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Slash and Yaoi Fiction
Title: Kindness of Strangers
Author: Juxian Tang
Fandom: Fushigi Yuugi
Pairing: Nakago/Tomo
Rating: NC-17
Archive: yes
Feedback: juxiantang@hotmail.com
URL: http://juxian.slashcity.net
Summary: Centuries later, Nakago has a chance of living another life, without the memories of his past. But Tomo's memories are intact as he appears in Nakago's life.

KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

Part 1

His wet palm slipped on the badly planed handle of the spade, and rough wood stripped the skin off, making a trickle of blood run over his wrist and fall with heavy drops into the slush under his feet. He didn't notice it, continuing to dig. He was working on the passage now, fortifying the walls. He was already so deep that throwing out the excessive soil put a strain on his shoulders; but he didn't notice it either.

The last few days had been very cold - and the nights were downright freezy, making the soil hard and resistant, letting him defeat it only slowly. His breath, fast and harsh, turned into clouds of white in the translucent still air - but his hair was wet with sweat, clinging to his forehead, falling in his eyes. It didn't hinder him - his eyes saw nothing all the same.

The ground, rich with stones, made it difficult to dig, impeded his progress. He threw the bigger rocks out and let the smaller ones spill on the bottom of the pit, mix with thick mud there. The light cast by the huge yellow disc of the moon above turned the empty, flat surface of the field around him into a kind of unearthly landscape.

The sharp edge of the spade made a high screeching sound meeting another stone. This one was big. For a while, the digger tried to fight with it, sticking the spade into the frozen earth furiously. As the obstacle didn't yield, his motions became more frantic, uncontrollable. When the edge of the spade bent, he tossed it away and dropped on his knees, sticking his fingers into the ground, clawing the stone with his fingernails.

His bare hands managed what the spade failed to do. He pulled the stone out, straining his muscles. The rock was too heavy for him to fling it out - and he put it on the brink of the pit, scrambled out and pushed it away farther. His damaged hands left bloody imprints on the dark surface of the stone but when he stopped for a moment, it was rather as if he felt satisfied with difficult job done than stopped by pain or exhaustion.

He raised his white, dirty face to the lemon-bright circle of the moon - and jumped back to the pit.

His feet slipped. His left ankle twisted as he hit the bottom and landed awkwardly on his side, his hand wrist deep in the sticky dirt. He lay listening to the hot, sharp pain spreading through his body from the sprained ankle, clenching his teeth on his lip not to cry out. Other sensations slowly reached him - stiffening cold of the night; his wet shirt clinging to his back; bone-deep weariness of his overworked body... And cold sticky mud on his abraded hands with broken fingernails.

Ayuru wasn't asleep any more.

He knew at once where he was - assessed painful familiarity of his situation: the enormous yellow face of the moon above him, the dirt clinging to his hands and body, the handle of the spade pressing into his side. He didn't feel the need any more - he just felt tired. Too tired.

It was November, the month that seemed more winter than autumn in this place. Perhaps it would take just an hour or two to freeze to death if he stayed like that, without moving. Death of cold was easy, even pleasant, so he heard - soon his body would stop feeling and that's all. And in the morning... the villagers would find him in the grave he had dug for himself.

Bad taste of this thought made Ayuru shudder. He couldn't really want that - to let them see him like this, in all the glorious evidence of his madness. Not that they ever doubted he was mad. Or worse - some kind of monster. They might even run him through with an aspen stake to prevent him from getting up again - who knew what superstitions they harbored in their thick heads.

Ayuru smiled at this thought, taking strength in his brief amusement to start extracting himself from the slush. He was not going to die this way; he didn't survive 1918 for that - for letting the earth bury him once again. At least not yet.

He knew he was in trouble as soon as he tried to stand up. His ankle felt as if a hot poker was run through it and up his leg, all the way to his spine. He shook his head, surprised with ferocity of the pain and clearing his vision, bit his lip to stay silent. It wasn't so bad, was it? It surely couldn't be so bad. The edge of the pit was on the level of his chin... this night he had worked hard, made it even deeper than usual. A moment of brief panic flooded him with the thought that he wouldn't be able to get out this time.

Nonsense. It was just a hole, not thirty feet of compressed ground in front and above him. He would get out.

"Hold my hand..." The memory came from nowhere. Johnson's voice was feeble and resentful, his weak fingers clutching at Ayuru's sleeve. "Stay with me, sir..."

He couldn't have stayed then - he had to dig, had to do it for all of them. Only when he stopped, Johnson was already dead and didn't care what Ayuru had or hadn't done.

He forced the memories away, to the back of his mind where they seemed to never cease hovering, and pulled himself up on his arms. The thought how distasteful he would be looking if he let himself flop back to the hole spurred him better than anything else, deriving the strength from his body. He gasped, lying on the brink of the pit for a few minutes, then dragged himself up on his feet and limped towards the house.

He nearly fell inside, stiff with cold and on the verge of fainting, as he finally pushed the door open. His crumpled bed that he'd left a few hours ago, without realizing it, made him look at it with longing He was so tired... What harm would it do if he just dragged himself to it and curled down... without washing himself?

The thought made him wrinkle his nose in disgust. He hit the light switch blindly, walked into the bathroom and turned on water. The water ran through the rusty pipes, first jets coming nearly bright-red, as always. Ayuru looked, almost mesmerized, as the strange-colored trickles whirled into the sewer until he finally found enough strength to pull off his clothes.

He stood under hot streams with his eyes closed, unwilling to see neither dirt and blood sliding over his body nor his own very pale face in the mirror on the wall. Only when the water was turned off, he cast a glimpse at the half-misted reflection - blond hair, wet and darkened, clinging to his face, blue eyes with a lost, shocked expression in them.

Eugene Ayuru Thornton used to be considered a handsome man; even spectacularly so. But it had been a long time since anyone had looked at him with this kind of interest - and even a longer time since he had wanted it. In the mirror, he saw how his lips moved, heard the sound of his own quiet voice, barely audible behind the rustle of water:

"Fuckin' lunatic... It's too late to dig anything any more - when will you stop?"

The thing was he couldn't stop - and he hated himself for it.

What was wrong with him? The war was over two years ago, enough time to forget, no matter what had happened. And by day, at his best times Ayuru almost was tempted to believe that he'd forgotten. But on the nights like this he knew that his attempted sanity was nothing but a thin film veiling his madness. On the nights like this he felt trapped again in a field-engineer underground passage near Amiens, with three of his people, all of them wounded, suffocating, dying...

He stepped out of the tub and leaned heavily on the washbowl. He wasn't cold any more, just sleepy, and his eyes seemed to be full of sand. He groped for the bottle of disinfectant and splashed the liquid on his hands, gritting his teeth. Good; one thing was done, two to go.

The pills were near, as he kept them. His injuries normally hadn't been so drastic after his 'nights out' but it wasn't something unusual for him to bruise and strain himself in his frenzied state. In a way it was weird; every time after such a night Ayuru managed to believe that it was the last time, that somehow the next full moon would pass safely for him. And yet he kept all those medicines handy for himself.

He swallowed four pills at once, washing them down with the water from the tap, and started with his ankle. Not broken... he was lucky, wasn't he? Like he needed a proof of it. It still hurt enough that he nearly threw up with pain by the time he finished to bandaged it.

Now he just needed to get to the bed... and then he could have a smoke.

It took him three attempts to light a cigarette and tobacco felt harsh in his sore throat - but smoking calmed him down significantly, strangely returning him the illusion of control. The sky behind the window was turning blue from black - and as the fading moon approached the horizon, Ayuru stretched in the bed and closed his eyes. Now it was safe to sleep again.

* * *

It snowed since the noon - but it also warmed up and the white flakes thawed as soon as they reached the earth, turning into sloppy, liquid mess there.

Ayuru walked out to the porch, wrapped in a heavy fur jacket, and watched apathetically how the circles of smoke from his cigarette floated in the air. It had taken him nearly two hours to clean the mess he had left after himself in the house last night - and he didn't even wash his clothes. He felt sick looking at them in the brightness of the day and eventually he threw them to the basket and tried to forget.

