The morning shown through the thin paper divider that stood in front of the open window. The sun's rays shining in wisps on the figure that lay on the futon within this room. White strands of hair sprawled out like tendrils from a strange beast as he lay under the covers naked. But the man sleeping here was anything but a beast. Or was he? Slowly, he raised a hand to wipe the sleep from his eyes, his perfect visage unmarked by the previous night's work. Shiori let up a pitied sigh as he recalled a client leaving him in want. It should have been the other way around, but men are always tricky like that. He wondered if he'll come back and what story (or excuse) he'll have when he shows up.
Deciding sleep would be no more for him, he reached for the strewn robe that lay next to him and covered up before the morning maid came in with his breakfast. Shiori always preferred to sleep in nothing more than his skin after seeing a client. He always felt more relaxed that way. He also delighted in seeing the maids blush because his morning appearances were just that: a total expression of his night's work. But, they were good maids with sharp ears. And as if on queue, one of them enters to leave the tray and scurry off.
"Oh, Mika, when will you learn I won't bite the help unless they want a reward," he muttered to the long since gone maid.
Shrugging, a wry smile on his lips, he tied his locks loosely and began his morning routine of breakfast and poetry. The tray set on his table was ladened with food. Shiori didn't look like it, but he could eat a feast and still be hungry. Yet he never gained weight. A green book with a long ribbon in the pages sat nearby. Picking it up, he opened it to the place where the ribbon sat and began to read as he ate in silence. It was truly the only time he ever got to himself and he always made sure it stayed that way.
Sadly, this morning would not be like any other. The worried cries of the maids called out to him from down the hall. “Master Shiori! Master Shiori! Please hurry! There's someone causing trouble and he refuses to leave!”
He pinched the area at the bridge of his nose and sighed heavily. He loved and hated being called “Master”. It was all dependant on who said it that determined whether it was one or the other. Finishing the last bite that was in his mouth, Shiori stood with elegance, as he was now accustomed to, and proceeded to follow the scurrying maid to the source of the trouble. Along the way out of his room, however, he grabbed a cane for posterity.
As he approached, he saw a man was trying to speak with one of his girls. Had this been a civil matter, the maid wouldn't have gotten him in such a way. The guards were trying to get him to leave, but he insisted on coming in. Pushing and shoving with whatever fortified strength he had, the man tried desperately to reach for the cowering girl. Words of professed love floated in the air and all Shiori could do was sigh heavily. “Honestly now,” he mumbled under his breath as he made his approach.
In a cool, commanding tone, Shiroi’s visage was that of a businessman. “Akane, to the back. Now.” That was all it took for the frightened girl to break from her frozen state and scurry, followed by the maids that shielded her from the unruly man. Turning to this morning’s bane of existence, he sighed heavily and addressed the interloper in the same tone of voice. “You, sir, just cost me a day’s work. I now need to reschedule all of her day’s bookings and maybe even more. How are we going to correct this?”
“I don't care that you're losing money, you pansy assed freak! I want Akane!” Anger? Rage? No… obsession. He reeked of is and Shiori was having none of it.
“Oh dear,” Shiori said as he crossed his arms, resting his delicately chiseled chin on his hand. “Now you’ve gone and hurt my feelings. I don't take kindly to insults. Nor do I take kindly to men that decide to paw over my things.” The loud man that raged before flickered something in his eyes. Something that indicated he wasn’t liking what he was hearing. “That's right. In this house, what lives here, stays here and what stays here belongs to me.” Shiori was calm, but his voice suddenly boomed. Even the guards were starting to worry. It took a lot to get to Shiori, a man who’s seen practically everything one could possibly see in their life among these streets. And yet, there will always be that fly in the ointment just waiting to push the right buttons.
Slowly, the sound of metal on metal sliding against each other filled the air already thick with tension. The glint of a thin blade was all anyone saw before the point was at the man’s throat. “I am not a man without a heart. Leave now and I will forget this ever happened. Persist and, not only will you be banned from this establishment, you’ll be blacklisted from the entire district. And if that doesn't suffice, I’ll just cut you down where you stand and save us all the headache from furthering this day.” His eyes were cold, his words emphasizing the weight of what he spoke of. “Do I make myself clear?”
Usually this works just fine for there were few he’s ever had to go this far for. Men who say they love his girls are open to keeping to his way of business. Once in a great while, there's that one client that insists on giving gifts themselves but that was against the rules because it was deemed an unscheduled (therefore unpaid) visit if it wasn’t during their appointed time. This one here wanted to take Akane and Shiori knew that that meant danger all around. That danger seemed to spill out of the miscreant in the form of a scoff. “Tch, I'm not afraid of you, you fucking flower assed freak. If you think you can take me down with that piece of shit, you got another thing coming. I'm gonna fuck you over so bad, no one will want your worthless ass or even recognize it once I'm through with you.”
