Ohisashiburi desu ne
Ohisashiburi desu ne: Long time no see
“Your kisses are like spring flowers,” Hiro said, “where each single petal contains a hundred words of love from me.”
“Did you just make up a love poem for me?” Ryū asked, his lips brushing Hiro’s earlobe.
“You inspire me, husband,” he said. He captured Ryū’s mouth in a heated kiss and groped under his robe.
It had been a lazy morning spent snuggling under the kudzu blanket and relaxing in the cozy warmth of the irori. There were chores to be done, and they’d have to face the winter cold sooner or later, but Hiro didn’t want to think about that yet.
Ryū melted under his touch, spreading his legs wide and inviting him in. Hiro trailed kisses down past his navel until he reached Ryū’s swollen hilt. He breathed lightly over it, his eyes focused on Ryū’s. Hiro held his gaze as he lowered his mouth and began to suck.
“I want you too,” Ryū said as he reached for Hiro. Hiro shifted to position himself over his husband, allowing him to take his length down his throat. They consumed each other hungrily until Ryū lost control and exploded in Hiro’s mouth.
Hiro chuckled with his mouth full. He swallowed and gave his husband a few last teasing licks before pulling way. Then he turned and flipped Ryū onto his belly, rubbing his slippery hardness between his cheeks.
“Are you mine?” Hiro asked.
“Always and forever,” Ryū answered with a wriggle.
Hiro quickly opened Ryū up and then buried himself in his flesh until he could go no deeper. He was already so close. He pressed the length of his body along Ryū’s back, trying to keep his thrusts slow, driving to hear Ryū’s moans. He could never tire of this. Every second he spent with Ryū was tattooed on his heart. He soon let go with a full body spasm and a throat-searing cry.
After they recovered, Hiro lay in Ryū’s arms and dissolved under his petting.
“In four days, we’ll celebrate a whole year of marriage,” Ryū said, combing his fingers through Hiro’s hair. “We should do something special.”
“Like what?” Hiro asked.
“Like… go down to the New Year’s festival in Kyō no Miyako. No one would recognize you. We have some money put aside from selling the baskets.” Ryū gave a little shrug and a tempting smile. “We can splurge on a rice cake and honeyed apples, I think.”
Hiro stretched his limbs with a loud, non-aristocratic yawn. “I’d rather be here with you, making love by the irori,” he said.
“You mean that?”
“Mhmm. I only want to be with you on our anniversary. I don’t need other people. Or festivals or rice cakes.”
“Then I vow to you it shall be so,” Ryū laughed.
“Uh-oh, you vowed,” Hiro widened his eyes in mock fright. “Now you must keep it.”
“Uh-oh,” Ryū imitated Hiro’s expression. “Poor me.”
They decided to go ice fishing, hoping to catch a trout or two. They wore their straw sandals, but they layered additional straw around them for extra protection from the bitter cold. Then they wrapped themselves in the kudzu blankets, and over those, they placed mantles of dried reeds.
They sat on the edge of the beautiful, frozen lake and awaited the fish for over an hour before their quiet was disturbed by a horse’s neighing. During the two years they’d been on Mount Kurama, they’d seen no one else at the lake other than the yōkai and Inari. Now someone was shouting Hiro’s name.
“Hiro,” Ryū whispered, gripping his arm. “What do we do?”
Hiro glanced toward the line of trees, wondering if they should make a run for it. But where would they go? It was winter, and all of their food and money were in the hut.
“Maybe they just have a message for me.” He hadn’t told Ryū about the pardon or the letter from his father, which had demanded Hiro’s return to Heijo-kyo a year ago.
“Hiro, where are you?” Yoshi’s voice echoed.
Hiro’s heart was pounding. His younger brother’s arrival struck conflict in him. He’d be happy to see Yoshi again, but why had he come here? Too many grim possibilities ran through Hiro’s mind. The risk was considerable.
“Let’s hide,” Hiro decided quickly. “We know the mountain better than they do. They won’t find us.”
