Title: Yuanfen

Author: teru_bozu_ebi

Website: http://teru-bozu-ebi.livejournal.com/

Pairings: Kenren/Tenpou

Rating: Hard R

Warnings: Yaoi. Extremely mild shibari.

Summary: Tenpou brings something home from his trip.

Disclaimer: Standard disclaimer thingee. Kenren as dragon catnip is mine. Kanzeon's song I pulled from Akira Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress. Not sure if it's traditional.

Series: Part 10 of the Dream of the Butterfly series. Follows after Water Sports.  This fic draws heavily on events in the previous series stories, so it won't make too much sense if you haven't read the rest of them. I'd strongly suggest getting yourself acquainted with it beforehand if you wish to read it.


Notes: Yuanfen is a type of karma that binds the fate of souls to each other throughout their reincarnations.


I wanted to get this out by October 17th but Tenpou wasn't being cooperative. Why on that date? Because that was the 1st anniversary of my first ever fan fic posting, over at the Anonymous Saiyuki Kink Meme, that's why. I didn't even have an lj back then, nada, zilch, zip. Just a idea for a creepy fic, and the gumption to actually try and write one for a change. And here I am a year later, a little over a baker's dozen of tales to my credit and a dragon king smexing away at the Ever_West rp. Who'da thunk?

I have to say this was one hard fic to write. Not only is it in Tenpou's POV which gives me all sorts of trouble, but it stalled just before the final few paragraphs and wouldn't budge for months, because I don't do schmaltz well, and it gets a bit, well- romantic-like at the end. Many thanks to macavitykitsune (my E_W dragon's darling squeeze Tenpou) for being such a good sounding board about that!

For you 10Gou fans who have complained I haven't done anything with those two- it's the next fic in the series, guys. Your 10Gou wishes will be answered soon enough.


 

 

Yuanfen

It takes hundreds of reincarnations for two people to ride in the same boat; it takes a thousand eons for two people to share the same pillow.

 

He had never actually been in this section of the royal archives before. The wing seemed to have been sitting unused for centuries; even the floor and walls were covered in a thick layer of dust. After rummaging about for awhile through an endless pile of bamboo scrolls he found what looked to be a box hidden behind a set of old dynastic histories, the dim glimmer of metal hinges winking at him from further back on the shelf. Curiosity piqued, he pulled out the scrolls and counterbalanced them in one arm before resetting his feet against the edges of the ladder, stretching his arm in to pull it out. It indeed was a box, rather small and light, and looked to be exceedingly old. The forgotten armload was unceremoniously dropped as he turned the thing over in his hands. The dull clatter of bamboo barely registered in his mind as the scrolls hit the floor; he was even less aware of the cloud of dust they kicked up as they snaked their way open through the darkness somewhere below his feet. After studying the thing for awhile he noticed that the room had at some point darkened considerably, and looked about briefly to see what was blocking the light before finally pulling off his glasses to blow off the layer of dirt that had settled on the lenses.

 

Intriguing; after a brief study of the carvings in the wood he had to admit he was totally stumped as to their significance. They were strange, the style not consistent enough for any definitive identification of period. Their oddity in and of itself might be indicative of some mystical purpose, perhaps a protective spell that had been carved into the wood; if so, it seemed further reinforced by additional paper spells glued on cardinal points that were unfortunately no longer legible. The wax seal over the largest of the papers was the only easily identifiable feature; it seemed to have belonged to a royal house in a period of some antiquity. As Imperial families hardly showed restraint in engaging in conspicuous consumption the box presumably contained nothing of any great monetary value. No, whatever was inside of it was more likely along the lines of a state- or perhaps a family- secret. Too important to be destroyed, yet too scandalous for it to fall into the wrong hands… which, if he was not mistaken, was exactly what had just happened.

 

He climbed back down the library ladder, searching for better light. A thin sunbeam from a small window set high in the chamber seemed to be the room's sole illumination. He stepped into it and brushed off more of the dust clinging stubbornly to the box's surface. As he did an odorous substance came off on his fingers, its scent somewhat reminiscent of machinery. Oily. Black. Sticky. He briefly rubbed it between his fingers with a mild curiosity before wiping them off onto his lab coat.

