GENRE: Gay Historical Fantasy Young Adult Romance
LENGTH: 37,523 words
Jao is the new Kazematsuri, the head of the Good Men assassins, though not many people know it yet. With the Empress Iyuko visiting Okatsu, things are hectic at the Hiroti household. Masahiro wants very much to bring his Kikuta-ware pottery to her notice, but how to do it? Throw a party, of course! He is delighted when the Empress's confidant, Higake no Doshu, arrives and asks Jao for a game of Shogi. It's all very civilized.
But, wherever the Empress goes, plots and scheming follow.
When Jao and Masahiro are deftly poisoned at their own party, Jao is blackmailed into helping a would-be assassin, bent on killing a member of the Empress's retinue and pinning the blame on the Daimyo.
Jao hates politics, but he knows about poisons, and killing. And when Jao crumbles under the onslaught of the poison, it is Masahiro who takes matters into his own elegant hands.
In the garden, Kundae clears his throat. "I hope you'll excuse me, sir. I can see you're a man of means, and I wouldn't mind your patronage. If I can be of more service to you than this ..."
Jao stares at him. Then he laughs. He can't help it. In actual fact, Jao is of no fixed address and basically homeless. He lives at Masahiro's house because he's Masahiro's lover, and technically he works for the palace, he's never yet collected any money from them. He's not exactly sure how you go about collecting a debt owed by a Daimyo, but Jao's pretty sure you don't do it by administering black eyes, which is the only way he knows.
"I'm sorry," Kundae says in response to Jao's laughter. "I overreached myself."
"It's not that," Jao says. "It's just, I don't think I am who you think I am."
Kundae shrugs. "Well, that's possible. Kazematsuri Jao isn't a name I'm familiar with, but Hyabusa Jao is a name I've heard from time to time in Muromachi." Jao looks hard at the doctor, but if they've ever met, he doesn't recall. "And Kazematsuri in general is a name I've heard before, if you'll pardon me, usually as an insult."
"I know about the old Kazematsuri. They say he was kitsune."
"They'd be just about right."
"And you're the new Kazematsuri? And someone wants to kill you."
Jao nods. Kundae's eyes are bright in the early light, almost alarmingly brilliant. He's stopped walking and is leaning toward Jao, intent suddenly, almost breathless. "Someone's poisoned you. And you need a doctor you can count on because you're not going to take that poison stone, are you? You have no plans to take it, none at all. Unless a second one can be found."
"Got it in one," Jao says.
Kundae nods. "I can be a loyal man. I am a good doctor. People look at me," he gestured to himself, to his eye, to his hand, "and they think, 'that man can't be a doctor, look at his body'. They only come to me when no one else will help them. But I learned medicine because I was born like this, because I wanted to have a place in the world, and I am good at it."
Jao believes him. He believes him because those are exactly the things Jao thought when he first saw Kundae and assumed that a good mind couldn't live inside a bad body. He believes him because he watched how he bound up Hyan's arm, gently and quickly, and how he checked his pulse and tongue and temperature afterward. He believes him because he did not ask how Hyan's arm got so badly twisted, only did what he could to ease Hyan's pain. He believes him because he could have sold him a fake poison-stone for hundreds of ryo and he didn't.
"I want to know what the poison is," Jao says. "And where it came from, who bought it and who sold it."
"I can do that," Kundae says quietly. "It's not uncommon for doctors to get their little projects. Mine might be poisons. I can ask among my colleagues what presents like this has."
"How long will it take?"
"Not too long," he says. Something in the way he says it makes Jao wonder.
"Before I die?" he asks.
"Oh, I do hope so."
Jao sighs. He nods. "That'll have to do."