Azadari's AN: Hello, everyone. Hope all's well. Herein you'll find a not-so-squeaky clean Seishin and a squeakier-than-as-is-his-wont Toshio. They're more fun that way.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Even the Seishin's trusted advisors quoted this cliché so often that the young king had begun to think of it as a sort thinly-veiled criticism. It's natural that you would be a poor ruler, your highness. You are not your father, after all.

Not his father. No, not in many ways. In rare cases, this dissimilarity was an asset. The elder Muroi had been a warrior, but he'd not carried himself like nobility. In contrast, the king regent was a fine-boned beauty, the object of both envy and covetousness from men and women alike. Hair like spun silver, skin that was positively luminescent, and fae eyes of a startling green—he was an ethereal creature that deigned to walk amongst men. And they were all aware of it.

Shameful, then, that the object of his covetousness seemed to be less taken with him than those nameless, faceless others who constantly vied for even a fleeting glance.

He dressed slowly that morning, preferring to see to his own needs rather than taking up a new squire. Winter had come, sending sharp winds cutting through the castle's high windows. A creeping chill had likely settled in the throne room, Seishin thought as he gazed at his rumpled, empty bed. He lamented the fact that he'd be cold again tonight.

He sighed wearily as he placed the crown atop his hair. Today was the last of many small council hearings aimed at determining the army's activities for the winter. His forces were on return to the capital after a successful campaign, but their course for the next several moons had yet to be determined. Seishin knew Toshio would march to the gates of Hell if ordered, but he'd rather have returned to him a warm bed and warmer hands.

He slinked into a velvet red and ermine cloak, knowing that the vibrant color would draw the court's eyes. If he couldn't command respect, he could certainly command attention. Even so, he knew that his bejeweled crown and rich fabric were better suited to Toshio.

Shameful, too, that the knight did not seem aware of that either.

Small council was as tedious as he'd predicted, and while his team of advisors were adamant about pressing the kingdom's advantage and continuing their expansion, he'd ignored them all and ordered the army to camp in the capital until more amenable climes returned to the realm.

He wasn't a fool. Seishin realized that his decision was predicated more on his cravings for his knight's touch than it was on the security of the kingdom. But either his need for the other was too great or his capacity to rule too small. A shortcoming is a shortcoming, he reckoned. And there wasn't much to be done about his.

He circumambulated his personal rose garden several times, ruminating on this very point. Would I be a better king if I gave him up? Would it matter? Snow fell in large, wet flakes, landing in his grey-white hair and disappearing without a trace.

He shivered. It was indeed bitingly cold. Perhaps he'd have his pyromancer seek out materials that burned hotter so that he'd not retire in freezing chambers.

"Your highness."

Seishin whirled around, only to find his most senior advisor bent low in obsequiousness. Tokujiro Yasumori was a confidant of his father's and an old family friend. He was also one of the few that dared to disagree with the young king.

"Yes?" He spoke softly, a pale finger running along the outer rim of a pale blue rose petal. Frost roses grew only in winter, and only in the capital. Seishin loved these particular flowers. Like him, they too awaited the springtime sun.

"I thought I would introduce to you the Lady Sayuri. She is lovely daughter of Lord and Lady Matou. They were very loyal to your father."

The rose's stem snapped under his fingers, thorns cutting into his palm and drawing blood. A cold, hard look passed across the king's features then, but both Yasumori and Lady Matou had bowed to low to catch it. He'd not noticed the girl until now; she seemed rather bashful, in fact. She had halted just outside the stone archway leading to the rose garden. Perhaps Lady Matou sensed that this place was his sanctuary, and that trespassers were treated with the sort of cruelty only a king could contrive. At least she's not a tittering idiot, he thought savagely.

Seishin comported himself in accord with the part that he was supposed to play. Clearly, she'd been brought here as a swain in hopes of enticing him to marry. And she was certainly not the first. Yasumori had showcased several such women, and they were all the same—shy, deferential creatures with ample breasts and full hips. Seishin supposed this particular combination of features were those that made a successful queen. But he'd trade them all for rough, calloused hands and challenging brown eyes.

He came to a stop before the young lady and crooked a cold, ungloved hand under her cheek so that he might look at her properly. She had brown eyes, eyes that sparkled with something more than supplication. And if his heart sped slightly at the prospect of seeing those eyes clamped shut in sublime pleasure, he did not notice that it was not in response to the eyes before him but rather those that he longed to see. He smiled as a king regent ought in front of a lady. "My lady. You are more beautiful than the rumors tell." He offered the blue rose that he'd lately ripped from its stem. She blushed and took it with a simpering bow. "Perhaps you would join me for some refreshment in my chambers this evening?"

Yasumori nearly gasped. It was not kingly to be so forward. And it was not queenly to accept such a scandalous invitation. But Seishin only raised a challenging brow at his advisor as if daring him to contradict when he'd been so bold as to have this slip of a girl intrude upon the regent's solitude. Lady Matou curtsied her assent. He nodded at the both of them as he walked past. "Until then, my lady." You silly, silly girl.