 

Besides the supernatural protections, the box was wrapped with a thin chain, joined together with a lock. Its metal was ancient and brittle, and gave easily enough with a few solid jerks. Immediately upon its breaking a faint rustling could be heard emanating from inside of the thing, a sound similar to hushed voices, but unfortunately so faint it was nearly beyond his hearing entirely. He could neither identify a language nor even a pattern or to it, but he had the distinct impression that the noises were speaking to him directly. He suddenly felt an overriding compulsion to break the paper seals and open up the box to let them out. The warning bells began to sound in his head, reminding him that the spells had been put there for a purpose and until he could divine the reasons as to why it would be suicidal to rush into action. He should take it back to his office, clean it… yet the voices he couldn't quite hear would have none of it, they demanded immediate action and as he watched helplessly his hands moved of their own volition, tearing at the bits of paper under his fingertips.

 

He lifted the lid and found… nothing. Not even a bottom was to be seen in it, merely a deep blackness which seemed to stretch down into the lowest bowels of the palace. A sudden movement near his head had him jumping in surprise; it was a butterfly, flittering about in the small ray of sunlight. It seemed immensely out of place in this lifeless tomb of forgotten knowledge. A stirring near his feet; he looked down to discover that the darkness had escaped from the box and was there in the room with him, palpable and malevolent. He tried to shut the box again, contain the evil, but it had disappeared from his hands, the darkness had taken it. The blackness spread across the floor as a number of vines erupted near his feet and began twisting their way up his legs. He tried to pull himself free from their encroachment, but try as he might he found he could not pry them off.  The darkness was growing about him, filling the room and contaminating his lungs as he struggled against an evil that was trying to swallow him whole.

 

"Why, Marshal. You came looking for this. Have you lost your taste for it so soon?"

 

The Bosatsu was standing there to his right. She seemed far off, unfamiliar somehow. He tried to ask her for assistance, but the blackness choked the words in his throat and nothing could be said. Panic finally set in as the vines began to worm their way around his neck. Kanzeon stood in front of him. Her nose crinkled as she dispassionately studied his face.

 

"Huh. Well, I'd say your eyes are as blind as ever. These haven't helped you to see in the least, have they?"

 

Kanzeon plucked the glasses off his nose as the vines began to force their way into his mouth. It felt as if he were breathing underwater, thick and slow. He could hear the rhythmic jingle of her bracelets as Kanzeon sang loud and clear, consecrating the pyre of scrolls piled high in the middle of the floor.

 

"The life of a man, burn it in the fire,

The life of an insect, throw it into the fire…"

 

He felt himself being pulled downward into the dust. Kanzeon lit the bonfire with his glasses, the flames flaring high into the sun beam; he could see the little butterfly flittering above it all before his vision was blacked out completely.

 

"Ponder and you will see the world is dark,

And this floating world is but a dream…"

 

He tried to scream, he tried, but when he opened his mouth his lungs filled with dirt and he was swallowed up. His last thought before he died was that the earth's odor was remarkably reminiscent of Kenren's aftershave…

 

"Oi, Tenpou. Wake up."

 

Tenpou started awake. It took a moment to orient himself to the sudden change in surroundings. A dream; it had been a dream, that explained it… he laid his head back down on Kenren's chest a moment as he attempted to settle himself, working down the blind panic. Kenren stirred underneath his head.

 

"You OK?"

"Yes. Yes."

 

He flipped himself onto his back, laying his head down on the available shoulder as he took in a few more deep breaths. He had just dreamed he was dying, that much he remembered. There was the box, and then darkness… He struggled to recall more of it, but the more he grasped at the particulars, the faster they faded. Someone was singing, and a fire… Kenren stirred again.

 

"You sure you're OK?"

"Yes, I'll be fine in a moment."

"Then, would you mind undoing me? I really need to take a piss."

 

What the… he lifted his head and craned his neck about, blinking and squinting to bring things into better focus. The blurry vision that greeted him was priceless. Oh, yes; of course. Kenren was still tied to the bedpost. Tenpou snorted at the sight, dream momentarily forgotten.  That's right, that's what they had been doing before the nap… He rubbed his eyes in an attempt to wake up faster.

 

"Yes, sorry about that. I seemed to have fallen asleep rather quickly."

"Yeah, I know. I did too. But unless you want to be doing the backstroke in the Yellow River I'd hurry it up if I were you. The dam's gonna bust soon."

 

Tenpou snickered again as he sat up and leaned over the headboard to undo the knot. He worked at it for a few moments before admitting defeat and got off the bed to approach it from a better angle. He put on his glasses to better assess the problem before he started to worry the ropes loose.