Things seemed to shift. Time felt as if it stood still. The staff and guards knew very well that this was the biggest mistake anyone could ever do to their employer: they posed a challenge and Shiori never backs down from a challenge.
A crooked grin grew on his lips and for a moment, he resembled a fox. “Is that right? Then let's take this out into the street for all to see how well you can fuck me. If you're lucky, I’ll fuck you first and let you run with your tail still attached.”
This enraged the man that disturbed his morning and he flew into a frenzy. He managed to shove the guards out of the way and tried to charge right at Shiori, drawing a short sword that wasn't noticeable at first. But the owner was quick on his feet, gliding out of the way, passing the man before he could react and, grabbing the nape of his kimono to drag him out of his place of business and throw him towards the ground. The man was so shocked, he stumbled and fumbled to the ground. The tip of that “piece of shit” now at the jugular of his fallen opponent. The look of udder surprise and shock on the disturbance’s face. Shiori was a lithe man and, going by his looks, seemed like he could barely lift most common things. Yet he had just thrown out a man like a samurai was in there just now.
“Come now, don't be so surprised. After all, I'm still just a man.” He nicked the skin just a little, making ever slight movements with his blade. “Aren't you going to fuck me anymore?” His tone was cloyingly amused as onlookers now stopped what they were doing or where they were going just to watch.
He was actually looking forward to a fight, but the man dropped the short sword and raised his hands in the air. “You're a fucking psycho! And all of your whores are just as fucked up-”
The sound of one back hand smacking against the face of the accuser filed the still air. No one dared breathe for fear it might interrupt what was going on and make them a target as well. Holding the blade flush to his throat, Shiori knelt down as he gripped the man’s hair and pulled his head back. “Mind your manners, you flea trodden tramp. Did you really forget where you are? You want whores? Take your diseased equipment elsewhere. My girls are anything but and I will not have you soil their names all because you were denied the one piece of ass that was way too good for your sordid one.” He threw the man’s head back and stood, walking away. “I'm feeling generous. Leave and never come back. Last chance.”
The accuser was not going to let this stand. His honor was ruined when he was called less than a man and humiliated in public like that.The sound of commentary in hushed whispers all around fueling his rage, as if all were judging him and, to him, they might as well have been. Grabbing his short sword, he scrambled to get up and charge at the man walking away. Enraged cries coming from him as he made for his estrike.
Silence hung in the air and it became filled with the sound of blood spraying out from a cut throat. No one saw Shiori move to strike the fatal blow that sliced the man’s neck ear to ear. Blood misted out for a moment before cascading down his body. Knees gave out and he fell down. The lights now gone from his eyes. Everyone was silent for a moment before the guards came to remove the freshly minted corpse. The spectators returned to their business as if nothing happened.
Shiori held his blade at his side, its body still dripping with blood. He looked down and saw his kimono was covered in fluids and that he even got some on his face was troublesome. “And this was one of my favorites…” He turned around and entered his business, wiping the blade off the bloodied sleeve before returning it to its sheath. Having no choice but to walk the halls in crimson tones, he instructed the staff that he was not to be disturbed during his bath and that the kimono was to be burned and replaced as soon as possible. He was going to gain back his morning. It only took a man’s live to get it back.
Once the ruckus was tended to, his bath was long and well needed. The blood long since leached into the once clean waters, Shiori stood up and allowed the water to cascade off his lean body. One really wouldn't know just how fit he was under those fancy robes he likes to wear so much. With all the makeup and fancy hairstyles, you would have thought he was a pansy, too. But, alone, none could see the long scars down his muscular back. Taunt legs and arms fit for lifting and so much more. Clients have asked about those long since healed wounds upon his back and he would say that he fell from the Heavens when they took his wings away. Not far from the truth when talking about his past, but only few know that and he was certain most or all are now dead. Dead men tell no tales, right? It was a thing he’d tell himself, a mantra reminder that he is the only one that knows his true past here.
His white locks pristine once more, clinging to his body like tentacles looking to take him away, he reached for a towel to dry himself with. Rubbing lavender oil on his skin to calm his nerve, Shiori put on a fresh royal purple kimono with an elaborate floral butterfly pattern that flourished from the hem upwards. He then went for his kiseru and packed it with fresh tobacco. He only ever smoked when his nerves needed calming and he could not remember when was the last time he felt such bloodlust. He tried to avoid it as much as possible for it was all part of his past. A past he insisted he forget. But, there are days when the past persisted in haunting him. Something triggering a memory, a twitch, an itch he never wanted to scratch ever again. Do we ever really escape our demons, he thought as he took a long drag from his lit pipe.
