock of hair out of Sugizo’s face, noting the high cheekbones and strong jawline that he remembered so well. It was then that the sleeping man began to stir, slowly opening his eyes and looking at Sakurai who was hovering very close.
“Acchan?” he asked sleepily.
“Yes…sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you. You’ve been asleep for quite a while and I was just checking that you were okay. You and Heath both, of course,” the older man replied.
“Oh? How long?” the sleepy man whispered.
“Well, it’s going on 48 hours now.”
Sugizo’s eyes widened considerably. “What?! Seriously?”
Acchan smiled and nodded. “You two must’ve been utterly exhausted…and you’re bound to be hungry.”
The auburn-haired one seemed to think about that for a moment and then rubbed his stomach.
“Yeah…as a matter of fact, I’m starving. Wasn’t thinking too much about it when we arrived—was too tired and worried about having a place to stay.”
Acchan tilted his head and looked at him oddly. “Why? You didn’t honestly think I’d turn you away, did you? Come on, Sugi…”
“Well…I didn’t really want to think that you would, but let’s face it—we’ve been gone for quite a while and we had no idea what the situation was here. I’m just glad to know everything is okay…and that you’re okay,” Sugizo answered in a whisper.
Sakurai gazed into his eyes and couldn’t help but smile.
“Were you worried about me?”
Sugizo stretched a little and pushed the covers down to waist level, intentionally or unintentionally revealing his bare chest. Acchan wasn’t sure which it was but the younger man now had his full and undivided attention.
“Hot in here…but Acchan, I know that you’re formidable and more than capable of taking care of yourself…”
“But…” Sakurai interjected.
“But so was my dad, your brother, and look what happened to him. So yeah…I guess I was a little concerned. It had been a while since I’d heard from you, so I was…curious,” Sugizo responded.
“I’m glad you came back. You’d been gone way too long,” the older man said and leaned in closer. Sugizo could feel Sakurai’s breath on his lips, but before their mouths could meet in a long-overdue kiss, Heath stirred on the other side of the bed and startled both of them. Sakurai placed a light kiss on Sugizo’s cheek and pulled back.
“If you two will get up out of this bed, I have something for you,” he said and stood up from his kneeling position. “Come see me in the kitchen. And good morning to you, Heath. Hope you slept well.”
“Mmmm…” Heath groaned, turning over in the direction of the voice. “Time to get up already?” he asked sleepily.
“Yeah, we’ve been asleep for nearly two days,” Sugizo said with a chuckle.
“Oh hell! Yeah, I guess it is time to get up,” Heath responded, stifling a yawn.
Sakurai laughed. “Are you hungry, Hi-chan?”
“Why? Did you hear my stomach growling? Cause it’s making all sorts of weird noises over here,” Heath replied.
“I heard,” Sakurai said softly. “I’ll let you two get up now. I’ll be in the kitchen,” he said and left the room as quietly as he’d entered it.
Out in the hallway, he slipped his sandals back on and made his way to the kitchen where Mrs. Morihito was busy working.
“Sakurai-san, have you seen Heath-san and Sugi-san? They’ve been asleep an awfully long time,” she asked, looking somewhat worried.
“Yes, I just spoke with them, as a matter of fact. They should be showing up shortly,” he said with a smile, pouring himself a cup of tea.
“Is there anything they need? I’ll be glad to help,” she asked.
Sakurai just shook his head. “No, what they need you can’t make for them. I’ll take care of that later tonight,” he said and then paused. “Though a little something to nibble on wouldn’t go amiss.”
Mrs. Morihito nodded and went back to what she’d been doing. She understood how things were in this household after having practically grown up there.
Just a few minutes later, Sugizo and Heath appeared in the kitchen like they’d been asked and Sakurai had them sit while he served them tea and buns. After giving them a few minutes, he cleared his throat and got down to business.
“So as you might have noticed,” he began, standing across the table from them, “not much has changed in this house. That’s the way I intend for it to stay. Traditional dress is to be worn in the house and gardens. If you prefer Western clothes for going out to town that’s fine—the boys do—but once you return I expect you to change. Now…you’ve both been away from home for quite a while. Do you have any traditional clothes left?”
“I think I still have one kimono that’s serviceable, but that’s about it,” Heath responded, looking over at Sugizo.
“Same here. I have my sandals as well. Guess we need to go shopping then,” the auburn-haired man replied.
“Well, maybe for a few things, but I have something to show you if you’d like to follow me,” he said, turning with a rustle of his fine robes and started down the hallway.
Sugizo and Heath glanced at each other, downed the rest of their tea, and hurriedly got up and followed. You didn’t keep Sakurai-san waiting.
They caught up to him and walked down the long hallway past their own bedroom, then past Sakurai’s master suite, and on to a smaller room in the oldest part of the main house. Acchan gave two short, sharp knocks and opened the door, walking in with the nephews behind him.
“Nokie-chan, how are you?” he said, addressing the lady who had quickly sprung to her feet when the master entered.
“Sakurai-san, good to see you. I’m well, thank you,” she answered, bowing and then smiling at the three men.
“Nokie-san? You’re still here too?” Heath asked, smiling.
“Heath-san, Sugizo-san…so good to see you both again! I heard you had returned,” she replied, nodding in response to Heath’s question.
“Are you head seamstress now?” Sugizo asked, looking over at her table where she had been working on a beautiful garment.
“I am,” she responded proudly, giving another small bow to Sakurai.
“Well, congratulations! I’m sure you do a fabulous job,” Sugizo replied.
“Nokie-chan, these two well-traveled gentlemen need kimono for wearing here on the estate. Can you please take a few measurements and see if we have anything in the wardrobe for them? One set of formal robes for each and a few more casual ones should do for now,” the master of the house instructed her.
“Oh, Uncle…we don’t want to impose like that. We can go and buy clothes for ourselves in town,” Heath protested and Sugizo agreed.
“You’ll need to go buy a few things—sandals, undergarments, and such—but as for robes and haori, I have more in my wardrobes than I can possibly wear. Really, I insist. And you need something for right now anyway,” he said, looking at the rather casual yukata that they both wore. “You have higher status than the boys do, so you need to dress like it.”
Nokie-san set right to taking Heath and Sugizo’s measurements and keeping a record of them as she knew she would no doubt be making or repairing garments for them in future. As Head Seamstress, the biggest part of her job was repairing and restoring the dozens of antique silk kimono that had been handed down to Sakurai from earlier generations.
“Oh this will be easy,” Nokie began. “They’re both almost exactly the same size as you, Sakurai-san. Anything that will fit you will fit them.”
“Excellent! Come with me, you two. I know just the thing,” Acchan said, turning and heading toward the door.
Again, they quickly fell in line and followed their uncle. This time, he went into a small room not far from the large double doors of his own bedroom. It was basically a small room that had been turned into a dressing room with racks of kimono robes, haori, and obis—from very formal to very casual—full-length mirrors, a dressing table, and other assorted items.
Heading over to a particular rack, Sakurai started looking through the various garments. Finding one that he was looking for, he pulled it down and held it out in front of him.
“Hi-chan, this chestnut brown silk would look great on you—matches your eyes,” he said, handing the garment still on the hanger to his nephew. “Try it on, please.”
Heath carefully took the expensive kimono from his uncle and stepped over to the dressing table, looking a bit stunned.
Sakurai turned back to the rack. “Now where is that one…no, that’s not it…wait, here it is,” he said, moving through the hanging garments until he found the one he was looking for. Taking it down, he held it out for Sugizo.
“Sugi-chan, please try this one—I think it would really suit you,” he said with a smile.
“Okay, thank you. It’s beautiful—how old is it?” Sugizo asked, taking the hanger and admiring the maroon-colored silk.
“Old…probably one hundred-fifty or more.”
Sugizo’s eyes widened. “Umm, are you sure it’s okay for us to wear these?” He paused for a moment. “I honestly don’t feel worthy.”
Their uncle chuckled. “You are Ichiro’s sons…you are worthy, believe me.”
Once they were both dressed, he stood back and admired how striking and handsome they both looked.
“Your dad would be proud—those belonged to him,” Sakurai said, watching the surprise on their faces. “Please wear them—to honor him.”
Sugizo and Heath both smiled and nodded.
“Thank you so much, Uncle. We don’t deserve such generosity,” Heath said, bowing.
Sugizo did the same and then stepped over to Sakurai. “Yes, thank you so much,” he said and placed a kiss on the man’s cheek.
“You’re welcome, both of you. Now that you’re properly attired, you have nephews to meet!” the older man said with a warm smile. “They’re all so curious about you,” he laughed.
Walking out, they all headed to the sitting room with Sakurai in the lead again. Heath still looked a little shell shocked.
“What’s wrong?” Sugizo whispered to his mate.
“I had no idea he even knew what color my eyes are,” he whispered back, causing the other man to laugh.
“Acchan doesn’t miss a thing or had you forgotten that?”
The casual sitting room was large and well furnished with couches and big, comfortable chairs. Sakurai had even agreed to let the boys have a good-sized television in there so long as they didn’t spend all day lying around watching it.
As the older adults entered, the three boys turned to look and then all of them stood and bowed primarily to Sakurai, but also to the two men who followed.
“Heath-san, Sugizo-san…please meet Reita, Aoi, and Ruki. Boys, these are my nephews, Heath-san and Sugizo-san,” the master said by way of introductions.
Everyone bowed to each other and said “Hello” and “Nice to meet you” and such until Sakurai interrupted.
“Does anyone know where Uruha and Kai are? I’d like them to meet their uncles as well.”
“I think they’re in the garden with Imai-san,” Aoi said, looking up at his dad.
“Could you please go and see if you can find them?” Sakurai asked.
Aoi left for the gardens and the others took seats and started getting to know each other.
“Dad showed us on his globe in the library where all you’ve been! Weren’t you afraid to go that far away from home?” Ruki asked, sitting on a floor pillow near his two new uncles.
Heath smiled and looked at his mate. “Well yeah, I guess we were a little, but we didn’t let it stop us.”
“But weren’t people afraid when they found out…you know…what you are?” the youngest one wanted to know.
“You don’t tell people, idiot,” Reita said, rolling his eyes.
“Reita…don’t call your brother an idiot. It’s a legitimate question. Besides, he’s still a pup, remember,” Sakurai said, reprimanding his son.
Sugizo smiled down at the boy. “Ruki-kun, Reita is right in a way, but no, you’re not an idiot. This is probably one of the biggest secrets you’ll ever keep, but you have to keep it. You have no choice. Heath and I were able to live amongst the people in those places because we were very careful, but we still had to keep moving from city to city. It was hard. We nearly got caught a couple of times.”
Ruki’s eyes widened. “Oh? What happened?” he asked with rapt attention. Heath thought he looked more like a twelve-year old sitting on that pillow looking up at him.
“Well, it was our fault, really. We…” Heath started, but was interrupted by a voice he hadn’t heard in so many years.
“Yep, your fault. All your fault. What was your fault?” the voice said and then started to laugh.
“Uncle Imai!” Heath and Sugizo both said and jumped up from their chairs, quickly stepping over to hug the older man.
“Well, well, well…Hi-chan and Sugi-chan finally found their way back home. Wonders never cease,” Imai said, taking a good look at his nephews after such a long absence. “You both look good. Wait…” he turned and looked at Sakurai. “Are those Ichiro’s?”
Sakurai smiled and nodded. “The boys look good in their father’s robes, don’t they?”
Imai nodded, but his smile seemed a bit sad. “Yeah, they do. Standing there, you look almost like him…” he said, his voice trailing off at the end.
The nephews quickly understood how their uncle must be feeling. They, of course, missed their dad and being back in the house where they had lived with him was beginning to bring up some long-buried memories. But they had gotten away after their father’s death which made things easier for them, but Sakurai and Imai had stayed there, having to deal with memories of their brother every day.
“Uncle Imai, if wearing these upsets you, we won’t do it. We can go change,” Sugizo offered and Heath nodded in agreement.
“No…you don’t have to do that,” Imai responded. “Maybe seeing you two around the place…wearing Ichiro’s robes…will keep me from missing him so much.”
“Are you sure?” Heath asked.
Imai nodded. “Yes…it’ll be fine…really.”
Sensing that he needed to change the subject, Sakurai stepped over and introduced Uruha and Kai to Heath and Sugizo. Imai decided to introduce himself to a glass of scotch.
Once everyone was settled again, Ruki spoke up.
“So you were explaining how you were almost found out.”
“So I was…well, like I was saying, it was our fault. We went too long without and were so ravenous that we got a bit careless. There was really no way to disguise what had happened to the guy, so we just had to lay low for a bit and then we ended up moving on to another city,” Heath responded.
The boys immediately started asking all sorts of questions about their travels and what Europeans are like and asking if the food was any good. All of them seemed really interested, especially when they talked about being musicians and supporting themselves by playing in bars, restaurants, and even on street corners.
“So where did you learn to play?” Uruha asked from his place on the couch.
“Dad taught me how to play violin,” Sugizo answered.
“And Uncle Imai here taught me guitar,” Heath said with a smile to the older man. “But I’ll bet he’s still better than I am.”
Imai blushed a bit. “We’ll see…” he said in response.
“So, why did you decide to come back now? After all these years, I mean,” Ruki asked, always the one to be a bit blunt.
“Not that we’re not happy and honored to have you here, Uncles,” Kai chimed in after giving Ruki a stern look. “Please excuse him. He has no manners.”
Ruki lowered his head and blushed. Looking up through his lashes, he just said, “Sorry.”
Heath leaned over and reached out, stroking Ruki’s light-colored hair. “It’s okay, little one. I’m a bit blunt myself sometimes.”
“Hmmphf…you do know he’s like twenty, right? He just uses that kid act to get attention,” Reita said, shaking his head, a slight snarl on his lips.
“Sounds like Ruki isn’t the only one who needs to work on his manners,” Heath said, nailing Reita with a disapproving look, his hand still on the back of the blonde’s head.
“God, Reita…shut your cocksucker, will ya?!” Uruha said, slapping the offending one’s arm. Kai just closed his eyes and sighed.
“BOYS! That’s enough,” Sakurai said rather loudly, giving them all stern looks. “Heath, Sugizo—I apologize for them. Please continue.”
Sugizo chuckled. “Reminds me of Heath, Hide, Taiji, and myself when we were young.” Heath laughed and nodded.
“But yeah, it’s an honest question. I’m afraid we don’t have a really exciting answer though. Heath and I just got tired of moving around, having to watch our backs constantly, and I guess we just finally got homesick. We wanted to be around family again,” he said, flashing a smile at Sakurai.
“Hold on…Taiji and Hide?” Aoi asked. “They’re your brothers?”
“Yeah…haven’t you met them at some point?” Sugizo asked, a bit confused. “They haven’t been around here much?”
“Some, yes. I think I’ve met them two or three times maybe,” Aoi answered.
“Uncle, our brothers are okay, aren’t they?” Heath asked, suddenly feeling a knot in his stomach.
Sakurai smiled and nodded. “They’re fine. I heard from them about a week ago.”
“Hide is a weirdo,” Ruki assessed, looking up innocently at his new uncles.
They couldn’t help themselves at that point. Heath and Sugizo glanced at each other and burst out laughing.
“Ruki…really?!” Kai said, shaking his head.
Sugizo waved his hands. “No…no, he’s right this time. My dear brother is a Class A freak, but we wouldn’t have him any other way,” he managed to say while still laughing.
Imai finally spoke up. “Yeah, he really is…and that’s saying something coming from me. Helluva guitarist though…”
Even Sakurai had to laugh at that. “We need to get those two around here more often now that their brothers are back.”
During a lull in the conversation, Sugizo’s stomach decided that was the optimal time to growl loudly. The man grasped at his abdomen, embarrassed.
“Sorry about that…guess I’m pretty hungry. It’s been a while,” he said, looking over at Heath.
“I am too, honestly. I think Sugi-chan and I need to go out for a bit,” the brunette said.
“Nonsense. We’ll all go. I’m sure the boys are hungry as well,” Sakurai surmised. “Meet back up here in fifteen minutes? Street clothes?”
All of the boys nodded readily and started getting up.
“Family dinner time, looks like. Okay, hope the town is ready for this!” Imai said with a laugh.
Strolling along the street, en masse, the nine men looked like a big group of friends on an outing. Since most of them appeared to be in their 20s and 30s, no one paid much attention.
“So where do you find is the best place around here? The town has changed so much, Sugizo and I hardly know our way anymore,” Heath asked Sakurai.
“Oh, pretty much the same as always. Down by the docks is usually good. Anywhere near the river, really,” Acchan answered.
“Not the entertainment district then?” Sugizo asked as they continued to walk.
“Usually too crowded, but also I have an agreement to keep my clan away from there unless they’re there for actual entertainment,” Acchan informed.
“So hunting for booze and chics is fine, but not hunting for dinner,” Imai said with a laugh.
“Gotcha. Hey, is that one old bar still open down in the river district? What was it called?” Heath asked, pondering. “The Anchor?”
“Oh yeah, Anchor…it’s still there,” Imai answered. “Good hunting spot. Shall we?”
“You okay with that, Acchan?” Heath asked.
“Sure. It’s always been safe before,” he answered, his arm around little Ruki, holding him against his side.
They made their way along the streets of the old town, coming into the area near the river where warehouses, hole-in-the-wall bars, and dimly lit streets were in plentiful supply. Just the right environment for a fertile hunting ground.
Just as they were walking up to the area immediately surrounding the bar, Sugizo looked over at Sakurai and down at Ruki.
“I meant to ask earlier, what’s with the collar and leash on the little one here?”
“Well,” Sakurai started, “being that he’s still a pup and finds it hard to control himself sometimes, I do this to keep him safe. But we also have another use for it, don’t we, Ruki-kun?”
Ruki gave what could only be described as an evil grin and looked up at his dad. “Uh huh.”
“We’ll show you,” the older man said and started strolling toward three obviously drunk men who had exited the bar.
Allowing Ruki to move away from his side by several steps, Acchan played with the leash, letting the light reflect off of the silver chain so that the drunks couldn’t help but notice it.
One of the men in particular just couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
“Hey! Whatcha got there? A kid on a leash?” he slurred, almost stumbling as he headed toward Sakurai and Ruki. The rest of the boys had made themselves scarce, watching from the shadows.
