It was going to happen soon.
Koumyou didn't know exactly when, since visions were seldom precise—even the kaleidoscope of images Genkai had tried to describe to him all those years ago. But his friend had been sure he'd seen a golden-haired boy on the verge of manhood, and tree branches swaying in the howling wind as rain relentlessly pelted the earth.
Kouryuu was thirteen now, and monsoon season was about to start.
Koumyou entered his quarters, setting a tray of refreshments on a small table before he quietly slid open the door to Kouryuu's room.
The boy was sprawled on his bed, softly snoring, his feet tangled in the bedsheet that had bunched up at the end of the bed. Koumyou smiled at both the posture and the noise, and he gently eased the sheet free and drew it up over Kouryuu's sleeping form. Moonlight streamed in through the high window above his bed, and it made Kouryuu's hair glow with an unearthly light. Not for the first time, the sight made Koumyou's chest ache.
For a long time he stood there in the dark, watching Kouryuu sleep.
He wished he could watch Kouryuu grow to adulthood, to see what kind of man this solemn little boy would be without the violence and loss that was about to come. Sometimes Koumyou felt guilty about raising the boy like a son, keeping Kouryuu by his side knowing all the while that he would be taken from him in a few short years. But he hadn't been able to ignore the cries that echoed in his mind that day by the river, nor ignore the tiny hand that had clasped his.
He bent over the bed and gently brushed back sweaty locks of golden-blond hair. "I'm sorry for what will come," Koumyou whispered, as he did every night. "I love you." Kouryuu grunted and batted his hand away, and then he shifted to curl up on his side, his small chest still rising and falling with the even rhythms of sleep.
Koumyou's chest shook with silent laughter. He touched Kouryuu's hair again, briefly, and murmured soft words to encourage deep sleep. Then he left the tiny room, fetched his tray and a small lantern, and went out onto the porch to wait for Ukoku.
It would probably be their last visit.
He didn't have long to wait. Koumyou had been sitting on the on the porch, watching the moon dance in and out of the gathering clouds for perhaps twenty minutes when a familiar shadow spilled onto the ground, breaking away from the darkness of the woods. "There you are," he said. "I was beginning to wonder if the moon had scared you away."
"The moon wouldn't shine so brightly without the darkness of night," Ukoku replied, and he took off his bamboo hat and plopped down onto the worn, wooden boards. "Ooh, snacks," he said, and he accepted a glass of water from Koumyou.
Koumyou watched his throat move as he drank, and felt the warmth of arousal curl in his belly. "I have a treat for us," he said, and he carefully filled two tiny cups with sake.
Ukoku took his cup and tapped it against Koumyou's. "Kampai." He took a generous sip, and then he looked at the cup in surprise. "Persimmon sake," he said.
"Yes," Koumyou said, and he took a sip from his own cup. "You had wanted some the first time you came here."
"That was five years ago."
"Yes, well, it took me a while to find it at a good price."
Ukoku laughed. "You're priceless," he said, and he touched Koumyou's cup again.
They spent the next few hours eating, drinking, and catching up with each other.
Of all the news, Koumyou was more interested in what wasn't shared—Ukoku hadn't mentioned a single thing about the young disciple he'd brought to the temple a few years earlier. Koumyou was aware that Ukoku had no paternal feelings toward the boy, but he had the uncomfortable suspicion that Ukoku had taken in the young man out of boredom, for a new challenge. It seemed that Ukoku had tired of him, like he had tired of so many things that had been easily achieved.
Is he looking for a new challenge now? Koumyou wondered. For someone like Ukoku, boredom was a dangerous thing. Koumyou could sense it in him, coiling like a serpent ready to strike.
"You're restless," Koumyou said.
"What?" Ukoku was stretched out on the porch, one arm behind his head. He looked up at Koumyou. "Shit, after all this sake, I'm very relaxed. Speaking of which…more, please?" He held out his cup.
Koumyou refilled his cup. "I didn't mean physically. I sense some…ennui."
Ukoku was silent for a few moments, and then he replied, "Well…honestly, I thought there would be more to this 'Sanzo' thing. It's been what, nine years? And all I do is travel around with a scroll on my shoulders and get pestered for sermons."