Soon, the tobacco took its course and Shiori found himself even more relaxed after that hot bath. He could take on some sake, but drinking never did anything for him. He never found himself feeling the effects like most do and he was very particular about the kind of liquor he drank. This was more than enough. When he was done with his pipe, he emptied the ashes into a tray and decided to go and see about how things are with the others. The sun was still out so only casual business was conducted at this hour. Unless it was someone extra special, the girls were allowed the time to relax, shop and take care of personal business until the sun started to set and then they had to return for their scheduled appointments.
Walking into the hall, the owner saw maids tending to various things. One of the guards approached him and whispered that the body was taken care of and the street cleaned just as he liked it. “Good,” he said as he patted the man on a broad shoulder. “Be a dear and see that Akane is sedated after her ordeal. Try not to use the heavy stuff.” The guard nodded and looked concerned at his employer. “Oh, don’t look at me like that. You know very well that I am very much capable of handling such vulgar things. If there are complications, you know you’ll be one of the first to know.” The guard nodded in agreement then went to see about the girl.
Mika came trotting along with concern on her face.
“Not you, too,” Shiori sighed in grief.
“No, Master Shiori. I know you’re fine. It’s just that that man destroyed some of the decor and…” She was hesitant to say more before she pulled at her neckline to reveal the makings of a hand-sized bruise on her perfect neck. Her gaze was held in shame, as if it were her fault that all that happened. “I-It just happened so fast I just couldn't stop him and I'm truly sorry, Master Shiori. Please forgive me!”
She was about to drop to the floor and prostrate herself when a gentle voice was heard. “There's no need for that, Mika. I could no more expect you to have stopped that lunatic then to predict when that supposed messiah is to return to those Westerners that keep talking about him. If he was meant to be our savior, he'd have rid us of that barbaric nuisance. Now stop your fretting and see to that before it gets worse. If you need the day, take. I'm half opposed to just close for the night. Bloody mess…” Shiori wished he brought his kiseru from the room. Mika knew better since the day he found her as nothing more than a street urchin until he cleaned he up and gave her the job of head maid. Her loyalty has been unwavering ever since. He never once asked anyone to bow before him and never has he told anyone to call him “Master”. Yes, he was the head of this place and commanded it like a master, but the word made him feel like he was some kind of slave runner. He knew those people all too well and despised their very concept. He returned his focus on the girl before him and nodded curtly as if to emphasis his words.
Mika paled at the mess closing for a day would cause. She shook her head violently and covered her mark quickly. “We can't, Master Shiori! We have two dinner parties to cater, possibly three. And you're new client is coming. He booked very early this morning with me personally. He seemed very nervous until he told me his wife was due to give birth to their first child. He also felt guilty for taking up your time so I think he said tonight would be his last…” Mika always took care of their clients and got to know them all like family. She had a faint sadness about her at this piece of news.
Ah yes, he thought to himself. Married men coming to see him and his girls were not unusual, but at least now he has an idea why this particular one was in such a rush to leave and left him so vulnerable. “Then we’ll have to make sure it’s a night he never forgets. And, if we’re lucky, he will come back when he needs a break being a husband and a father.” Fat chance of that, he scoffed in his mind as he walked away, the maid shortly following after him to explain the damages taken. He never understood family until he took in all these ladies. It was like they became his children in a way since he bore none with any women knowingly. He did wonder what it would be like to hold a squishy little human that he made after so many heated nights of passionate lovemaking. All he needed was the one woman he wanted to make them with. Or more, if they were so inclined to share him. But women seemed to be much more possessive than men can be and he would prefer that his seed bear fruit with one that was deservant of his bloodline, which he has yet to find. You would think that Shiori spawned many offspring all over the land, but you’d be surprised that what a woman can do, so can a man if he trained himself long enough and he was a courtesan. Faking it to making it was practically second nature. He never once actually came inside his clients, but don’t tell them that. Yes, he fancied a family, but he wasn’t some mutt you drug off the street and fuck just because you wanted a baby to pop from your loins. He realized his mind wandered way too far and mentally slapped himself to focus on the matter at hand. The front desk needed replacing and a couple pots as well. “I really liked that one,” he muttered as he gazed upon the plant sprawled on the floor, slightly trampled in spots from the skirmish from earlier this day.
“I’ll see they’re all replaced as soon as possible.” Mika bowed deeply to her determined words.