“Hirotsugu!” Yoshi called, coming closer to the lake.
“Now! We have to go.” Hiro grasped Ryū’s hand and they began making a path through the knee-high snow.
But there was no way to outrun the horses. They were surrounded before reaching the trees. Ten guards drew their bows, arrows aimed to stop them from taking another step.
“What is the meaning of this?” Hiro demanded, drawing himself tall and staring down the soldiers in turn.
“Brother!” Yoshi called. He jumped off his horse and pulled Hiro into an embrace. “I missed you!” He stepped back to have a look at him. “You’ve grown tall and handsome. Mother will be so happy to see you.”
“Long time no see, Yoshi,” Hiro said with a sad smile.
“Long time indeed. I’ve come to take you home. Didn’t you receive the pardon? The Head Priest of the Kifune shrine said he gave it to you.”
“Hiro, what pardon?” Ryū asked.
Yoshi glared as if Ryū had tossed horse shit in his face. “You allow this servant scum to call you by name?”
Hiro shoved Yoshi. “He’s not my servant,” he growled. “And you will be polite to him, little brother, understood?”
The bows pointed their arrows at Hiro’s neck. “How dare you raise your arms against Fujiwara no Umakai’s heir?” Hiro demanded. “Put down your weapons!”
They didn’t listen, deferring to Yoshi for his next order. Hiro realized none of these men knew him. He was treading dangerous waters.
“I have no desire to leave. Didn’t Father understand when I didn’t come at his bidding? To hell with the Fujiwara. I’m staying on Mount Kurama. Better poor and destitute than a member of that accursed clan.”
“Hirotsugu!” Yoshi was aghast. “You speak like this about your family? Do you have any idea the wrong you did to us? Our father and uncles spent months cleaning up your mess and trying to regain power at court. Where is your Filial Piety?”
Yoshi turned to glower at Ryū. “You. This is all your fault. Guards, seize the boy!”
“Don’t touch him!” Hiro punched Yoshi and knocked him on his back.
Two of the soldiers grabbed Hiro’s arms and held them behind him. His feet were kicked out from under him, and he was forced to kneel in front of his brother.
Yoshi’s shock was written on his face. They had never quarreled before, and hitting each other had been unthinkable. Now Hiro had lashed out at him just because he had moved against a servant.
Ryū was also kneeling in the snow, held by another couple of the soldiers. Yoshi snatched his hair and pulled his head back. “What are you to him?” he snarled.
“He’s my husband,” Hiro answered for Ryū. “Take your hands off him immediately.”
Yoshi huffed in disbelief. Then he burst out laughing, the crude sound reverberating around them.
“Husband? You’re married? Who married you?”
“The god Inari,” Ryū said defiantly.
“Oh, the god Inari, was it?” Yoshi threw a disgusted look at Hiro. “Wait until Father hears this. The shame will make him unable to show his face in public for years.”
“Shame that I’ve married a man? Or that I refuse to bow to his whims?”
“Shame that you continue to be an imbecile, brother.” He pulled Ryū’s hair again, making him wince. “Is this all that’s needed to make you forget who you are? A pretty face? What a disappointment you are, Hirotsugu. To think that I admired you.” He let go of Ryū and walked back to his horse. “Tie my brother up. He’s coming with us. And kill the boy.”
“No!” Hiro bellowed.
The forest trembled and an ominous wind rose from the ground. I watched as Hirotsugu pushed himself upward with a murderous look. The soldiers who had been holding him cried out when they noticed their palms were bleeding. They scrambled away from him as if he were on fire.
Deep inside Hiro’s soul, a dark snake writhed, desperate to emerge.
“Harm him,” he told the guards, “and I swear by the Gods in Takamagahara you will each suffer an agonizing death.”
He spoke with a different voice, one that neither Ryū nor Yoshi recognized. One that I had known for millennia.
