All right friends, I promised a free story so here it is. I thought about doing the "When I get 100 Twitter followers (note: I have 99) I'll post a story") but that seems kind of cheap.
This is, I suppose, a bit of a fluff piece. Don't expect any major plot twists or revelations. It's set before Hour of the Lotus, just after Hiroshi and Sho become lovers (as told in flashback in that novella).
I've finished another story in which Sho acquires another dog (I've noticed that once a person has a dog, they generally never again go very long without one) and am outlining a story that forces Hiroshi to face the fact that Sho is much older than him. They might end up here, or I may look at putting together a short story collection We'll see.
Anyway, without further ado, here's Twelve Nights.
It was twelve nights since Hiroshi had made clear his interest in Lord General Iwata. And he'd spent a good portion of every one of those nights in the Lord General's tent.
Now, as the twelfth night flowed to its end, to the Hour of the Lotus when night turned over into day, Hiroshi sat up and reached for his kimono. Winter was slowly fading into spring, but the night air still had teeth, and the tent's lone brazier did little to dispel the chill. Regretfully Hiroshi drew away from the Iwata's warmth and pulled on his white under-robe, flicking his long braid over his shoulder. Then he turned to look down at the man who lay beside him.
Lord General Iwata Sho stretched on his side, his eyes closed- though Hiroshi doubted he was sleeping. HIs broad face, framed by a neatly-trimmed beard, was darkened and lined by the sun. Even now, in the orange light of the brazier, limbs relaxed, he had an air of command. Hiroshi had seen him reduce soldiers to quivering children with a few words. But another remark, in a different tone, could make them men again. The prince's army feared and respected the Lord General.
But if he'd expected Iwata to be as gruff and commanding in bed as he was everywhere else- and he had expected it- he'd been wrong. Iwata Sho was a courteous lover, and surprisingly gentle. That first night he'd paused before every new intimacy, allowing Hiroshi a moment to direct or deny him. Hiroshi had denied him nothing. Afterward, he'd dressed and returned to his own tent. As he'd risen to go, Iwata suddenly reached out and pulled him back down, into a lingering kiss. Finally released, Hiroshi rose- his knees trembling a bit- and took his leave, back to his own silent tent to sleep. Neither said a word.
Rumors claimed the Lord General rarely spent more than a single night with any lover, and Hiroshi wanted to be an exception. It was that kiss that gave him hope. He spent the next day in an agony of impatience. He couldn't approach Iwata- protocol demanded that the older man offer the next invitation, if he wanted to. The practical business of running an army had kept Hiroshi from getting more than a distant glimpse of Iwata all that long day. Even as he issued orders or joked with the other officers, Hiroshi's chest was tight with dread. Would Iwata have any interest in a second night with him?
It was after dark when he finally found out. Hiroshi stood by a fire, discussing the next day with some of the other young soldiers, when Lord General Iwata went by.
"Captain Sagawara, come with me," he snapped, without breaking his stride. The others watched curiously as Hiroshi bowed to Iwata's retreating back and hurried to catch up with him. He walked a step behind, as befitted his lower rank. They went past tents and fires, in a direction Hiroshi recognized. HIs nerves hummed, and his heartbeat quickened. He hadn't been so anxious about a lover since he was fourteen years old. He stepped aside so Iwata could duck into the tent, then followed. A wave of cold air blew inside with them. The inside of the tent was stark-a folding table draped with maps, a traveling trunk, a single brazier and a sleeping mat, the blankets folded crisply at its foot. Hiroshi shivered, remembering how Iwata's weight had pressed his bare shoulders into the woven reeds.
Iwata halted in the center of the tent and spun to face him. The flickering brazier lit only one side of his face, but Hiroshi could make out his severe expression. He looked- impatient, or annoyed. Hiroshi's heart stuttered in his chest. HIs throat scratched drily. "What does my lord need from me?"
If Iwata noticed how shallow Hiroshi's breathing had become, he gave no sign. "Captain, do you wish to continue what we began last night?"
HIs tone was even, as if asking about supplies or troop numbers. Hiroshi swallowed a nervous laugh.
"If you don't, there will be no repercussions."
Relief brought a grin to Hiroshi's face. Iwata frowned, and Hiroshi hastened to assure him, "My lord, I do wish to continue. Very much."
The corner of Iwata's mouth curved into one of his small, rare smiles. Hiroshi dared to close the distance between them. Iwata smelled of sweat and steel, and faintly of horses. He was a shade taller than Hiroshi, just enough that Hiroshi had to tilt his chin up to kiss him.
They'd spent every night together since, with the eagerness of new lovers to learn and explore. Hiroshi always came to Iwata, as befitted their differing status. And afterward he washed, and dressed, and went back to his own chilled, quiet tent to sleep. He'd known from the start it would be like this; to be seen emerging from the Lord General's tent every morning would spark rumors. Soldiers loved gossip almost as much as women.