 

"You shouldn't have pulled against it so much. You've gotten the knot rather tight."

 

Kenren squirmed, bringing his knees up to relieve the strain on his bladder. His face tilted up towards him in an attempt to glare; Tenpou moved a bit to ensure the headboard blocked the effect.  

 

"Well, if someone hadn't been using the straight razor…"

"That is your own fault entirely. If you had taken care of it before you came over, this whole thing could have been avoided."

"Hey, that's your kink, not mine."

"Hmmm, so you continue to claim."

 

Tenpou leaned over the headboard to look him pointedly. Kenren at least had the grace to blush before turning away. He returned his attention to the knot. The man could protest all he liked, but he still got hard as a rock whenever his groin was shaved. In fact, Kenren had almost been badly cut earlier in the afternoon when he had decided to clean some wayward shaving cream from the underside of Kenren's erection by using the straight razor instead of his finger. The man had gotten so turned on by it he had actually bucked up into the blade. It had taken some lightning fast reflexes to avoid a castration.

 

"You're the one who insists on my being clean shaven."

"And you're the one who claims his hair keeps getting pulled out by the ropes. In any case, it's starting to loosen. It should only be a moment."

"Yeah, well, hurry up."

"Hm, well. Unless you say the magic word, I just might stop right now and leave you as you are. To stew in your own juices, so to speak. Magic word, pet."

 

There was a pause on Kenren's end. Tenpou could tell he wasn't really into the game at the moment. Not a surprise; insistent bladders tended to trump anything else.

 

"Please."

"Please what?"

"Please… baby?"

 

Tenpou shook his head and laughed to himself. Wrong answer, willfully so. Kenren knew how much he hated to be called that, though to be honest, what he truly hated about it was that he enjoyed it so much. No one had ever dared to call him such rubbish before. In any case, Kenren only called him 'baby' when he was feeling particularly contrary. Alright, the point was dutifully noted, he'd hurry. He unwrapped the rope from the headboard. Kenren moaned a bit as the stiff arms were suddenly freed.

 

"There; go. Urinate in freedom."

 

Bound wrists were presented to him for further attention. It would have saved them both time and energy to have started there, of course; but no use in thinking about that now. He undid the bindings as quickly as he could.

 

"You're certainly the needy one tonight. Next time, go lighter on the saké beforehand."

"Next time don't use square knots on the bedpost."

"Now I ask you, where would the fun be in that?"

 

The ropes fell off and Kenren bolted for the door. Tenpou gathered up the length and hung it on the bedpost before he threw himself back down onto the squeaky mattress. He rubbed his face and yawned. A smoke, he could definitely use a smoke. Not wishing to move any more than he absolutely had to he stretched himself over to the bed stand, grabbing at the pack with the tips of his fingers. Empty. He got up anyway and stole one of Kenren's.  He flopped onto his back again, lungs gratefully taking in the blessed nicotine.

 

After a few moments of bliss his nose crinkled as he noticed the odor emanating from the sheets. Home for less than 72 hours, and the bed already smelled like a cathouse. Kenren had been rather… exuberant he guessed would be the word he'd use- in welcoming him home. As a matter of fact, they were basically still engaged in the welcoming party; as he'd been given vacation time for services rendered and Goujun had obligingly given Kenren a week's leave, there'd been no actual work hours to mar the three day fuck-fest. Only the occasional break for food and their little visit from the "Monkey Shines Division"- Kenren's new term for Konzen and Goku- had called them away from the conjugal bed. All in all he had to say it had been quite the experience; as far as he could recall, no one had ever 'missed' him quite this much before.

 

He caught a whiff of the sheets again, quite a feat of odiferous strength above the tobacco smoke. They really needed to be changed, but then that would require his actually getting out of the bed and changing them. It seemed like far too much energy to expend on such an undertaking, especially considering they were likely to be abused again in the not too distant future. Not to mention he had absolutely no idea where the second sheet set was at the moment. Usually they were somewhere in the "clean" pile he kept in the corner chair, but Kenren had gone on a cleaning spree while he had been away and he had to say that he now barely recognized his own rooms. For the first time there was an official place for everything and everything was in its place, only he had no idea which place was what's or who went where, so at this point he could find nothing at all. He looked around him, taking the time to marvel once again at his eerily immaculate bedroom.  Except for the bed itself, of course, the cathouse description was definitely quite apropos there. But the rest of it was so clean, so blindingly unsoiled… in fact, he was somewhat suspicious that the man might have actually gone to the lengths of painting the place while he was away. The walls looked far too white to be entirely his.