But the pit had to be refilled - there was no other way about it - and now Ayuru braced himself together for the task. Normally, he had more self-control, would've already been there, throwing the earth back down. But painkillers and gnawing ache in his ankle made him lazy and irresponsible. Why the fuck did he have to hurry? Not to upset the tender feelings of the villagers? Most probably someone had already seen his work and told others.

Well, it didn't matter. He would fill the pit now. The cigarette-butt flickered in the air as he threw it, taking a deep breath. He liked how the air smelled here - so clean and cold and wet. Sometimes there were moments when, looking at the fields and forests spreading around, Ayuru almost could believe he'd chosen this place for its beauty and its peace - and not because it was the only place where he could live with his madness without hurting anyone. And without getting back to a mental asylum, which would certainly happened to him if he stayed in London...

He'd wasted his day; it was already getting dusky, at this late afternoon hour. Ayuru winced, limping across the field, trying to spare his foot from pressure - but it didn't work well. There was still pain that made his gaze unfocused.

This pain - and the falling snow - were probably the reasons why he didn't notice it earlier. Only when he was in forty or something steps away from the hole he saw there was someone there; not standing but lying - lying right on the ground.

He felt as if something pushed him in the chest. There must've been some completely simple explanation to it; Ayuru said it to himself even as his heart clenched in apprehension and he found himself speeding up his pace, as much as he could. Was it someone from the village - someone who'd probably slipped because of the dirt around and couldn't get up? A figure curled at the pit, motionless, under wet flakes of snow falling on it - and it was all Ayuru could see so far. Then he saw long strands of hair spilled around and frowned.

A girl? A woman? It wasn't good - it just couldn't be. The women from the village were mostly quite reserved beings, wouldn't think about going somewhere alone, still less close to his place. Could it be that last night he'd done something he didn't remember? The thought shocked Ayuru nearly still. It was his worst nightmare, what he was afraid most of all - that one night his madness would come out of the flimsy control he had over it - and then he'd be dangerous to others as he was to himself.

But no, he hadn't done anything yesterday - he was sure. Gasping, he was at the body and slid on his knees on the ground, reaching his hand. He was aware of a brief thought that flashed through his mind - how long the hair was, hiding the curled body almost completely. Then he touched the shoulder and turned.

The person was naked. Under dark streams of wet hair, there was whiteness of the naked body, skin almost blue with cold. The hair misled Ayuru so much, making his to expect it would be a woman, that for a few moments he just stared at the flat chest, unable to make a connection. He finally shook his head, understanding.

A man; a very skinny one. Briefly, Ayuru's gaze slid over the narrow body, searching for wounds, for anything that could explain what had happened. There was no blood, no open injuries. On the man's chest, two roughly looking scars were visible - but they were healed, not fresh ones. With slightly trembling fingers Ayuru reached under the man's jaw, touched carefully. The beating of pulse was feeble - but it was there, and a huge wave of relief flooded him.

The man was alive - he was just frozen. His limbs felt wooden and his skin felt completely icy, inhuman, under the snow falling on him. No wonder, Ayuru thought, who knew how long he'd spent here. Who he was and how he got here were the questions that could wait for now; there were more important things to do.

He picked the man up - briefly glad that the stranger looked so thin, couldn't be that heavy - put the body over his shoulder and got up. His ankle screamed with pain but Ayuru really didn't think there was any other variant. He couldn't leave the man here while he'd go for help - the count was possibly for minutes before cold would take over his body irreversibly.

The house, dimly lit, seemed too far away; it wasn't, Ayuru knew it - in a normal state he would carry such a weight without problem. In any case, he wasn't going to give up. The man's hair - for God's sake, who could imagine a man wearing his hair so long? - was ticklish against Ayuru's neck as he took the body somewhat more comfortably. The man's feet, covered in dirt, were swollen and bruised badly - making Ayuru think that it looked like the stranger had come from somewhere. Naked and barefoot, as he was?

On the other hand, it had been full moon light yesterday - so, why not to imagine there were other kinds of psychos, apart from Ayuru himself, affected with it? He'd just seen the man's face briefly - and it was difficult to say something about it as it was, with closed eyes and blue lips, but Ayuru was pretty sure the man was not from the village. Was there some lunatic asylum nearby? If there was, he'd never heard about it. In any case, the man probably would be looked for soon. Right now all Ayuru needed was not to let him die.

He was catching the air with open mouth by the time he reached the house, and his ankle felt huge and throbbed unceasingly. But it could be taken care of later. He pulled the blanket from the bed, wrapped it around the man, placing him on the floor in the bathroom, opening the water hastily. It took a minute or two for the water run clear and let him put the plug to the sewer, and Ayuru found himself talking in a half-whisper to the man as he rubbed unfeeling hands:

"Wait just a little. It'll be warm soon."

Warm water had to help; he'd heard it would be bad if someone had been frost-bitten - but the man was just very cold, that's all - wasn't he? The dirt covering the man's body and hair stuck to Ayuru's hands now while thawing snow soaked to the blanket. As the tub filled a little, he raised the man and put him in, seeing how the water colored brown immediately. All right, he would have to change it later.

The strands of the man's dark hair floated in the water, soft like seaweed, and Ayuru found himself marveling at their length again. He must've made quite a striking sight, with his hair clean, he caught himself on thinking. Ayuru's own hair, due to his disregard, had grown quite a bit during last months, almost reaching his collarbones; but the man's hair was much longer - longer than to his waist.

Filling his hand with water from the tap, Ayuru reached to the man's face carefully, washed it. With the strands of hair finally pushed away from it and dirt coming off, he could at last see the stranger clearly. The man was young; almost a boy, Ayuru thought with a pang of sudden pain. He knew almost immediately what the young man's pale face reminded him, and he feared this memory, would do anything to shove it away. His soldiers; the young boys dying on his hands, as he wiped the dirt from their faces - just like that. Johnson, and other two, and all those who had died before the war was over for him, died in the trenches - all those he was supposed to protect and never could do it.

"It's just a memory," he said to himself quietly. The situation had nothing in common. The young man was not a casualty of war; although he could've been - where were these scars on his chest from - and, as Ayuru noticed when carrying him, identical ones on his back? The wounds like this could've seemed impossible to survive - but he'd seen many impossible things happen... and many possible things turning hopeless.

Even with all color drained from the young man's face and his lips white, almost blue, his face still looked rather comely, Ayuru thought, its features fine and delicate, the nose straight. The eyelashes matched the hair, so long and dark, contouring the man's closed eyelids with perfect semi-circles.

The water covered the man up to his chest, and then Ayuru pulled the plug out and left the water run. Hopefully the level had to stay, keeping him warm, but the water would clear up. The man's hands and feet seemed to warm up, and he was breathing. He just didn't come round.

"My father's going to have a heart attack when he sees the bills for heating water," Ayuru whispered with wry amusement. Well, his father would pay, no problem. Having his eldest son as a remittance man probably didn't make Mr. Thornton happy; but having Ayuru somewhere nearby would be even more embarrassing.

He took the shower from the hook and poured the water on the man's hair. The strands were gritty with dirt, and he ran his fingers between tresses, before applying some soap. It didn't feel strange to wash someone's head - Ayuru had done it before, had liked to wash his little half-brothers when they were kids - and at some moment he found himself so absorbed in this task that he started murmuring a song quietly, the one he used to sing for his brothers. The difference was just the length of hair - and the weight of the man's head on his palm he had to support.

The foam and water leaked muddy at first, then lightly brownish, and then there was just clear water, and the man's hair became heavy and smooth falling over Ayuru's hand. He passed his palm over the man's face, wiping it from water.

Why didn't he regain consciousness? Ayuru could feel the man's breath against his palm, soft and steady, but the enormous eyelashes didn't flutter. A thought came to his mind then and he got up, limped to the kitchen, found a started bottle of whiskey. He poured just a tiny dose in a small glass and pressed it to the man's lips, let the liquid slide between the man's teeth.