But, Hiroshi thought, gazing at the angles of his lover's face, his bare chest and the square, calloused hands arranged on the blanket, he wanted to stay. He wanted to lie beside Iwata and lean his head on the older man's shoulder. He wanted to watch Iwata sleep, to help him tie his sash, to pull him into a quick kiss before they ducked outside, into the day.
He was falling in love with a man who would never love him.
Kumomo had warned him about it, when he'd seen her last. Half a year ago, now.
They were having tea, and Momo had mentioned the Lord General. He couldn't now remember why.
"Lord General Iwata? I'm just waiting for the right moment to seduce him." He'd said it jokingly, but it was true.
Momo's eyes had widened. "Brother, you're not serious! He's not the sort of man to be seduced."
"No, but I think he could be..persuaded." Hiroshi smirked at her. He was twenty-four years old and still enjoyed seeing how embarrassed his sister became when discussing matters of the bedchamber.
"You know they say he's in love with the prince?" Kumomo plucked anxiously at one of her hairpins. "I think it might be true. Maybe that's why he's cold to everyone, especially Lady Mari and the consorts, because...because we have what he never will."
"I've heard the rumors."
"Why him, Hiroshi? He's much older than you."
"The prince is older than you," he pointed out. Momo shook her head impatiently- their situations were very different. Hiroshi thought a moment, sipping his tea. It was faintly sweet, flavored with jasmine. "Listen, Sister- when a man dies, either in battle or from accident or illness, the prince's scribe writes a letter, the same letter every time, expressing condolences to the family. At the end of the day Prince Narita signs all the letters before they are sent off with the ashes. But Lord General Iwata writes his own letters, in his own hand, and includes them with the prince's. I read a few, when it was my duty to collect the letters and the ashes, and they're all different. The Lord General knows his men, all of them. He pays attention to them, to who they are. There's a man behind that famous scowl, Momo, and he's more complex than he seems."
She was quiet for some time, gazing out the window into the neatly-arranged garden. Finally she looked at him, her expression resigned. "I know it's different for men. Perhaps you don't care about his feelings. But even if you succeed, Brother, he'll never love you."
A retort sprang to his tongue- "Women also sleep with men they don't love."- for he was certain Momo didn't love Prince Narita. But he bit his lip to kill the words. He couldn't shame his sister like that. "I may not even succeed, as you say. So don't worry for me."
But he had succeeded, though he'd not been at all certain he would. And now it was his own fault that he had to live knowing his lover would never be entirely his.
Hiroshi sighed and reached for his black militarykimono. Iwata lifted a hand and caught the end of HIroshi's braid, tugging gently. Hiroshi turned, and Iwata moved his grasp to his wrist. His fingers were warm. Slowly his eyes opened, and he fixed Hiroshi with his sharp, searching gaze. "What are you doing?"
"I thought you were asleep, my lord," Hiroshi lied, smiling.
Iwata released Hiroshi and rolled onto his side, propping himself up on one elbow. HIs hair, which Hiroshi had earlier freed from its customary topknot, hung to his chin. He pushed it away from his face with an impatient gesture. "No, you didn't. What are you doing, Captain?"
A sudden impulse seized him. "My lord, we-" Hiroshi paused, trying to think of a phrase that was neither sentimental nor crude. "We've...been together like this a dozen times. Call me Hiroshi."
Iwata's eyes narrowed. You didn't give anything that even resembled an order to a superior officer, not even to one who'd recently been trailing his calloused fingers over your chest, your stomach, lower... Hiroshi scrambled to add, "If it pleases my lord, of course." He waited, clenching his fists in his kimono.
"All right," Iwata said. "Then you should call me Sho. Now, answer my question."
"Oh." He'd nearly forgotten it. "I was getting dressed. To go back to my own tent."
Sho seemed to consider that. "Don't," he said finally. "Stay."
"But my...Sho," Hiroshi flushed at the feel of the name in his mouth. This would take some time to become familiar. "If the men saw me leaving in the morning-"
Sho laughed. Not the hearty laugh he sometimes shared with Prince Narita, but a laugh all the same. HIs throaty chuckle made a shiver race up Hiroshi's spine. He blinked in astonishment. Sho shook his head. "Four days ago the prince asked me if it was true I'd taken up with his consort's brother. "
Hiroshi laughed too, ruefully. He was familar with camp gossip. He should have known. The others had probably suspected the night he'd gone to inquire about the Lord General's injured shoulder; by the next night they'd probably been sure. He shrugged off his under-robe and folded it into a square. Sho rolled onto his back and lifted the blanket. "Come to bed, Hiro."
No one had ever given him a nickname before. Hiroshi felt his face flush hot, and was glad of the uncertain light. A flicker of hope warmed him. He tried to douse it quickly, but it persisted. Hiro.Hiroshi crawled under the blanket and stretched out beside Sho. His bare skin was warm, almost hot. Sho wrapped an arm around Hiroshi's waist and pulled his close. HIs chest pressed against Hiroshi's back, his breathing already deep and even. His beard scraped against Hiroshi's neck. Hiroshi closed his eyes. Lulled by the breath of the man he was rapidly coming to love, he fell asleep.