 

A kinder, happier Kenren came waltzing back in through the door. Tenpou made room for him as the man plopped back down onto the bed, sighing in an overdone contentment as he took the cigarette from Tenpou's hand.

 

"Ah, the pause that refreshes. I have to say I feel much better about myself and others now. Mission accomplished."

 

Tenpou raised up his head as Kenren's arm moved above it, resting it back down as it slid underneath to wrap around his shoulders. The move had become so automatic that he often found himself in this very position with no memory of exactly how and when he had actually gotten there. Kenren's hand started its usual wanderings across his chest. It was such a soothing, familiar action that it began to finally sink in that he truly was home again. He closed his eyes to the intensity of the feeling. Kenren began to nuzzle his hair and he leaned into it, pressing against the man's lips. There was a deep sigh underneath him.

 

"That was the third one since you've been back, you know."

"Third what?"

"Nightmare."

"Ah. Yes. Those."

"Mind telling me what's up?"

"Hn… well."

 

Tenpou took the cigarette back and continued to smoke silently for awhile. Not that he truly wanted to talk about them, but the obligation was there to at least make some sort of effort since Kenren was bearing the brunt of their impact at the moment. He scratched his forehead with his thumb, debating as to where to go with it. In all honesty, he wasn't at all sure where to begin. He supposed he could claim- truthfully- that he couldn't remember much about them, dribble out a few of the details and put it to rest at that. But that wasn't altogether the truth of it. He might not recall the particulars, but he knew something of what they were about, what it was that was eating at him to the point it was worming its way straight into his subconscious and spewing itself back out through his dreams.  It had something to do with the box.

 

"I don't remember all that much of them, to be honest. I know that I invariably die in it."

 

He took a last drag before he leaned over and stubbed it out in the frog, who was still staring at them unabashedly openmouthed from the nightstand, apparently nonplussed over their nudity.  Tenpou hadn't mentioned the box to Kenren yet; he hadn't quite made up his mind as to whether or not he ever would, or for that matter what he'd say to the man if he eventually did decide to tell him. He was of half a mind to simply add it to his collection and pretend it was something he picked up randomly during the trip. The thought was tempting in more ways than one, but he doubted that it would work completely to his satisfaction since it would do little to silence his nagging subconscious. It had been easy enough to ignore the damned thing while he was busy being nailed to the sheets, but it kept popping back out, torturing him each time he fell asleep. If he were a superstitious man he would assume it was because he had not followed through with that woman's instructions about the thing and was now paying the price. Thankfully, he was not a superstitious man (knock wood), so the more likely culprit was that pesky moral compass he seemed to have recently acquired somewhere along the way.

 

"You gonna tell me about the trip?"

 

So the man was going for the back door instead. Naturally Kenren would have noticed that correlation; it was so obvious it screamed its presence to anyone within earshot. Yet Kenren would have seen it in any case; the man was immensely good at making those types of connections, though he often had the oddest of ways of voicing his observations. Kenren just saw the world differently, which was a large part of the man's appeal; only he could come up with such bizarre concepts as 'kite people' and 'string people' that upon inspection made all the sense in the world. Kenren impatiently shifted under him again. Having no cigarette to occupy his fingers anymore Tenpou let his hand engage in its other favorite activity, cradling Kenren's crotch. Legs spread ever so slightly to accommodate him.

 

"What can I say? From beginning to end the whole thing was an immensely painful experience. Trying to incorporate an entire pantheon into an already bloated heavenly hierarchy is a time-consuming process no matter who you're working with. Even given that, I have to say local gods are particularly troublesome. After having spent millennia as the sole object of worship they invariably end up with an overly inflated sense of self-importance. Few of them wish to be demoted to a position as uninspiring as 'the Jade Emperor's Stable Boy.'"

"Maybe their people should have thought about that before declaring war."

"Few go to war with the expectation that they will lose."

"True, true. So you what, spent all that time smoothing out their ruffled little ass-kicked tail feathers or something?"

"To be honest, most of it was spent in marathon bouts of ceremonial camaraderie. The ritualistic taking of food and drink at the home of their tribal leaders. The toasting of allegiances. The reluctant-yet-firm turning down of offers of daughters in marriage. Et cetera et cetera, ad infinitum. They also had a huge number of tedious rituals that needed to be dealt with."