The reaction was startling. The alcohol leaked in the man's mouth, and Ayuru saw the pale throat move minutely, swallowing. And at the next moment the man's body arched violently as he choked and coughed, his eyes flying open. Thin arms flung forward, in an unconscious gesture of defense, although Ayuru didn't know against what threat. He tried to grab the man's hands, preventing him from thrashing - and at the next moment the man's very long fingernails pierced his wrist.

The pain was hot and burning, and immediately Ayuru saw trickles of blood running from under the fingernails sticking in his skin. The man struggled desperately, wildly, in silence - except from broken gasps falling from his lips - and when Ayuru cast a glance at his face, he saw an unblinking stare of wide-open and yet unseeing eyes.

He managed to free his right hand, and clenched the fist, and brought the fist down on the man's jaw. The blow was heavy enough to be stunning, to throw the man back. His hands clawing Ayuru's wrist unclenched, went limp. But the blind, empty look in his gaze was gone. The huge, golden-yellow eyes looking from a pale face went even wider suddenly - and the expression in them was shock and something that Ayuru could describe only as recognition.

He saw the young man's lips move as if he tried to say something - but the word that came had no meaning for Ayuru.

"Na... nakago..."

And a moment later the man passed out again.

Ayuru knelt at the tub, looking at the pale face surrounded with wild dark hair in front of him - the face that was peaceful again, with the eyes closed and lips compressed tightly. Quick red drops of blood ran from his wrists to the water, turning pink there.

The end of Part 1

& & &

Part 2

He wrapped the young man's hair in a big towel and his body in a clean robe and picked up the unconscious form. The man's head fell back against the crook of Ayuru's elbow; the line of his throat, pale and fluttering with breath, looked painfully vulnerable this way. Ayuru sighed, carrying the man to the room.

His wrists stopped bleeding by now, just smarted; on the left one the traces were deep, in the form of fingernails, but the right one was just scratched - like cat scratches. Indeed; Ayuru recalled a stray cat he'd brought from a street once, when he was eight, and how the thing resisted madly his attempts to wash it, left him with his hands all slashed. He'd hidden the cat in the kitchen, managed to persuade the cook to keep it - but his stepmother found out all the same and made him take the cat away.

The boy had cat's eyes, yellow and huge, with fluctuating pupils; and he really was just a boy, Ayuru thought - so thin and frail. Seeing a bruise that started forming on the young man's jaw made him feel slight remorse for hitting him; but what else could he do - the boy was incoherent. Putting him to the bed, Ayuru pulled the blankets over him, two of them, tucking them carefully. It should've kept him warm; this and the fire in the fireplace. It had gone down while Ayuru was occupied with all the things - but he added a few logs, and the flame blazed up again, making the room almost stiflingly hot.

All right; there was hardly anything else he could do for the boy right now. Apart from finding out who he was and if someone was looking for him, Ayuru reminded himself. But for that he had to go to the village and made inquiries. He looked at the window doubtfully; the sun had set already, and it was snowing again, so, the shroud of darkness outside was almost impenetrable.

"They won't open the doors," he told himself shrugging. The villagers met him with prejudice by day, and he could only guess what kind of reaction they could have if he appeared at night. Well, not at night, it was only eight, but they went to sleep early.

So, it had to wait till tomorrow. With a pang of remorse Ayuru realized he felt relieved with this decision. His ankle hurt him at every motion - carrying the weight didn't serve it good at all. Besides, he thought, if the man was looked for, someone would come here to check anyway.

He couldn't stop thinking about the stranger as he took up with the necessary tasks of cleaning. It was another one of his little or not so little obsessions: keeping things in order; sometimes - like now - at the expense of other things. He hadn't been like that before - Ayuru remembered it, but he also couldn't help it, flinched in aversion when seeing his own muddy traces on the floor.

If the boy escaped from some clinic, he thought scrubbing the tiles, they must've really done a bad job on him. How far could he go as he was, without a piece of clothes on him on such a cold day? On the other hand, there could be some completely different story there; a fugitive prisoner or something. Ayuru didn't know why he decided at once the boy was mad; because of intensity of despair and then joy in his yellow eyes? Or because Ayuru liked to think there was someone even crazier than he was?

"Should've never left the asylum then - if being among lunatics is so comforting," he whispered to himself acidly, pushing the strands of hair out of his eyes.

But no, he couldn't have stayed in the asylum; Ayuru shuddered slightly as memories of his stay at the mental hospital came to him. He wondered sometimes whether anyone suspected how many people there were at the asylums like that - young people, those who would certainly be sane and well-adjusted if not for the war. And now they were locked up, many without a chance to ever get better.

He had tried to get better, desperately - agreed to undergo every kind of treatment they offered him. Well, with him they first asked whether he agreed - after all, Ayuru's father paid for the clinic quite a solid sum; with those who couldn't pay no one was that considerate. He'd seen people tied to beds, force-fed, kept under cold showers... Ayuru had given his consent to go through electricity treatment because he hoped it would heal him - and he still shivered when thinking about the pain. But many others were never asked...

If it was a place like that, no wonder the boy tried to escape. Ayuru caught himself on this thought and got angry with himself; he really was projecting his own destiny. But he couldn't help it - he felt it as a justification for the delay with getting rid of the stranger: that the boy could do with a little rest before getting back to a place where it must've been bad for him enough to run away, where he possibly was abused.

Having finished with cleaning, he re-bandaged his ankle and put a plaster over his wrists. The boy really had crazy fingernails - how could one grow them this long, for God's sake? They must've been half an inch long - and even though some of them were broken now, Ayuru still had time to notice that they seemed to be polished at one time.

He shrugged and walked to the kitchen, put a kettle on the stove. He noticed absently he was running out of provision, should've dropped to the grocery at the village. He scowled at bread and cheese that he found; sometimes the sight and smell of food made him dizzy, even as his stomach ached with hunger; he made himself eat nevertheless. All he needed was eating disorders to go completely mad.

The tea was ready finally; he filled a cup, rather enjoying the smell of thyme and chamomile in the brew, walked back to the room - and stopped, nearly choking on the tea.

The boy was not in the bed any more; instead of it, he was kneeling, Ayuru's white bathrobe pooling around him on the floor, and his long tangled hair streamed over his shoulders, half-hiding his figure and face. He looked like a broken doll, exhaustion obvious in his huddling body - and yet when he heard Ayuru's steps, it was as if electricity was run through him, galvanizing. He straightened, shaking the hair away from his face, looking up at Ayuru resolutely.

The golden-yellow eyes were huge, and the dark pupils in them were expanded so much that left only a thin line of the irises, making the young man's gaze look desperate and yet ravenous. For a few moments Ayuru was so shocked with the undisguised emotion shining from these eyes that he just felt lost - and the boy kept staring at him, devouring him with his eyes, actually. The boy looked at him like he was a ghost or something, Ayuru thought - and then the eyes darkened with guilt and distress.

Bowing his head quickly, looking at one point on the floor, the boy said something in a high, melodious voice.

Ayuru didn't understand a word. More than that - he couldn't even guess what the language was. Surely not Scottish or Welsh - nor French, nor German. And hardly any other Roman language - even though Ayuru didn't talk them, he would recognize the sound.

The only other language he had a bit of notion about was Hindi. His mother had been an Indian - and she was responsible for his second name, Ayuru, the name he hadn't used for the most part of his life, its sound too exotic for Englishmen - the name he chose to wear now. His father married his mother when serving in Bombay, and Ayuru often wondered how it ever could happen, taking into account what a conventional man his father was. Perhaps it was the charms of the foreign country - the charms that had worn out soon after he'd returned to England.

His mother died when Ayuru was three years old, and sometimes Ayuru thought it happened exactly because his father started finding her a burden. He had few memories of her - and the truth was he really took nothing after her, neither in coloring nor in features. Maybe, it was the reason why she wasn't particularly affectionate of him - Ayuru vaguely remembered her staring at him in a kind of bewilderment, as if she was not sure it was her who'd given life to this big blond boy. But she talked Hindi to him sometimes, and the sounds stayed in his memory.

