Shoubumei’s Requital (神の恩返し)

by Kikuchi Makoto (菊池 誠)
illustrated by fightfair


At all times of the day and in all seasons, a thick ring of fog embraces Yasukou Taisha, encircling the shrine grounds like a living sacred rope. In the early morning and on rainy days, the mists breathe out beyond the grounds, and even the little hokora shrines at the foot of the stone steps wear veils of dew.

The mountain is evergreen, though few of the plants themselves are. Drifts of spiraea blanket the feet of black pines. Plum and cherry–in full-bloom and heavy with fruit–stand behind trembling curtains of wisteria. Curiosity seekers hear of these wonders and arrive bursting with excitement, and leave feeling unsettled.

Sakaki Manabu paused to add one of the plums, heavy as a stone of similar size, to his basket. It would regrow by sunrise the next morning.

Hayashimoto shot a sidelong glance from under her umbrella. “Of course, these offerings should be well received,” she said.

Sakaki bit back a sigh. “Of course.” Though most of the hokora stood unoccupied at this time of the day, he left flowers, bits of candy, or small fruits at each little door.

“That’s good. It’s strange how the shopkeepers kept insisting we seek guidance from the shrine before bringing any offerings. Maybe they mistook you for a layman, sensei. Since you decided not to wear a kariginu.”

“Possibly,” Sakaki said, his eyes fixed on the stairs ahead.

Any social advantages to wearing traditional garb would have been outweighed by the tactical disadvantages. Once inside the shrine barrier, Sakaki would have to resort to physical fighting in case of an attack. Some people could fend for themselves while wrapped in voluminous folds of silk. Sakaki was not one of them.

“I’m sure a suit and tie is formal enough that Ame no Shoubumei no Mikoto won’t be offended,” Hayashimoto said. Mannerly desperation tinged her voice.

“Well, we’re already here.” Sakaki took a deep breath and stepped through the first vermilion shrine gate.

Like blood, Youshun was drawn from his body, leaving Sakaki cold and exhausted as his strongest shikigami spiraled into the sky. A mass of storm-dark clouds rushed in to embrace their companion, and the umbrellas carried by Sakaki and his retinue found their purpose. As the first raindrops came down, Sakaki stumbled on the rough-hewn steps that led up to the shrine approach. He covered it well enough.

Many onmyouji–generally those who bind all of their shikigami to their bodies–collapse in tears upon entering the outer precinct of a grand shrine.

Youkai and lesser kami crept, floated, strode, or glided beside the path. Sakaki was acutely aware that he could no longer sense the exact levels of their power. Then again, he supposed that even Youshun would not be able to detect them within the overwhelming presence of Shoubumei.

Sakaki paused at the purification fountain, which stood atop the final step, and rinsed his hands and mouth. Taking another deep breath, he passed through the tangible whiteness of the fog ring.

In the shrine’s inner precinct, beneath an enormous sacred sugi tree, the shrine’s uribaba stood in the shelter of her stand, offering prayer slips, talismans, amulets, fortunes, exorcising arrows, and wooden prayer tablets.

The uribaba spotted Sakaki the moment he stepped through the fog ring. Her deeply carved face split from ear to ear in a grin that revealed three rows of fangs. Wreaths of white hair floated up like mist as she gestured to him with hands as smooth and soft as a girl’s.

“The Sakaki boy, is it?” She nodded in greeting as Sakaki walked up to her stand. “It’s been a while.”

Sakaki presented the plum he picked earlier (for of course no uribaba will deign to accept a gift that did not grow on the grounds of her home shrine) and bowed low. “For you, Grandmother,” he said. “It’s not much, but I hope you’ll accept it.”

“So thoughtful.” The uribaba’s tongue slithered out and scooped the plum into her mouth. The plum’s pit shattered to sand between her teeth. Giving Sakaki a narrow leer, she said, “What would you like?”

Sakaki surveyed the assembled goods, though both he and the uribaba knew it was only for propriety’s sake. Out of the corner of his eye, Sakaki glimpsed Hayashimoto eying the votive tablets in her discreetly pointed way. Specifically, those tablets that solicited help in marital matters.

illustrated by fightfair

He bit back another sigh. At thirty-three, Sakaki had more people than just family whispering about his possible inability to fit into society.