“I will mangle your body and split you in half.” He turned his surreal golden eyes toward Yoshi. “Make one move against him, and I will rip you limb from limb and adorn the trees with your spilled guts.”
Yoshi stared at him, petrified. After a few moments, he instinctively moved his hand to the hilt of his sword. Hiro narrowed his eyes and prepared to attack, frenzied with bloodlust.
I had to intervene fast. The snake was breaking free.
He stopped. He raised his head and looked over at Ryū, whose gentle call had worked like a suzu bell, creating ripples in the darkness seeping out of Hiro.
The snake in Hiro’s soul angrily whipped in Ryū’s direction, hissing. Its forked tongue flickered through its many mouths.
Ryū shook his head. “Don’t. This is not you.”
At first, Hiro didn’t respond. But finally he exhaled and took a step back. He grabbed his head, shaking himself to dispel the fog that had fallen over him. Ryū ran over and took him in his arms.
The wind dropped. The many-headed snake yawned and gave Yoshi one last look of contempt. Then it coiled tightly, its eight heads resting on its large body, and returned to sleep.
Initially, I was amazed at the effect this human boy could have over the ancient snake, but then an ice-cold wave of jealousy flooded my entire being. It had been my job to calm his dormant soul throughout the years. It was something only between us, yet now even this had to be shared.
My anger overcame me and I reacted without thinking. I stepped through the veil, and with a swish of my staff, I removed this memory from every living being in my vicinity, human and yōkai alike. I even healed the wounds he’d left on the guards’ palms.
I refused to let any trace of this incident live. I could not. I would not.
History did call me impulsive and impetuous.
I returned to my wretched home in the Land of the Dead and threw the shinigami staff at the farthest wall. It rolled on the floor and stopped near the throne. Above, lightning flashed and the storm began.
Hiro spoke to Yoshi as if the last minutes had never happened. “Ryū is my husband, so he will remain at my side. But we will return home willingly.”
Disoriented, Yoshi scoffed, “Brother, you are to marry Princess Abe. The Emperor’s daughter. Do you think Father will allow your… ‘husband’ to live with you? You’re incredibly stupid. As soon as he sets foot in Grandfather’s sanctuary, he is a dead man.”
“Then let him go unharmed, and I will come with you.”
“No, Hiro!” Ryū twisted in Hiro’s arms. “Take me with you. Don’t leave me alone.”
“It’s just temporary,” Hiro pleaded.
“You promised we would never be apart.”
“Ryū, they would kill you. Let me go back home and clear things with my father. Trust me that I will return to you.”
“But… I vowed we’d be together on our anniversary,” Ryū cried.
“And we will. We’ll be back together by then. This will only take a few days, I promise you.”
The guards separated them and tied Hiro’s hands before mounting him on a horse. “I love you, Ryū,” he called as the group started moving. “Wait for me by the path. I’ll be back in three days.”
“I love you.” Ryū covered his sobs under his hands, tears falling into the snow.
Hiro looked back and watched Ryū grow smaller by the lake, until eventually he couldn’t see him anymore.
“I swear it. If you, or Father, or any member of our family hurts him, I’ll take my life and destroy all the plans you have for me.”
Yoshi said nothing. He spurred his horse onward, unable to look his disappointing brother in the eye.
To Hiro’s surprise, they did not take him to Heijo-kyo but to his father’s palace on Mount Kasuga, where he’d spent his childhood. The rider with the fastest horse had been sent to inform Umakai that Yoshi had finally been successful in bringing Hiro back. The rider also carried a message about Hiro’s unexpected behavior.
They arrived under the cover of night. The guards on the western tower—which Hiro had climbed so many times to watch the festival fires on Mikasa—were startled to see Hiro bound on his horse and escorted by Yoshi’s sentry like a common criminal. They shared confused expressions but didn’t dare speculate about what had happened. The Fujiwara were ruthless to those who started gossip.
A servant announced that Umakai was waiting for them in the main hall. Yoshi cut Hiro’s ropes and ordered the guards to stand down.