"And who knows more about obscure and tedious rituals than Bookworm the Magnificent."

"Exactly. They are a people who take offense quite easily, which I believe is how the war started in the first place. Knowing something of their customs and the proper responses to their rituals helped to smooth the way considerably. It's a wonder they don't better train the diplomatic corps in these things. You would think it would be part of their self-definition."

"I thought their self-definition was 'second cousin to the Emperor, twice removed.'"

 

Tenpou snorted. He let his eyes drift shut and played awhile with the slowly hardening penis in his hand. It was times like this that Kenren's heritage truly came to the fore; only someone with fertility god in their background would still be getting it up after three days and however many bouts and continue to find any sort of enjoyment out of it. Tenpou had no such stamina in his genetic code and was hurting more than he would have thought possible, but for some reason that didn't actually make him stop doing it. To be honest, it was rather flattering to be getting this much attention. Not to mention he'd be damned before he let the man best him in anything.

 

Kenren's hand had wandered up to his hair, petting it softly. He could feel the slightest rocking to the man's hips. Both were sure signs he was getting interested in another round. If Tenpou pushed it a bit more, the whole box question could be redirected into yet another role in the hay; Kenren seemed contented enough with the conversation as it sat, at least for now. All in all it seemed that the whole issue had been skirted yet again, which should have been the end of it but for the sheer perversity that his conscience was exhibiting as of late, insisting that he at least mention it to the man and let him come up with his own conclusions.  It had to be dealt with sometime, after all… Did it? Yes, it did. Ignore it or lie about it and it would most likely eat at him until he would be forced into confessing it in desperation, and then Kenren would rightfully feel insulted over not being told of it sooner.  So why was he balking over it? What made it all seem so… well, frightening?

 

Kenren shifted and sighed again. In another minute he would begin to complain about 'the gears' working, hating to be left out of the internal dialogue. Yes, yes, understood. Tenpou cuddled his head in closer, rubbing it against the man's shoulder to let him know he wasn't forgotten in all of this. And again, it made him think about the box. All that she claimed it signified. He felt it in every familiar movement and action between them, every time he secretly enjoyed being called pet names. Each time he knew exactly what the man was thinking, when all he had done was to shift and sigh. The woman had been right, of course, even if he didn't want to acknowledge it at the time. But then, he'd spent all these years in denying it. There was bound to be some residual resistance to overcome.

 

"Kenren…"

"Hm?"

 

He sounded pleased. Happy to be included again.  It was the right thing to do, of course. This involved Kenren, he should at least be told about it.

 

"I have something I need to show you. Let me get it."

 

He sat up and padded over to his rucksack. Home three days, and he still hadn't unpacked it yet. In fact, it was lying in the very spot he had dropped it when Kenren tackled him onto the bed and started stripping off his clothes. Tenpou unzipped the thing and began to rummage about amongst the soiled laundry. It surprised him to realize he hadn't cleaned any of it yet; as far as he could remember, every scrap of underwear he owned was in the thing, and it had been three whole days after all. Then again, it had been three whole days that he'd remained more or less buck naked, so looking at it in that light, he supposed it wasn't all that surprising. He found its square hard edges towards the bottom, wrapped in his spare uniform pants. Added protection for the long journey home.

 

Kenren sat up and adjusted the pillows as Tenpou returned and set it next to him on the bed. He sat on the other side of it, one foot dangling off the edge. Grounding against the oncoming flights of fancy, perhaps. Kenren smiled at him, and lifted an eyebrow.

 

"More for the Tenpou Collection, eh? Gonna give me the run-down on why this thing was a 'must have'?"

"I didn't collect it, actually. It was given to me."

 

Kenren picked it up, shook it near his ear. The package inside moved about. Kenren looked at him again, curious as to the contents. He turned it around in his hands to study the carvings in the wood.

 

"Huh. OK, so what is it?"

"It has the oddest story attached to it, one I'm sure will entertain you- well, at least somewhat."

 

Tenpou took another of Kenren's cigarettes, paused to light it. Maybe if he approached it as a bizarre travel story, it would lessen its impact somewhat. If he showed a flippant disregard, then Kenren should as well. And maybe, just maybe, that would be enough to help convince himself that it was just some crazy old woman's superstitious nonsense, and then it would stop bothering him at all hours of the night when he was trying to get some sleep.