"Sanzo priests are guardians, not warriors," said Koumyou with a chuckle. "And priests are expected to share their wisdom. Not that I'm any good at it, myself."
Ukoku side-eyed him. "Yeah, I think you probably suck at sermons."
"Oh, I do," Koumyou agreed. "I would much rather make paper airplanes." He drank some more sake.
Ukoku hitched himself up on an elbow. "You know, that's one thing I've never understood about you," he said. "You have more power in your pinky finger than anyone I've ever known, yet you are content to live here, in a temple high in the mountains, and make paper airplanes."
"Have you ever considered that the greatest challenge in having power is to not use it?"
"What good is having power, then?" Ukoku retorted.
There was some truth in Ukoku's words, Koumyou thought, and they could apply to his current situation. He knew that compared to most priests—even the other Sanzos—he had considerable power. Shouldn't he be able to escape the fate revealed in Genkai's vision? Between his own natural talent and the two scriptures that now sat rolled up in his quarters, surely he could defeat almost any foe. Now and then, like tonight, the question crept in from the darker corners of his mind.
But Koumyou felt that the larger, much more important question was should he try to avert his impending death? From what his friend had described all those years ago, his death was going to be a catalyst, the first domino that must fall to push the remaining tiles into their ultimate design.
His musings were interrupted by a tug on his braid.
"Hey, where'd you go?"
Koumyou blinked and focused on Ukoku. "Sorry about that." He reached for his sake cup and peered into its tiny depths. "It's empty," he said.
"We can't have that," Ukoku said, and he poured more sake. He glanced over at Koumyou. "You're in a strange mood tonight."
"You're almost broody," Ukoku said, eyeing him over the rim of his cup. "Everything okay?"
Koumyou smiled when he saw genuine, unmasked concern in Ukoku's gaze. "Yes. Everything is as it should be."
Ukoku raised a raven-black eyebrow. "One of these days, you'll give me a straight answer."
"But that's no fun," Koumyou replied. He tossed back the contents of his cup and set it down on the tray. "Let's go inside," he said, and he grabbed the lantern and lurched to his feet. "We've got better things to do than talk."
Ukoku grinned at him, and got up as well. "You're drunk, old man," he said, swaying where he stood. "Aren't you worried I'll take advantage of you?"
"You're drunk too. Maybe I'll take advantage of you." Koumyou stumbled toward his room.
"Ooh," Ukoku said, and he followed Koumyou inside.
Koumyou closed the door and set the lantern on the night table while he waited for Ukoku to remove his scripture and breastplate, and then he gripped a handful of Ukoku's robe and pulled him close.
Their kiss was fierce and ravenous, their hands rough and demanding. It had been far too long since their last encounter, and teeth clicked as tongues slid wetly together. Ukoku tasted of smoke and sake, and danger as well, and that undercurrent of violence was something that Koumyou had always found arousing. He gave Ukoku a shove, and when the other man toppled back onto the bed Koumyou climbed on top of him and straddled his legs. He reached for Ukoku's glasses, but Ukoku stayed him with a hand on his wrist.
"Don't," Ukoku said, his voice hoarse. "I want to watch, you drunk, kinky bastard."'
"Pot, meet Kettle," Koumyou said. He leaned over, and his braid fell over onto Ukoku's chest. "What do you want to watch?" he whispered.
"Suck me off." Ukoku picked up the gray-blond plait and thumbed over the soft strands.
"What, you don't want to watch me do a naked recitation of the haiku of Ikkyuu Soojun?' Koumyou sat back up, and let the collar of his robe slip off of one shoulder.
"I want to see my cock in your mouth."
"Ah, no poetry, then." Koumyou's hand traveled over pebbled silk, and then he tugged at the sash at Ukoku's waist until the robe parted with a soft rustle. Then his hand dipped lower, and he pressed his palm against the bulge in the front of Ukoku's fundoshi.
Ukoku let out a garbled moan and bucked up against Koumyou's hand.
Koumyou paused, and he pulled back just enough to let his hand hover tantalizingly over the soft cotton. "Shhhh," he said, holding a wobbly finger somewhere in the direction of his lips. "You'll wake Kouryuu. He's learned the sleep-words, so they don't work on him as well as they used to."
