The first layer was thin and light, the second one still easy to wear, but the third layer of the Oiran kimono was always too heavy for Taiga. Still he didn’t complain when Reia put it over his shoulders after all he was used to it by now.
Plain white was the usual color for the first layer, the second one had a simple pattern, in this case it was red with white sakura on it. The third layer showed detailed pattern. The one he had to wear today was dark green with yellow sewing of birds and flowers, also showing detailed landscapes of mountains in blue as the background. A few months earlier he would have never imagined wearing something as expensive as this.
“You want to use any of it today?” Reia asked as he pointed at the make-up on the table right under the mirror.
Taiga sat up a bit to the front while Reia waited patiently behind him. First he took the black paste in his hands and as much as it had become famous among the Oiran to paint their teeth black he still wasn’t fond of it, so he put it back on the table and lifted the green lipstick up instead.
Carefully he put it on his bottom lip, correcting a part with his finger and he could spot Reia in the mirror looking fascinated at his hand movements.
“You shouldn’t get distracted by this anymore after all this time,” Taiga said teasing on which the boy immediately looked to the ground with slightly flushed cheeks.
With a chuckle Taiga put the make-up back and got ready to stand up. His skin was pale enough to not put extra white makeup on and as much as their new established system made them dress and behave like the high class female Oiran there were still parts Taiga wanted to keep as natural as possible.
Reia was up immediately to help Taiga with the layers of his kimono as he started walking towards the doors. Taiga stood still for a moment, taking a deep breath before Reia handed him the shamisen₁ he was supposed to use today at the tea house. He could already hear the people laughing and celebrating outside and luckily he knew that there were familiar faces there as well after all one of those familiar people had called him here today.
“Are you ready?” Reia asked as he stepped towards the door and Taiga closed his eyes for another moment before he nodded.
Reia vanished into the other room first, announcing Taiga’s entrance and the room fell silent immediately. Carefully Reia pushed the doors aside and remained seated next to them while Taiga put on his most seductive look as he stepped inside the tea house room.
There were about a dozen people, already sitting with other Oiran which were serving them today. Most of them were female, but he also spotted Juri and Reo next to a few of the people. But today he was the main guest and the others had to stand back now that he had entered. Nevertheless he didn’t miss the teasing smile Juri and Reo exchanged.
Taiga stopped in front of the customers, bowing towards all of them, his eyes remaining on the main person as he lifted his head again.
“Taiga, as beautiful as always,” Domoto said proudly on which Taiga slightly bowed a second time.
“And here we wondered why you didn’t ask for one of the most expensive Oiran, but your taste is extraordinary after all,” one of members said laughing on which others also cheered approving. A few of them Taiga remembered from the Shogunate meetings over the last two years, other faces were new and they were all eyeing Taiga with greedy looks, not that he was bothered by it. But today was not an official meeting, only a small party Domoto had prepared for some of his higher up friends from the Shogunate.
“Show them your worth,” Domoto said teasing and waved his hand on which Reia immediately stood next to Taiga and helped him sit and rearranged the kimono.
Taiga knew that his price was low in this new system where they were allowed to enter the tea houses at the main street in Nakanocho in Yoshiwara, but it was new for the male Oiran to even participate in this system so they would need time to get accepted by the female workers and also the customers.
The other Oiran in the room often gave him mocking smiles or hoped that he would fail, but while he had indeed failed a lot in the beginning he was more than confident recently. With a light smile he put the Bachi₂ on the strings and started playing.
“You were so damn awesome today!” Reo yelled way too loud over the Nakanocho main street on their way back. Luckily it was already late at night and most people had left the Yoshiwara district already or had been guided to one of the houses where they were allowed to stay until the early morning hours.
“Domoto likes bragging with you recently a lot,” Juri let out next to him on which Taiga just shrugged his shoulders.
“As long as I don’t embarrass him I guess it’s fine.”