“We’re going in alone,” Yoshi said. “See that no one enters, not even Mother.” To Hiro he said, “I’m telling you one more time, brother. For your own good, get whatever rebellious nonsense you have been entertaining out of your head.”
“You used to be the kindest of us all. What happened to you?” Hiro asked.
Yoshi pushed him forward. “You left me with the burden of the heir.”
Sitting on the polished hardwood step of the dais, leaning on Amaterasu’s shrine without his usual decorum, Umakai appeared to be in a dire mood. He glared as Hirotsugu approached.
“Welcome home, my sons. You have been missed.”
It would have been polite to say that he was glad to be home, but Hiro did not restrain himself from annoying Umakai right away. He responded, “Ohisashiburi desu ne, Father.”
Umakai frowned. “I was expecting you much earlier. Did you lose your way in the woods?”
“I’d rather say I found my way in the woods.”
“I see.” He stood but was wobbly on his feet. He had been drinking. “Good job, Yoshi, for bringing your brother back. Even if it took you almost a year.”
Yoshi flushed, and his lips tensed in a line. “Thank you, Father,” he said with a bow.
“Hirotsugu, what is this I hear about you not wanting to return home to your family? What is the reason for this foolishness?”
Hiro glanced at Yoshi. So, he hadn’t told their father about Ryū.
“Answer me!” Umakai spat in Hiro’s face. “Have the mountains taken your good sense? The priest confirmed he gave you my letter. Did you not read it?”
“I did,” Hiro said.
“Then why didn’t you come back when I told you to?”
Hiro met his father’s eyes with conviction. “I refuse to be your pawn. I refuse to join the Imperial Court. And I refuse to marry Princess Abe. Allow me to return to Mount Kurama. I have a happier life there.”
Umakai reeled as if Hiro had struck him. The fire from the hall’s bronze lamps flickered in his eyes.
“I must not be hearing you correctly. You… refuse your family’s gifts? Your grandfather made a pact with the Emperor at your birth. You can’t refuse. It’s not your decision to make.”
“Father, listen well. I will say it again. I refuse it all. Send me back into exile. I don’t wish to be here.”
Umakai nodded. “I’ll send you somewhere, indeed. I’ll send you to prison. Maybe a month in chains will clear your head of this delusion that you have a choice regarding your life.”
Snail the kappa hid behind a barrel and watched with apprehension as Hiro was manhandled out of the hall and dragged into a small building surrounded by guards.
“Come back to your senses, brother,” Yoshi said. “The family will be ruined if you don’t marry Princess Abe.”
“I’m already married,” Hiro snarled. “Inari-sama has blessed my marriage.” He disappeared with two guards inside the gloomy building.
“Oh no,” the kappa said. He wobbled out of the gardens and knocked on the bark of the first maple tree he found, waking a kodama from hibernation.
“What is it, turtle face?” the tree spirit asked, grumpily rubbing their eyes.
“It’s bad. The little lord has been taken to prison.”
The kodama yawned. “And?”
“And they want him to marry,” the kappa said.
“Good for him. How is this my problem?”
“Inari-sama has already blessed his marriage to another. He should be informed of this.”
“Kappa, a god does not involve himself in the affairs of a human.”
“He did with Fujiwara no Hirotsugu,” Snail insisted.
The kodama sighed. “I don’t understand what it is you want from me.”
“Can you summon him?”
“No. It’s winter. I don’t have the energy. I should be sleeping. Why can’t you do it?”
Snail dropped his head. “I don’t want Kami-sama to get mad at me for bothering him.”
“Oh, so you ask me to bother him? Then he gets mad at me, you little snake. I’m going back to sleep.”
“Wait, please! Can you send a message to the kodama on Mount Kurama? Maybe they can tell him?”
“Fine! If anyone’s awake, I’ll send a message.”
Snail bowed. “Thank you.”
“Now be gone and let me rest, busu.”