 

"It was a gift from their shaman. She was an unusual woman, to say the least." He took another puff. "Mostly a soothsayer, I'd say. The tribal leaders spent a great deal of time consulting her as an oracle over virtually everything we did. It wasn't uncommon for us to wait a day or two for answers to the simplest of questions while she rattled the bones over it and such. It was rather interesting, all in all. I mean, considering they themselves are the local gods, one wonders who it was she was trying to supplicate for the answers. You'd think they'd be talking to themselves."

 

Kenren shook it again, glancing over at Tenpou before he took the cigarette from Tenpou's fingers and drew in a lungful. Tenpou barely paused.

 

"Though I guess it's really no different than Goujun's fascination with consulting the Yi Jing all the time. Perhaps more of a meditative aid than an actual supernatural oracle. But in any case, towards the end while we were getting the finalities settled she started on some long and involved ritual that took days and who knows how many psychotropic substances to complete.  When she came out of it, she called for me."

 

"For you? Really."

"Yes, me. Just me. And she gave me that."

 

Tenpou took the cigarette back as he nodded towards the box. At this point he had a number of options. He could parcel out some bits and pieces, leaving the meat of the story behind- it was fascinating enough with that much alone. He could play "mystery box" and pretend not to know what was inside of it, let Kenren do the discovery and they could make up some bogus conclusions over it together. Then again, Kenren knew him well enough to know his curiosity would have gotten the better of him before the end of the first day, so he doubted that particular option would fly particularly well. Or, he supposed he could tell Kenren everything. He wasn't quite sure yet which approach he was going to take; much of it depended on how much of a poke in the ass his conscience was going to get from that idiotic moral compass it still seemed to be sitting on.

 

"Did she say why?"

"In a way she did, yes. Apparently I was the only member of the diplomatic party she saw in her visions."

 

The only member of the party, yes. The only god, no. He took another drag and eyed Kenren. It was nearing the moment of truth. Or untruth, as the case may be. Or perhaps semi-truth. Then again, it just might be a relative truth, he hadn't yet considered that particular interpretation…

 

"Really. You lucky dog you, but you do stand out in a crowd. So, what is it for?"

"Open it."

 

Kenren looked at him as if he thought a snake spring might jump out at him if he should actually try opening the lid.

 

"No, go ahead. Open it."

 

Not looking particularly convinced, Kenren tilted the box away from himself and closed his eyes before cracking the lid. His look was priceless as one eye popped open to check the results. Tenpou smiled to himself. No, the woman was right. He was becoming more comfortable with what she had said with each passing moment. Funny, to think that the predictions of death shook him much less than the yuanfen did at the time. Now neither of them seemed all that disturbing while he watched a sheepish, very naked Kenren peering into a box that seemed to be filled with nothing but a silk handkerchief.

 

"Take it out. What she was actually giving me is inside of that."

 

Kenren set the box on his lap and pulled out the package.  He looked rather baffled at the contents of the silk.

 

"What, she gave you a bracelet?"

"Yes. Two of them, to be exact. They're rather pretty, don't you think? Lovely details on the carvings. They seem to be almost exact replicas of each other. Apparently they were originally taken off of a conquered general before he was executed, some sort of talisman for success in battle. Obviously didn't work for him."

 

Kenren carefully picked up one of the pieces of white jade, very much in the same manner he had done when the shaman had originally given them to him. After a moment of study, the man even came up with the exact same assessment he had originally given the woman.

 

"There's some qilin carved on it."

"I thought that at first, too. But they're not qilin. They're tigers."

 

Kenren looked to Tenpou with something akin to mild shock. He looked back at the bracelet, and stared at it for awhile in silence. Tenpou frowned. It wasn't exactly the response he was expecting.

 

"Damn, Tenpou, that's just plain creepy."

"Really? I thought it all rather odd, but-"

"No no, not that." Kenren blew out a long gust of air while he continued to turn the jade over in his hands, studying it as if he thought he might have missed some important clue to a great mystery. "I…well; I told you I went to see Jun-kun a couple of times while you were gone…"

"You know, you really shouldn't get into the habit of calling him that. Some day you'll slip and say it to his face."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Anyway, I told you we did some sparring before we got into the down and dirty that one time, but what I didn't tell you was he got sort of hopped up on the nip during the spar. Got real aggressive. No biggie, Kuang used to get the same way, but what's weird about it is that he kept calling me a tiger the whole time he was high. It was the freakiest thing. And now this."