So, he was sure the boy wasn't speaking Hindi as well.

The words died out on the boy's lips, his head still bowed - as if he expected something from Ayuru; and looking at the kneeling figure, the shoulders hunched in perfect submission, Ayuru saw suddenly that the boy's fists, pressing against the floor, were clenched tightly on the cloth of the robe - so tightly that the knuckles and fingernail sockets went white.

Confused, looking for words, Ayuru still couldn't say anything - and then the boy tossed his head up again, stared at him and said something else, and now the control seemed to slip away from him, his voice faltering.

"Nakago-sama..."

It was the only thing that Ayuru discerned - and only because it was the word the boy had used before. But it was not even the words that affected him - but the undisguised suffering in the boy's gaze, the open doom in it. He flinched when realizing what it reminded him - the gaze he'd seen from mortally wounded, knowing that they would die in a minute or two - and accepting it.

He couldn't bear it; he moved instinctively, putting the cup on the table without looking, walked up to the kneeling man. It seemed the boy wanted to recoil but made himself stay as he was. Ayuru touched his shoulder.

"It's all right, I'm not going to hurt you. Nothing will happen to you, you're safe here. See, I don't have anything to harm you," he turned his hand palm up, showing to the boy. Under his touch, he could feel the finest vibration of the young man's body - and then he saw the boy's eyes stop on the stripes of plaster around his wrist.

"It's really nothing," Ayuru said pacifyingly. "Didn't hurt at all."

Enormous eyes looked up at his face, searching with strained attention, as if the boy didn't understand him, just tried to figure out something on the tone of his voice - and then he said something again, questioningly. "Nakago-sama" was there again. Ayuru rubbed his forehead thoughtfully; it didn't make sense at all.

"Well, let's try to figure it out," he said trying for his voice to sound peaceful. "But first you'll get back to bed. You'll get a cold sitting on the floor like that - if you already haven't." And when the man didn't move, he waved with his hand. "Back to the bed! Under the blankets."

Finally the boy seemed to get what was needed from him. He must've been frozen again, trembling as he pulled the blankets around himself. But his position stayed very tense, his face wide-eyed and confused.

He looked like a frightened child, Ayuru thought, with this delicate face under wild hair and Ayuru's robe so big on him that the sleeves reached the tips of his fingers.

"You see," he said gently and smiled. "It's warmer like this, right?"

It seemed his smile mesmerized the man. With his head tilted awry, he looked at Ayuru as if studying his face, not able to believe in something. His voice was cautious as he asked suddenly, his thin hand pointing at Ayuru:

"Nakago-sama?"

"No." In relief that he finally understood something Ayuru shook his head. "Ayuru."

He could've called himself Eugene; or he could've given his whole name. He didn't know what made him call himself like that. The truth was he thought about himself as Ayuru - started doing it a year ago or so, when realizing that his treatment spectacularly failed and not a long time before moving to this place. At that time, he realized suddenly that hearing his own name from his father and others became strangely unpleasant for him, up to the point that he preferred to lock up in his room not to hear it.

A doctor he talked to about it said to him if must've been a subconscious reaction, his mind trying to disentangle him from the memories Eugene had been through, to start a new life. Ayuru found it a weak explanation - his memories hadn't gone anywhere, on the contrary, never had been more fresh. But better this explanation than no explanation at all; and he did try to start a new life in this secluded village on the moors of North Yorkshire.

"Ayuru," the man repeated, and suddenly there was such relief in his voice that Ayuru frowned in confusion. Open adoration didn't leave the man's eyes, just fear was somehow gone.

"And you?" Ayuru asked. "What's your name?"

He accompanied it with a gesture, and the boy seemed to understand. He looked like Ayuru's not knowing his name kind of upset him but he came over it quickly.

"Tomo." A phrase he added in his bird-like voice sounded like a question, and Ayuru thought he understood what it meant.

"No, I don't know you. You take me for someone else."

The boy's name sounded foreign; Ayuru was pretty sure it was what the boy said, not "Tom" or anything. But surely it made sense - he *was* a foreigner.

"Are you Russian?" Ayuru said hopefully. "Russky?"

There were some Russian emigrants in London. The boy - Tomo - stared at him blankly.

"Polish? Serb? Egyptian?" There was nothing Arabian about the boy but, after all, Ayuru also didn't look half-Indian.

It seemed Tomo enjoyed listening to the sound of his voice immensely but Ayuru's questions didn't say him anything. Then he moved his hand, showing around, and asked something. The only word Ayuru got because it was repeated twice was "Seiryuu".

"Seiryuu?"

Tomo nodded; Ayuru shrugged. He suddenly found it very amusing; they really could go far like that - both talking and understanding nothing. He chuckled; it'd been a long time since he sincerely found anything funny, not in a sarcastic way. Tomo's eyes followed him with rapt attention.

"I think you must be hungry," he said. "Care for something to eat?"

In the kitchen he downed his cup of nearly cold tea and lit a cigarette, chewing the filter thoughtfully. Everything was going not like he expected it. More difficult - because it seemed there was no hope to find out from Tomo where he was from. But at the same time, Ayuru admitted it suddenly, being near to the boy made him feel easier than he'd felt in months or years.

Maybe, it's because you stopped moping over your own problems and thought about someone else for a change, he scolded himself mentally.

There was really not a big choice of food, just some bread and chocolate, of which Ayuru was not particularly fond. But he could heat it, mix it with butter and made chocolate cream for toasts. Hopefully Tomo wouldn't mind sweets.

Behind him, a slight motion was heard. He cast a glance and saw Tomo standing in the doorway, peeking in cautiously. His bare feet stepped one to the other on the cold floor.

"Come in," Ayuru moved his head. "Sit down and raise your feet."

His gestures must've been getting better because the boy obeyed eagerly. Ayuru turned back to the stove, mixing butter with melting chocolate. He felt the gaze on himself, Tomo probably barely blinked, looking at him, but there was hardly anything Ayuru could do about it, so, he decided not to pay attention.

Whoever it was Tomo was taking him for - the guy must've done something to deserve this awe; Ayuru sighed. In any case, tomorrow or, maybe, even this night the boy would be found and would leave, wouldn't see Ayuru again. He poured two cups of tea, for Tomo and for himself, coated the toasts with chocolate cream and put all the stuff on the table.

"Here you are."

He saw Tomo peer at the toasts cautiously; all right, they didn't look very neat, Ayuru had to admit it.

"Maybe, you don't eat chocolate," he shrugged. "But I really have nothing else."

He sat at the opposite side of the table and pushed the plate closer towards Tomo. The boy's slim fingers with those hideous nails touched a toast carefully and jerked away as he dipped into warm chocolate. The look Tomo gave him was so completely defenseless that Ayuru felt dismay. He reached to one of the toasts, smeared his fingers in the cream and licked them.

"Really. It's not so bad."

He saw Tomo mimic his actions, licking his own fingers. For a moment his face kept a wary, concentrated expression - and then his gaze filled with amazement. He glanced at Ayuru, dipped his fingers to the chocolate again and licked them quickly.

For the first time Ayuru saw how a shadow of apprehension was gone from the boy's gaze. For once, there was nothing but pleasure on Tomo's face, his eyes glimmering happily. He looked at Ayuru and smiled.

Sure, it was just like him - to assume that everyone knew what chocolate was, Ayuru chided himself. Not everyone had grown up in the West End, right? At least the boy seemed to like it.

"Eat the bread, too, all right?" He recalled then that his words had no meaning and gave an example, broke off a piece of toast and chewed it. Hmm, it truly didn't taste so bad...

He reached for another bit without looking - and his fingers stumbled against Tomo's thin and cold ones. He looked at the boy - and saw Tomo withdraw his hand quickly, guilt written on his face; he looked at his broken fingernails sadly and then at Ayuru's wrist.