“Not to forget that he pays more for you than he needs to,” Reia said as he took another look in the small pouch filled with several silver coins. “He almost paid the same price he would need to pay for Kentaro and he is on first place in the ranking at the moment.”
“Well, I am not really aiming to get into his position,” Taiga said laughing as they reached the end of the main street and left the almost blooming sakura trees behind them.
“If you wanted to though you could easily get a higher ranking,” Juri said.
“You already got a higher one than me,” Reo interfered on that kind of pouting.
“Be happy you are not that high in it, because time gets rare through that and you want to keep some time for Fu, right? And he would need to pay even more if you get higher in the ranking,” Taiga replied with a faint smile as the wind put one of his strands in his eye. Carefully he pushed it back, resting his fingers on the scars of his blind eye for a moment.
The nights were still a bit chilly outside now that it was end of March and the four boys hurried back to their house at the river. While Reia was carrying Taiga’s three layered kimono in a bag, they were now all dressed in their usual work kimonos, making it way easier to walk. Domoto didn’t stay this night, but usually they were allowed to guide the customers back to their house and let them stay until morning.
Two years have passed since the chaos with the Yamashita clan and a lot had changed in the Yoshiwara district, but things were calm at least.
“You are late!”
While Taiga didn’t even flinch as someone appeared right next to them, Juri jolted and hit the approaching person on the shoulder. “Shintaro, for god’s sake how often do we have to tell you not to hide there?”
The boy was taking care of the building now that Kochi wasn’t there anymore and through the system changing most of the houses also needed more protection against thieves and other trouble makers.
“Like this the bad guys get scared away easier you know?” The boy teased with a bright smile while Reia hurried to open the front door of their house for the others to enter.
“Then let Tatsuya handle the night shift alone his face scares people away,” Reo added laughing as he followed Taiga and the others inside the house.
With the new system Tatsuya had joined the house as the main security guard to Kamenashi’s obvious liking.
“Ah by the way today a new boy came,” Shintaro explained.
“Oh, out of a sudden?” Taiga asked, but remembered that he also came without any announcement.
“He seems to be quite a troublemaker.”
“Well, quite a lot of the new ones are like that,” Taiga said teasingly his eyes on Reia on which the boy pouted immediately. But Reia hadn’t become one of the boys in the end and that had been thanks to Taiga. He had asked Kamenashi to let Reia take care of the house like Kochi did before and he had agreed. Since the system had changed he had become Taiga’s assistant. Most of the boys in the house had an assistant now, carrying their new heavy kimonos to the tea houses and guide the customers back to their house.
“Then good luck with him from tomorrow on.”
“What, am I responsible for him?” Taiga asked with a raised eyebrow on which Shintaro gave him an apologizing look.
“You know with Taisuke being in his last year and Kentaro busy, Kamenashi said you should be in charge of him.”
“One trouble maker teaches the next one. A good match I’d say,” Reo said as he clapped Taiga encouraging on the shoulder.
It could be a good match indeed, because Reia was also easy to handle for him, but what if the new boy wasn’t?
The sun was already out when Taiga finally woke up and Juri was still deep asleep at his side, his face half hidden at the boy’s chest and he stroke over his hair with a light smile.
Their new system allowed them to take it easy in the morning as they usually let customers stay until morning. Taiga placed a soft kiss on the latter’s hair before he tried to get up without waking him up, not that Juri would easily wake up anyway.
Out in the corridor Taiga made his way towards the room he was told the new boy was living in for now. All rooms had been full so he had gotten a room for himself, at least for now.
“Oh up that early?” Shota was heard as he came up the stairs still in his work kimono as he had a customer over the night staying over and he just sent him off.
“I wanted to talk to the new boy,” Taiga said.
“Oh good luck with that,” Shota teased him.
“He only arrived yesterday, right?”
“Yes. Kamenashi had warned him yesterday already, because of his immature behavior, but he seems to be a pretty tough case.”
“Would you tell me his name and through what circumstances he came here?” Taiga asked.