“As always, I can rely on you at a moment’s notice, my dear. See that you take a burly man or few to help you with the lifting and pay them well.” Shiori patted her on the head and stepped outside for a moment to view the street. Everything was as it was. Not a business out of place, not a blood stained streak where there was once a body. Every person he hired had a skill and they were very good at what they did. “Now all I have to do is claim a ninja clan and I could really do some business,” he thought to himself with an amused chuckle. Waving to the madame that ran another house not far from his, he stepped back inside to review some things before the night fell upon them. It was going to be a very long and busy night.
As expected, it really was a busy night. Mika was right in thinking that that third group was coming tonight. All the large rooms were taken up and, as always, Mika ran the maids like clockwork. They went out in almost regular intervals to get more food and drink. The proprietress of the noodle shop was very happy to help for they always sent business her way like this or whenever Shiori or the others went out to eat with a client. The din of drinking, singing and dancing filled the halls whenever a door was open and everyone seemed to be enjoying their time.
Shiori, himself, checked in on each party before heading to his room where he asked that a setting be made for his guest tonight. A simple meal in private was what he asked for and that was what he was going to get. The courtesan wore a black kimono with a white crane taking flight from a grouping of green reeds. His hair was pinned in a way that half was piled on the crown of his head and half remained hanging loose at the base of his neck. He hardly wore makeup, but a little face powder helped with the glow of his pristine skin. When he opened the door, he saw that Akiyoshi was waiting for him. He wasn't the most handsome man Shiori’s ever been with, but there was something pure about him that made him almost guilty for having taken him that first night. But, it was also that pure essence that made him wanting more. He would have to put all those wants and desires aside if he planned to let Akiyoshi go and be the father he was going to be.
“How lovely it is to see you again, my dearest Aki,” Shiori said as he closed the door behind him and approached the man in waiting. Akiyoshi was dressed in a simple dark blue kimono and he looked as if something was on his mind.
“Good evening, Shiori. Thank you for allowing me the chance to see you again.” Something is wrong, the courtesan thought as he sat next to the client. His voice seemed to have something of a tremble to it?
“What’s wrong, Aki? You can always talk to me about what’s bothering you.” Shiori took the quiet man’s hand in his as he gently brushed some hair from his face. “It worries me that you sound this way…”
It took a few moments before Akiyoshi could look at the man next to him, his frame starting to tremble with emotion and tears began to flood his eyes as he struggled not to sob out loud. “It’s… It’s my wife…”
Shiori frowned slightly. People in this business aren’t meant to get too close to their clients, but it helps if you give a damn once in awhile. This one could use all the damns he could get right now it seems. “Your wife… is she unwell? Is there something wrong with the baby?”
The man shook his head violently as the emotions began to pour out of him. “She was crossing the street when the baby started to come. She was right in the middle of it carrying groceries when I told her not to. But, dutiful as ever… She went… and collapsed under the pain… No one helped her! No one! I know she had to be calling out for help. She had to have been…And she was huge… I always made fun that she was waddling too much… And then…” The incident must have been so great, he was gripping his kimono with such force as to turn his knuckles white. “S-some government official ran her over when he was rushing to get somewhere. Trampled her prone body like it was no more than the mud upon the ground she struggled to escape from…” Akiyoshi’s voice turned to whimpers as he struggled to go on. Shiori had seen Death take many so he was used to seeing it. He was not used to seeing what was before him now. He let the man take as long as he needed, squeezing his hand gently to reassure him that it was okay to talk about it.
“If you wish to stop-”
“No… I'm...They're gone, Shiori… What am I going to do?” The tear fell and Akiyoshi’s stained face soon turned to the other’s chest and was embraced by the lithe arms of said owner. His voice was muffled as he sobbed, but Shiori made not attempts to move. “They were everything to me. I shouldn't have gone to work today. I should have stayed home-”
“Hush,” was all Shiori said as he gently rubbed Akiyoshi's back. “You can't control all that happens. It could have been all of you in that accident.”
Akiyoshi rips himself from the embrace. “Then I would have been with my family at least!” His face was marred with tears and sadness. “I should join them for being such a failure as a protector-”
The sound of one hand striking a face commanded silence and shock upon the distraught man. Shiori’s voice was calm, clear and firm. “Never say such things. Ever. You'd only make things worse…” He gently caressed the mark that was starting to swell from the slap. He then knelt before him and kissed the welt tenderly. “Stay and rest. I will see to her arrangements. Tomorrow you will go with some of my men and retrieve your valuables so you can stay in one of the guest rooms until you're well enough to return.”