"Come on, forget about it." He shook his head, looking at Tomo. "Eat before chocolate gets cold."

"Chocolate."

The word was heavily accented but recognizable. Ayuru couldn't help chuckling.

"It's surely the most important thing you need to know in English."

He wondered how it could happen that the boy turned up in the country without knowing even a bit of the language. Didn't those who took care of him teach him? In any case, anyone hardly took a good care of him, judging on how skinny he was and how weird looking, Ayuru thought with sudden anger.

Tomo finished with the second toast by now and drank the tea. His nose wrinkled at the smell, and Ayuru thought he probably didn't like thyme or something else - but Tomo didn't say anything.

"Some more?" Ayuru pointed at the rest of chocolate cream. The boy looked like he would gladly have some more - and them his face distorted as he pressed a hand to his mouth. "Jesus Christ!"

Ayuru was right in time to drag him to the bathroom and push on his knees over the bowl as the boy went sick. Angry with himself and upset, Ayuru listened to the painful sounds, cursing his own thoughtlessness. Didn't he see Tomo looked like he hadn't eaten anything like this before? He probably hadn't eaten for a while at all. Should've found some lighter food for him...

The sounds or retching finally stopped, and Ayuru entered the bathroom again. The boy crouched at the bowl, his fingers clutched on white ceramics. The dark strands of hair hid his figure almost completely, touching the floor - but Ayuru still noticed thin trembling of his body. He lingered in hesitation.

"I'm sorry. I didn't know it'd end up like this. I should've known, of course..."

Through tangled strands of hair, the glance Tomo gave him was full of despair. The boy's white hand was still pressed to his mouth, and the words that came sounded muffled - and yet full of such dismay that Ayuru felt everything clenching in him. Even without understanding the words, he understood the meaning, the shame in Tomo's voice.

He sighed, trying to sound careless.

"But it's not so awful, is it? Things like that happen to anyone. No reason to get worked up about anything."

He walked closer, flushed the water casually, then opened a tap. Tomo's eyes were locked on the rusty water running to the sink. Ayuru waited until it turned clear.

"See, nothing terrible. Just wash yourself and that's all."

He saw Tomo reach to the water and walked out. He truly felt sorry it happened this way; for some reason, there was something so vulnerable about the boy - even raw; like he was opened in advance for anything Ayuru could do to hurt him.

The water stopped running - and a few moments later Tomo was out, his face and even some strands of hair dripping wet.

"Here, use the towel." Ayuru reached for one of them and handed it to Tomo. "And go to sleep, will you? I don't know how about you but I'm bone tired."

He had only one bed - a disadvantage of living alone; so, there really was not much choice. Ayuru would have to sleep in the armchair; not the best variant for his tired body - but he had been in worse situations, more than once. Besides, it apparently was one-night arrangement; tomorrow this thing about Tomo would clear up.

He told Tomo to lie down; the boy asked him something, pointing at the bed, and Ayuru nodded. He actually didn't have an idea what he nodded about but he decided it was better to agree with whatever Tomo said, to keep him calm. With the lamps switched off, only the fire in the fireplace drove away the shadows. In this orange light Tomo's face, as he lay curled under the blankets, seemed younger and almost translucent pale. His huge eyes with dark widened pupils followed Ayuru with unfaltering attention - but in a little while Tomo's eyelashes seemed to become too heavy for him. He blinked tiredly and finally his eyes closed.

* * *

Ayuru didn't notice how he fell asleep. In fact, he was pretty sure he wouldn't be able to sleep - the armchair truly didn't fit for his 6 feet 4 inches of height. He wrapped himself in a plaid and peered at the dancing fire thoughtfully. And then the fire blurred away, and when he started realizing something, he was in the darkness, and through his foggy consciousness a small sound reached him. Like a little dog was whimpering somewhere.

It didn't make sense, he thought dimly - he didn't have any dogs. His father's greyhounds in the summerhouse were all adult and strong beings, and wouldn't make sounds like this. Then Ayuru mentally kicked himself for his stupidity; he wasn't in the summerhouse at all and... He opened his eyes finally.

His body screamed with inconvenient position; the fire had gone out during the night, and only a few embers glimmered red in the fireplace. Yet this light was enough to discern a figure curled at his feet, white robe and long black hair of Tomo spilled on the floor.

"What the hell..."

The boy really looked like a pet, huddled at Ayuru's ankles. He must've been cold because his thin body was shivering unceasingly; and there were little moans he made, obviously in his sleep. For a moment Ayuru looked at him, shaking his head incredulously. What's wrong with him - why couldn't he stay in bed?

Then he shifted and reached for the boy.

His touch woke Tomo up abruptly, making him back away. His face with wide eyes starting through the dark tresses looked pale and wild. And there was such stark longing in his gaze that Ayuru bit his lip in confusion.

"Why are you here?"

Tomo answered something hastily, guiltily; the sleeve fell back from his thin arm as he pointed at the bed.

"Yes," Ayuru said patiently. "There's only one bed and you'll sleep in it. Because you need to be warm - and because you're a guest. Kind of."

The boy was shaking - and his teeth chattered finely, but as Ayuru reached to him, he recoiled, saying something again, with insistence. He applied gestures then - like Ayuru had done before - and with vague amusement Ayuru decided that Tomo was much better in gesticulating than he was. At least he didn't have a doubt what Tomo wanted to say. Ayuru had to sleep in bed, not in the armchair. If he didn't want to sleep in bed with Tomo, Tomo would sleep on the floor with him.

"I actually don't want to sleep at all," he tried and waved his hand, giving up. The bed was quite big; they'd probably manage to settle there together without hindering each other. "All right. Let's sleep in bed."

He must've imagined the expression of utter happiness flitting over Tomo's face.

He waited until the boy lay down closer to the wall and then slid to the bed himself. Well, if they both lay still, there was even some space between them. And it felt good to sleep in bed, Ayuru decided - much better than in the armchair.

He turned on his side away from Tomo, punched the pillow and closed his eyes. The boy behind him lay quiet like a mouse, even his breath inaudible. Blinking tiredly, Ayuru looked at the dying fire and fell asleep again.

He woke up with a wonderful feeling of wellbeing. The sun was caressing his face, not blinding-bright but winter-like soft. He was warm and comfortable. Warm? Usually he woke up freezing because the fire was out. But this time he didn't feel cold; there was something warm pressed to his back - and it was when he felt someone's arms wrapped around him.

Tomo; Ayuru flinched slightly as realization came to him. He could distinctly feel now how the boy held him, one of Tomo's thin hot arms braced around his shoulders, the other shoved under Ayuru's head. It shouldn't have been comfortable - but curiously, it was.

He'd never been waking in someone's embrace before; suddenly Ayuru realized it. He'd had lovers - and he'd used services of paid women during the war - but it always was just a quick tumble, with very limited time together - no time for falling asleep and waking up together. Of course, there had been nothing between him and Tomo, so, the comparison was really uncalled - the boy just must've snuggled to him in his sleep. Ayuru felt guilt flood him - for enjoying his position dimly, for thinking about it at all. It was like he was using the boy while Tomo was unawares...

He moved carefully, turning, freeing himself from the wrapping arms, trying to do it without waking Tomo up. God, the boy's arm must've gone numb, with Ayuru lying on it like this. He turned on his back - and met Tomo's eyes.

Sunlight made spirals of gold dance in his eyes as the boy raised on his elbow, his wild hair falling over his face and chest - and with amazement Ayuru realized there was no trace of sleepiness in Tomo's gaze. In fact, Tomo looked absolutely contented as his stare traced Ayuru's face and body. A little smile curving his lips was so gentle and triumphant that Ayuru blinked.

"Ayuru-sama," Tomo's high voice had sing-sang notes in it, that made the rest of the phrase, which Ayuru didn't understand, sound strangely enticingly. He shook his head, letting know that he didn't get it, and then added, his voice hoarse with sleep:

"Good morning to you, too, Tomo."

