For Want Of

Moonlight bleaches Seimei’s skin pale and highlights the all the sharp lines and angles of his narrow face, till it makes the throat ache to see him. This is about the best that Seiryuu can really come up with — he is a warrior, not a scholar, and he has little patience for such things.

And yet, there is Seimei, with his sharp vulpine features and easy laughter, who faced down even Touda without breaking a sweat. Nothing is delicate or fragile about Seimei, even if he is human and so inherently weaker than Seiryuu and the rest of the Shinshou: there a steel in him that not even Touda’s fires can warp or melt. There is Seimei, to whom all the princesses of the royal court watch with covetous eyes — in a change from his childhood (Seimei says, with amusement in his eyes and voice), the rumors of his parentage make him an appealing match for a young woman searching for a husband. All of them disgust Seiryuu: their beauty is watery and weak, and there is no strength in their fluttering white hands. None of them are worthy of the smiles that Seimei favors them with, let alone his attention; if a son is what he wants, then let him take Tenkou to bed, or Kouchin, or even Tenitsu — Suzaku might protest, but Seimei is their master

“Shouran,” Seimei says. He has undone the ribbon in his hair, and it now falls loosely around his shoulders. In profile, he smiles up at the half-full moon. “Don’t just lurk, come sit.”

He almost doesn’t — he only meant to watch, not get involved — but he comes forward anyway, materializing as he walks. There is a second, empty cup by Seimei’s side.

“Hovering isn’t allowed either,” says Seimei. Graceful as a courtesan, he tugs back his sleeves to fill the second cup, and then presents it to Seiryuu. There is a spark of amusement in his dark eyes, and Seiryuu glowers as he folds himself down to sit. He doesn’t take the cup. Seimei raises a quizzical brow, then chuckles and drinks the alcohol himself. When he tips his head back, the line of his throat glows white and moves subtly when he swallows.

“Ah,” he says at last. There is a fine damp sheen on his upper lip. “So serious, my friend? It’s a lovely night.”

Seiryuu stares. “I’m surprised you’re here,” he says. “And not visiting Fuji-hime.”

“Her?” Seimei blinks. He shakes his head and laughs again, but his expression is almost sad now. “There’s another man for her, now, though he’ll never be hers. I warned her, but she’s quite determined.” He pours himself more sake, and Seiryuu watches the elegant bend of his wrist. “A woman’s vengence is a terrible thing, Shouran. It should never be courted.”

“You’d know, wouldn’t you?” he demands. His voice rises a little. “All those women, Seimei, and not an ounce of strength in any of them — what’s the point?”

All he gets in answer is a laugh; Seimei fills the second cup again. “I won’t be young forever,” he says. “And you mustn’t judge them so harshly, Shouran. Some of them are quite nice.” He smiles fondly into his reflection, and Seiryuu grits his teeth. “Wakana-hime, especially–”

“She’s afraid of you,” Seiryuu growls. “She can’t even look you in the eye, what makes you think she’ll ever–”

“I like her,” Seimei declares. There is finality in his voice — there, buried under the layers of pretense and play, is that same unbending steel. Reflected in his face is the same certainty as the day he went to meet Kashou Touda alone and brought the bastard back as one of his own. The smile on Seimei’s face at the thought of Wakana-hime is like nothing Seiryuu has ever seen before — not even when Taiin brings him windflowers, picked from somewhere far away. When he looks up, he doesn’t flinch away from whatever look Seiryuu knows must be on his own face. “If she’ll have me, then I’ll give myself to her.”

Protests spring to his lips; he wants to offer anything — anything — instead of this, but all he can do is stare. He bites his cheek until he tastes blood and he thinks, helplessly, that Seimei is beautiful under the light of the moon, half in shadow and smiling like he’s the god and Seiryuu is the unwitting human that has stumbled upon something he was never meant to see. He stares, frozen, as Seimei puts the cup down and leans forward. The movement makes his robe gape open, and Seiryuu finds himself staring at the pale vee of flesh that is just barely visible.

“Ah, Shouran,” Seimei says. There is pity in his voice and it rankles; Seiryuu wants to draw back and growl, to separate himself from what he knows is inevitably coming.

What he gets instead is a pale hand on his cheek, pale and soft. This is the hand of a scholar, not a warrior, and Seiryuu cannot even breathe.

“There is no need to be jealous,” Seimei says, and kisses him.

It tastes like alcohol and like the smoke of Seimei’s pipe; it tastes a little like blood and the quiet breath of regret. Seiryuu lifts his hands and cannot actually bring himself to touch, letting his palms hover just above the arch of Seimei’s shoulders. If he pushed just a littlle — if he used his weight — he could bear his master down to the wood of the walkway; under the light of the moon, he could strip away everything and have Seimei —

— but there would still be Wakana-hime afterwards, and the soft smile on Seimei’s face at the thought of her —

He closes his eyes and breathes instead, and then he pulls away. Seimei does not insult him by smiling, but there is affection in his eyes that understands and forgives, and Seiryuu gets to his feet, ignoring how his face burns and his chest aches and the heavy pressure that sits low and hungry in the pit of his stomach. Seimei does not reach for him, or say his name, but he watches Seiryuu go: even after Seiryuu vanishes from human sight, he can feel his master’s eyes following him.

The taste takes far longer to fade.

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