Akiyoshi sputtered in rejection as the graceful man stood and made his way to the door. “I-I couldn't! I would only be a burden -”
Shiori turned and smiled in kind. “Hush. Consider me your benefactor. I will take care of you.”
“But why? I'm nobody special…” Akiyoshi spoke in disbelief. Why would anyone want to help such a mess of a man?
The lithe figure walked over to him, knelt before him, took his chin in gentle fingers and kissed him with a mix of emotions. It was soft and passionate, but you can tell there was a hunger there that was left unfed. When Shiori pulled away, that kiss was reflected in his gaze and Akiyoshi could feel his chest tighten along with that feeling within his loins. The client was conflicted, but he made no gestures or words to reject what just happened. As Shiori made to stand, Akiyoshi grabbed his hand with caution. That hand caressed his with mixed emotions and there was tenderness in the gaze that returned his own. “Don't worry, darling. She'll get the best. And so will you.” he withdrew his hand and took to the door, closing it behind him and leaving the new widower with so much on his mind.
It didn't take long for the courtesan to make the arrangements for the former mother and baby to be brought to the closest temple and be prepared for service as soon as possible. He left Mika to see to the rest as he returned to his room and found his guest sitting by the door that led to the back gardens. A hint of moonlight shone down and the simple man seemed like so much more. Shiori walked over and sat down beside him, taking out his kiseru and prepared it.
“I wonder if she had any regrets,” Akiyoshi said in a quiet voice, contemplative at they sat in the silent song of the night. His gaze to the starry sky, he let out a quiet sigh.
Shiori lit his kiseru and took a few puffs. “Did she ever complain at all to you about anything? Anything at all?”
Akiyoshi looked to the side as he brought his gaze downward. He shook his head as he pondered the question. “Never. She was always smiling no matter what. Perhaps the question is more for me…”
The courtesan let the moment pass, taking another puff and slowly releasing the smoke. “Then, there shouldn't be any regrets. You gave your wife happiness that no other man could. Remember, she chose you out of the hundreds she could have chosen. I don't know the whole story and I don't need to. The point is, you have good memories. Keep those and try your damnedest to continue to make her the proud wife she was. I won't say move on and take another wife, but don't lose hope in second chances either. I've had many so I have faith you will have them, too.”
Akiyoshi looked to him with wary eyes. “Do you truly believe I am not a failure? What if I never find another who would accept me?”
“Am I nothing anymore,” Shiori said in mock hurt.
“N-No! That’s not what I mean…” Akiyoshi began to blush in protest despite the mood. He could feel Shiori’s fingers gently rake his hair as he averted his gaze. “I mean, … Do you think I am worth taking another wife?”
“You managed to gain one and have a child,” Shiori said between puffs. “I would like to think that a man such as yourself would be able to. I, for one, would hate to lose you myself.”
This caused the other man to give a dubious look towards the courtesan. “Why would you miss me so? I thought I was just a client to you.”
“You were.” Shiori took a long final drag from his kiseru then emptied his ashes out. “I think I'm allowed to have favorites, aren't I?”
“But,... why me? I'm nobody.” Akiyoshi sat there wringing his sleeves as he turned his gaze away.
Shiori used a single finger and turned that gaze back to him. “Everybody is somebody's favorite and you so happened to be one of mine…” He drew his face in for a light kiss before standing once more. “I offer you all that I said before. I will even help you find a new house if you wish.”
There was hesitancy in Akyoshi’s voice as he spoke. “I… what about if I wanted to forget? I… I heard about how opium can-” He was cut off before he could finish.
“While I don't care what others do outside this place, I do very much so within. Drinking away your sorrows could be tolerated, but I won't allow opium to be used to rot your life away. You are too talented a man to be allowed to waste away in such dens. If I must,.... then I could be persuaded to help make you forget…” He sat back down, closer this time, caressing Akiyoshi’s face. That flushed look rose on his cheeks once more and Shiori couldn't help the desire he felt for this man. He was not like the others he's been with, nor was he or ever will be like him. To become a man that sells sex and company for a living was not for everyone. A part of Shiori hoped Akiyoshi would push him away. A part of him hoped he would get lost in a night of passion he’d never forget.
Akiyoshi was hesitant at first, but then he placed a hand over the one that touched his cheek and smiled meekly. “If it's alright with you… just being in your company is a comfort… I've no one else to turn to now…” It was hard to fight back renewed tears, but the few that welled in his eyes were all that managed to escape.
Shiori nodded. An in between was alright with him. “Whatever you’d like for me to do, love.” He drew the other man closer to him and held him close. If Akiyoshi started to cry again, he wouldn't stop him. He needed to mourn the loss of his old life so he could begin his new one. He just hoped he had the will to find it.