He thought he had to get up. The way Tomo looked at him, as if he reveled in Ayuru's sight, was disconcerting. Well, in his London days, he used to be looked at with interest and even admiration, to be considered very handsome. But no one had ever looked at him like this. In fact, he'd never seen anyone to look like this at anyone at all.

Tomo noticed his movement, and his thin-fingered hand raised in an involuntary gesture, as if he tried to stop Ayuru. Tomo's eyes filled with confusion and guilt at once and his hand fell - but it was enough to make Ayuru delay. He looked at Tomo expectantly, not wanting the boy to get agitated again.

His reclining back against the pillow seemed to make Tomo's eyes light up with joy; and at the next moment Tomo leaned down to him and his lips pressed to Ayuru's.

He felt softness of Tomo's lips - and then Tomo's warm tongue slid into his mouth, licked against his. Ayuru's eyes flew open as he gasped in surprise. The kiss was completely startling - he couldn't have expected it less. But least of all he could expect the sudden warmth that spread through him from the touch of Tomo's mouth on his.

He hadn't been in a human contact for too long; almost two years since the last time he'd felt the other's lips on his, held the other's body against his. Trying to shield the world from himself and himself from the world, Ayuru had cut off all the threads that connected him to anyone. But at this moment his body reminded him about all that missed time.

He felt soft tips of Tomo's fingers touch his cheek - and it triggered him suddenly beyond control. There was no coherent thought in his mind left - just his body reacted in a raw need as he reached for Tomo, overturning him on the bed, pressing him down, crushing his lips in a violent kiss.

At this moment Ayuru didn't think it was a man he had in his arms - this thought even didn't cross his mind and, anyway, he didn't care. The closeness seemed much more important for him, the feeling of the thin hot body in his arms, of soft lips parting for his tongue eagerly. He buried his hands in Tomo's hair, crumpling the strands, cupping his hands full of dark tresses around Tomo's face. All his body was screaming for more, demanded more contact for his hands, for his lips, his body pressed to Tomo's. He kissed the pale beautiful face, catching the soft gasps from Tomo's parted lips - and when delicate hands touched his face, Ayuru kissed the slim fingers as well - because his body rejoiced in the taste of the other's skin, of the alive warmth of the other's touch.

He could feel fragility of Tomo's body under his, chest fluttering under Ayuru's weight - and he wrapped his arms around Tomo, pulling him closer, short of crushing him against himself. The heat of Tomo's body was melting into his, even through the cloth of the robe and Ayuru's own clothes he hadn't removed for the night. The delicacy of Tomo's bones, his bird-like thin body trembling against Ayuru's - it was maddening; and Ayuru pressed him even closer, even more insistently.

He kissed silky skin of Tomo's throat - and felt the boy's fingers plait through his hair, felt Tomo's lips pressed to his head - and it was when realization of what he was doing slammed on Ayuru at last.

Oh God, he must've been mad! He jerked away, letting Tomo go, feeling how Tomo's hands slipped out of his hair. Jesus, what was he thinking about - it was good if he didn't break the boy anything, with the way he threw himself on him. Backing away to the far corner of the bed, Ayuru panted, shaking. His lips felt swollen and hot with kisses and he touched his mouth cautiously.

A little more, and he would fuck the boy just like this! How could it happen? How could he lose control so much? He knew Tomo for less than a day and... He, Ayuru, was not a homosexual.

Well, the truth was he had been with a man once before - right after the war, when he'd met his war comrade, and they both felt so alienated in the peaceful city. But then it at least had had some explanation. Unlike now...

How could it even come to his mind to force himself on Tomo? Of course, the boy had kissed him first - but really, Tomo was half-insane - Ayuru had to have more presence of mind than that. And let's be honest - even if Tomo wanted to stop - he wouldn't be able to overpower Ayuru anyway.

Remorse made him feel choking; his painful erection, a clear evidence of his madness, made it all even worse. Desperately, Ayuru pulled the longer strands of his hair over his eyes, as if trying to shield himself.

On the other end of the bed Tomo sat staring at him with the eyes full of anguish. His hand reached to Ayuru carefully as he started saying something, and Ayuru just shook his head desperately.

"Don't say anything! I'm a bastard. I'll try to do everything to return you where you can be safe from me."

He raised from the bed and walked to the bathroom, shut the door quickly. As the water ran, he gave his face a look of disgust; lips puffy with kissing, blue eyes almost black with widened pupils.

"What will you do next time, you madman?" he asked himself bitterly.

Well, he knew for sure what he had to do now; to go to the village and inform the authorities about Tomo. Likely the young man was declared missing by now.

And you would do no more harm to him, he told himself.

The end of Part 2

& & &

Part 3

Nakago-sama was displeased with him. Tomo tried not to waver with his gaze, remembering that Nakago always demanded to look in his eyes. The man came up to him, blue eyes darkened to almost thunderstorm grey, and Nakago's face, in its glorious beauty, was cold and sealed. Tomo's heart was racing so hard that blood pounded in his ears, making all other sounds dim and faraway. He clenched his fists, not noticing that his long fingernails pierced the skin of his palms.

Somehow, he wasn't afraid that Nakago would hit him; maybe, it would be better if he did - it would mean touching Tomo, would mean some kind of contact. Tomo's incomprehension of what he'd done wrong was much more distressing. Was Nakago angry that he dared to kiss him? But he hadn't been angry at first - he seemed to like it.

Seiryuu, Tomo always believed that if only he had a chance, if Nakago let him try his skills - Tomo would be irresistible. Soi surely didn't know half of the things he did - and, after all, she was a woman, she could never understand a man like Tomo could. And now... Nakago didn't enjoy him! Nakago pushed him away.

Tomo struggled with a wish to run to the mirror and start checking his appearance obsessively. Did he have something wrong with his body, with his face? Was it because of the scars Nakago was turned off? Damn the fuckin' twin for deforming him... But no, really - scars couldn't spoil him so much; Tomo was pretty sure he had enough charm to make up for it.

Nakago reached his hand - but it was not for a blow. There was a small pile of clothes he handed Tomo. He said something, in this incomprehensible language of his, and then put the garment on the bed in front of Tomo. He turned and walked out, and Tomo heard how the entrance door opened, letting in a cloud of frosty air, and closed. Nakago was gone!

Fighting an impulse to follow him, Tomo held onto the sheets tightly. It was no good to pursue him, if Nakago didn't want Tomo to, if he wanted to be alone. He, Tomo, would be a fool if he risked angering the man further - and he wasn't a fool, was he? He just was afraid that somehow Nakago was gone forever, that Tomo wouldn't see him again.

No, no... It couldn't be - it was Nakago's world, where he felt comfortable - he wouldn't disappear from there. *They* couldn't do it to Tomo!

The thought of *them* filled him with anger and fear, so intense that it hurt; and as if seeking an anchor, Tomo reached and grabbed the clothes Nakago had given him, pressed the heap of material to his chest. The clothes smelled with soap, a sharp chemical blend - but underneath, there still lingered the smell of Nakago - his new smell - herbs of his tea, harsher tang of the little sticks he smoked, mint of his perfume water. Tomo imagined this smell surrounding him, covering him with a wave as he hugged the clothes. The illusion didn't stay - his power was gone or very weakened, apparently. But he still felt somewhat better.

"Ayuru."

He tried Nakago's new name on his tongue and found that he liked it. Or was it not a new name but an old one? He knew it was how Nakago had been called before becoming seishi; did returning to it mean something? Deep in thoughts, Tomo changed his clothes, discarded the robe and got into the ones Nakago brought him.

They did have jolly weird fashion in this world - quite unpretty. Tomo laughed thinking about it. The cloth was rough and of some dull color - and the upper robe Nakago gave him looked like it was knitted from some thick threads. But it was warm, Tomo couldn't deny it.

The size was wrong for Tomo, with Nakago being rather taller than him, and the sleeves fell down right to the tips of his fingers. Tomo liked it - it reminded him that it really was Nakago's clothes he was wearing. Soi probably never tried on anything of Nakago's garments - he wouldn't have liked it, Tomo thought was a big grin on his face. Then he reminded himself that Soi obviously was dead a long time ago - but it only made him grin wider.