“Isn’t he adorable?” Sakurai asked, baiting the drunk and his friends. “Dance for the men, Kitten.”
With Sakurai still holding the leash, Ruki started swaying his hips and shoulders, arms over his head, performing a seductive dance that his uncles wouldn’t have thought possible coming from him.
Heath looked at Sugizo in surprise. “Well, damn…is that the same kid?” he asked quietly. His mate just shrugged.
After a couple of minutes, Sakurai pulled the leash and Ruki stopped dancing and just stood there, looking at the men with his hands still on his hips. He gave a sweet little laugh.
“Did I do good, Daddy?” he asked, turning to look up at the older man.
“Daddy? This is your kid?” one of them asked, playing right into Sakurai’s hands.
“Well, no…he just calls me Daddy. He’s really my pet. Isn’t he beautiful?”
“You are a sick bastard. What is he, 15?” one of the drunks asked, getting indignant. Sakurai just shrugged and smiled at them.
From the shadows, Heath whispered to Sugizo. “Same old Acchan—such a good actor.”
Sugizo nodded and smiled. “You almost feel bad for them. Almost.”
“Yeah, why are you playing with little boys? Can’t get a woman? Damn, even I’m not that hard up,” another one said.
“Fucking disgusting little prick,” the biggest of the men said, starting to advance on Sakurai menacingly. Ruki played his part by clinging to his dad and looking quite frightened.
All the while they’d been throwing insults, Acchan had been slowly backing away from the building and closer to the shadows, but the drunks were too preoccupied to notice. Now, he stopped in his tracks and stuck a hand in the middle of the big guy’s chest.
“Okay, that’s far enough. Want me to let him go? I can do that,” Sakurai said, reaching over and unhooking the leash from Ruki’s collar. The man didn’t see the wink that Acchan gave Ruki as the leash came off.
That was the boy’s cue and as the inebriated men watched, Ruki’s eyes widened and began to turn red as his canine teeth elongated. A glance at Sakurai found that the same transformation had happened to him, but being much older, his face had significantly changed as well. They bared their teeth like snarling dogs and all at once, Ruki leaped onto the chest of the closest man and started going for his throat as the drunk tried his best to fight him off.
“Kyūketsuki!” one of them screamed and tried to run, though the alcohol was making it quite difficult.
“BOYS! DINNER!” Sakurai shouted and then jumped in to help Ruki take down the biggest of the men. Even though the drunk was head and shoulders taller and much broader, he never stood a chance against the superhuman strength of a vamp the age and experience of Acchan.
The other two men were surrounded though they didn’t know it quite yet. As one tried to get away, Heath and Sugizo watched Uruha and Kai step out of the doorway of a nearby warehouse and wave him on like they were trying to help him escape. He disappeared through the doorway with them and moments later a desperate scream was heard, signaling that the boys had acquired their meal for the evening.
The last man was still trying to escape, being traumatized by seeing Sakurai standing over his big friend, blood staining his mouth and dripping down his neck, watching as Ruki sat on his victim’s chest, sucking and gnawing at the big man’s neck.
Just as he thought he found a clear path to the street however, Heath slipped out of the shadows followed by Sugizo, teeth bared and eyes ablaze.
“Where are you goin’?” Sugizo asked in a dark whisper.
“No! No! Please…don’t kill me!” he cried, trying to back away.
“Won’t kill you…” Heath said in a low growl and with that, the two brothers pulled the man into the shadows to feed.
Back over with the first man, Sakurai had pulled Ruki off to keep the pup from gorging himself and allowed first Aoi and then Reita to feed. With his experience, Acchan knew when they had to stop to keep from killing the man. He himself took a little from their victim after his offspring had had their fill and then licked the wounds closed. With his sons, they pulled the unconscious man into a nearby doorway and left him looking like a drunk sleeping off a night’s booze.
Imai had joined Uruha and Kai in the warehouse and had fixed their victim up in a similar fashion. They emerged from the building, wiping their mouths and straightening their clothes.
Once everyone had finished up and their “donors” taken care of, they walked back out to the street and started back the way they’d come. Sakurai was leading the way with Ruki in tow, Heath and Sugizo were in the middle of the pack, and Imai was bringing up the rear. This way, the boys were never far from an older, stronger man.
While things had been calm lately, every now and then a member of one of the clans would go missing without a trace. Sometimes their body would eventually be found and sometimes not. Sakurai was not willing to risk his young boys, so they were not allowed to go out alone and preferably not without an older relative.
The neighboring ally clan was the last to lose someone, though it had been several months before. An older vamp by the name of Morrie headed up that clan in the same way that Sakurai headed his own. The two men were old acquaintances and had agreed to help keep an eye out for each other’s family.
As they walked along, Imai suddenly caught the scent of someone following them. He turned and tried to catch sight of the individual, but this was a quick one.
“Acchan, hold up a minute,” Imai called, turning again to scan the street behind them.
Memory problems aside, Imai was a brilliant tracker and hunter.
“What’s up, Uncle?” Heath asked, walking back to stand beside the older man.
“Someone’s following us,” he said in a low voice to avoid spooking the boys.
“Sugi, come here,” Heath said and watched as his mate moved to join them.
“Imai says someone is following us. We need to be ready to protect the boys.”
“Gotcha. Any idea who it might be?” Sugizo asked.
“I think there’s just one and the scent is not human…that’s all I can tell so far,” the older man said.
“Boys, please stand close together and stay quiet. If you see anyone or anything suspicious though, please speak up. Sugi-san, Heath-san—please stand on either side of the group. See anything else, Imai-san?” Sakurai asked from his place at the head of the group.
“No, not yet. Let’s keep moving the way we were heading—just stay vigilant everyone,” Imai answered.
The sudden tension was palpable and it was upsetting the most sensitive among them, namely Aoi and Ruki.
“Dad…” Ruki whined, not knowing what to say but knowing that he didn’t like this situation.
“It’s okay, baby. I won’t let anything happen to you, don’t fret,” Acchan said, pulling Ruki tighter against his side. He then turned to Aoi who was on his other side and slipped an arm around him. “It’s okay, Aoi-kun…I’m not letting anything happen to you either.”
Aoi just laid his head against his dad and kept walking.
Suddenly, from the back of the pack, Imai’s voice was heard.
“Hey! I know you’re there! Quit being a coward and show yourself!”
“Come out! We see you!” Heath yelled as well.
Sakurai looked at the faces of his five boys. ‘Like hell I’m letting anything happen to them.’
“Uruha, if I have to go take care of this, you will guard Ruki with everything you have, understand me?”
“Yes, Dad—I understand. I’ll keep him safe,” Uruha promised.
“Kai, I’m depending on you to guard Aoi in the same way. Understand?”
“Absolutely,” Kai answered.
“Reita, you’re tough and strong. You help your brothers and keep yourself safe, okay?”
Reita nodded. “Yes sir, I will.”
Sakurai moved to the back of the pack pulling Aoi and Ruki with him for the moment. He was still reluctant to let go.
Imai showed him where he thought the intruder was hiding out.
“Hey! Whoever you are…I’m asking you once more to show yourself before someone comes in after you!” Sakurai said loudly but received no answer.
“Heath…go see if you can find this person,” the head of the clan ordered and Sugizo’s mate obeyed, walking silently over to the abandoned building, looking back once before stepping inside.
“Let me go too—he might need help,” Sugizo requested, worried about his brother.
“Not yet. I need you here to help guard the boys,” Sakurai said, intently watching the doorway in which Heath disappeared.
Tense minutes went by and then all at once, Heath’s voice was heard. “Sugizo! Come here!”
The auburn-haired man suddenly looked a bit panicked and took off at a run, not waiting for Acchan’s permission.
Once at the door, Sugizo tried to remember to act carefully and not just rush inside in a panic.
“Heath? Where are you?” he called, stepping inside the doorway.
“Right here,” the familiar voice came from a few feet away, but didn’t sound distressed. “Turn around—I’m over here. And just look who I found!”
Sugizo turned and finally saw Heath, his eyes having adjusted better to the low light. “Who?”
“Ta-da!” the man said, making an entrance from the other room. He was dressed in a long red coat, his waist-length blood red hair swinging as he spun around. “Sugi-chan! Come give me a hug!” he shouted, arms open wide.
“Hide!! Holy fuck!” Sugizo said excitedly, crossing the room in a few strides and snatching his shorter brother up in a big embrace.
Hide laughed loudly. “I’m a good fuck, but I wouldn’t say ‘holy’!”
Sugizo laughed and put him down, but didn’t let go. “It was you that was following us?”
“Yep. I wasn’t trying to scare anyone, I just needed to see if it was you two like I thought,” Hide answered.
Sugizo finally let go of the man. “Oh shit, Acchan is gonna kill us.”
“Oh god…” Heath added.
“Ah come on, I’ll smooth it all out,” Hide said, grabbing them both by the hands and pulling them toward the front door.
As they exited with Hide in the lead, they noticed movement in the little group standing there waiting. Sakurai had pushed the two youngest boys into the center where they were surrounded by their older brothers. He and Imai were standing there practically in a fighting stance ready to take out anyone who dared to come close.
“Easy, Sakurai-san. It’s only me,” Hide said, beaming a smile at the group.
“Hide?! It was you the entire time?” Imai asked, relaxing his stance and shaking his head in disbelief.
“Yep, it was me. I thought I smelled my brothers, but I wanted to be sure. Turns out I was right!” the redhead said.
“Fuck…you could’ve just asked, ya know?” Imai responded.
Sakurai stood there, hands on hips, shaking his head. “Hide…”
“I’m sorry I upset the family, Uncle Acchan. My sincerest apologies,” Hide said, looking at the boys’ faces. He bowed to Sakurai and then knelt down in front of the younger boys. “Forgive me? I didn’t mean to frighten anyone.”
Aoi nodded, but Ruki wasn’t so sure. “You know my dad was ready to rip your throat out if you came after us, right?”
Hide smiled his crooked little smile. “Your dad is the best there is, but he’s known me since I was a pup. He knows I’d never hurt family.”
“You should be more careful,” Ruki told Hide with more than a little attitude, hands on his hips mimicking his dad.
Hide stifled a snicker. “I’ll do that—I promise. Now, do you forgive me?”
Ruki rolled his eyes. “I suppose so.”
“Thank you,” Hide said, trying hard not to laugh and getting up from his knees.
“Little pup’s got teeth, Acchan,” he said and turned back to his brothers. He slung an arm around each of them and squeezed. “We have to go hang out! Where do you want to go?”
“Home. We’re going home. You’re welcome to come along,” Sakurai announced and turned to get the little group moving again. “Let’s go.”
“Looks like we’re going home. Come with us, Hide…please?” Heath asked, giving his brother the big puppy dog eyes routine.
“Yeah, come on—hang out with us for a while,” Sugizo said.
Hide nodded. “I never could resist those eyes, Hi-chan,” he said, winking at him. “Let’s go.”
“Catch up back there, you three!” Sakurai said loudly.
“Coming, Sakurai-san!” Sugizo replied.
“The old queen’s got too much starch in his bustle—better keep up!” Hide quipped, walking more quickly.
“Shhh! Hide…behave yourself!” Heath said in a low voice, but couldn’t help but laugh.
Once they’d all gotten back to the estate safe and sound, the nephews got permission from Uncle Acchan to use the small bath house that was part of the estate.
“We’ve only got about an hour or two before I have to start back home, so let’s get moving, boys!” Hide said, trying to hurry his brothers along.
Making their way through the gardens, the conversation started to flow. They had years to catch up on.
“So what’s Taiji up to? He’s still around here, right?” Sugizo asked as they walked.
“Tai-chan? Oh yeah, he’s around. In fact, he’s home with the kids,” Hide answered, knowing the reaction he was going to get.
“Wh-what?! Kids? Whose kids?” Heath asked, not believing what he’d heard.
“Mine, actually. I have two pups named Tora and Saga. It’s my night to go out, so he’s home watching after them,” Hide informed them.
“Wait…you have pups?” Heath asked.
Hide smiled and nodded. “Can you believe that? Me, domestic?”
“No. Never. Really?” Sugizo responded.
Hide again just nodded, but another question occurred to his auburn-haired brother just as they reached the door of the bath house.
“Ummm…you and Tai-chan…something going on?” he asked, eyebrows raised.
“What? No! Ewww…I mean, he’s…ewww…no,” Hide replied, shaking his head with a somewhat disgusted look on his face.
Heath burst out laughing. “Oh come now, our brother isn’t that bad!”
“No, last I remember, Tai-chan was rather good looking,” Sugizo answered, hanging up his yukata and grabbing a towel.
Hide was slow to undress as he was busy tying up his mane of hair so that it wouldn’t get wet. He kept an eye on the others though.
“Damn, you two…fine as ever, I see. But yes, Tai-chan looks just fine—that’s not the issue. I guess I’m just around him too much to think of him that way.” He scrunched his nose again and gave his head a shake as if trying to rid himself of some unpleasant image.
They quickly rinsed off before sinking their naked bodies down into the round, warm pool of water. It wasn’t a large bath as it was never intended for more than a few family members at a time, but it could easily hold about six men.
“Oh man, this feels soooo good,” Heath said, submerging himself up to his shoulders and letting his head fall back slightly. “I am so over being dirty.”
“Living conditions not the best in god-knows-where-you’ve-been?” the redhead asked, looking back and forth between his recently returned brothers.
“Eh, depends on which city you’re talking about, but on the whole…no,” Sugizo answered.
“Hmmm, well it’s a good thing you’re back then. Gonna stay?” Hide asked.
“Yeah, that’s the plan—resume our responsibilities within the family, help Uncle out as much as possible…maybe rekindle a few old flames,” Heath replied with a wink.
A mischievous grin slowly appeared on the redhead’s face. “Well, if you’re in need of some kindling for those flames, you just let me know, brothers dear…”
I decided it was time to give everyone a little more info about the boys and some insight into how they get along together. This is just a start, but background is needed as we go along. Short chapter here--the next one will be along soon! Hope everyone is doing well and staying healthy! Message me here or on my new Instagram account if you want to chat! Instagram: lily_pinkspider
Arriving back at the house after their “family dinner”, Sakurai-san asked Reita to please get the front door open for him. He was having to carry Ruki who had fallen asleep on his shoulder not too far down the street from the front gate of the estate.
“This happen often?” Sugizo asked his uncle, smiling.
Sakurai chuckled softly. “Yeah, almost every time. He’ll outgrow it, but for now I’m just glad he’s small enough to carry easily. Unlike you.”
“Huh?” the auburn-haired man asked.
“Oh, you don’t remember that, do you?” he began with an amused grin. “When you were a young pup you used to do this too—so did Heath. Ichiro would usually carry him and I’d carry you.”
“You’re kidding…” Sugizo said, feeling a bit sheepish.
“No, not at all. You’ve fallen asleep in my arms more times than I can count,” Sakurai stated, smiling at his nephew’s apparent embarrassment. “And damn it if you’re not all arms and legs.”
Making his way over to the stairs that led up to the boys’ rooms, he turned back to his nephews.
“I’m going to put the little one to bed. Yes, you can use the bath house but be sure to clean up after yourselves,” Sakurai said, having overheard Heath and Hide’s discussion.
“Thank you, Uncle,” Heath said, giving him a small bow.
“Boys, everyone get changed, please,” Daddy Acchan told them, starting to climb the steps.
“Yes, be sure to get the little baby tucked in bed,” Reita said with an eye roll.
“Oh shut it, Rei. He can’t help it,” Uruha replied, following behind Sakurai, Aoi, and Kai.
“All I’m saying is that he needs to decide if he’s nine or if he’s nineteen with a mental problem,” Reita retorted, being the last one to start up the stairs.
Hide shook his head and laughed. “They argue like we used to, don’t they, Hiroshi?” he said with an exaggerated smile and ducked just in time to keep from getting swatted in the back of the head by his brother.
“Go on, Hideto,” Heath replied, shoving his redheaded brother in the direction of his and Sugizo’s bedroom.
Upstairs, Daddy Sakurai carried his youngest son into the bedroom that he shared with Aoi and set to getting the boy ready for bed. Aoi began gathering his things for his bath that he always took immediately after returning from a hunt. The other three boys went to their rooms to change and to decide what to do with the rest of the evening.
“Wonder if Hide will be hanging around more often now that Sugizo and Heath are home?” Kai asked, pulling his shirt off and tossing it into the clothes hamper.
“Don’t know…probably. The three of them seem to get along great. My question is how did he turn out to be so…eccentric…since his brothers are pretty much normal?” Uruha asked.
“Good question. He does seem like a good guy though, if a little odd,” Kai responded.
Turning on the small TV that the older boys kept in their room, Uruha quickly found a program that he liked.
“Hey, let’s watch the end of this and then we’ll go downstairs and play a few games, okay?”
“Sure, that’s cool. Wonder if Reita went out into the garden?” Kai asked, taking a seat on the bed.
“Of course. You know how he is.”
Back down the hallway, Sakurai had just finished putting Ruki’s sleepshirt on him and tucking him into bed complete with a kiss on his forehead.
“Goodnight, Ru-chan,” he said and quietly closed the door. ‘Hope Imai hung around,’ he thought as he started down the stairs.
Memories of putting his nephews to bed when they were pups ran through his head, causing him to chuckle. ‘Ruki is definitely easier to handle than either Sugi or Heath was. Damn, how long ago was that?’ he mused while he went to find his brother.
Once their program had finished, Kai went to make a pit stop before he and Uruha moved downstairs. The door was closed but unlocked so he stepped inside quietly to answer the call of nature. While he was washing his hands afterward, he glanced over to see Aoi in the soaking tub, completely motionless, dead-to-the-world asleep.
“Oh, Aoi-kun…” he whispered and shook his head. “It’s not just Ru, is it?”
Kai thought for a moment and then went back to his room to get Uruha.
“Oh, hell no. He busted my lip the last time I tried to pick him up while he was asleep. Go get Dad,” Uruha said in response to Kai’s request for help.
“Fine, fine,” he said, leaving the room and heading for the stairs.
