Book 5, Chapter 14

oko had always liked the younger of his brothers best. Where Tokoyo was bitter cold, Hiroki was sunshine. The part of Yoko that craved light was drawn to him. Just like everyone else was.

He frowned as he ran a cloth over the blade of a sword seemingly too long for him to use. Cleaning and sharpening his weapons helped him to focus. The world had turned sideways, and he needed to reasses; focus was a necessity right now. He hoped that sharp weapons wouldn’t also be a necessity.

Tokoyo too often mistook thought for action and cared about things most other people didn’t. But more and more, Yoko was realizing that the things Hiroki cared about were things no one should ever care about or even know about.

He set the sword down, picking up the next. It was shorter than the first, and more manageable for him. He tested the blade against a callous on his thumb, then began to sharpen it with long, smooth strokes of a stone. He hated contemporary methods of performing this sort of task. Automation and weapons shouldn’t be mixed.

The rhythmic sound of stone against steel normally helped him find clarity. Today, it was a candle in a downpour. There was so much he didn’t know, much more than he was comfortable with, and what he did know bothered him just as much as what he didn’t.

He almost ignored the knock on his door, then glanced over at the tea settings on his low table and set the sword down, aligning it between it’s brothers. He stared at the three swords for a moment, then rose when the knock came again.

Padding across the floor to the door, he flicked a button on the edge of his window as he passed, not pausing to watch the transition from tempestuous but grainy lightning storm, to the tranquil but grainy garden he normally had showing. Curling his toes against the floor, he opened the door.

Hiroki beamed at him with such force that he had to stop himself from backpedaling.

“Yoko! I thought you might have forgotten and gone out.” He laughed. “But you’d never forget a meeting.”

Yoko shook his head, bangs flickering over his eyebrows as he stepped aside and let his brother in. Hiroki slipped his shoes off before stepping up into the apartment, taking in the work Yoko had been doing while he waited.

“How often do you sharpen your swords, anyway?” He crossed to the table and knelt, crumpling as though he his bones and joints somehow worked differently from Yoko’s.

Yoko joined him, and reached for a tin. “As often as I need to,” he answered, dropping a pinch of leaves into his brother’s bowl and another into his own.

“And how often is that? It’s not like you have many enemies to fight these days.”

He poured hot water into their bowls, set the kettle down, and watched the steam curl as it rose before finding his answer. “Often enough.”

The look Hiroki gave him was both amused and knowing, and Yoko didn’t like it. Breaking unspoken protocol, he lifted his bowl and swirled the contents. The two sat in silence as the tea leaves steeped and colored the water.

Yoko watched Hiroki, waiting for him to drink first. Brother or not, it was customary for the guest to take the first drink and comment on the tea. Hiroki seemed content to make him wait, however, and when he did finally drink, the tea was no longer steaming and the silence between them had stretched so long that even Yoko was becoming uncomfortable.

He drank deeply and made an appropriate murmured comment. Yoko, not knowing what else he had expected, relaxed slightly and finally lifted his own bowl with his fingertips and drank.

“So I've been wondering why you haven't revealed your suspicions to the others.”

The question came from nowhere, leaving Yoko to scramble for an answer as he sipped his tea, averting his eyes.

“I'm not sure to what you are referring.”

A knowing, apparently genuine, smile spread across Hiroki's face, almost laughing in disbelief. “You're not?”

“...why would I tell them? It--” He felt the color draining from his face as he met his brother's expectant gaze and stammered. The tea in his stomach felt impossibly cold and hard, as though it were gathering density there. Keeping his voice even and low, ordinarily so natural, was all he could manage to do as he spoke. “It would cause you trouble.”

And he did not want to see Julian or any of the rest of them entangled with his brother.

“I am not capable of being troubled by that sort of person.” Hiroki laughed. “Yoko.” Very suddenly, all trace of humor had left that smiling face, and there was something venomous left behind. The tone of his voice was like a gently chiding parent. “I think you had better go tell them.”

Yoko couldn't answer and set down his tea, hand shaking. Swallowing to wet his dry throat, he gave the bowl a quarter turn, eyeing the laquer until he found the courage to look up again. Hiroki smiled over the rim of his cup, savoring the aroma before taking a final sip. He, too, set down his bowl and gave it a quarter turn, watching Yoko unwaveringly, his hand steady and his smile like solid steel.

“After all,” he went on, expression plastic, “It's the right thing to do.”

For the first time in a long time, Yoko couldn’t hold his brother’s gaze and looked away first. The silence stretched, and in his mind so did Hiroki’s smile.

“Are you going to offer me more tea?”

Yoko looked at the half-empty iron kettle and gave his head a minute shake. “There is no more.”

“I suppose I’ll let you get back to your work, then.” Hiroki bowed his head, smile almost gentle, and unfolded his limbs as he stood, a man who was indulging a child because at least he knew better. He cast a glance at the weapons on the floor. “You never know when such things might be needed.”

He tripped to the door and shoved his feet into his shoes. Yoko kept his eyes on the table. “No need to see me out!”

Yoko couldn’t have stood if he’d had to. There was one more smile and Hiroki left his brother alone in shaken silence.

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