“His name is Ren. He was in an illegal brothel until now, same as we were before. You have to know that after experiencing a treatment at such a place this is a joke.”
“I know, I remember your behavior when you came here first,” Taiga said, this time not as calm as before and Shota gave him an apologizing, but he knew that Taiga had forgiven them already.
Shota excused himself for now, wanting to take some rest before new customers would come for the noon hours.
Taiga moved on to Ren’s door, but didn’t enter immediately.
Was there even a good reason to feel that nervous? Reia had also been quite stubborn, but he hadn't actually been aggressive, so a kohai like Ren was a first for him. Nevertheless he tried to keep his expression as neutral as possible as he knocked on the boy's door.
He tried a second time, louder than before. Maybe he was still asleep? Or…
The thought of Ren already having run away on his first night made Taiga panic a little as he grabbed the sliding door.
“I'm coming in.”
No one stopped him from entering which was no surprise because even though Ren was in the room and obviously awake he had ignored Taiga's knocking as well.
“Good morning, Ren.”
The boy was still wearing his night yukata, but was sitting on the windowsill from which he could see the river. He looked up at his senpai, but all Taiga could see was annoyance.
“I didn't allow you to come in.”
“You didn't stop me either,” Taiga replied as calm as possible as he walked up to the boy. If Ren was an untouched boy Taiga would be harsher with him from the start. Not standing up when a senpai enters the room, no proper greeting and there were a dozen more things which would definitely go wrong from now on as well. But something about the boy's look told him that there was no way in reaching him through preaching or punishments.
“I think Kamenashi told you yesterday already, but I’m the senpai in charge of you. My name is Taiga.”
“Great, thanks for the unnecessary self-introduction. Now leave me alone.”
The boy's impolite tone made Taiga raise an eyebrow at him, but he wouldn't lose his calm that easily. It was obvious that Ren just waited for him to freak and give up on teaching him any manners.
Instead of trying to have a normal conversation Taiga went over to the desk in the corner and took the book from it. Each room had one of those as it was their guideline for the new system.
In silence he sat on the windowsill next to Ren and flipped through the pages.
“Work shifts are divided between day and night work with the day shift being two hours from 14 - 16 o'clock, while the night shift starts at 18 o'clock, allowing the customer to stay until morning.”
There was no reaction on Taiga's sudden reading out loud so after a side glance at Ren who was still looking out to the river as if his look could actually make the water boil, he kept reading.
“Customers have to make a reservation at least one day prior to their visit if they come directly to the house. Tea house visits need to be booked a week in advance. After the tea house closes customers are allowed to come back to the house and stay until morning even without reservation.”
Another break, still no reaction. When Taiga kept reading though he saw how Ren clenched his fists in annoyance.
“The price for a visit is set, as is the price for the tea house. The ranking decides the price. No special services will be granted even if more money is offered. Violence against the boys is prohibited.”
It was a new rule Taiga liked a lot, yet Ren didn't even seem to care.
With a sigh Taiga turned back to the book and he could hear Ren's dangerous growl, but he ignored it.
“Each Oiran of the house can choose an assistant if wanted. That person will help with duties in the house and guide customers from the tea house back to the main house. The assistant is no apprentice and no customer is allowed to ask any sexual services from them.”
Maybe this one would finally trigger something, but again it was just anger and an obvious feeling of irritation against Taiga showing on the boy's face.
With him coming from an illegal house maybe he was afraid of what awaited him, maybe he needed someone to talk to, to open up to, but there was not the slightest hint on his face which could help Taiga.
Once more he turned back to the book and flipped to the next page.
“The participation at the Yoshiwara festivals will be-”
Before he could read the next word Ren had suddenly jumped up and ripped the book out of Taiga's hand.
Without another comment he went over to the open window and threw the book into the river. Taiga starred outside the window with a stunned expression while Ren sat down with a pouting look and crossed his arms to his chest.