It certainly wasn’t the first time Aoi had fallen asleep not long after feeding and it wouldn’t be the last. The problem was that Aoi insisted on bathing as soon as possible upon returning home and the warm water lulled him to sleep.
Kai had a pretty good idea about where Sakurai could be found, so he headed to the adult sitting room to check. Knocking lightly on the doorframe, he heard a voice telling him to come in. He slowly pushed the screen aside.
“Dad? Excuse the intrusion. I need your help,” he said, acknowledging his Uncle Imai with a small bow.
“Oh? Everything okay?” Sakurai asked, swirling the amber liquid in his glass.
Kai sighed. “Aoi’s asleep in the soaking tub again and Uruha won’t help because of how violent he can get when he’s woken up suddenly. Reita is still outside, I believe, but he’s useless in these situations anyway. Can you help? Aoi-kun won’t lash out at you.”
Imai chuckled and took a long sip of scotch.
“Sorry to disturb you both,” Kai said, wishing he didn’t have to be bothering them with this. He was the eldest brother so certain things fell to him to handle.
“No, no—it’s fine. I know how wild Aoi-kun can get when he’s startled. Don’t need any more black eyes and split lips,” Sakurai said and then drained his glass and stood up slowly. “Brother, I’ll be back.”
Imai nodded. “Go ahead, Papa-san. I’ll be here,” he said with a definite amused tone to his voice.
Upstairs in the bathroom, Sakurai looked down at his young son asleep in the water and just shook his head.
“Aoi-kun…it’s a good thing you can’t drown,” he said in a low voice, taking off his haori and hanging it on the nearby hook. He picked up the large towel that Aoi had gotten for himself and then stopped and thought.
“Better get me another towel like this. I’m going to have to wrap him up and try to keep from getting soaked myself,” Daddy Acchan directed Kai.
Once he had both towels, he pushed his sleeves up and reached in, letting the water drain from the soaking tub. Laying the large towel over the boy’s body which covered him from mid-chest to mid-thigh, Sakurai held the other towel across his arms and then reached under Aoi and picked him up, bridal style. Kai helped cover him up and caught some of the dripping water with yet another towel.
But just when they thought he was going to sleep through being moved, Aoi suddenly realized that he was being touched and held and he didn’t know who had him.
“Mmm…mmm!” he began to groan, still mostly asleep but starting to fight back. The towel across his arms worked to keep them fairly bound, but his legs were free and Kai very nearly took a foot to the chin.
“Move back, Kai—I’ve got him,” Acchan said, holding Aoi tighter and curling him into his chest, pinning his arms and almost tucking the boy’s head into his neck.
“Shhhh, Aoi-kun…it’s Dad. You’re okay, you’re okay…don’t fight me. I’m just putting you to bed,” Sakurai said to his son, carrying him into his bedroom.
“Dad?” he asked in a weak voice, trying to get his eyes to adjust.
“Yes, Baby—it’s me. You’re fine. You just fell asleep in the bath again and I didn’t want you to go under,” Acchan said in a low voice, knowing that Ruki was asleep nearby.
“Uhhh…I’m sorry. Just so tired,” Aoi responded.
“It’s okay, I understand. Let’s just get you into bed so that you can rest,” Sakurai said gently, laying him on his bed.
“I can get dressed. Thanks for pulling me out of the water,” Aoi said, feeling childish.
“Okay, I’ll leave you alone then. Get some sleep,” Acchan replied, leaning down and kissing his son on the forehead. Afterward, he shooed Kai out of the room and closed the door, heading back over to get his jacket.
“Dad? Can I ask you something?” Kai queried, following the older man from one room to the other.
“Sure. What’s on your mind?” he asked while pulling his haori back on and straightening his robes.
“It’s about Aoi.”
“Oh? You want to know why he—and Ruki, for that matter—always fall asleep right after feeding?”
“Well…that wasn’t my first question, but yeah, I had wondered about that too,” Kai replied, looking up into his dad’s face.
“Don’t really know what causes it, but it happens a lot. Lots of young ones have that issue for a year or two and then they outgrow it.”
“Uruha and I were curious because that never happened to me or him or even Reita and then Aoi and Ruki come along and they’re both that way.”
While they were talking, they walked down the hallway to the older boys’ bedroom where Uruha was sitting, still watching TV. Sakurai walked in and took a seat.
“Lots of our clan have been sleepers when they were pups but grew out of it. Your older brother Hisashi, for one. Your uncles Sugizo and Heath were too. My youngest brother U-Ta. It’s not uncommon at all.”
“It wouldn’t be so bad if Aoi didn’t wake up lashing out at whoever is close by. He’s normally so quiet and meek. What makes him freak out like that?” Uruha asked.
“It’s only when he gets startled awake. It’s a defense mechanism. Have you ever noticed how he sleeps with his back to the wall?” Sakurai responded.
Both boys nodded. “But he’s got to know he’s safe here and with us. I wouldn’t let anything happen to him and I know you certainly wouldn’t,” Kai said.
“Of course not, but you have to remember that he’s not all that far removed from a hard, dangerous life. That disgusting pimp that I rescued him from would’ve killed poor Aoi if I hadn’t stepped in when I did. Rabid creature. I sometimes wish I’d made him suffer instead of snapping his neck so quickly.”
“Didn’t you say he was choking Aoi when you found him?” Uruha asked.
Acchan slowly nodded. “Had him by the throat against a wall, feet off the ground. I’m not sure what Aoi-kun had done to piss that asshole off, but…” he trailed off and sighed. “And people say we’re the demons.”
“So is that where his obsession for being clean comes from?” Kai asked. “I mean, he knows he’s likely to fall asleep in the bath yet he absolutely has to shower and bathe every time we come home from a hunt.”
“Not only that. I have never seen anyone scrub their hands and fingernails like he does,” stated Uruha.
Sakurai nodded. “Yeah. He’s told me that he never really feels clean. He said that sometimes he can still feel people’s dirty hands on him. I don’t know how he’s ever going to have a relationship with anyone. I’m afraid he’s been ruined for any kind of physical closeness. Sad really. So young.”
“Yeah…” Uruha whispered, suddenly feeling really bad for his younger brother.
“While we’re talking about the young ones…” Kai started but was interrupted.
“You mean younger ones, don’t you? You’re still pretty young yourself, Kai-chan,” Daddy Acchan reminded him.
The young man blushed slightly and smiled. “Yeah, younger ones. How do you think little Ruki is settling in? I don’t want to say anything wrong, but…is he okay? He seems a bit, I don’t know…disturbed sometimes, really.”
Sakurai tilted his head and looked intently at him. “As far as I can tell, he’s doing okay. You may have noticed something that I haven’t though. What do you mean by disturbed?”
“I like Ruki and I’m not trying to be mean at all, but I think he has some sort of personality disorder,” Uruha offered and Kai nodded, looking at their dad. “He can act like two very different people in the space of a few minutes.”
“Like sometimes he’s a teenager and sometimes he’s a kid?” Acchan asked and was met with nods from his two oldest. “Again, I think that’s a defense mechanism. He seems to change to suit the situation, but
I don’t think he has multiple personalities.”
“And Reita? Does he seem okay to you?” Kai asked.
“He’s my problem child, no doubt, but deep down he’s a good kid I think. Have you been having issues with him?” Sakurai asked.
“He can be a bit of a bully, to be honest. I’ll put him on his ass if he tries it on with me, but he likes to pick on Aoi and Ruki,” Uruha stated.
“Yeah, and it pisses me off. He shouldn’t be like that. I straighten him out every time I catch him doing it, but he’s definitely got some issues when it comes to them,” Kai said.
Acchan sighed. “There’s always one. Hopefully he’ll outgrow that, but you’re right to reprimand him. Keep it up.” He paused and thought for a moment. “Where is he anyway?”
“Probably still out in the garden. He always goes out there and smokes after a hunt. He likes to be alone so we just leave him be,” Uruha said.
“Alright, that’s fine. If he needs some solitude then he should be allowed that. I just hope he knows that he always has someone to talk to if he needs it. Doesn’t have to be me,” Sakurai said and then stood up and stretched. “So I’m going back downstairs to talk something over with Imai. Unless one of you had something else you wanted to ask?”
Both boys shook their heads ‘no’ so all three of them headed downstairs.
“Get everything taken care of?” Imai asked when Acchan reentered the sitting room.
“Oh yeah, that’s two—anyone else need tucking in? You good, Imai?” he asked with a grin.
“I don’t know. You leave me alone drinking this excellent scotch for much longer and you just might have to,” the older man replied with a laugh.
A couple of evenings later, Sugizo and Heath were at home waiting for Hide to come by to continue their brotherly hanging out. The first night they had gotten together had gone by far too quickly and they had much more catching up to do. While they waited, they wiped down their instruments and chatted.
“I still can’t believe our brother is called ‘Dad’ by anyone, can you?” Heath asked.
Chuckling, Sugizo shook his head. “No…not really. He’s way too much of a loose cannon. And Taiji helping him out with the pups? I can just see that now…” he said, still laughing. “They’ll know how to curse in three languages, but I don’t know about anything else!”
“Right?! I kinda feel bad for the kids, to be honest. Maybe we ought to try to exert some good influence,” Heath offered.
“I’m sure somebody needs to. Not Acchan level, but somewhere between that and dysfunctional. Bound to be a lotta room there.”
Walking into the kitchen in search of tea, Heath and Sugizo found their uncle propped against the counter, teacup in hand, completely lost in thought. And it didn’t look like a good thought either, judging by his expression.
“Sakurai-san…something wrong?” Sugizo asked, placing a hand on the man’s arm.
The older man looked at the two of them and sighed while nodding.
“There’s been another disappearance. Morrie-san just let me know that his grandson, Yukihiro, has gone missing.”
“Oh no,” Heath responded. “That’s terrible. Does he have any ideas about what happened or who’s responsible?”
“No, not as of yet. His entire clan is out looking for Yuki and I told him that we would help in any way we could. I just hope they find him soon. Morrie-san is normally rather stoic, but I could hear how upset he was.”
“Anything Heath and I can do to help?” Sugizo asked.
“At the moment, just help me inform the family and tell them to be vigilant. We don’t want anyone else disappearing.”
“Will do. Hide is coming over in just a bit, so we’ll tell him and he can relay it to Taiji and anyone else he can think of. Just let us know if anything comes up that we can assist with, okay?” Sugizo said.
Acchan nodded. “I will. I’ve called my older boys and now I’ve got to go tell the younger ones.” He stopped and sighed. “We have to find out who’s doing this and put an end to it one way or another.”
“Do you think all the disappearances are related?” Heath asked.
“Yes, I’m afraid so. It’s either some ridiculous so-called ‘hunters’ getting lucky or worse, it’s a rival clan,” Sakurai said, looking even more worried than before. “I have to go talk to the boys.”
Once he’d left, Heath and Sugizo just looked at each other and shook their heads.
“This could get ugly…really ugly,” Heath assessed.
Sugizo agreed. “We’ve gotta help Acchan with the boys and maybe we can convince Hide to let us help him too.”
“Help me with what?” the redhead asked, walking up behind Heath and palming his posterior.
Heath didn’t even flinch. “Help you with your pups. Another of Morrie’s clan has gone missing—his grandson this time. Acchan is beside himself.”
“Ah, damn…that really sucks. Hang on, let me call Tai-chan right quick and let him know. He’s watching Tora and Saga for me tonight,” Hide said.
Once he’d finished his call, he looked up at his brothers.
“I’d better go change—don’t want Uncle Acchan on my ass. Your room okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, that’s fine. We’ll come with you,” Sugizo answered, picking up Hide’s guitar case before he had the chance to.
“Okay, but no threesomes. Not yet anyway,” the redhead said with a cheeky grin.
Heath rolled his eyes and gave his brother a playful shove. “Go the hell on…”
Sitting down at the dressing table, Hide pulled his large cap off, allowing his hair to fall to its full length, several tiny braids hanging on either side of his face. He noticed his brothers watching him from where they sat.
“I have to keep the hair put up when I don’t want to be noticed. It is rather eye-catching, don’t you think?” he asked, twirling a thick, red lock around his fingers.
“Oh yeah, for sure. Suits ya,” Heath said, smiling.
“You really like it?” Hide asked, being coy.
“I mean, if you don’t want to be noticed, it’s not exactly the ideal thing, but it’s definitely you,” the brunette answered.
“Good. Feel free to pull it when you’re yelling my name in bed later,” Hide said, winking at Heath and then turning to kick his slippers off so that he could get changed.
Heath just chuckled and shook his head. Looking over at Sugizo, he just shrugged.
“Ummm, you got designs on my mate or something?” Sugizo asked.
Hide looked at him after pulling his shirt off and starting to unbutton his pants. “No more than usual.”
“Ah, okay then,” the auburn-haired man said. If Hide was serious or not, who could tell. He wasn’t entirely worried about it though. They’d played this game before.
The redhead pulled out a stack of beautifully folded clothing and set to getting dressed to Acchan’s standards. He’d come prepared this time. The colors and patterns, however, gave his brothers pause. As a rule, men wore darker colors and muted patterns, but not Hide.
“Dear brother, did you steal your girlfriend’s kimono?” Sugizo asked, a bemused grin on his face.
“What? I like flowers, don’t you remember? And you know I’m not one for black, gray, or brown. It’s not me. I prefer yellow, red, and pink,” Hide responded, straightening his collar before belting everything.
If they were honest, the brothers would have to admit that their somewhat odd brother did look good in the ensemble and it went well with his mane of blood red hair.
Once he was dressed, they all picked up their instrument cases and left the bedroom, heading toward Uncle Imai’s house for an evening of music and booze. On their way to the back door, they passed Uncle Acchan in the hallway. All three paused momentarily and bowed to the older man, chatting briefly about what they were up to. Sakurai looked Hide up and down and even had him do a little turn for him before smiling, shaking his head, and going on his way with a chuckle. The three just laughed and continued toward the gardens.
“See? I told you--Acchan likes you just fine,” Sugizo said to Hide as they walked.
“Eh…I think he tolerates me. I’m the court jester brought in to make the king laugh every now and then,” the redhead replied.
Sugizo rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Oh please…”
“I wouldn’t expect you two to understand—he’s always favored you guys. Especially you,” Hide said, nailing Sugizo with an eyebrow-raised look.
“That was a long time ago,” the auburn-haired man responded, glancing at his mate for a little backup.
“Oh no, I’m not in this,” Heath shot back and used his long legs to move away from them quickly. “Uncle Imai! You ready to play?!” he asked happily, stepping up to greet the man outside his house.
“Hey! Yeah! I’m just putting some chairs out here for us. My place is too small for all of us at once,” their uncle replied, putting down the last chair to finish forming a wide circle. “Come help me with the drinks!”
The four of them played and drank and laughed for a good two hours with Sugizo even borrowing a spare guitar of Imai’s to show them how much his playing had improved over the many years that they’d been gone.
“We have got to get Tai-chan over here to play with us some!” Heath suggested. “I miss him.”
Sugizo and Imai nodded.
“Have to get him away from that new boyfriend of his first,” Hide said before taking another long sip of whiskey.
“Oh? Do tell!” Sugizo replied with a definite amused tone.
“Oh, some guy he met. Josey or something like that.”
Imai nearly spit. “Josey? You’re kidding.”
“Yeah, I just call him that. He’s from the Adachihara clan. Name’s actually Ju-Ken,” Hide informed them.
“Oh, that’s Issay’s brood. What’s he doing down here?” Imai asked.
“From what I understand, he’s originally from here. He had come down to look up some old acquaintances or something and that’s when he met Tai-chan,” the redhead answered, lighting up another cigarette.
“What’s he like? I gotta know what kinda guy turns Taiji’s head,” Heath asked, a wide smile on his face.
Hide thought for a couple of moments and then leaned back in his chair, blowing out a cloud of smoke.
“Ya know how they say opposites attract?” he began and paused while they nodded. “Well, that’s horse shit. This dude is tall, broad shouldered, loud, tattooed, and rough around the edges just like Tai-chan. They’re the same motherfucker, really.”
Howls of laughter went up at that. So much so that when Sakurai suddenly showed up a couple of minutes later, they were worried that they’d disturbed him.
“Alright…what’s so damn funny?” the head of the clan asked, appearing behind Imai, hands on hips. The older man almost jumped out of his chair.
“Oh fuck…Acchan…you scared the life outta me!” Imai exclaimed wide-eyed, one hand on his chest.
“Relax, you’re already dead, remember?” Sakurai said, chuckling and patting his brother’s head.
“Figure of speech, fuck off,” Imai responded, still rubbing his chest.
“Uncle, we weren’t being too loud, I hope,” Sugizo said, still smiling at Imai’s fright.
“Oh no. I just kinda felt left out, so I thought I’d crash the party.”
“Hide, get the man a chair,” Imai directed and then turned to his brother who was still standing over him. “Sorry. I thought you had lots of work to catch up on.”
“Well, I do but…it can wait another hour. Now, what the hell is so funny?” Sakurai asked with a smile.
Hide brought him a chair and placed it in between Imai and Sugizo, wagging his eyebrows at his auburn-haired brother when he sat it down. Sugizo gave him a quick eye roll.
While Acchan made himself comfortable, Imai started relaying the story. “So Taiji is dating this guy…”
Once they’d had yet another good laugh at Hide’s description of the new couple, they all sat back with their drinks.
“So let’s hear some music! I didn’t walk all the way down here to get drunk with you lowlifes,” Acchan stated, smiling.
“Okay, whatcha wanna hear?” Imai asked.
The newcomer to the group thought for just a moment and then reached down and picked up Sugizo’s violin from its open case and held it out to its owner.
“Please? With you and Ichiro gone, I haven’t heard any violin music around here in ages,” Sakurai said, looking Sugizo straight in the eyes.
His nephew took the instrument from his hands with a warm smile. “Of course,” he said in a low voice and reached over and picked up his bow. “Anything in particular?”
“Something your dad taught you.”
Sugizo just nodded and looked down as he thought about what he should choose. When he had decided, he put the violin under his chin and began to play…
Recognizing the tune immediately, Sakurai just closed his eyes and listened like he was trying to absorb the sound into his body. When Sugizo stood and began to move around a bit as he played, Acchan watched him with what could only be described as a sad smile on his face. A glance at Imai showed that he was feeling the same way. Seeing their nephew in Ichiro’s robes, playing a song that he had taught him on a violin that he had no doubt given to Sugizo was having a definite effect on Sakurai and Imai. Even Heath and Hide sat very quietly and just listened.
