GENRE: Gay Historical Fantasy Young Adult Romance
LENGTH: 114 pages
Jao is looking forward to a winter spent in Masahiro's comfortable house, warm and well-fed for once. Then he discovers Masahiro has gone to meet Takeshi, the old Kazematsuri, Jao's number one enemy.
Takeshi has called in the one favour Masahiro owes him. It's odd though: the favour is that Masahiro has to go to Doshu, the capital city, and stay there for two weeks. And he has to take Hana along.
It's all very suspicious, and Jao follows them. It's a three day journey on a fishing boat, in freezing weather, and he has to deal with a very angry, frightened, and above all, tight-lipped Hyan, Hana's brother, who seems to know something dire about his little sister.
When Jao and Hyan arrive in Doshu, the situation worsens rapidly. Masahiro is drugged by Jao's old enemy Gosuke, Hana is abducted, and Jao has to team up with Takeshi to save her. Can he avert a political crisis in the process?
“What are we going to do about Hyan?” Masahiro asks.
“What do you mean?”
“Running off like this. He could get hurt, or get into trouble.”
Jao smiles. “He’s smart and he’s quick, even if he does have a hell of a mouth on him.” Hyan has an ear for swearwords and is collecting them in various dialects. Some are pretty creative and almost all are hilarious. “Let him be, Masahiro. You try to keep him hitched to the house like he’s an animal and he’ll go running. Trust me,” he adds, settling down on the mats opposite Masahiro. “He keeps waiting for things to go wrong. Eventually he’ll feel safe enough and this will stop, but till then he needs it. It make him feel safe.”
“He needs this,” Masahiro says softly. “The way you need to sleep facing the door.”
Jao’s stunned. He hadn’t realized Masahiro had noticed. “Yeah,” he admits.
Masahiro sighs. “I can’t help but worry. He’s still a child, Jao. Even if he has gained two feet in the last year.”
Jao grunts. “He’s nearly his own man,” Jao says. “And his yukata’s too short,” he adds. “He’s still growing.”
“So’s Hana. Did you see her sleeves?”
“Way too short. She needs a new one soon too.”
“Maybe the maids would take her down to the market, and she could choose a fabric. Something she can’t get in Okatsu. Something for Hyan, too.”
“And new sandals. Did you see the big tall things people use here?”
Masahiro laughs. “I like them.”
“We could get extra-tall ones for Hana. Then she’d be able to see through the peep-hole in the gate.”
Masahiro laughs. “She’d love it.” He laughs again, at himself this time, and sets down his tea. “Listen to us, Jao. Like a couple of old men. You’d think they were family.”
They are, in a way. The family they’ve made. Masahiro’s the last of his immediate family, and his only aunt is a widow with no living children. Jao never had any family anyway, not since he was a child, and his adoptive father died a long time ago. This is what they have instead of blood ties. This thing they’ve made.
“They feel like family sometimes,” Jao says.
“Well, don’t tell them,” Masahiro says. “I don’t want them getting scared and running off.”
Jao nods. Hyan is fiercely independent, Hana much tougher than she seems. They’ve both been on the streets before, and now that they’ve grown up a bit and learned to write and do sums, they’d both be fine without Jao and Masahiro. But Jao’s not so sure how he and Masahiro would do without them.
They sit there while the household bustles around them, unpacking trunks and beds, shaking out yukata and kimono and tobi, setting out sandals, hauling water, ordering in supplies. Around them the capital city carries on as it always has, fast and loud and filthy rich, and almost certainly rotten at the core.
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