“What the actual…” Taiga said to himself and shook his head with a disbelieving look.
“Oh what a shame. Lesson time is over,” Ren said mocking before he pointed at the door. “And now out.”
“The participation at the Yoshiwara festivals will be decided by the rankings and held under strict rules of the Yoshiwara district and looked over by the regional police,” Taiga ended his previous sentence to the boy's obvious astonishment. “Sorry, but I memorized the rules of that book.”
The teasing look Taiga formed made Ren's look turn even darker and suddenly the boy was up once more and grabbed Taiga by the wrist.
There was no need for a fight on the boy's first day so he let himself get dragged towards the door and Ren pushed him out to the corridor with another death glare.
“If you keep annoying me I'll make you regret it!”
Without waiting for a reply Ren shut the door and all Taiga could do was shake his head before he walked down the corridor and massaged his temples.
“Damn, it's too early for a headache.”
Leaving the back of the house behind Taiga made his way to the red wooden part in the front. It was quiet here now that it was daytime and the last customers were about to leave.
The size of the house still gave Taiga a weird feeling. Having a bridge and pond in the middle of the house seemed way too much compared to the small house they had before.
When he walked down one of the open corridors next to their indoor garden a door in front of him got slit open.
“Why didn’t you wake me up? You know I’d run late?”
Taiga moved aside at the last moment, making Fuma almost stumble as he swirled around to his direction to hurry down the corridor.
“Oh, damn, sorry Taiga.” Without a real greeting he just waved his hand at the boy and rushed towards the exit.
With a chuckle Taiga moved towards the open door of the room, finding Kentaro sitting on the futon, still half asleep.
“You and Fuma need someone to wake you both up when you spend the night together.”
“Would be definitely a good idea,” Kentaro said as he pulled his kimono up over his shoulders after it was just hanging loose around his hips with a half closed obi. “But I scolded him already for staying so often recently.”
“Why, is he spending too much money on you now that you got the first place in the male Oiran ranking?” Taiga teased him.
“Actually yes, that’s a part of it as well,” Kentaro replied with a chuckle.
“You are working nonstop recently, you should really take off for some time,” Taiga suggested on which Kentaro nodded.
“Then hurry up and take my place.”
“In your dreams! You know how much trouble I have with all the new arts and skills we have to learn to get into the higher ranking, right?”
“Your shamisen got famous among the customers though,” Kentaro replied with a wink on which Taiga shook his head, but showed a brief proud smile.
“And here I still spill the tea every third time and mess up my calligraphy lessons so badly that our teacher keeps scolding me nonstop.”
“Well I can’t master the Koto₃ and I fear that our teacher already gave up on me because of it.”
Taiga sat down on the tatami in front of Kentaro and both boys let out a sigh at the same time on which they bursted out laughing.
“Guess a lot has changed for all of us,” Taiga said nostalgic on which Kentaro tilted his head with a light smile and observed him on which Taiga gave him a questioning look. “Did I say something weird?”
“Not at all. It’s just nice to see you so calm in this environment. You know after all the chaos in your first year here I wondered how well you could fit in for your ten years of work.”
Right, his ten years would be over someday as well and he had been here three in total already. But he wasn’t trying to hurry to the end, because he didn’t want to waste those precious years with unnecessary worries.
“What do you plan on doing as soon as you are free to go?” Taiga asked on which Kentaro hummed for a moment before he cracked a bright smile.
“I want to have my own shop.”
“A shop? What kind of?”
“Not sure, I guess I will have to think about that a bit more, but for now I still have three more years for that, so no hurry, right?”
“Three more years to defend your rank,” Taiga replied on which a pillow was thrown in his direction and both of them started laughing again.
It was really a peaceful time and with every new day Taiga prayed that it would remain like this.
₁shamisen: three-stringed traditional Japanese musical instrument
₂bachi: plectrum for a Japanese Shamisen
₃koto: 13 string Japanese traditional instrument