When Sugizo finished, Sakurai wiped away a tear and started applauding with the others following suit. He got up and walked over to his nephew, wrapping him in a warm embrace that he held for several moments.
“Thank you,” Acchan said quietly right next to Sugizo’s ear.
“My pleasure…anytime,” the auburn-haired man responded.
“Fuck me…I need another drink after that,” Imai said, trying to be discreet about wiping a couple of tears from his own eyes and failing miserably.
“Keep your seat, Uncle. I’ll get it,” Heath said and got up, heading into Imai’s kitchen.
Inside, Heath was busying himself getting more ice and looking for a fresh bottle of whiskey when Hide suddenly showed up beside him.
“That boy of yours is good, I have to say,” the redhead said, resting against the counter.
Heath smiled. “Yeah, he is.”
“Acchan definitely appreciated his playing if that hug is anything to go by, wouldn’t you say?”
“Seems so, yeah.”
“Kinda makes you wonder, doesn’t it?” the redhead said with a grin.
Heath stopped what he was doing and just looked at his brother. “Hide…what are you trying to say? Come on, out with it. Wonder what, exactly?”
“How long it’ll be before Acchan lures Sugi-chan back into his bed.”
Heath rolled his eyes and shook his head.
“Oh come now, Hi-chan…you know it’s gonna happen. You hold his heart I have no doubt, but I’m betting he’s more than up for a tumble with our handsome uncle. You know, just like it used to be.”
Heath didn’t respond right away. He stood looking at Hide like he was analyzing his motives.
“Look, all I’m saying is that if Sugi is going to be busy with Acchan from time to time that maybe you might be interested in a little… extra-curricular with me. What do ya say?” Hide explained and then moved even closer to the brunette. “We used to have a lotta fun together, remember?” he asked in a breathy whisper, leaning in to nuzzle at the man’s neck.
Heath couldn’t help but smile a little at that. “I remember.”
Hide moved around to place a soft, tender kiss on Heath’s partially-open lips. After a couple of moments, the brunette returned the kiss.
“I’ll think about it. Have to talk things over with Sugi first, you know,” he said quietly.
“Fair enough. Just don’t take too long, okay? I’m in desperate need over here,” Hide said with a grin.
“Yeah…I desperately need to see you tied to my bed, naked, begging me for some mind-blowing sex. It’s past time, Heath.”
The brunette laughed and swatted his brother on the head. “Shut it and help me carry this stuff outside! Man, you haven’t changed a bit.”
“Nope. But you love it,” Hide quipped and made a kissy face at him.
Heath nodded. “I’ve missed you…”
With the security concerns and continuing disappearances, tensions remained high over the next few days as the search for Yukihiro continued. Sakurai had been making calls to anyone he thought might be able to help locate the young man, but to no avail as of yet.
Late one evening, Acchan was in his sitting room—the one reserved for the older adults--with Sugizo and Heath talking about the situation, when they heard loud footsteps running down the stairs and a voice yelling “Dad! Dad!”
Moments later, Aoi came sliding into the room, eyes wide.
“Dad! Come quick! Reita is beating Ruki!”
Fifteen or twenty minutes earlier, the argument had started over bathroom time. Ruki had been in the boys’ shared bathroom for some time trying to figure out what to do with his hair to make him look more mature. Reita wasn’t at all appreciative of his quest.
“Annoying little shit…hurry up!” he said, pounding on the door.
“Leave me alone, I’m busy!” Ruki answered.
But Reita had waited long enough and he was utterly annoyed. Laying a shoulder into the old door, he burst into the bathroom and grabbed Ruki up by the arm, practically slinging him out into the hallway.
“Fuck off, you big brute! You’re such an asshole!” Ruki yelled.
“Oh, go whine to Dad like you usually do, Pet!” Reita growled, emphasizing his disdain for Ruki’s status as their dad’s supposed favorite.
“Jealous, are we?” the small blonde spat.
“While we’re at it, why don’t you stop with the little child act? You’re not, you know.”
“And why don’t you stop with the ‘I’m a badass’ act? You’re not, you know!” Ruki countered.
Reita had begun stalking toward Ruki, backing him into the bedroom that Ruki and Aoi shared.
“I’m not afraid of you, ya know!” Ruki announced.
“Maybe you should be, you mouthy little runt!” Reita growled, still coming toward him.
As Ruki was quickly being backed toward a wall, he decided it was time to escalate things and either make Reita stop or at least be able to get away from him. Big talk aside, Ruki gave up about seven inches and at least 40 pounds to his bigger brother.
“Fuck you, Reita!” he yelled and picking up the first thing he could find, he threw the empty glass bottle as hard as he could toward his brother, nailing him square in the chest.
That was it for the enraged, bigger boy and he covered the distance that still remained between them in two long strides. He struck Ruki on one side of the face with his fist, knocking the smaller boy back into the wall. He then grabbed him by the front of his kimono and slapped his face hard.
“I’m gonna shut that smartass little cocksucker of yours,” he yelled, grabbing Ruki by the throat and throwing him to the floor hard. The blonde was trying his level best to get away but wasn’t having any success. Reita then laid a couple of hard kicks to Ruki’s side, afterward dropping to his knees over the top of his brother.
“You had enough? You ready to shut your fuckin’ mouth now?” Reita asked loudly.
Even though he was small, Ruki had a lot of attitude and he’d be damned if Reita was going to punk him out like this.
“Fuckface Neanderthal…go to hell!” the small blonde spat.
Reita saw red at that point and started wailing on Ruki’s face, not stopping until he felt himself being lifted up by the belt and tossed like a rag doll across the room.
The older man had entered the room along with Heath and Sugizo after being alerted by Aoi. He saw his youngest son being held down and beaten senseless by the much bigger and stronger Reita and he wasn’t having any of it. He snatched the boy up by his clothing and flung him one-handed with strength that no human possessed. Reita’s blind rage was such that even after he had slammed into the opposite wall and slid down, he came up still ready to fight. Sakurai, having knelt down on one knee beside Ruki, turned to face Reita, his eyes glowing red.
“STOP!” he growled, finger pointing at his older son like he was about to strike him down.
Whether it was the inhuman growl or the red eyes of his dad glaring at him, something broke through the fog and Reita suddenly stopped in his tracks, looking from face to angry face. Then he saw past his dad and spotted little Ruki crumpled on the floor, unconscious and bleeding from his nose and mouth. Looking panicked, Reita suddenly bolted toward the door and took off down the steps.
“Let him go for now,” Sakurai said to his nephews, gently scooping up Ruki and laying him on the nearby platform bed.
“Ruki? Baby, can you hear me?” he asked gently, pushing blonde hair back out of the boy’s face.
“Sugi-chan, please get me a basin of water and a cloth,” Acchan requested.
“Yes, Uncle—right away,” the auburn-haired one said, turning and hurrying to the bathroom.
“Aoi, please go find Uruha and Kai and bring them here,” Sakurai instructed.
“Umm, Dad…I’m…uh…I’m scared of Reita…” Aoi said in a fearful stutter.
Acchan nodded. “Heath, please go with Aoi and see if you can find the older boys.”
“Yes, sir,” he said, taking Aoi’s hand and heading toward the steps.
Once Sugizo had returned with the water and bath cloths, he helped his uncle clean Ruki’s face.
“Wow…he really did a number on the little guy. Wonder what set him off like that?” Sugizo asked.
Sakurai just shook his head. He could already tell that one of Ruki’s eyes was swelling shut and that entire side of the boy’s face was going to be deeply bruised.
“Whatever it was, it didn’t warrant beating a smaller boy like this. There is absolutely no honor in this.”
The small blonde began to groan and move his head around some, the cold water rousing him.
“Ruki-kun, can you hear me? Open your eyes for me,” Acchan said, gently stroking the boy’s face.
“Mmmm…” Ruki groaned. He tried to open his eyes and look up at the owner of the voice, but that one eye wasn’t working right.
With the other though, he looked up at Acchan leaning over him and suddenly the memory of being beaten came flooding back. He whimpered and started squirming, trying to get away.
“Easy, easy…it’s okay, Ruki. It’s dad. You’re safe,” Sakurai whispered, attempting to calm his young son.
“Yes, baby. I’m here.”
“Your face? Yeah, I’m sure it does, but you’re okay.”
Sakurai suddenly looked more concerned. “Can you show me?”
Ruki pointed to the side that Reita had savagely kicked.
“Okay, I’m going to take a look. Bear with me, baby,” Sakurai said, unfastening the belt the boy wore and peeling away the layers of kimono until he reached Ruki’s undergarments. Rolling Ruki onto his side carefully and lifting the han-juban, the older man saw the red marks that were already turning into bruises on the boy’s side and back.
Sugizo watched as Acchan closed his eyes tightly and set his jaw. The man took a deep breath and tried his best to keep calm.
“This might hurt a little okay, but I need to check your ribs. Just bear with me, Doll,” he said, beginning to gently but firmly press on each rib in that area to make sure they didn’t give any. The boy was trying his best to stay still and managed to only flinch a couple of times, groaning softly.
“You’re being so brave,” Sakurai said, smiling warmly at him when he looked up. “I think your ribs are okay—everything seems normal there. You’re going to be sore, but you’ll heal pretty quickly.”
He rolled Ruki onto his back once again and started to fix his kimono, but then stopped.
“Why don’t we just go ahead and put your nightclothes on you and let you rest, okay?”
Ruki nodded slightly and pointed toward his dresser. “Second drawer,” he said softly, reaching up to cradle his deeply bruised cheek.
“Sugi-chan, would you please go get an ice pack from the kitchen? Morihito-san should be around somewhere and she can show you where they are,” Sakurai requested. “He needs something for his face.”
Before very long, Daddy Acchan had his youngest changed and tucked into bed. He sat on a floor pillow next to the platform bed, gently stroking the boy’s soft hair, waiting for Sugizo to return with the ice pack.
Heath and Aoi walked in just then followed by Uruha and Kai.
“We found them, Dad,” Aoi said, coming over to the bed to check on his brother. The others stepped up beside him.
“Oh my god…you weren’t kidding, were you, Aoi?” Kai said quietly, shaking his head and looking up at Uruha.
With a sad, worried look, the younger boy looked at his brothers and shook his head.
“I don’t think I ever want to be left alone with Reita again,” Aoi said.
“How is he, Dad? Anything broken?” Uruha asked, kneeling beside the bed and looking closely at his youngest brother.
“Not that I can tell. He’s severely bruised on his face, side and back, but I don’t believe anything is broken. He’s definitely going to be sore though,” Acchan reported.
“Dad, you remember what we were telling you about Reita being a bully…but I still can’t believe he could do this. I mean yeah, he’s got a temper and some anger issues, but damn…” Kai said.
“Any sign of him downstairs or in the gardens?” their dad asked.
All of them, including Heath, shook their heads ‘no’.
“I need you boys to see if you can find him. You know where he might run to. With clan members disappearing, now is not the time for him to be out there by himself somewhere. I need him home,” Sakurai said, a distinct note of worry in his voice.
“Hi-chan, can you call Hide or Taiji and get one of them to go with you and Sugi to look for Reita? I know one will have to stay with their pups, but maybe one of them will be free? Kai and Uruha need an older adult with them, so we can ask Imai. He’s the best tracker anyway,” Acchan stated.
“Of course, Uncle. Sugi and I will be glad to do whatever we can to help,” Heath said, pulling out his phone and dialing Hide’s number.
As Sugizo picked that moment to walk in carrying an ice pack for Ruki’s face, Heath decided to step out into the hallway to talk to Hide. His dear brother wasn’t the type that you put on speaker.
“Hey Hide, it’s Heath. Not a bad time, is it?”
“Hmm? Oh no, just hanging out with the kiddies, waiting on Tai-chan to get home. What’s up? You ready to take me up on my offer? I’m just dying to get my hands on you again,” Hide replied. Heath could just see the lecherous grin on the redhead’s face.
“You’re not talking like this in front of the pups are you?”
“Hi-chan…Tora and Saga are like 20 years old…they’re men. They know about s-e-x,” he said in a loud whisper.
Heath glanced skyward and shook his head. “Behave yourself, please. I have something serious to talk to you about.”
“I’m very serious about wanting to ravage you. What’s the problem?”
“HIDE. Listen to me, will ya?”
“I need to know if either you or Tai-chan can help us search for Reita. He’s run off and Uncle Acchan is really worried what with Yukihiro missing and all,” Heath informed his older brother.
“Ah, damn. What caused him to take off?”
“Well, he got into a fight with one of the younger boys and hurt him pretty badly. Acchan came after him growling and eyes glowing…flung him across the room…no doubt scared the absolute shit out of him. He took off and no one has seen him since. Now is not the time for him to be roaming the streets alone.”
“Holy hell…I’d run too. Our dear uncle can be terrifying when he wants to be. You remember that time when we were fucking off in the garden…” Hide started but Heath interrupted him.
“Hide…focus. Can you or Taiji help us search?”
“Yeah, of course. I’ll call him and see when he’s gonna be back. One of us will meet up with you guys.”
“Good, thank you. Imai-san, Sugi, me, Uruha, and Kai will be leaving here right away. Call me and I’ll tell you where to meet us.”
“Gotcha. Alright, Tiger…see you in a bit,” Hide replied and couldn’t help but add a little purr before hanging up.
Heath laughed in spite of himself, put his phone back in his pocket and shook his head as he reentered the bedroom to discuss search plans with the others.
Hmmm...things are certainly heating up in more ways than one! Buckle up! ;D
So sorry for the delay in updating! Hope you enjoy! :D
The next evening when the household was awake again, Sugizo and Heath were up looking for their uncle.
“He’s probably in the library working the phone lines. Since we couldn’t find Reita before sunrise, he’s no doubt calling everyone he can think of to have them look out for the boy,” Heath surmised.
“Probably. With Yukihiro and Reita missing now, we’re going to be out searching all night,” Sugizo replied.
“Hopefully, Reita is just holed up somewhere too afraid of Acchan to come home and he’s not in trouble,” the brunette offered. “Yuki is just…I don’t know. I’m not well-acquainted with Morrie-san or Hiro-san, but I feel bad for them,” Heath said, shaking his head.
“Yeah, considering some of what Acchan was telling us about how missing clan members have been done, I couldn’t imagine having a son or grandson missing right now. Speaking of, where the hell is Acchan?” Sugizo asked, the nephews having just looked in the library to no avail.
“Maybe, let’s go see.”
Moving through the house, the two finally reached the sitting room in the newer part of the house and there they finally found their uncle. He was in one of the large recliners, on the phone with his large address book on the table next to him. The two nephews smiled when they saw that he was laid back with Ruki curled up next to him asleep. They waited until he finished his call before speaking.
“Acchan, any news?” Sugizo asked, taking a seat on the couch close by.
Their uncle looked up and just shook his head. “Not a word, but now that it’s dusk we need to go back out again. No word on Yukihiro either, I’m afraid.”
“How’s he doing?” Heath asked, indicating the small blonde attached to his uncle’s side.
“He had a few nightmares last night, so he ended up in bed with me. Poor little pup, he was shaking like a leaf,” Sakurai responded, fondly rubbing the boy’s hair.
“Are you staying here or joining the search?” Sugizo inquired.
“Someone has to stay with Ruki and Aoi, but I really want to get out and help search for Reita and Yuki. Would one of you like to stay here so that I can go?” the older man asked.
“Well sure, we can do that. Which of us do you think the boys would be more comfortable with?” Heath wondered.
“I don’t think it’d matter as long as there’s an adult here. Hey, here’s an idea—ask Hide and Taiji to bring their pups over here and then the both of them can go out and help search,” Sakurai suggested.
Sugizo and Heath exchanged looks.
“Well, I haven’t met Tora and Saga yet, but you know that they most likely won’t be as well behaved as your sons,” Sugizo warned.
“They’ll be fine, I’m sure. We just need to find Reita before anything happens,” Daddy Acchan replied, sounding worried.
Back in their bedroom getting ready for the evening, Sugizo watched Heath putting on his street clothes.
“Is it just me or does Acchan look really good as a dad with a young one?” the auburn-haired man asked, smiling.
“You getting broody? Starting to want one of your own again?” Heath asked.
“I don’t know…I just hate that Acchan never had any biological children of his own. He’s a good dad,” Sugizo replied.
“Is this another excerpt from your ‘Acchan Can Do No Wrong’ book?”
“What? Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Uh huh, well…his time in the military took care of him ever being able to father children. Same for a few of his brothers. But listen, now that we’re back home and when everything calms down…I can’t believe I’m saying this…but if you still want a pup or two, I guess we can do that,” Heath said, watching the smile broaden on his mate’s lips. “Hey, if Hide and Taiji can do it, we’ll have no trouble!”
Sugizo laughed and agreed. “Okay, babe…we’ll talk about it.”
It worked out that Sugizo would be the one to stay and babysit all four young ones while everyone else went out and searched the town over for their missing Reita as well as keeping an eye open for Morrie’s Yukihiro. In addition to hanging out with the pups, Sakurai also asked him to mind the phone, taking calls for him and helping to direct search efforts as much as he was able.
Before anyone had left to start searching, there was a knock at the door which Sugizo answered since he was already close by. Slowly cracking the door open at first, the auburn-haired man peeked through and saw a face he hadn’t seen in so many years.
“Tai-chan?” he asked tentatively of the tall man standing on the doorstep.
“Sugi?! Is that you?” the dark man asked, reaching out and pushing the heavy door open further.
“Tai-chan! Finally!” Sugizo exclaimed and threw his arms around his brother in a big hug.
Taiji readily returned the hug with a wide smile on his face. “Damn, it’s been a long time. How’ve you been?”
“Not bad, just glad to be home after so long. It’s so good to see you!”
Sugizo spotted two young ones standing behind his brother looking a little ill at ease.
“So…I assume these two handsome young men are Tora and Saga that I’ve heard so much about?”