If Seishin was worried about the lady's tepidness, he needn't have been. Once out of range of prying eyes, the Lady Matou (if she might still be referred to as such) seemed to have no compunctions about performing the deeds that were expected of a girl whose dearest dream was to be crowned queen. She pitched her tone and voice perfectly during their conversation. She had one glass of wine and no more. Her frock was of the brightest blue, and it strained against her corseted figure in a most flattering way.

In no time small, soft hands moved across Seishin's naked chest and untied his breeches. He did not object, although he was not at all interested until her lips slipped over him and the sensation clouded any thoughts he'd had about courtship and wives, and a knight with firmer hands and less yielding lips.

And he must have been quite far gone, because he swore he heard a gasp that could only belong to Toshio before the door slid shut softly.

Only when he cracked his eyes open after the lady had finished her ministrations did he see confirmation of his worst fears. His chamber door was ajar, and he was certain that it had not been moments ago.

He pushed Sayuri away, but not with any force. He was still royalty, after all. But he'd not rebuffed her angrily enough it seemed. She looked at him expectantly, her breasts heaving against her dress, lips swollen and hair mussed from where he'd gripped it for leverage.

"Have I done something wrong, your highness?"

He could have laughed at the irony. "No. I am tired. I wish to conclude our evening."

Then the fire that he'd seen in her eyes blazed a little brighter. In response, he felt a heat building under his skin. But not for her. It would never be for her, or any of the other hers that were sent to him like sheep to the slaughter. He dressed himself hastily, hoping that she'd interpret this as a sign that he'd like to be left alone

Sayuri's disappointment was palpable, but he knew she'd never dare to quarrel with him. At least not without a crown of her own. "Might we meet again?"

"I think not." The words were like ice. He'd not meant them to be, but he was in an urgent hurry to seek out his knight, to explain himself, to find a more suitable bedmate for this cold, cold night.

"But, your highness-"

His patience had run its course. "Oh, I see. You expected a crown for a night's pleasure, my lady?" She blanched. And Seishin quite liked that he could affect someone in this manner. "A queen does not yield herself so readily. A lady you may seem, but you're no more than a scullery maid, no?"

She slapped him. Good, he thought, I deserve that. But not because I betrayed you.

He simply smirked in response and strode out of his chambers, leaving her to gather herself and find other accommodations for the evening. Seishin never considered how cruel he was. He had thoughts of only one thing, and that thing might have been taken from him while he was too busy entertaining the so-called lady that his advisor had seen fit to throw at him. Serves him right.

Toshio was in his own chambers, as predicted. He'd removed his mail and was facing the fire, sword glinting gold as he slowly rubbed a whetstone along its length. His knight looked so alluring, dressed only in leather breeches and a tunic, skin and eyes alight as he sat before the glow of the fireplace.

Seishin knocked meekly. The door had been left open, so he rapped his knuckles against the stone doorway. Toshio's head snapped up, a flit of surprise dancing across his features before he recomposed himself. He stood abruptly.

"My lord. I mean, your highness." He bowed. Seishin wished he wouldn't. "Do come in."

"Please stop."

"As you wish, my lord." Toshio righted himself and reclaimed his seat.

How to begin? "There was no trouble on the road, I take it?" he inquired idly.

"No, my king." The sound of the whetstone sliding against the sword was grating on Seishin's senses, making him tense without reason. He sighed.

"Toshio. What you saw. I can explain."

"There is no need, my lord." The words were spoken without an ounce of feeling – no disappointment, no hurt, no anger, no trace of betrayal. Seishin was offended at his lack of effect on the other's emotions.

"Yasumori thinks I need a wife."

"Of course. A king needs a queen, after all."

Seishin spun on his heel and slammed his fist against the stone mantelpiece. "Enough!" Toshio merely looked on. Not knowing why he was so angry, Seishin relented. "Toshio, I was being selfish, thinking I could have…" Have what, precisely? Have the same sensations that sent his mind reeling whenever his knight touched him in the manner that Lady Matou had? Have revenge on his crafty advisor for bringing him new would-be queens every time his knight left the capital? Have some sort of distraction from the pain of knowing that he'd failed as a king? Have a means of revenge against the father that had refused to let him be anything less than kingly on every occasion? Have warmth, have heat, have passion, have something other than the nothing that he'd become so accustomed to?

"You cannot be selfish, my lord. You are the king." And Seishin was surely imagining it, because for the smallest of instances he heard a whisper of jealousy underscoring those words. It made them hard-edged and sharp. And if he'd permit it, such words would draw blood as sure as the rose had done earlier this evening. His knight was no shrinking violet or supplicating lady, after all.

Seishin slipped closer to Toshio, closer to the fire. He fell to his knees, sliding frigid hands along the other's thighs and leaning up to steal a kiss. He stopped himself just as his lips were a hair's breadth from the other's, wondering if he could still claim the knight when all manner of pawns lay crushed as his feet.

"You do not need my permission, my lord. You are the king."

And finally, he felt warm again.