 

Now this, indeed. Tenpou could see why Kenren had reacted the way he did. He was feeling quite the same at the moment.

"He ever say anything to you about tigers?"

"No, never. Not to my recollection." His recollection was given him a poke, however. Though he could truly say he didn't remember any conversation with Goujun that included tigers, something in his memory was telling him that wasn't the whole truth of it.

 

"Weird, because I'm pretty sure he said something about you in all that babbling. Like, 'Tenpou has the tigers, too' or some crazy shit like that. I was gonna ask you about it, but it slipped my mind until now. This chick tell you why she figured you needed some dead general's tiger charms?"

 

Tenpou sat there, still processing the new information. He had to stay that combined with the shaman's predictions, it was a bit more disturbing than he was willing to let on. But then again, he wasn't a superstitious man, so he wasn't going to let a simple coincidence like this bother him, not at all (cross his heart). And he was going to continue to tell himself that until he believed it.

 

"Actually, they're not just mine. One of them belongs to you."

"What, you're giving me one?"

"No, she gave you one. In a manner of speaking."

 

He stubbed out the cigarette and moved to pick up the twin from its silk cocoon. This whole act of confession was proving to be much easier than originally anticipated. Once started, it seemed to want to pour out all at once until he was totally emptied of it. He was feeling considerably lighter already.

 

"She told me that one of them belonged to me, but that the other belonged to the one with whom I share the deepest of yuanfen."

 

There. It was out, he had said it. Who would have guessed that in the end he would opt for the simple truth. Well, at least most of it. What she had actually said was 'Give one to the Other Half, the one with whom you share the deepest of yuanfen. Strike at the root and meet your deaths with dignity, Oh Great Tiger General.' He wasn't a superstitious man, no, but he had to admit that Kenren's story added into the already bizarre tale was beginning to make him rethink that. That wasn't to say it still couldn't be sheer coincidence, or that there wasn't some sort of synchronicity at work in the moment, but the evidence was piling up to the contrary. There was some deeper significance to the bracelets, he was quite ready to admit that. He just wished he knew just what that that significance was, because if there was one thing he hated it was the feeling of being left in the dark about something. Especially when that something had to do directly with him.

 

Kenren was staring at the jade in Tenpou's hand, looking somewhat paler than usual. Probably trying to make sense of it, just as he had once tried. But he already knew there was no sense to be found, not unless one believed in superstition. The man's eyes flicked up to his, holding his gaze briefly before going back to studying the bracelet. He seemed pensive, tense. Reluctant to ask about what was on his mind.

 

"Are you sure she wasn't talking about Goujun?"

 

He was being tested, just as he knew he would be. Kenren hadn't failed to key in on the deeper significance of the whole thing, the actual heart of the matter in their hands. This had been what frightened Tenpou the most; to follow her words, he would have to openly accept that which he already knew to be true, and worse still, finally admit it to Kenren. It reminded him once again of that obscure volume of mythic philosophy he had in his library, the one with the story of how people were halves of a whole that had been split apart by an angry god, spending their entire lives trying to rejoin with their missing half. He had always found it a somewhat imaginative if amusingly naïve description of sexuality. Until he met Kenren.

 

"Yes, I'm quite sure."

 

Kenren turned it over again in his hands.

 

"Are we supposed to wear them or something? She say?"

"I would assume so, or the protection wouldn't necessarily go into effect."

 

He knew it wasn't what Kenren was actually asking about, but they had spent their entire relationship talking around the 500 lb. gorilla in the middle of the room, so it was rather second nature to continue at this point. Though now it seemed it wasn't so much of a 500 lb. gorilla as a 10,000 year-old tiger. 

 

"So, do you wear it on the left or the right arm?"

"As the general had two, I would assume he had one for each side. I'm not sure if there is any great significance to either."

 

After a few moments of deliberation Kenren carefully pushed his hand through the jade circle. For whatever reason he had chosen the right. Tenpou wasn't at all surprised to see that it fit him perfectly. The man shook his wrist about, testing its feel. He smiled, seemingly satisfied with the results.

 

"So, does it make me look all hot and studly?"