“Yep, this is Saga and this is Tora. Boys, this is my little brother, Sugizo,” Taiji said by way of introductions as the boys bowed to the older man.
“Very nice to finally meet you both! Hide-chan has told me all about you. Welcome,” Sugizo said and stood aside while they all filed inside, the boys looking around like they’d never seen a house quite like this one.
“So where’s the king? Is he fit to be tied?” Taiji asked.
Sugizo raised an eyebrow at him and shook his head slightly. “I assume you’re talking about Uncle Acchan?”
“Well, he’s kinda stressed over Reita being missing, naturally. Other than that he’s been fine. Why? Did you have another run-in with him?”
“Not recently. Anyway, I hope he won’t have anything to say about what the boys are wearing. They don’t have traditional clothes—no need for them,” Taiji answered, looking around like he was waiting for someone to appear.
“He won’t. He’s far too preoccupied with finding his son right now,” Sugizo said and paused. “Acchan really is a good guy you know, Tai-chan. He just has a certain way of running things.”
Taiji huffed at that and shook his head slightly.
“He just expects certain things from people, that’s all. Just like Dad did before him and Grandfather before that. Surely you remember that—you’re older than I am, after all,” the auburn-haired brother said.
“We just don’t see eye to eye sometimes, that’s all. Anyway, no arguing tonight—we’re here to help find the kid. Where are the others?”
“In the library going over a map of the city. You head that way and I’ll take Tora and Saga here to meet the younger boys, okay? It really is good to see you, Tai-chan. Will you come hang out with me and Heath some once things calm down?”
Taiji couldn’t help but smile in spite of himself. He really had missed his little brothers. “Definitely. I’ll introduce you guys to the new entertainment district that’s popped up since you’ve been gone. We’ll have a blast!” he said and then turned to the boys. “You two behave yourselves, okay?” he directed, pointing at each of them in turn.
“Yes sir, we will,” Tora said while Saga nodded.
“They’ll be fine. Come on, let me introduce you to Aoi and Ruki. I think they’re in here playing video games,” Sugizo said, leading the boys along the hallway.
“You guys have video games here?” Tora asked, still looking around like he was touring a museum.
“Well, the boys do. Admittedly, I’m a bit too old to understand them, but they seem to like them,” Sugizo answered, smiling.
“This place is huge,” Saga remarked as they kept moving toward the sitting room. “I’d get so lost.”
“Oh, it’s not too bad once you get used to it. It’s kinda laid out in a crescent shape. You just have to know where in the curve you’re heading,” the older man said with a laugh. “It’s widest and oldest in the middle where the front door is and it gets newer the further away you walk…in either direction,” the older man informed them.
“And you’re Tai-chan’s younger brother right?” Tora asked.
Sugizo nodded and smiled. “Yep, he and your dad—wow, that still sounds weird—are both older than I am. Our other brother, Heath, is going out on the search tonight with them. You need to meet him too.”
Just then they reached the sitting room and found Ruki and Aoi inside, all wrapped up in one of their favorite games. Once introductions were made, all four boys seem to hit it off with each other, much to babysitter Sugizo’s relief.
The evening went well with everyone getting to know each other and finding out how everyone had come to be part of this large, extended family known as their clan.
Just before dawn, Sakurai, Imai, Heath, Hide, Taiji, Uruha, and Kai all came piling back into the house, worn out and downhearted. No one had found a trace of either boy, even with Reita’s brothers checking his usual hang out spots and old friends.
“Nothing. Not a motherfucking trace,” Heath said, sitting down heavily in the kitchen where Sugizo was getting him something to drink. “Acchan is just beside himself and I don’t blame him. The boy’s just vanished.”
The auburn-haired man sat down beside him and rubbed his back. “I know you all tried your best. He’ll turn up soon.”
“Sugi, whoever is doing this is brutal. Clan members have been found in pieces…or just piles of ash. We have to find these boys before anything like that happens to them,” Heath said, sounding exasperated. “And that’s not all. I found out tonight that Acchan and Imai think that whoever is responsible for this…was also connected to Dad’s death.”
“What?! Are you serious?”
“Yeah. Acchan didn’t want to tell us that but Uncle Imai let it slip. Sugi…if that’s true and I catch one or more of these bastards…I’ll rip them apart with my bare hands, I swear!” Heath growled.
“I’ll be right there with you. Catching dad’s killers after all this time would be unreal. We have to get some leads on who’s responsible,” Sugizo replied.
“Agreed. We just have to track them down first. No luck so far,” Heath said dejectedly.
As it was too late for Hide and company to return to their own home, sleeping arrangements were made for the four of them in the main house, but not before Papa Hide inquired about his pups.
“Sugi-chan, please tell me they behaved themselves,” Hide asked, sounding a bit apprehensive.
Sugizo grinned at his brother. “Yes…they were just fine. Hung out with Aoi and Ruki, played games and watched movies and stuff. Seriously, they were no trouble.”
The redhead looked relieved. “Okay, good…I didn’t know if they’d know how to act in a fine house like this. Uncle Acchan doesn’t need any more stress.”
“Well, no he doesn’t, but don’t worry about them. They’re just fine—really nice boys.” He leaned in and whispered, “I’m more concerned about Taiji, to be honest.”
They exchanged looks and then burst out laughing.
“Ummm, yeah…Tai-chan is a little rough around the edges. I can’t see him dealing with Acchan’s house rules for very long,” Hide said, still snickering.
A few hours later, Sakurai’s phone rang and he scrambled to answer it, having lightly dozed off in the recliner. Heath, Sugizo, and Taiji all jumped at the sound from their places on the various couches.
“Yes? Ah, Morrie-san. Any word?” Sakurai asked, returning the chair to its upright position. “You did? Where?! Oh, thank the Maker. Yes. How is he? Mmmm…okay, well… Yes. Yes, it could’ve been much worse. At dusk, yes. We’ll be waiting. Thank you so much, Morrie-san. Sayonara.”
“Uncle Acchan?” Sugizo asked cautiously. “News?”
Sakurai was sitting with his eyes closed, taking a couple of deep breaths as though he were trying to calm himself. Finally, he opened his eyes and looked over at his nephews.
“That was Morrie-san, as you no doubt heard. A couple of his men found Reita…he’s been roughed up and they were barely able to snatch him out of the sun before it was too late, so he’s going to need some care. They’re having to hide out until dusk as they weren’t able to make it home, but they’ll bring him here just as soon as they can travel,” Acchan reported. He sat back in the recliner and sighed a deep, relieved sigh.
“Did Morrie-san say where they found him?” Taiji asked.
“On the beach,” Sakurai replied.
“The beach? That’s miles and miles from here. What in the fuckin’ hell was he doing there?” Taiji wanted to know.
“Considering the state he’s in, he was no doubt taken there by whoever was intent on doing him in. The same ones that’ve been taking out the various clan members for years now, we think. Hopefully we can get some leads from this, but I’m just so happy that Reita will be okay. Still no word yet on Yukihiro, though,” Acchan said, shaking his head.
Sakurai didn’t even bother going to bed after that—he knew trying to sleep would be futile. He stayed up making calls, collecting information and trying to piece together some leads on who was responsible for the destruction of so many banpaia over the last decade or so. The numbers were really adding up once the missing were factored in. Sakurai, Morrie, and Issay even talked about possibly calling a formal council meeting. That hadn’t been done in recent memory—not since the war, anyway.
Daddy Acchan also kept a close eye on the recovering Ruki who was improving, but was still shaky and sore. The swelling around his eye had gone down some, though the eye was bloodshot and the entire side of his face was still bruised. The nightmares had mostly subsided though, something that all of them were thankful for.
As it was getting close to dusk, the household started waking. Everyone was anxious to see Reita when he was brought back by Morrie’s men.
“Where are they?” Kai asked, looking at the clock and peeking through the window from behind the blackout shade.
“They’ll be here,” Acchan said from his armchair. “They have to make it from wherever they hid out and with Reita injured, I’m sure they can’t move very quickly.”
“Damn long ass days. Give me winter anytime when it gets dark by 18:00,” Imai groused and Taiji nodded.
The group didn’t have too much longer to wait however before the door chime sounded and one of the servants went to get the door. Sakurai followed with Imai close behind, ready to greet the visitors from Morrie’s clan and get their missing son back. All four nephews followed toward the door, keeping a proper distance between them and their elders. The kids were told to stay back, quiet, and out of the way. They would get their chance to see Reita very soon.
Once the door was opened, however, it was clear that the little party was not just a few of Morrie’s sons or grandsons. Morrie himself stood in the doorway. Sakurai immediately bowed deeply with Imai, Sugizo, Heath, Hide, and Taiji following suit.
Though not as tall and broad as Sakurai, Morrie was still quite formidable-looking. Older than Acchan or Imai by many years, the head of this ally clan stood there in his expensive, embroidered black robes, his large, impossibly dark eyes looking over the representatives of the other clan. He was pale, of course, with cheekbones so sharp they could undoubtedly cut glass. His black and gray hair fell just past his shoulders.
“Morrie-san, I didn’t expect to see you personally. Please, come in,” Sakurai said, standing aside to allow the older man and his companions to enter the house.
“Sakurai-san, good to see you. I wanted to make sure your son was returned to you safely, so I had my driver pick up the boys just as soon as it was feasible,” Morrie said. “Have you met my sons Hyde, Toshiya, and Die? And this is my driver, Koki.”
Acchan nodded his head slightly. “Yes, but it’s been quite a while. Gentlemen, welcome,” he said, bowing to them and then stepping over to get a better look at Reita who was currently being cradled in Toshiya’s strong arms.
“He’s going to need to recuperate, but I think he’s basically okay. He’s just weak right now,” Morrie said.
Sakurai nodded and then took the boy into his own arms, holding him close. “Got yourself into a fix, didn’t you, young one?” he whispered and then placed a kiss on Reita’s forehead.
He looked up at the assembled group in the entrance hallway and gave them a sad smile. “Thank you all so much for bringing him home. We’ve been so worried.”
Imai, who had remained silent to this point, spoke up. “Yes, thank you. We owe you a large debt for saving him.”
Morrie waved his hand in the air as if to dismiss what Imai had said. “Nonsense. You owe us nothing. I know if the situation were reversed, you’d do the same thing,” he said.
“Absolutely,” Sakurai started. “I’m going to go put him to bed and I’ll rejoin you all in just a little while. Imai, please make our guests welcome in the formal sitting room. Sugizo and Heath, please get tea for everyone,” he said, turning and heading for the stairs, still cradling his injured son in his arms.
On the way up the stairs, Reita sensed that it was his dad who held him now. He grasped hold of Sakurai’s haori.
“Dad?” he barely managed to say.
“Yes, son…it’s me. You’re going to be just fine. You’re home now,” Acchan whispered, continuing on his way to Reita’s bedroom.
“I’m so sorry,” the boy said hoarsely.
“Shhhh, don’t talk. There’s time for all that later. Let’s just get you in your own bed where you can rest.”
Once Reita was lying down and Acchan was helping him change into his nightclothes, he looked up at his dad with tears in his eyes. Finally being back home was causing the realization of everything to hit him. He had almost met his end and he knew it—all because he couldn’t control his temper.
“All my fault,” he choked out, the tears streaming down his cheeks.
“Shhh…just rest. I’m so happy you’re home and that you’re going to be okay. Everything else can be worked on, okay?” Sakurai said, inspecting some of the cuts and burns on his boy’s face and body.
“Sorry to intrude, but I thought you might need some help,” Sugizo said from the doorway. “May I come in?”
Acchan nodded. “Yes, I need to clean these cuts and put something on the burns.”
Sugizo grimaced when he saw the damage. “Mmmm, that looks painful. Where do you keep your medical supplies?”
Sakurai told him and together they bandaged Reita up and stayed with him until he fell asleep. Leaving his nephew to look after the boy, Sakurai hurried back downstairs to speak with his visitors.
“So sorry to keep you, Morrie-san. Thank you for waiting.”
“It’s no trouble. My sons and I have been getting reacquainted with Ichiro’s sons and meeting most of your brood. How is Reita?” Morrie asked.
“Asleep. Sugi-san is staying with him at the moment. Again, I don’t know how to properly thank you all for saving him,” Acchan said, looking mainly at Hyde, Toshiya, and Die.
“It was a close thing—we were just telling everyone. If he hadn’t kept calling out like he did, we wouldn’t have found him in time. As it was, he got burned on his face, arms, and hands, but it would’ve been too late in another five minutes or so,” Die reported.
“So he was actually on the beach when you found him?” Acchan asked.
“Not just on the beach. Tied up and staked out, staring into the rising sun,” Hyde responded.
All of Reita’s family winced at that remark, no doubt imagining the scene.
“We want to go back down there tonight and have a good look around. Didn’t have time after we grabbed Reita--the sun was up. But it’s not a busy stretch of beach—it’s not near one of the resorts—so hopefully there’ll be some evidence still around,” Die said.
“I’ll be glad to send some of my boys with you to search. Maybe we can find something to tell us who’s doing this,” Acchan said to Morrie.
“So nothing yet concerning Yuki?” Hide asked, sounding sympathetic.
Morrie just sighed heavily and shook his head. “He’s just vanished.”
Many of the men in the room lowered their heads at that. They knew that the longer he was missing, the less chance they had of getting him back.
“Come on…it’s okay, I promise. See? He and Dad are friends,” Aoi said from the doorway, trying to persuade a reticent Ruki to come in and meet everyone. It seems that the sight of Morrie had spooked the young one.
Sakurai turned and saw the boy holding onto the doorframe, looking timid.
“Ruki…come here, son.”
The small blonde looked at his dad and then looked over at his uncles all sitting there and decided to trust Aoi’s judgement. He slowly padded over to the side of Acchan’s chair, keeping a close eye on the strangers that sat nearby.
Hyde smiled at him and asked Acchan, “Who’s the pup?”
“This is my youngest son, Ruki,” the older man responded, to which Ruki shyly waved at everyone.
“What happened to your face, little one?” Hyde asked, leaning forward in his seat.
Ruki reached up and covered the side of his face with his hand, looking at his dad.
“Reita. This is the fight that caused Reita to bolt from the house and led to him getting grabbed,” Acchan replied. “But he’s healing well.”
“Wow…Reita’s too big to be fighting with him, isn’t he?” Toshiya asked and then looked at the blonde. “How old are you, Ruki?”
“Nineteen. I’m just small.”
“Listen, there’s nothing wrong with being small,” Hyde said. “And I should know.”
He stood up and stepped over in front of Ruki so that the blonde could see that he was only two or three inches taller.
“Hey! You’re my size!” Ruki said, the surprise clearly evident on his face. “I thought I was the only runt!”
Die and Toshiya couldn’t help but laugh though they made a valiant effort.
Ruki looked confused. “What’s so funny?”
Toshiya managed to quit giggling long enough to tell him. “Nobody gets away with calling Haido a runt. Kyo either, for that matter--that’s our brother--but it seems you’re allowed.”
“Learn that the hard way, did ya?” Uruha asked, bemused.
“Yup, sure did. Haido here climbed me like a tree and beat me in the face,” Toshiya replied, shaking his head.
“And Kyo has done pretty much the same thing to me. Mean little badger when he’s riled,” Die said, chuckling. “And you can’t get them off of you either. Like a possessed backpack with teeth…”
All of the boys had a laugh at that, but it gave Sakurai an idea.
“That actually makes a good point. Haido-san, what would you say to teaching little Ruki here some defense techniques once he’s healed? You and maybe Kyo as well would be the perfect ones to do it.”
“Yeah, sure. I’d be glad to,” Hyde replied to Acchan. “Would you like that?” he asked, turning to Ruki.
Ruki gave a little smile and nodded. “That would be great, thank you.”
The blonde could tell that even though Hyde was close to his size, he was much older and seemed quite sure of himself. That self-confidence was something that Ruki envied.
Once he and Aoi had left the room, Morrie gave Sakurai a serious look.
“Sakurai-san, are you certain he’s nineteen? He looks and acts much younger. I know you wouldn’t turn a child…”
That was one of the hard and fast rules of their clans—you never turn a child unless there is absolutely no choice and you need to save them. Though sometimes, it was thought that it was better to let them die than to subject them to life as an eternal child.
Sakurai raised an eyebrow at the older man and paused a few moments before answering.
“Yes, I’m certain and no, I wouldn’t turn a child. Surely you know me better than that, Morrie-san.”
He turned and looked back to make sure that Ruki wasn’t somewhere behind him listening.
“He has some emotional problems that stem from his difficult childhood. I think he tends to act more childlike when he feels he needs more attention or as a defense mechanism. He had to survive by his wits for quite a while out on the streets, so I think he just went with what worked. He told me that people were kinder to him when they thought he was a child, so he pretended to be one.”
Morrie nodded. “I see. Forgive the question, Sakurai-san—I didn’t mean to accuse you of anything. I’m just stressed.”
“Don’t give it a second thought. I know you and your family are quite worried about Yukihiro-san. Again, if there’s anything my family can do to help, don’t hesitate to ask,” Sakurai replied.
They all sat together and talked for quite a while longer, discussing what they needed to do to try and keep their clans safe.
Heath made his way up the stairs to Reita’s room after letting Sakurai know that he was going up to see if Sugizo needed any help. Standing in the doorway, he watched as his mate slowly stroked the boy’s hair back, very quietly whispering to him even though it was obvious that Reita was fast asleep.
Heath knocked very lightly on the doorframe just to let Sugizo know that he was there.
“He doing okay?”
Sugizo waved for him to come over closer. “Yeah, seems to be. He’s completely worn out and no doubt in some pain due to the burns, but I think he’ll be okay.” He paused when Reita shifted in his sleep and groaned quietly.
“Morrie and his sons still here?”
“Yeah, they’re all having a big discussion still. I just wanted to come up and see if you needed any help with him or if you needed anything,” Heath answered, reaching over and rubbing his mate’s back with one hand.
“No, I’m okay. I just don’t want him to wake up alone and I know Acchan needs to talk to Morrie-san,” Sugizo answered, smiling at Heath as he continued to lightly stroke Reita’s hair.