"No, we mustn't disturb the little prince," Ukoku said with a sneer.
There was jealousy in his tone, sour and brittle. Koumyou wondered how much worse it would get afterward, when Kouryuu became the guardian of the Seiten and Maten scriptures. Ukoku wouldn't take kindly to losing his 'youngest Sanzo' status. "Let me re-phrase," he said, and he gave Ukoku's stiffening erection a squeeze, "You wake him up, this stops."
Ukoku groaned. "Well, when you put it that way…" He lunged up and tried to kiss Koumyou.
Koumyou pushed him back down against the mattress. "What did I say about noise?"
He pushed up the soft, stretchy silk of Ukoku's black undergarment, and let his hands roam over the smooth, muscled planes of Ukoku's bare chest. He paused to feel the pounding of Ukoku's heartbeat before gliding his fingers down to press Ukoku's knees apart and push aside the twisted folds of the cotton underwear. He took Ukoku's cock in his mouth, and as he slowly licked and sucked at the hardened length he kept his hands on Ukoku's hips, pressing them firmly down even as Ukoku tried to arch up in response.
If this was going to be their last time, Koumyou was going to savor it.
He leisurely continued his attentions, and let Ukoku fill his senses. Beneath Koumyou's fingers tense leg muscles quivered, and he could feel Ukoku's hands tangling in his hair. He breathed in the musky scent of need and want rising from sweaty skin, and tasted the salt-tinged bitterness of pre-come.
After awhile Ukoku shuddered beneath him and muffled moans filled Koumyou's ears as his mouth was flooded with warm spend. He released Ukoku and sat back, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. Ukoku was disheveled and panting, his gaze was slightly unfocused and he had a satisfied smirk on his face.
Then that black gaze focused and turned predatory, and Koumyou let Ukoku push him back against the pillows. Eager hands yanked at the sash at his waist, and then Koumyou sighed when his cock was enveloped in the damp heat of Ukoku's mouth. He drew silky-soft hair through his fingers as Ukoku's head bobbed in his lap, and as pleasure coiled sinuously inside him Koumyou could hear the patter of raindrops falling against the terracotta roof tiles.
Thunder rumbled above them as he chased down his climax.
"Are you sure you don't want to wait until the rain has let up?" Koumyou slipped on a worn cotton robe while he watched Ukoku don his robes and bamboo breastplate.
"It's not going to let up," Ukoku replied. He tucked his scripture inside his robe and tightened the sash about his waist. "I should go before some of the lower paths flood." He turned to Koumyou. "I probably won't be able to visit again until late fall, maybe spring."
Koumyou said nothing as he followed Ukoku onto the porch.
"I'll see you later, then," Ukoku said, and he donned his hat and turned to go.
In that same moment Koumyou reached out and brushed his fingers against Ukoku's cheek. "Ken'yuu," he said, "take care."
Ukoku captured his hand. "You are seriously weird tonight—you haven't called me by that name in years." He nipped at Koumyou's fingers. "But you're kinky when you're weird, I think I like it." Ukoku released him, and the weathered pine boards of the porch creaked as he walked down the steps. Without turning, he raised a hand in farewell. "Ta ta for now."
Koumyou raised his own hand in response, even though he knew Ukoku wouldn't see it. "Be good," he said.
Ukoku chuckled. "But that's no fun," he said, and then he headed out into the rain. Moments later, he disappeared into the shadows.
Koumyou leaned against one of the porch's posts, and then he lit a cigarette and smoked while the rain poured down. How much longer? he wondered. Not much, probably—another month, maybe two.
It could happen tomorrow, for all he knew.
He drew in a lungful of smoke and blew it out, and he watched it dissipate in the rising wind. Ephemeral, fleeting. "'Life is as fleeting as a dewdrop,'" he quoted softly. He glanced down at the empty dishes, and then his gaze was drawn to the window of Kouryuu's room. "Ah, but I fear I have grown attached."
The wind began to kick up, and when the rain began to pelt him Koumyou flicked his cigarette butt onto the soggy ground, gathered up the sake cups and snack dishes, and went inside.