 

Tenpou laughed. Trust the man to feel the tension in the room and try to diffuse it as best he could. He paused a minute before he quietly slipped his hand into its twin. He stared down at fragile ring encircling his wrist, rather stunned that it had finally happened. This was as close to a ritual as they would ever have between them, as much of one as either of them would even want. One could argue it had been far too long in coming and that someone had to push him into it, but now that he'd finally made his bed he was going to happily lie in it- even if it did smell like a cathouse at the moment. Now that it was over it made him wonder why he balked over doing it in the first place. The whole thing seemed almost predestined. Kenren looked up from the bracelet and smiled at him. He smiled back.

 

"Well, if you ever see that chick again, tell her thanks for the gift."

"I'll be sure to do that."

 

Kenren showed it off again. His eyebrows quirked in an overdone sexiness.  Tenpou laughed as the man rolled over and began to stalk over to him on his hands and knees. The box that had given him so much pain tumbled off the edge of the mattress, forgotten.

 

"You know you want me."

"A given."

 

Actually, not so much of a given as he was hurting in more ways than he'd ever let on, but still not a lie. He fell back onto the bed as Kenren moved to straddle his hips. Tenpou stretched out underneath him and arched up a bit- funny; he hadn't realized how much tension his body had been holding until his back complained when it hit the sheets. As his spine gave a few loud cracks Kenren murmured appreciatively at the show, letting his hands slide down Tenpou's torso then slowly back again, up the arms, capturing the hands that were still thrown over his head. Fingers pointedly interlaced one hand at a time before Kenren leaned into him, the white tiger jade tumbling down his arm. Their kiss was tender, a tentative brush of lips. Searching, new, the first kiss of young lovers. It was strange- they had walked this path together hundreds of times before, yet where they were going from this moment on was somehow different. For once, he felt happy that it was not a path he had to walk alone.

 

Kenren stretched himself out and drew Tenpou close. They moved together for awhile, touching, stroking, rubbing up against each other, feeling each other's presence. Rediscovering it. Sharing in it until it was cut short as Kenren suddenly pulled away. Tenpou opened his eyes just as their rope was flung against his side in a snarled mess. His eyebrows rose as Kenren began to wage a valiant one-armed battle with the recalcitrant tangle of coils. Tenpou snickered while it continued unabated for more time than seemed entirely necessary. In fact, it looked as if the rope might actually be winning-

 

"Pet, I do believe I've told you adult supervision is required when-"

"Shut it, you."

 

There were a few more moments of struggle before Kenren finally gave a victorious "aha" at having subdued the giant knot to his apparent satisfaction. He grabbed Tenpou's arm and wound a few loose loops around it. Additional loops were quickly twisted about Kenren's wrist as well, locking the two of them together before their fingers again interlaced. Once more his arm was brought up over his head, bound hand pressed firmly down into the smelly mattress. Tenpou had to admit the odd little ritual had made the cat rather curious.

 

"So, what's this about?"

"You're stuck with me. Remember that."

 

Tenpou locked eyes with him for a moment, utterly overwhelmed. He could do nothing but close his eyes and kiss him at that; he did not trust himself not to break down altogether should he try anything more. Their kiss deepened, selfless, intimate… Kenren slowly sat up again, snaked over another length of rope. Looped it about his own chest and shoulders and behind Tenpou's neck before ending the new connection in a spiral around Tenpou's other arm- more decorative symbolism than sex toy. Kenren shifted lower, his mouth wandering down Tenpou's chest and the twists of rope trailed behind his movements, sliding against his skin, marking him with their yuanfen as they wove their karma ever tighter together. The rope marks would eventually fade but the yuanfen would not; it stretched out ahead of them towards a future that could barely be guess at, a gift of their newly acquired mortality. Living as gods they had no future, only an eternally stagnant present. Now, at least he could say that they had something to look forward to.

 

Ropes and hands and then lips moved further downward, wrapping him up in the heat of his lover's mouth. Tenpou's hips began to rock in time with the soft strokes of tongue and the slow bob of that beautiful mouth, sucking, teasing, bringing him over that edge one more time. As he tensed and arched up into it the coils tightened about him and he came harder than he had in days. He was still flying high as Kenren shifted back up and drew him into a loose embrace. He plastered himself up against the warm, welcoming body, clinging to the sensation of the ropes joining them together, the gentleness of the hands petting him as he slowly came down. The feel of Kenren's white tiger jade resting smooth and reassuring against his back. He drifted off into a dreamless sleep, wrapped safely in the folds of their yuanfen. The thought seemed strangely comforting; in the end, it did not matter what the woman said would happen to them. Together, they were stronger than death itself.

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