Heath couldn’t help but smile at how caring and gentle his mate was when the situation called for it. He also knew what a formidable fighter he could be having seen the auburn-haired man literally take an attacker apart more than once when the two of them had been threatened and cornered. But this was the Sugizo that he had fallen in love with—the handsome, gentle, intelligent man that was sitting on a floor cushion taking care of a kid he hardly knew.
‘Yeah, he needs a son of his own,’ Heath thought as he watched. ‘Now might not be the right time with everything going on, but it needs to happen.’
After another half hour or so, Acchan finally appeared in the doorway after having shown his guests out. He was anxious to find out about his boy.
“How is he?” he asked as he knelt beside Reita’s bed, his face showing his obvious concern.
“He’s been asleep since you left earlier. He’s clearly exhausted,” Sugizo reported.
“Well, at least he’s able to sleep and pain isn’t keeping him awake. Those burns must hurt,” Sakurai replied, leaning in to look closely at the facial wounds.
“No doubt. Even with our healing ability, it’s going to take a bit before he’s 100% again,” Heath added, getting nods from both his uncle and his mate.
The head of the clan looked up at his two nephews who were huddled together on the other side of the bed and smiled. “Why don’t you two go and have some tea or something? I’ll stay with Rei-chan.”
“Are you sure? We don’t mind. You need some rest yourself,” Sugizo asked, knowing that his uncle hadn’t slept much lately.
Sakurai just nodded. “I’m sure. I don’t have a mate to look after but I do have several sons and this one here needs me right now. I’ll rest later.”
“Well…okay. But if you need us later please just ask, okay?” the auburn-haired man responded, slowly getting up. Heath followed and after giving their uncle a smile and a nod, they headed for the stairs.
“Okay, you’re right,” Heath said once they reached the kitchen.
“I am? I mean of course I am, but what am I right about this time?” Sugizo asked with a cheeky grin.
“That Acchan is a good dad.”
Sugizo nodded and smiled. “Toldja.”
“Well, I pretty much knew that anyway. I mean, he used to take care of us when we were pups so many moons ago and I’ve seen him with all of his kids…but just lately with first Ruki and now Reita…” Heath replied.
“I know. I hope that someday I can be like that,” the auburn-haired man said softly.
“Oh you will be, love—I have absolutely no doubt,” Heath responded as he slipped his arms around the man’s slim waist. Leaning in, he gently captured his mate’s lips in a soft, sweet kiss. That kiss led to another and then another until the tea they had initially been after was completely forgotten. Hands started roaming and soft moans were coming from the longtime couple as they lost themselves in each other.
Eventually, a gasp and a soft giggle from somewhere in the room gave them pause and Sugizo looked over Heath’s shoulder to see Ruki standing there with his hand over his mouth, laughter in his eyes. Beside him were Aoi and Kai. The back row was made up of Saga, Uruha, and Imai. All with goofy grins plastered on their faces.
“What the hell, gentlemen? Giving the boys a free show? You have a room, ya know,” Imai said while shaking his head slightly, but smiling.
Sugizo and Heath were both blushing hard as they turned to leave, hand in hand.
“Sorry, Uncle,” Heath said as they quickly headed for the door to their bedroom.
Imai’s voice could be heard from the kitchen as they made their way down the hall. “Okay, boys…my advice to you all is to stay away from that end of the hallway for a while. Those two can be loud.” Lots of laughter followed.
“Oh my god…” Sugizo said as they entered their room and closed the door, his cheeks still red.
“Couldn’t be helped. You’re just too hot,” Heath replied, starting to take off his kimono.
“But in front of the boys,” Sugizo replied, grinning.
“Listen, like Hide said—they’re men. They know about S-E-X. Now get your pretty ass over here so I can help you get naked.”
In no time at all, Sugizo was stripped bare and on his back on the bed, feeling the weight of his equally nude mate on him, their long legs intertwining. Heath had grasped both of his wrists into one hand and was now pinning his arms above his head while kissing him hard enough to take Sugizo’s breath.
As long as they had been together, they knew each other’s bodies as well as they knew their own, so knowing how to rev the other’s engine was second nature. Once when Sugizo had asked Heath how it was that he was able to turn him into a panting, moaning, shivering mass of nerves time and time again, Heath had just patted his mate on the cheek and smugly said, “Oh baby, I worked out the combination to your safe looong ago”. And so it was.
Right now, Heath was working those tumblers as expertly as ever, biting and sucking on Sugizo’s neck and collarbone, rolling his hips into his mate before he had even entered him. The auburn-haired man ran his fingernails down Heath’s spine, digging in just a bit when he reached the small of his back. Both of them were hard and leaking as the delicious friction they were creating with their hips drove their desire through the roof. Sugizo disentangled his legs and brought them up to hold Heath by the hips, moaning in want.
“What is it you need, baby?” Heath responded, holding his position. “Beg me.”
“Need you…now. Please, Heath,” Sugizo panted.
“You can do better than that,” the dark man said with a lusty tone, grinding into his mate again.
“Nnnnnngh…Heath…please! I need you inside me,” the auburn-haired man panted.
Heath smiled wickedly down at his partner. “That’s better,” he whispered and leaned over to grab the bottle of lube from the top drawer of the bedside table.
Taking a moment to slick them both up and prepare the man under him just a bit, Heath then positioned himself just right and began to push slowly into his mate’s tight heat.
As his mate’s cock slid into him, agonizingly slow to Sugizo’s mind, he moaned and pulled at Heath’s hips with his legs, trying to get more of him.
Heath just grinned. “Someone’s eager,” he whispered but then complied as he pushed in fully in one stroke. He took a moment to allow them both to settle and then he set up a strong rhythm, pulling moans from both of them that only increased in volume as the intensity increased.
Their rocking hips caused the headboard to hit the wall behind them again and again, but the couple was oblivious to the noise they were making as they just enjoyed each other’s bodies.
The dark-haired man didn’t want this to end too quickly, so when he felt himself getting close he slowed down and then pulled Sugizo’s legs down from his hips.
“Mmm, don’t stop now,” Heath’s mate whined.
“Turn over, Love,” he replied, pulling out completely and coaxing his lover to turn over and get on hands and knees.
As soon as Sugizo was in position, Heath slammed into him again, adjusting the angle so that he was hitting that pleasure center deep inside his mate with nearly every stroke. It didn’t take long from that point for them both to reach their release, Heath gritting his teeth to hold it together long enough to allow his lover to come first and he followed almost immediately after.
Collapsing into a heap, it took a few minutes for their breathing to return to normal. After cleaning themselves up, the two lovers snuggled together for quite a while, kissing and caressing each other like they always did. Before long, both were fast asleep.
Sometime later, after their nap, Heath and Sugizo made their way into the kitchen to get that tea that they had totally forgotten about earlier. Still snuggled together, they stood leaned against the counter while they sipped their tea and kissed and nipped at each other playfully.
It barely registered in their heads when others entered the kitchen, but they were quickly brought out of their own little bubble when Ruki spoke up.
“You know, Uncle Imai is right—you two are loud!”
“Ruki!” Aoi exclaimed quietly by way of reprimand.
“What?! They are!” the small blonde replied with a laugh.
Sakurai’s phone rang one evening not too long after Reita had been
“Yes, this is Sakurai. Who’s calling?”
“Sakurai-san, this is Die—Morrie-san’s son,” the voice said.
“Oh yes, Die-san. What can I do for you?”
The man on the other end of the line sighed. “Morrie-san asked me to call and let you know that the search for Yukihiro has ended.”
“Oh? You found him then?” Acchan asked, sounding hopeful.
“No, we didn’t find him,” the man continued when he was able. “Sakurai-san, a box was delivered to the estate this afternoon. It contained the jewelry that Yuki was wearing when he disappeared along with a lock of his hair. There was also a lot of ash and what appears to be…his right ear. All signs lead us to believe that Yukihiro is no more.”
Sakurai closed his eyes and groaned.
“Oh no…I was so hoping he’d be found. Dammit,” he said and paused. “How are Morrie-san and Hiro-san?”
“Well, about like you’d expect. Shocked, upset, angry…there’s going to be hell to pay when these lowlifes are finally caught,” Die said.
“You better believe that. Imai-san and I think these are the same ones that are responsible for our brother Ichiro’s death. When we finally do catch them…we will finish them. All of them,” Sakurai replied, his voice low and menacing.
Acchan ended the call after letting Die know that he and his clan were available to help with anything that Morrie deemed necessary and asked him to please convey the family’s condolences on their loss. Still sitting behind his desk, Sakurai took his glasses off and held his head in his hands.
‘So grateful that Reita was found in time. That could easily have been him in that box. This has got to stop!’ he thought. ‘Now I have to figure out how to tell everyone.’
He got up from his desk and left the library, dreading the upcoming conversation. He decided that he needed to talk to his brother before getting into things with the nephews and boys, so he headed toward the back door.
As he got closer to Imai’s little house, he heard the sounds of an acoustic guitar coming from inside. It stopped abruptly when he knocked on the door.
“Coming!” Imai called and then opened the door a few moments later.
“Acchan, you really don’t have to knock, ya know. Come in,” Sakurai’s older brother said, standing aside to let him pass. “What brings you down from the big house? Too many people up there?” he said with a chuckle, but stopped when he caught sight of his brother’s expression.
“What’s wrong? Acchan?” Imai asked, putting a hand on the other man’s arm.
Sakurai sighed and sat down heavily on the couch. He shook his head and looked as if he were summoning the energy to talk. Knowing that it couldn’t be good news, Imai sat on the edge of the nearby chair and waited for his brother to speak.
“Morrie’s son Die called just a bit ago. It seems that the search for Yukihiro is over,” Acchan said quietly.
“I’m guessing by your tone that he didn’t come home happy and healthy.”
Sakurai shook his head. “Came home in a box…what was left of him.”
“Fuck…” Imai spat and stood up immediately, heading over to where he kept the alcohol. “Not another one,” he said while pouring two large drinks.
Sakurai didn’t say anything else right away. Imai handed him a glass and sat back down on the chair.
“I didn’t know Yuki personally—how old was he?” Imai asked.
“Umm, I believe Morrie said his full age was about fifty or so. Been part of the clan for twenty years.”
“Oh? So he wasn’t a young one like I thought then. Damn…that makes things even more worrisome.”
“How so?” Sakurai asked.
“Well, if it was mainly young, inexperienced kids like Reita and the boys, that’d be one thing. But for these assholes to capture and destroy older, skilled banpaia…that’s kinda scary,” Imai answered.
Acchan nodded. “I can’t let the boys go out anymore—even in a big group. Every one of them will have to have an adult with them like a bodyguard.”
“Oh fuck…” Imai mumbled but said no more. He sat there with his drink in his hand looking lost in thought for several moments.
“Imai?” Acchan asked.
“Sakurai…how did the assholes know which clan Yuki was part of? And if they sent him home in a box, how did they know what address to send it to? Someone in that group of vigilantes has inside information,” the older brother answered, looking anxious.
“Good questions. Maybe they tortured Yuki into telling them?”
“Maybe…but a fifty-year old banpaia wouldn’t break that easily. No, I’m betting they saw Yuki’s tattoo and knew which clan it signified. What’s scary is that they know where Morrie’s clan’s base is.” He paused and looked right in his brother’s eyes. “And if they know that, then they may know where you and your family lives, Acchan.”
Sakurai sighed and nodded slightly. “I’ve wondered how much they know. And Imai…if it is the same ones that took out Ichiro…they’re not amateurs. I think we need to have a clan council meeting and soon.”
“Agreed. You, Morrie, and Issay need to get together and make some contingency plans. The sooner the better.”
“Will you come with me up to the house to talk to everyone? Even though none of us knew Yuki, it’s still going to be difficult news to take,” Sakurai asked, still dreading telling the family.
Imai nodded. He enjoyed being needed by his kid brother, even if that kid brother was now head of the clan.
“Of course. Why don’t we get Taiji, Hide, and the boys over and tell them at the same time? They’re actually more at risk than we are,” Imai reasoned.
“Need to call Teru, Hisashi, and Takuro also. I have to keep all my sons safe—not just the ones under my roof.”
Imai nodded. “What about our brothers? I talked to U-ta about a week ago. We need to let them know what’s going on too.”
“We will. They’ll need to be part of the council,” Sakurai said.
A couple of hours later, Sakurai stood at one end of the large sitting room looking out over the faces of his brother, four of his nephews, two grandnephews, and eight of his sons.
Raising his hands to quiet everyone down, he began to share the troubling news.
“I know this isn’t nearly the entire family, but this is everyone we could pull together on such short notice. Imai and I will be contacting our brothers Toll, U-ta, Hiko and their families right away. Also, I am going to be calling Morrie-san and Issay-san after this meeting to talk about scheduling a Clan Council.”
That last remark got the older ones looking at each other and making surprised comments. The boys looked confused until Sugizo spoke up.
“It’s a big official meeting of the clans called for emergency situations. If it happens, it’ll be the first one in about seventy years,” the auburn-haired man said. “During the second world war.”
“Holy shit. Does anyone remember the last one?” Aoi asked.
“Morrie and Issay probably do. Our family is the youngest of the three, you know,” Imai responded. “A lot of us were turned during the war years. Acchan and I wouldn’t remember it. Toll might though.”
“We’re getting sidetracked. I called everyone together to share some sad, worrying news and to decide how we, as a family, are going to handle it. It’s about Yukihiro…” Sakurai said and continued to relay everything to the assembled group, watching their reactions.
Reita, as expected, got rather upset after finding out what fate met Yuki and knowing that he came very, very close to that same fate.
“That was almost me,” he said in a low voice, running a finger along the still-healing burns on his hand and arm. “I know how bad this hurt…I can’t imagine the pain that poor Yuki went through,” he added, a couple of tears staining his cheeks.
From their place on the floor, Ruki and Aoi leaned into each other for comfort, Aoi holding the smaller one close.
Taiji hammered his knee with his fist and shook his head. “Dammit…I was so hoping we could find him before this happened. Sakurai, this has got to stop!”
“Agreed!” Heath exclaimed, looking at his brothers.
“That’s why I’m calling a Clan Council. We have to be vigilant though. Yuki was not a kid and neither were many of the others who’ve been taken. So boys,” he started, looking particularly at his young sons, “I don’t want any of you going out without an adult. I don’t care if there are three or four of you together, you must have adults along. Going out to feed will have to be carefully planned.”
“Uncle, we can always make arrangements. We don’t want the kids going out any more than can be helped,” Sugizo offered.
“Yeah…we’ll arrange some ‘delivery’,” Hide said, making air quotes with his fingers. “I usually bring some take-out back for Saga and Tora here. Been too worried to let them go out and hunt.”
Sakurai nodded at that. “And no running off, regardless of the reason,” he said, looking specifically at Reita. He didn’t have to mention him by name. Everyone knew who he was directing that comment to. Reita knew too—he could feel everyone’s eyes upon him. He didn’t look up at his dad, he just lowered his head a little more and nodded.
A huff was heard coming from the direction of Taiji. Under normal circumstances, Sakurai probably would’ve just let it go, but these circumstances weren’t normal and he was already on edge.
“Yes, Taiji? Did you have something you wanted to say?” Sakurai asked, the annoyance evident in his voice.
“It wouldn’t make any difference,” Taiji answered slowly, looking at his uncle with what could only be called an accusatory look.
Hide reached over and tapped his brother’s leg, shaking his head slightly and giving him a ‘not now’ stare. Sakurai picked up on it immediately.
“No, Hide-chan…if Tai-chan here has something to say, let’s hear it,” the head of the clan said.
“Okay, well…the boy probably wouldn’t have run off if you hadn’t gone
all werewolf on him, growling and throwing him across the room. Was that really necessary?” Taiji asked, nailing Sakurai with a steely look, not caring about the man’s title.
It flew all over Sakurai that his roughneck nephew was the one accusing him and questioning his parenting and doing it in front of nearly the entire family.
“Excuse me but I don’t believe you were even there. How is it you think you know so much about the situation?” Sakurai answered back, not backing down an inch.
“I know what happened and it’s not the first time you’ve done something like that in defense of your ‘pets’,” Taiji shot back.
When Heath saw the veins standing out in Sakurai’s neck, he decided it was time to get everyone else—particularly the young boys—out of the room. This was going to get ugly.
Hide seemed to have had the same thought at the same time and he quietly started herding the kids toward the door, trying to stay out of the line of fire.
“’Pets’? I don’t have ‘pets’, Taiji. I was trying to keep a much smaller and weaker boy from getting seriously injured by a bigger and stronger one,” Sakurai responded, his volume getting louder.
“Oh come on, Ruki and Aoi are your current pets and you know it. Before that it was Hisashi. Before that it was Sugizo and Heath. You play favorites, Acchan, whether you’re willing to admit it or not!” Taiji exclaimed standing and almost getting in his uncle’s face.
“That’s a load of horse shit,” Sakurai answered, still getting louder.
Out in the hallway, Hide quietly instructed Teru and Hisashi to take the boys down to another part of the house. The nephews and Uncle Imai stayed close by in case this currently verbal altercation became physical.
“The hell it is! You’re more protective over your little ‘pets’ and always have been. You wouldn’t have thrown Aoi or Ruki across a room like that! You were too rough with Reita, Acchan,” Taiji stated rather loudly. “And since he’s been hurt, have you spent as much time with him as you have Ruki? No, of course not.”
“Yes, I fucking have! I love all of my sons equally, Taiji. I’m sorry you think differently, but it’s not really any of your damn business after all! And I don’t think I was too rough with him at all. Reita was in an angry haze and wasn’t going to respond to anything but force. You should understand that well, shouldn’t you? You were somewhat of an angry bully yourself once upon a time!”
“At least I didn’t cheat my older brother out of his birthright!” Taiji shot back, still looming quite close to his uncle who for his part showed no signs of backing down either.
“What?! What the hell are you talking about now?!” Sakurai asked, a puzzled but furious look on his face.
“I’m talking about Uncle Toll. He should be head of the clan now and everybody knows it! At least you didn’t kill him off to take his place after Uncle Ichiro died, but you ran him off, didn’t you? Didn’t you?!”