They all were dead, all seishi, weren't they? His smile gone, a shiver went through Tomo's body, and he slid down from the bed, added a few logs to the fireplace. Nakago had lit the fire before leaving, and it still didn't burn down, but Tomo wanted a really big fire, to get really warm. He sat on the floor in front of the fireplace, so close that he had to push his hair away not to risk burning it. The chill was leaving his body, and Tomo relaxed slowly.

He never wanted to be cold again.

Cold and pain was what he remembered the best of that endless time since the moment of his death, since when blood stopped running from his mouth and his heart stopped beating. Cold, pain - and splitting memories of every little thing he had done in his life, every hurt he'd inflicted on others. Memories revisited him so many times, in all their ugliness - unbearable at first and then growing in intensity even more.

He was supposed to feel remorse for everything he had done wrong; it wasn't a secret - he knew it was the aim of those who brought these memories to him: to make him regret and, thus, correct him for his future reincarnation. And he did feel remorse - a world of remorse, so terrible that he wished desperately he could die once more, finish his own loathsome life himself. But of course it was the point of everything - he couldn't die; he was dead - and he had to pay for his sinful life with infinite torment.

Well, it was not exactly infinite - and Tomo knew it as well, even as his soul and what felt like his body suffered in agony. *They* had to torture him only until he recognized his mistakes... until he repented. It was how it worked - he was just one of many sinners, just one of those to be corrected.

Now and then, he was drawn out of the hell of cold and brought to a judgement. And there, as *they* checked whether he was ready to go back to the Earth, he couldn't deceive them, no matter how he tried. He remembered screaming and begging, telling he understood his mistakes, he wouldn't ever do it again. But for some reason it wasn't enough. And again and again Tomo was returned to his misery.

He didn't know what he did wrong - why couldn't *they* forgive him? Once, after another trial, he pleaded for an answer, pleaded to explain. And, unlike always, a voice talked directly to him, for the first time acknowledging that they heard him.

"Because you don't want to forget."

"What?" Tomo felt lost, bewildered, his mind working feverishly. Of course, he wanted to forget - he'd done so many hideous things in his life, couldn't bear the memories of them any more.

"When you're ready to part with your previous life, you will be let go."

Part with his previous life - Seiryuu, there had been nothing in his life he could feel sorry to part with... And yet even as Tomo thought about it, he knew the truth. There was something he didn't want to forget; coldly beautiful face of the shogun of Kutou, strands of yellow hair shimmering under the sun, eyes of the color of deep water - so still...

Nakago... most of what Tomo had done he had done because of the man, to deserve an approving look from him, an encouraging word. And sometimes it did work, sometimes Nakago did find him useful. If not for the last disaster, if Tomo hadn't failed him so much - maybe, there could be something more between them, maybe, a day could come when Nakago would appreciate him...

Tomo's judges were right; he couldn't regret what he'd done. He couldn't forfeit his memories of Nakago.

Back in reality, on the floor at the fireplace, overwhelmed with the thoughts, Tomo curled in a ball, wrapping his arms around himself. His body didn't hurt any more - as if had been hurting for what was, maybe, hundreds of years; but he still remembered the pain. It was settled deeper than in his flesh - it was always present, and he didn't think it would ever let him go. But he'd just have to live with it.

The last period of his time in hell - he didn't remember it so well. It seemed his never-faltering consciousness became fuzzy; once he would have been relieved to feel it. But by then he was by far too exhausted to be glad with anything.

Next trial was also like through the mist for him.

"His soul is disintegrating. It's not true that one could stay here for eternity. A few more years - and he'll just cease to be."

"All of his comrades already returned to life. This one is so stubborn."

"But we can't let him vanish."

"He isn't ready to forget."

Kneeling in front of their judgement, Tomo heard these words as if from afar. He barely understood their meaning, wasn't even sure they were related to him.

"If someone doesn't want to forget - then he won't forget," a harder, colder voice said. "Let him live the memories he cherishes so much."

And then Tomo felt something changing, the darkness around him dispelling - and he felt like falling somewhere - but, maybe, always stayed in place. A hard surface was under his feet, solid but shaky for some reason - and at the next moment his knees hit the ground as he slumped down.

He knew the difference at once; being dead, he could feel his body because it was a source of unceasing suffering for him. But he also always knew that it was not real. Now his body was of flesh and bone. He saw his long bare arms and strands of black hair rippled in the wind, and his pale belly sucking in the air. But it was cold nevertheless.

Icy wind lashed his body, throwing white flakes of snow in his face. Tomo looked around, seeing nothing but fields in front of him, covered with low leafless shrubs. It was so empty; he felt terror clench his throat. Was he left completely alone? Even in hell, with all the suffering, he still knew he wasn't forgotten, *they* had watched him. Did they give up on him now?

There was no way to answer this; and before his feet started getting numb, Tomo got up and walked, huddling in his hair. He went somewhere - he didn't know where. His feet did lose sensitivity after a while, and then he just walked like a marionette, as if someone else was moving his limbs. It went darker - he didn't know if it was something with his eyes or just the sun was setting. And finally his body just refused to move any further - then he curled on the ground and closed his eyes. He could just die once more, that's all, right?

Next thing he remembered was a terrible pain wrecking his body as sensations returned to his frozen limbs. He hated the cruelty of this torture, wanted to be unfeeling, safe again. And when some fire liquid slid into his throat, scalding him, he fought, defending himself, clawing blindly around. His fingernails entered flesh - something that had never happened when Tomo had tried to resist his torments in hell - and he heard a gasp of pain. Then a heavy blow threw him back, and suddenly his vision cleared up - and he saw a frowning face under longish strands of blond hair, blue eyes narrowed in pain.

Nakago-sama was with him.

Thinking about that moment, about unbearable joy that flooded him then, Tomo couldn't contain a happy smile. His body unwound, the tension leaving him, and he stretched on his back, listening to the slight cracking of fire.

Someone among *them* must've taken mercy on him - and sent him where reborn Nakago was.

Of course, Nakago didn't remember anything; his repentance must've been sincere - and he was given a chance of a new life. But it was him, Tomo didn't doubt it for a moment. Even his name... Ayuru - it was Nakago's own name. He probably should've called him like the man wanted, Tomo decided, the more so he liked Ayuru a lot. It was a melodic name, somewhat warmer sounding than Nakago.

Stretching, Tomo thought whether he should've asked Ayuru to call him Chuin as well. But it seemed kind of undignified to change his name all of a sudden, taking into account that Ayuru didn't remember anything about Tomo's past. Besides, Tomo didn't feel like Chuin. He didn't lose any memories of what he'd done, after all.

With his eyes closed, Tomo resurrected the sight of Nakago's face, its chiseled features and pale coloring. Well, telling the truth, the garment of the shogun made Nakago even more impressive than modern clothes. But who cared about clothes? The most glorious sight the former shogun must've made when without clothes at all. A sly, dizzy grin appeared on Tomo's face at this thought. He opened his eyes, trying to look somewhere past the ceiling above him, somewhere to another plane. Clasping his hands on his chest, he whispered quietly:

"Thank you."

Ayuru... It was not only another name Nakago had now. He changed as well, so much. In fact, Tomo thought, in so many things Ayuru behaved just the opposite to the way Nakago would. Where Nakago was cold, Ayuru was warm; where Nakago was uncaring, Ayuru seemed to be willing to please Tomo. It was bewildering to have Ayuru serve food for him, to know he must've washed Tomo when Tomo was unconscious.

But at the same time... Tomo thought he knew an answer to that. Perhaps Ayuru was the kind of person Nakago always wanted to be. Maybe, Nakago hadn't even known it - but in after-death, there was nothing he could hide from *them*. And it was Nakago's award - to be reborn finally as a man he could've become if his life had turned differently.