Sakurai was utterly dumbfounded. He had never been accused of usurping his brother before and he really couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“Oh, nothing to say, huh? What did you offer him to leave and let you be elected head? We all knew it wasn’t going to be Uncle Imai and we understood why, but I can’t believe father would just skip over Uncle Toll like that so it had to be you and your power-hungry ass. How does Hiko and U-Ta feel about it? Is that why they left too? Did you threaten them as well?!” Taiji was yelling and gesturing wildly with his arms, clearly airing some resentment he had had building in his chest for a long time.
Sakurai’s was getting more and more angry with every accusation. By now, his eyes were turning red and his banpaia nature was beginning to show as he loomed toward his nephew, snarling.
“I’m not afraid of you, old man. I’m the only one with the balls to call you out on this, that’s why you’re mad,” Taiji spat back.
“Maybe you should be afraid, you little punk,” Sakurai growled in an inhuman voice. “How dare you accuse me?!”
Imai, Hide, and the others in the hallway heard the loud growl and started to move into the room just as Taiji made his worst mistake.
He stood toe to toe with Sakurai and yelled “It wouldn’t surprise me if you were involved in dad’s death!”
That was it. Something in the older banpaia snapped and Sakurai snatched Taiji up by the neck, lifting him off his feet and moving forward far enough to slam the man’s body into the wall. He was in full vamp mode as he leaned in to Taiji’s ear, growling with fangs showing, and said, “I will end you!”
Just then, Imai and Hide reached them and tried to pull Sakurai off of Taiji before it was too late.
“Acchan! Stop!” Imai yelled, getting an arm in between the two and using all of his strength to push his younger brother back. “Acchan, listen to me! You need to stop!”
With two pulling Sakurai and two pulling Taiji, they finally separated them, but Acchan was still fit to be tied. “Let me go!” he growled, still fighting to get his hands back on Taiji’s throat.
“Get him outta here,” Imai yelled to Heath and Takuro who were currently restraining Taiji. It was a struggle, but they managed to drag the man out into the hallway and out of Sakurai’s sight.
When the growling and struggling continued, Imai turned loose with one hand and backhanded Sakurai hard across the face, trying to break him out of the state he’d gotten into. It didn’t work. If anything, it just made him madder.
Sugizo suddenly got an idea and he moved quickly over to where Imai and Hide were fighting a losing battle. He stepped right up to Sakurai and placed a hand on either side of his face, trying to get him to look him in the eyes.
“Sugi, be careful!” Hide said, thinking his brother was crazy.
“He won’t hurt me,” Sugizo said as calmly as he could. He just hoped that he was right. “Acchan…it’s Sugi…calm down for me, okay?”
Imai wasn’t convinced. “He’s out of his mind right now, boy—step back!”
Sugizo wouldn’t be deterred. “Acchan, you know who I am, don’t you? You wouldn’t hurt me, would you? No, of course you wouldn’t,” he said, continuing to caress his uncle’s face.
To their surprise, Sakurai did start to calm down and his breathing went from panting to more human-sounding gasps. His muscles started relaxing a bit too.
Once Sugizo saw Acchan’s red eyes focus on him and he saw recognition there, he closed the distance between them, slipping his arms around Sakurai’s waist and laid his head against the man’s chest. “That’s it, calm down for me now…nobody believes what Taiji said. Nobody. Just be calm, okay?” he cooed, nuzzling into the man’s neck.
Finally, Sakurai had reverted to his normal human appearance and his muscles relaxed to the point that Hide and Imai had to sit him in an armchair to keep him off the floor. Sugizo stayed right with him, sitting across his lap, being a calming influence while the man regained his senses.
Once he felt like it was safe, Imai left his brother with Hide and Sugizo and went to find where the others had dragged Taiji off to. He had a bone to pick with his loudmouthed nephew.
Finding them in the formal sitting room, Imai entered and saw Heath and Takuro literally sitting on Taiji.
“He still fighting you?” Imai asked, looking down at Heath who was perched on Taiji, holding the man’s arms down.
“He’s about out of gas now, I think,” Heath said. “How’s Acchan?”
Imai shook his head and ran his hands through his hair. “He’s finally coming back to himself at last. Thank the maker for Sugizo—he was the only one who could get through to him.”
At the mention of his mate, Heath’s eyes opened wider. “He’s okay, isn’t he?”
Imai nodded reassuringly. “Oh yeah. Sugi is a brave one, that’s for sure.”
He turned to look down at Taiji’s face. “And you…you’re a fucking idiot, do you know that?! You’re lucky to be in one piece right now! You think you’re so tough and maybe you are to most people, but let me tell you right now…Acchan could destroy you! You need to learn your place, boy!” Imai was getting himself worked up so he stepped over and poured himself a large drink since the liquor cabinet was right there. While he was pouring, he looked over at Takuro.
“Where are the kids?” he asked.
“They herded them all upstairs just in case the fight spread across the house. Reita wanted to stay and defend dad, but Teru wouldn’t hear it and pushed them all up the steps. Hisashi was down here a few minutes ago and said all the boys were fine, just on edge,” Takuro replied.
Imai nodded, took a long sip, and then headed back over to berate his nephew some more.
“And all those things you said? Complete and total horse shit, just like Acchan said. I don’t know where you got such hair brained ideas, but you’re full of shit, you hear me? First and foremost, my brother and I loved Ichiro more than you can even imagine. He was more like a father to us than Hideaki was, so the very insinuation that Acchan had anything to do with his death makes me want to kick you right in the teeth! We were devastated when he died…how can you even…” he trailed off, feeling the anger rising to a dangerous level in himself again.
Once he’d taken a few breaths and another few sips of whiskey, he started again. “And Toll? For your information, you fucking idiot, Toll was offered the chance to take over for Ichiro and he turned it down! He didn’t want the job—said he was a better follower than a leader…that he didn’t want the responsibility of the whole clan on his head…that he wanted to take care of U-Ta and his sons. I couldn’t do the job because my brains are a bit scrambled, so it then fell to Acchan who reluctantly accepted. He was an officer in the war, so he had the leadership experience.”
Imai stopped and paced the floor for a minute. “My brother Acchan is one of the finest men I’ve ever known and I’ve known him since before Hideaki turned us, so it’s been a looong damn time. I don’t know where you got your ideas, but your punk ass better go apologize to him and ask forgiveness or you can forget about calling me ‘uncle’ anymore. I don’t want to see your ugly face again if you don’t go and make peace with him, got it?!”
With that, the older man turned and stomped out of the room, heading back to make sure that his brother was okay. Heath looked down into Taiji’s face and shook his head.
“My dear brother…you are a loudmouthed idiot, just so you know.”
An hour later and everything had calmed down and the house had returned to normal. The kids knew most of what had transpired and were back downstairs. All of Acchan’s had to seek out their dad to make sure he was alright either in small groups or individually. Tora and Saga were naturally concerned as well, talking briefly with Hide before he had left to get Taiji away from the estate. It was decided that the two boys would stay put and safe and give their dad a chance to try to talk to their Uncle Taiji.
On the walk back to Hide’s place, Taiji was mostly quiet allowing his brother to do most of the talking as per usual.
“I hear that Imai straightened you out concerning what you accused Sakurai of, am I right?” the redhead asked.
Taiji just grunted, rubbing his neck that was understandably sore.
“Those are some lovely marks you have there. Definitely going to bruise.”
Taiji didn’t respond.
“You’re lucky he didn’t crush your throat.”
“You’re not exactly Acchan’s biggest fan yourself,” Taiji managed to croak out.
“Oh no, don’t you start that. You’re not lumping me in this with you. Just because he and I have never been that close doesn’t mean that I would ever accuse him of the things you did. Where the hell did you get that shit anyway? Your own diseased imagination?”
Taiji held his throat and made a face at Hide that said ‘I can’t talk right now’, so the redhead let it drop for the moment.
“Okay, we can talk about this in the morning when your voice comes back but there’s just two things I need to tell you, brother dear: Number 1—I love you but you’re a stupid motherfucker and Number 2—you were almost a dead motherfucker. I do hope you realize that,” Hide said, shaking his head as he continued to walk.
Heath had made a beeline for Sugizo just as soon as he felt like it was safe to get off of Taiji where he had been physically restraining him. He left Takuro and Teru to watch his brother and hurried off down the hallway meeting Hide halfway as he was going to make sure Taiji had calmed down.
Once he got back to the large sitting room where the other adults were, he stopped at the doorway and watched as Sugizo and Sakurai continued to talk quietly, the younger man still sitting across the older man’s lap. Imai was in the room but giving them some space as he kept watch in case Acchan’s temper began to flare again.
Heath moved over to talk to his older uncle, stepping over the broken glass and wood on the floor. That wall was going to need some work.
“Well, he looks better now. Glad he didn’t break away from you and Hide and come after Tai-chan. I don’t think I could’ve stopped him.”
“Not sure I could have either. What was that idiot thinking accusing Acchan like that?”
“Hell if I know,” Heath replied, still watching his mate and uncle.
“Has he ever voiced those accusations to you before? I don’t know where he came up with that craziness,” Imai asked.
“No, not at all. I do remember him being a bit upset back when Uncle Acchan was elected instead of Uncle Toll, but we were all still reeling from losing dad so we honestly didn’t pay much attention to Taiji’s mouth.”
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I’ve gotta get Toll to talk to Taiji and straighten him out about all of that. I can’t believe he’s been harboring this for nearly twenty years. Why didn’t he just ask somebody?” Imai responded.
“You know our Tai-chan…play everything close to the vest and don’t trust any more than you have to. He’s always been somewhat of a closed book, that one.”
“No, Hansamu…nobody believes that, I told you,” Sugizo whispered to Sakurai. “I don’t even think Taiji believes it. I think he just said it in the heat of the moment.”
“I nearly killed him, ‘Zo. I wanted to kill him.” Sakurai stopped and sighed. “I couldn’t have lived with myself if I had destroyed one of Ichiro’s sons.”
“I know. Let’s just be glad that it didn’t happen. I understand your anger though. He accused you of some pretty despicable things,” Sugizo said, laying his head back down on Acchan’s shoulder.
“I’m not like that…surely you know that.”
“Of course I do.”
Sakurai fell quiet for a little while until finally he sighed heavily. “I need to go for a walk. Maybe the garden will help settle my mind.”
“Want some company?” Sugizo asked.
“Sure, but I might not be much company for you.”
“Oh, that’s okay. I don’t mind just being there,” the auburn-haired one replied with a warm smile.
“Heath won’t mind?”
“No, you know Heath--he’s not the jealous sort. He understands that you need someone to talk to…or just to be there.”
Sugizo at last got up off of Sakurai’s lap and momentarily stepped over to tell Heath and Imai where they were going and that he’d keep an eye on Acchan but that he was okay, just upset. Heath didn’t have a problem with it; he just kissed Sugizo briefly and told him to be careful.
By the time the auburn-haired man rejoined Sakurai, he was standing at the already-opened back door that led into the gardens holding a glowing lantern. When Sugizo appeared, he reached out an open hand to the younger man, silently inviting him. Sugizo placed his hand in Sakurai’s and together they slowly walked out onto the winding path.
“Uncle Heath?” a voice said from just inside the room where the tall, dark-haired man was cleaning up the broken pieces of a picture frame that hadn’t fared well when Sakurai slammed Taiji into it. He turned to look up into Aoi’s face.
“Hmm?” he responded.
“Do you know where my dad is?” the boy asked, surveying the damage to the room for the first time.
“He’s still out in the garden as far as I know.”
“Oh…is he okay, you think? It’s just that I’ve never heard him mad like that.”
Heath tilted his head and looked at Aoi. “You boys were supposed to be upstairs…could you hear the fight from up there?”
“Oh yeah. See, Kai and Uruha’s bedroom is right up there,” he said, pointing at the ceiling. “We heard most of it…especially when someone hit the wall really hard.”
“That was Taiji that was pushed into the wall, not your dad. But they’re both okay…physically, at least,” Heath informed him.
“Okay. I was just worried. It’s…it’s not true, is it?” Aoi asked, looking sheepish.
“What? Is what true?”
“Dad didn’t…he didn’t run his brothers off so that he could be head of the clan, did he?”
“No. Absolutely not. And before the rumor gets started, he didn’t run me and Sugizo off either. Acchan would never do that—he’s all about his family. Taiji has just gotten some weird ideas from somewhere and he’s too knuckleheaded to actually ask anyone if they’re true or not,” Heath explained to the young one.
“Okay. I didn’t think dad could be like Uncle Taiji was saying—especially not the part about dad having a part in your dad’s death. I would never believe that!”
“No, that part especially. I feel like punching Taiji myself for that bullshit. I think that’s one of the most hurtful things that Acchan could be accused of, to be honest. He loved his brother Ichiro almost like a father, so the very idea that he would help to destroy him is utterly ludicrous. I think that’s what is still bothering him right now—that anyone could think that of him is just devastating.”
“But he’ll be okay, right? I mean, I’ve only been with dad for about a year now, but he’s always been so good to me and everything…I want him to be okay…and happy,” Aoi replied with one of the most sincere looks that Heath had ever seen.
“Come here,” the older man said, opening his arms. From his knees, he pulled Aoi into a hug and just held him for a minute. “Your dad will be fine, please don’t worry. He’s tough, Acchan. He gets mad and upset and sad sometimes like everyone else, but he’s very strong mentally. Just let him know that you love him and hug him when you think he needs it and he’ll be just fine, okay? And tell the other boys what I said.”
“Okay, I will,” Aoi said with a smile as he released Heath from the embrace and started out of the room.
‘Such a sweet kid,’ Heath thought with a smile and then finished cleaning up. He then went to see if maybe his mate was back yet—he had something to talk to him about.
Sometime later, Sugizo found Heath in their room engrossed in a book.
“Hey, here you are. Been looking all over for you,” Sugizo said, leaning over and giving his mate a kiss on the forehead.
“Well, it’s past our usual bedtime so…”
“Yeah, it is late. Sorry about that,” Sugizo said, shaking his head and sighing.
“Acchan okay?” Heath asked, laying his book against his chest.
“Well…the short answer is ‘yes’. You know him—strong, determined, level-headed, business as usual Acchan. But…on a deeper level I think Taiji’s accusations really cut him deep. And bringing up the whole thing about dad and how Acchan was elected to be clan head over his brothers brings some insecurities back to the surface.”
“Insecurities? Acchan? I didn’t know he even knew what that meant.”
“Oh, it’s there—most people just never see it. He has a good poker face,” Sugizo said. “He feels like he’s having to live up to the expectations of dad and grandfather, not to mention his own expectations of himself. And as young as he is to be the head of a clan, that’s a lot of pressure.”
Heath nodded and dropped his gaze. He hadn’t realized how stressed his uncle must be. “He always seems so together—so in charge.”
Sugizo nodded. “And inside he’s questioning himself and wondering what dad would have done.”
“You must have had a real heart to heart with him out in the garden, huh?” Heath asked.
“Once I got him to talk, yes. So umm…I wanted to ask you…”
“What?” he asked softly.
“Would you be okay with me staying with Acchan tonight? Nothing going on, I just don’t want him to be alone right now.”
Heath looked into his mate’s sincerely worried eyes and couldn’t turn him down. “Sure, I don’t mind. Go and watch after him…ya broody thing,” he said with a note of humor in his voice at the end.
The auburn-haired man smiled warmly and gave his mate a sweet kiss. “Thank you for understanding, love. You’re the best.”
“Yeah, yeah…get outta here,” Heath said and gave Sugizo’s bottom a good swat. “Love you.”
“Love you more,” Sugizo said as he headed toward the door.
Sugizo carefully pushed open the door to the master suite and slipped inside the dark room, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness for a moment. Leaving only his underwear, he took off his kimono and laid it across a chair before pushing through the curtains that separated the outer and inner parts of the huge bedroom. He saw a lone figure sitting very still on the end of the platform bed, but before he could make another move, Acchan turned toward him.
“’Zo? What are you doing here?” he asked, knowing exactly who it was that had entered his bed chamber.
“You don’t need to be alone tonight, Hansamu,” Sugizo answered.
“Heath know where you are?”
“Yes, he does,” the auburn-haired man said as he reached out and laid his hands on Sakurai’s shoulders. “Now, you need to lie down and relax. Come on.”
Sakurai slowly started moving and eventually they were both in the large bed, snuggled together, not needing to say a thing. The older man knew he should protest more—he didn’t think Sugizo should be with him instead of his mate—but try as he might he couldn’t get his voice to cooperate. The man was there with him after having been gone for what seemed like forever…he was in his bed…and his familiar scent made Sakurai remember the old times that he missed so much. No, he would allow it this time, he told himself.
Back in the other room, Heath had gotten comfortable and turned off the light. He was trying to settle down to sleep but he had gotten used to having Sugizo in bed with him, so it felt strange to be alone. He slipped his hand over the sheets to the empty side of the bed and let out a sigh.
As always, comments/questions are always welcome! :D
Happy 4th of July to all my readers in the US! Hope you're staying safe and healthy!
Little bit of housekeeping: Hoshino Hidehiko is known as "Hiko" instead of his normal "Hide" in order to differentiate between Hides. But can you have too many Hides?? I think not. ;)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
As soon as Imai had made sure that Taiji was gone and that Sakurai was okay, he headed straight toward his own little house knowing what he had to do.
“Hey Toll, it’s Imai. Yeah, I know what time it is but I need to talk to you—it’s serious.”
The middle brother relayed to Toll what had happened between Sakurai and Taiji and exactly how ugly it had gotten.
“He said what?” Toll asked, not believing what he was hearing.
“Yeah…I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Where on earth did he get ideas like that?”
“Hell if I know. I certainly never told him anything like that. And he’s been harboring these thoughts since Ichiro died?”
“Apparently. Why the idiot didn’t just ask somebody is beyond me.”
“I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Taiji, you know that, but damn…what a fool. I gotta straighten him out,” Toll admitted.
“You guys talk some, right? What has he said over the years?”
“Yeah, I talk to him fairly regularly and so does Hiko. He’s never voiced any accusations against Acchan to me. At first after he took over, Taiji told me how much he missed me and that…oh gods…” Toll suddenly trailed off and went quiet.
“What? What did he say?”
After a few moments, Toll continued. “I do remember him saying ‘it should’ve been you’ a few times, now that I think about it.” He paused to gather his thoughts and then continued. “But every time I told him no, that it was better this way. That Acchan was much better suited to lead than I was. I thought I had gotten through to him…I guess not. Dammit!”
“Well, if he didn’t listen that’s not your fault, but Toll…you need to talk to him. If he attacks Acchan again he may not come out of it this time. I don’t even want to think what it will do to our brother if he ends up taking out one of Ichiro’s sons. He was in a blind fury tonight and it took me, Heath, Hide, Sugizo, and Takuro to keep them separated. “
“Damn…how much of the house did they tear up?”
Imai chuckled lightly. “Only one wall and a couple of big picture frames, but I can only imagine what Taiji’s throat looks like. Acchan’s hella strong, ya know.”
“Oh yeah. Okay, I’ll call Tai-chan as soon as I hang up with you and try to get through his thick skull. I guess I need to come down there too. It’s time U-Ta, Hiko, and I visited anyway,” Toll replied and then ended the call with plans to immediately talk to his misguided nephew.
When night fell again, two figures walked down the long driveway of the estate, heading for the side door. Suddenly, one pulled up short.
“Tai…Tai-chan, come on,” Hide instructed his slightly younger brother when he realized that the man had fallen behind. “We’re getting this over with now.”
Taiji sighed heavily. “Can’t it wait a couple of days? What difference will it make?” he croaked, his voice revealing the condition of his throat.
“Oh no…absolutely not! You are not going to let this fester any longer! Look, I know you’re not much of a talker and considering the things you accused Acchan of I’m glad you’re not, quite frankly. Not if that’s what’s going to come out of your mouth when you open it. But you know you were way off base and now Toll has confirmed it. You need to apologize and set things right. You can see that, can’t you?”
“Yes…okay. Let’s just go. Shut your face.”
“Stupid motherfucker,” Hide mumbled and smacked his brother across the back of his head.
Entering the house, Hide and Taiji ran into Sugizo first.
“Hey Sugi…is Uncle Acchan busy?” Hide asked, sounding more subdued than normal.
Sugizo looked at Hide and gave him a small nod. He then shot a disapproving sideways glance at Taiji.
“He’s in the library working.”
“Okay. Tai-chan here has something he wants to say to Uncle. Hopefully he won’t mind the intrusion,” Hide replied, looking at his quiet brother who was looking rather sheepish.
“Fine. But Taiji…if you ever go at Acchan like that again…you won’t have to worry about his wrath. You’ll catch mine before he has time to react,” the tall, auburn-headed man said and then turned on his heel and disappeared down the hall.
“See? You got the whole family in an uproar. Even sweet little Sugi-chan is gunnin’ for ya.”
Taiji huffed. “Sweet, my ass.”
Hide slapped him in the chest. “Come on, fool.”
Standing at the large door to the library, Hide paused momentarily and then knocked. Upon hearing ‘enter’ from inside, he pushed the door open and took Taiji by the arm and led him inside.
Sakurai was sitting at his desk, glasses on, poring over some papers. He hadn’t bothered to look up. The two stopped at a respectable distance and stood silently, waiting to be acknowledged.
Sakurai glanced up and then pulled his glasses off, sitting back in his chair. “Yes?”
Hide and Taiji both bowed low and held the bow for several seconds before returning to upright.
“Sakurai-san, please forgive the interruption. Taiji has something he would like to say to you,” Hide offered, his voice low and serious. Taiji merely nodded.
“I see. Hide-chan, please leave us,” Acchan said, not moving from his reclined position.
“As you wish,” the redhead answered, bowing slightly again. Before he left, he shot a look of warning at his brother. ‘He better not fuck this up,’ he thought as he left the library and closed the door, staying close by just in case.
Sakurai watched Hide leave and then turned his gaze back to the man who stood in front of him. He brought his fingertips together, elbows resting on the arms of his chair. He was willing to listen to his nephew but he wasn’t going to make it easy on him.
“Umm, Uncle…Sakurai-san…I would like to apologize for my behavior yesterday,” Taiji said with a little difficulty.
“Oh? You sound terrible. What happened to your neck?” Sakurai asked, knowing full well that he had put those obvious, deep bruises on the man.
Taiji looked at the man, his anger starting to rise, but he caught himself before he said anything he’d regret. He didn’t need Sakurai flying across the desk at him. “I, uh, angered someone I shouldn’t have.”
“I see,” was all that Sakurai said, his expression unchanged.
“Yes. I spoke with Uncle Toll and he straightened me out on several issues, the main one being that he had been offered the position of Clan Head by Uncle Ichiro and that he had turned it down.” Taiji paused, rubbing at his neck. “I am truly sorry that I accused you of any wrongdoing in that matter.”
Sakurai didn’t say anything right away. When he decided that his nephew was being sincere, he said, “Taiji…I know all of this was discussed with the family at the time that I was appointed Head. I know you were there. Did you just conveniently forget that discussion?”
“No, I do remember it. I think I was just kinda messed up in the head at the time. I had just watched my father be executed and then my uncle who I thought of as a second father was telling me that he was thinking of leaving and…I guess I just started this whole conspiracy theory in my head. I’m sorry, sir. You never deserved what I threw at you yesterday.”
“And do you still believe that I had any part in my brother’s death?” Sakurai asked, his brow furrowing.
Taiji shook his head. “No, no…of course not. I don’t think I ever really believed that myself. I was just so mad that I said the most hurtful thing I could think of. I’m sorry for that most of all.”
“Good, because let me tell you, Taiji…that cut me deep.” He finally motioned to his nephew to sit down and he returned to his normal position behind his desk.
“Your father, my brother Ichiro was more like a father to me than Hideaki-sama was, quite honestly. My sire was already very old when he brought me and my brothers into the family, only Ichiro having been here any length of time. And while I will always thank him for saving me from my injuries that I incurred from the bombs, he had very little time or interest in helping me get accustomed to my new life. Ichiro was always there for me. Similarly, once Ichi-san had become the head of the clan, he had very little time for his pups—that’s why Sugizo and Heath were entrusted to Imai and myself. You and Hide were being looked after by Toll, but you were also settled and able to function on your own.”
“I remember some of that. The ‘sleeper brothers’,” Taiji replied with a half grin, remembering his younger brothers’ habit of falling asleep right after feeding.
“Yeah, just like Aoi and Ruki. But Ichiro was like a father to me and his death was utterly devastating. I…could never harm him. You do know that, right?”
Taiji lowered his head and nodded. “Yes, I do know that and I’m so very sorry I said what I did. I was an absolute idiot.”
“Yes, you were…but I accept your apology anyway. And for my part, I’m sorry I physically attacked you like I did. I’ve been quite stressed over all these disappearances lately, but that’s not really an excuse. Please forgive me for choking you.”
“No, sir…please. I deserved it. I needed that stick removed from my ass and you certainly did take care of it with a big yank,” Taiji replied.
Sakurai chuckled lightly at the colorful language. “Can we please try to get along? I have a feeling things are going to get ugly with the clans and everyone needs to be united.”
Taiji nodded. “Yes, Uncle. Has anything else happened?”
“Not that I’m aware of, but I need to talk to Issay-sama and I have a meeting planned with Morrie-sama very soon. Looks like the Clan Council will meet in the next month,” Sakurai informed him.
“Good. Something needs to be done about all of this and soon.”
“I have heard some rumblings coming from up north about a rogue clan that Hideaki-sama had trouble with once upon a time. I know they have changed leadership a couple of times and I’m wondering if they could somehow be involved. We’ll discuss all of this at the council though.”
Once Taiji had left the library, Sakurai picked up the phone to call Morrie.
“Yes, later this week will be fine. Imai and I will meet you there. --There is one other thing I’d like to talk with you about though. --Yes, it’s about my young pup, Ruki. --Yes, he’s healed just fine. --No, no more trouble out of Reita…not yet anyway. --Do you think your sons Kyo and Hyde would still be willing to teach Ruki some self-defense? I think they’d be the perfect ones to do it. --Yes, Die and Toshiya. *laughs* --Okay, just let me know when they’re ready. Thank you, Morrie-san. --Sayonara.”
“Yes, I talked to him and apologized,” Taiji told Heath once they met up in the kitchen.
“Okay, good. I’m glad you didn’t wait,” Heath replied.
“And I’m glad you’re being civil at least. I already caught the rough edge of Sugi’s tongue before I even had a chance to talk to Acchan.”
“Oh? Well, he’s protective. You know how he is.”
“Oh yeah, I know…” Taiji said, the tone of his voice telling Heath that there were things unsaid.
Heath cocked his head sideways and gave his older brother a questioning look. “And just what is that supposed to mean?”
Just then they heard Hide, Tora, and Saga coming toward the kitchen. Taiji put a finger to his lips and leaned over closer to Heath. “Two words: Sugar Daddy,” and he left it at that.
Heath started to argue that point but thought better of it. How much of an argument could he really make, after all? ‘Not in front of the kids,’ he told himself and just let it go.
“Issay-sama? Hello, sir. This is Sakurai, head of the Inamassi clan. I hope I haven’t called at an inopportune moment,” Acchan said once the assistant that answered the phone put Issay on the line.
“No, not at all. Good to hear from you. You are Hideaki-sama’s son, yes?”
“Hai, I am. Ichiro-sama’s younger brother.”
“What can I help you with today, Sakurai-sama?”
“I’ve been speaking with Morrie-sama of the Murakami about all the disappearances and loss of clan members. If I may ask, have you experienced any more losses?”
Issay sighed. “We have. Two more in just the last month, to be exact.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Issay-sama. Tell me, were they young or older, experienced banpaia?”
“These two were young and I feel some guilt in not protecting them better, but we’ve lost mature men as well. And your clan? How have you been faring?”
“Most recently, one of my young sons was grabbed and beaten. He was found staked out on the beach and would have been lost if a few of Morrie-sama’s sons hadn’t found him when they did. I’m very thankful for that. We have lost several clan members over the last few years though—both young and older. Not only that, but my brother Imai-san and I have come to believe that whoever is doing this had a hand in Ichiro-sama’s murder as well.”
Issay didn’t respond right away. Finally, he sighed once more and then replied. “Sakurai-sama, you know that my clan has always been rather secretive about our activities—even when it comes to ally clans such as yours and Morrie-sama’s. But I feel as if I should trust you with some information. About a year ago, three of my sons captured, questioned, and then killed someone that we believe had ties to the perpetrators of these attacks on our clans. We never got definitive proof, but the attacks stopped for a while right after he was destroyed. It would seem that they have started their operation once more.”
“And were these perpetrators known to you?” Sakurai asked.
“Yes…and I know that your grandsire would know the name as well. Fukuzawa.”
The rest of the conversation consisted of Sakurai telling Issay of his planned meeting with Morrie and making preliminary plans for the Clan Council which was more urgent now than ever.
Once he had ended the call with Issay, Acchan came flying out of the library in a swirl of silk robes to search for his brother, nearly knocking Sugizo over.
“My apologies, Sugi-chan,” he said, helping his nephew pick up the stack of papers that he’d been made to drop. “Have you seen Imai by chance?”
“Imai? Oh ummm…he was up here about an hour ago but was chased off by Morihito-san when he stole one too many pastries from the kitchen,” Sugizo responded with a grin. “Everything okay?”
“Yes, I was just speaking with Issay-sama about the council meeting and he gave me some information that I need to share with Imai. Did he run off back down to his house?”
“I believe so,” the auburn-haired man responded and was about to ask more questions when Acchan got up suddenly and hurried off to find his brother. “Thank you,” he said back over his shoulder as he disappeared from view.
“Okaaaay,” Sugizo mumbled as he stood in the hallway, still looking in the direction that his uncle had gone.
“Sugi?” Heath’s voice said suddenly, making him jump.
“Oh…hey. Didn’t hear you coming.”
“Obviously. What’s up? You look rattled.”
“Acchan… Come on, I’ll explain,” Sugizo answered, pulling his mate with him.
“I knew it! I fucking knew it! Didn’t I say that I thought they could be involved?” Imai exclaimed.
“You did. But now that we have at least some evidence via Issay-sama we have to plan how to get definitive proof and then decide what to do about it,” Acchan replied to his excitable brother.
“I’m sure this will all be discussed at the council meeting. But Acchan…now that we have some idea of who may be involved, we need to take further steps to defend ourselves and our allies. Those Fukuzawa bastards don’t play—neither do the Yamazaki. They haven’t been mentioned, have they?”
“Issay-sama didn’t bring them up and neither has Morrie-sama.”
“Well, we know that the Fukuzawa clan has had several leadership changes in just the last 15-20 years. There’s no telling who is leading that band of backstabbing, murderous thugs now. We need to find out as much as we can though. I’ll start making some calls,” Imai replied.
“And I’ll do the same. Let me know anything that you find out and remember: no one goes out alone. Even you, brother mine,” Sakurai ordered his older sibling. “I need you intact and by my side.”
Aoi and Ruki were walking down the long hallway towards the kitchen from where they’d been in the big sitting room playing video games.
“I’m tellin’ ya, you can’t beat me at Mortal Kombat. Not gonna happen,” Aoi kidded his slightly younger brother.
“You just wait. I’ll get you yet,” Ruki said with a grin and gave Aoi a bit of a push.
Just as they passed the stairs, Reita stepped off the last one and was suddenly right behind them. Both of the younger boys jumped and spun around with Aoi quickly pushing the smaller boy behind him as they backed up slowly.
“Rei…I…I didn’t hear you coming,” Aoi stuttered, still backing away. Ruki didn’t make a sound.
“I see that,” Reita replied softly. He had stopped walking when he realized they were scared and moving away slowly.
The older boy shook his head slightly. “Ru, Aoi…I’m not going to hurt you. How many times do I have to apologize?” he said in as non-threatening a voice as he could manage.
“Until I believe it,” Ruki squeaked and hid behind Aoi again.
Aoi himself was shaking as he faced down Reita, knowing that he was no match for his older, much stronger brother either. He had to try to keep Ruki safe though.
Reita shook his head again and looked down. Extending his arms and then pointing to his damaged face, he said, “Look at me. Some of this will heal, Dad says, but not all of it. I will have burn scars forever as a reminder of my stupidity. I can cover my arms, but not my face.” He paused and sighed. “I said I was sorry and I meant it.” With that, he turned and walked off in the opposite direction.
Sakurai had watched the exchange from a bit further down the hallway having come back in from talking to Imai. As the two younger boys clasped hands and continued toward the kitchen, he approached them.
“Aoi-kun, Ru-chan…come. Let’s talk in here.”
The three of them stepped into the kitchen and sat at the table.
“Tea please, Morihito-san,” the master of the house requested and then turned back to his two youngest sons.
“Boys, I know you’re frightened of Rei-chan and I understand why. He’s given you reason not to trust him. You know that I’ve talked to him several times about his anger issues, right?”
“Yes sir,” they both said in small voices, neither really wanting to make eye contact with their dad.
“I want you both to know that I’m going to continue to work with him. I honestly believe that he is sincere with his apologies though. Do you think you can forgive him, Ru-chan?” he asked softly.
Ruki took a deep breath but still didn’t look up. “I don’t know. I might be able to forgive him, but I don’t know if I could ever trust him again.”
Aoi met his sire’s eyes. “Me either. He’s too unpredictable.”
Sakurai nodded slowly. “Anger can be a tough thing to control, even at my considerable age as you both know from last night’s events with Tai-chan.”
Ruki suddenly looked up. “That’s different! He deserved what he got for accusing you like that!” Aoi nodded in agreement.
“Not really. Yes, his accusations were far-fetched, hurtful, and most of all wrong, but…I still shouldn’t have physically attacked him like I did. If not for your uncles pulling me off of him, I probably would’ve crushed his throat last night. Something I would never get over as long as I live.” He stopped and sighed, gathering his thoughts. After a long sip of tea, he continued.
“Things are dangerous right now and I’m afraid it’s going to get worse before it gets better. We don’t need to be fighting among ourselves. We all have to band together as a clan. I’ll be having another talk with Rei-chan and tell him the same things I’m telling you.”
He paused again and looked specifically at his youngest, smallest son. “Ru-chan, remember when Morrie-san’s sons brought Rei-chan home and I asked Hyde-san if he would be willing to teach you self-defense?”
Ruki nodded and briefly looked up at Aoi. “Yes sir.”
“Well, that’s going to start tomorrow. You’ve healed from your injuries so it’s time to get going on that. Morrie-san said that he would send Hyde-san and his other son Kyo-san over to teach you. Aoi, you are more than welcome to learn alongside your brother. I encourage it, actually.”
The small blonde boy nodded again. “I haven’t met Kyo-san, have I? Is he small like me and Hyde-san?”
Acchan nodded. “He is but he’s tough as nails. I don’t think you’ve met him before,” he chuckled. “You’d remember it.”
“Dad…sir…do I have to?” the tall man with deep red hair asked.
“Same here, sir. I still have bruises from the last run-in,” the equally tall dark man asked.
The older man sighed and shook his head. “Yes, you do—both of you. I can’t send Haido and Kyo-kun over to Sakurai-san’s estate to beat up on his older sons just to teach his younger ones self-defense,” Morrie said.
“So we’re basically going to be practice dummies and targets, Totchi,” Die surmised.
Toshiya let out a heavy sigh. “We do get to fight back, right? I mean, if Kyo is going to be on my back beating me in the head, I can defend myself, yes?!” He was not liking this idea at all. At all.
“To a point, yes. The small boy needs to learn though,” their sire replied.
“’To a point.’ Why doesn’t that make me feel any better?” Die asked, shaking his head.
“Can’t you send Asanao and Reo instead?” Toshiya asked, trying to throw two of his older brothers under the bus.
“No, I can’t. They have important duties here on the estate as you both well know.” Morrie paused and saw that his two sons were still trying to put up an argument. “Die-chan, Totchi-kun…you’re going and I don’t want to hear another word about it.” His tone made it clear that the discussion was at an end.
The two tall young men lowered their eyes and bowed slightly. They knew from years of dealing with their sire just how far they could push and when to back off.
“Yes, Father,” they both said at almost the same time. Leaving the clan head’s study, they looked at each and shook their heads.
“One cheap shot from those two little trolls and I’m hanging them up by their balls and using them as piñatas,” Die groused.
Calm Before the Storm...