Only Ayuru didn't look particularly happy with his life, did he? This thought made Tomo toss and turn in anxiety again. It bothered him that he couldn't find a decision for that. Well, he'd always been good with finding decisions, hadn't he? It was what Nakago appreciated him for. But how could he please Ayuru now, how could he make him understand that Tomo was important and necessary for him?

There was no Seiryuu no miko in this world - and apparently Ayuru didn't hear about seishi - and somehow, for some reason, Tomo felt sure that Ayuru didn't want to become a god. He probably had enemies all the same - who didn't? - and Tomo might've helped him against them. But for that he at least had to understand Ayuru.

He reminded himself as well that without his clam, he couldn't focus his power. Even if he had his power at all, he added sarcastically. It made Tomo mope for a few minutes before he decided that at least his brilliant mind and his attractive looks still were with him.

And language... he'd learn it. He tried a few words he memorized from Ayuru repeating them. "Cho-ko", and "bas-rum", and "so-ri". The words sounded strange; Tomo wrinkled his nose, listening to the sound of his voice, and quickly stopped himself from mimicking. He didn't want to have lines on his face, did he?

It reminded him that he should've made another attempt of seducing Ayuru when the man was back. And even if Ayuru got angry and hit him, it still was worth a try. But first Tomo had to make sure he looked his best.

The process of making himself beautiful - or, rather, even more beautiful, as Tomo preferred to put it - always brought him into a better mood. He got up, signing in full voice. There was no one in the house, so, no one could interrupt him.

In a small room Ayuru called "bas-rum" he stopped, looking around. The beautiful white ceramic bowl where Tomo yesterday had... well, never mind... was apparently used for pissing. Still singing, Tomo rummaged through the things piled on a little shelf under the mirror. There was a small brush, made of pig bristles, and a box of mint-smelling powder.

Could it be a powder for make-up? Tomo gave his face a look, overwhelmed with conflicting feelings. He felt so much better in make-up - but if he was going to seduce Nakago-Ayuru - it could be an inconvenience. Anyway, the powder didn't stick. Another brush, in a small glass, was still slightly foamy - and next to it Tomo saw a shining form of a curved blade.

Ayuru used it to shave! The realization made him giggle ecstatically, especially when Tomo thought of his skin, still burning slightly from the touch of Ayuru's morning bristles. Tomo touched his cheeks contentedly. Shuffling through Ayuru's intimate belongings, with his body still remembering Ayuru's weight and hungry kisses - what could be better?

Resolutely, Tomo turned the handles of the tap, opening the water. Life was comfortable there - the water ran just like this - and hot water! No wonder Ayuru didn't bother to have servants. After the water ran clean, Tomo plugged the tub and took off his clothes.

Really, he could've done without those scars. Looking at his refection, Tomo posed, then turned, taking a glance at his back - then pulled his hair over the traces. Well, no wonder the marks looked like that - the wounds were mortal, after all. His mind was flooded with recollections, of the hideous pain piercing him - and of even more excruciating realization that he was dying and failing Nakago-sama.

Why did his judges give him this flawed body? And a weak body, come to that. Tomo scowled at the thought of throwing up yesterday. Ugh, what a shame. On the other hand, Ayuru washed his face after that - and was actually so *nice*...

The thought of Nakago being potentially nice was hilarious. Tomo started another song, a pathetic aria of a maiden left by her sweetheart. For some reason he always sang it when feeling high-spirited. He only had his hair washed yesterday, so, he tied it up with a belt from the robe in a tail on the top of his head. It made him look taller and more imposing, and Tomo enjoyed his sight for a few moments before flopping to the water. It did feel good; for all those years in the ice hell he'd thought he wouldn't ever get warm. But it was worth it.

It was worth it, Tomo repeated. He was with Nakago again - with Ayuru - and where were all the others? Where was Soi? She obviously rejected her memories, gave up on Nakago-sama. He never meant so much for her as he did for Tomo.

The thoughts of his exclusiveness were so pleasant that Tomo started falling asleep. He woke up as he slipped down in the tub, sniffing some water inadvertently. And the water was getting cold.

Ayuru-sama should've been back by now, shouldn't he? Where could he go? Tomo tried to shush a feeling of apprehension as he dressed again. His fingernails stuck against the thick threads of the sweater and he looked at them in distaste. As if it wasn't enough that he'd scratched Nakago - these nails were an insult. Unpainted, some broken - and none of them neat enough.

There was nothing in the bathroom that could help him, so, he moved to the room, searching around. A drawer of a table was stuck, and when Tomo yanked on it with too much force, it broke loose from the moorings and from Tomo's hands, falling on the floor, spilling its contents around.

"Gomen nasai, Ayuru-sama," Tomo whispered, a guilty expression on his face. On the other hand, there he found a small file that could be used for his fingernails. He applied it immediately, kneeling among scattered paper and various small things Tomo didn't know names for.

Here; finally his hands looked properly. Murmuring another song, Tomo cast a sly look at the papers. Curiosity took the best of him eventually as he dug through them.

Disappointment was harsh. They all were written in signs Tomo didn't understand. Look, it wasn't fair! How was he going to serve Ayuru if he knew nothing about the man? At last a picture turned up among written papers, and Tomo grabbed it greedily.

The likeness was amazing; it didn't look like a drawing or a portrait. In fact, the little faces on the picture looked so alive that Tomo cautiously touched them with his fingers. But no, of course, it was just a paper.

On the picture, there was Ayuru - with short hair and looking somewhat younger but also thin and tired. His head was bandaged and his left arm was on a sling. There were two boys standing at the sides of Ayuru's - one of them about twelve and the other, maybe, nine. The elder one kept his arm around Ayuru's shoulder.

There was something written on the back of the picture, and Tomo felt awfully frustrated for not understanding it. He felt like throwing the picture away but then recalled it was Ayuru's, put it carefully on the floor next to him and reached for another portion of papers.

The new picture was wrapped into a sheet of paper, covered with thin delicate writing of blue ink. Tomo unwrapped it and looked with fascination, expecting another secret of Ayuru's life to open for him.

He cried out; his voice was hoarse and faint - but anguish made it such. His hands trembled excruciatingly as he held a picture in front of himself. He wished he could believe his eyes deceived him - but he knew it was not so. From the piece of paper, the face of Soi looked at him.

The picture was not colored; Soi's hair looked dim brown this way, and her hairstyle was different. There was a strange white crown on her head and her dress was also white - and despite himself, Tomo had to admit that it suited her wonderfully, outlining her breasts and tiny waist. Her gloved hands lying on her lap held a small bouquet of flowers. She smiled - and Tomo felt as if his heart was torn in pieces, as if the feathers pierced his chest again.

She smiled triumphantly at him! He was wrong - she was there, reincarnated earlier than Tomo returned - and Ayuru knew her, loved her - kept her picture. Again she crossed Tomo's path, again she was going to occupy Tomo's place at Ayuru's side! She already occupied it. He, Tomo, was too late, *they* had held him for too long in the hell.

But why? Why were they so cruel to him? What did he do to them? Whimpering, Tomo crouched over his knees, hugging himself. He ached inside, and there was nothing that could stop this pain.

Damn you, Soi! Did he have to fight her again, over Ayuru? And how could Tomo fight when he couldn't even talk to his beloved? She had all the advantage over him.

Soi's smug face looked at him from the floor, and Tomo couldn't bear it any more, grabbed the picture and thrust the sharp point of the file into her eyes. The paper tore and there was just a disfiguring hole instead of Soi's face. It didn't really make Tomo feel better - but he thrust and thrust, until the whole picture was just shapeless scraps of paper.

He looked at it, panting and sobbing dryly, still too shocked to think clearly. And then the door creaked behind him, and there were footsteps, and when Tomo turned back, Ayuru stood there, with his arms full of paper parcels.

Tomo saw how Ayuru's eyes widened as he assessed the image in front of him - and then Tomo recalled what he seemed to forget for all those years. In anger, Nakago's eyes didn't darken but went lighter, like pale melted ice. Tomo made a choking sound of terror - but there was nothing he could say or do to justify himself.

The end of Part 3

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