After making a parting obeisance to the uribaba, Sakaki walked toward the heart of the shrine and stepped up into the worship hall. Aside from his retinue, the hall stood empty. Most pilgrims came during festivals anyway. News of Sakaki’s visit had probably scared off the rest.

The enormous prayer bell proved much easier to ring now that Sakaki was grown, and he tossed a few coins into the offering box as the reverberations rippled out through the misty air. He made his bows, clapped, and closed his eyes.

Ah, hello again, Sakaki… thought? Somehow “prayed” seemed inept. I didn’t mean to stay away so long. It’s just… well, crushing disappointment tends to make things, uh, awkward. Not that it was your fault, of course. Uh. But I couldn’t put this off any longer, so…

The general public tends to distrust onmyouji in any case. Onmyouji who have no clear connections to any shrine face even harsher scrutiny.

That always struck Sakaki as strange–forming an alliance with a powerful kami, assuming it was possible, could only increase one’s strength, not limit it. But if life had taught Sakaki anything, it was that people were stupid, and seldom made sense.

Anyway, thank you for having me here, and for bestowing your grace and protection on the people. I, ah, I hope to visit more regularly in the future.

Sakaki gave a final bow, picked his umbrella and basket back up, and set off over the shrine grounds, delivering the last of his offerings to the various auxiliary shrines.

Yasukou Taisha has no main hall; that purpose is served by the nearby falls, its attendant lake, and indeed the mountain itself. The gardens that lead to them are set apart by vermilion fencing, but this is by tradition only.

These magnificent stone and water gardens were once reserved for shrine priests, shrine maidens, and members of the Imperial household, and solely for the performance of rituals. Now, assuming visitors observe a proper level of decorum, they stand open to all.

His deliveries complete, Sakaki gave Hayashimoto a curt nod. She directed the other bodyguards to take up positions nearby, and Sakaki set off across the first of the water garden’s footbridges.

The smooth wood of the railing caressed his palm as he passed. Sakaki allowed himself a moment of reflective melancholy.

Twenty years had passed since the shrine was last rebuilt. Come the winter, every building within the shrine complex would be dismantled and constructed anew. The displaced wood–shielded from time and the elements by Ame no Shoubumei no Mikoto’s divine presence–would be fought over by prominent figures who coveted any blessings the rarefied lumber might bestow. People who knew nothing of Shoubumei, aside from his high rank.

A youthful voice broke into Sakaki’s reverie: “Hey, Ossan! You aren’t supposed to be back here.”

Sakaki looked up, sublimating his annoyed frown into impassivity (he hardly considered himself old enough to warrant an “Ossan”), and saw a teenage boy perched on the handrail of a nearby bridge. His chin-length hair hung heavy with rainwater. His thin, button-down shirt gave Sakaki cause for discomfort.

Sakaki cleared his throat and turned his gaze back on the gardens. “I was under a different impression,” he said.

The youth jumped back into Sakaki’s field of vision and flashed an impudent grin. “I’m messing with you, Ossan. I mean, take a look at me,” he said, gesturing at his damp clothes. Sakaki ignored the way his jeans clung darkly to his slim hips. “I don’t exactly work here.”

“Apparently not,” Sakaki said. A shiver ran through him as he wondered at his own carelessness. Training his expression into indifference once again, he set his feet in preparation either to fight or to flee. Sakaki doubted that many people would be so reckless as to shed blood in a place like this, but recklessness seemed the precise trait a young assassin would possess.

The youth appeared oblivious to Sakaki’s apprehension. He sauntered over and hopped up onto the railing beside Sakaki. Sakaki twitched his hand away, his every muscle tense. That earned another sharp smile.

“Pretty, though, right?” the youth said.

“Very,” Sakaki said, adjusting his tie. “Should you, uh, be out in the rain like this?”

The youth smiled again, but gently. He closed his eyes and tipped his head back, his hair pooling limply on his collar as rain streaked down his face. A thunderclap tore across the grounds, sending tingles over the soles of Sakaki’s feet. The rain came down harder now, the drops doubled in size. Even under the protection of his umbrella, Sakaki felt cool mist on his skin as raindrops shattered against the railing.

The youth opened his eyes and dropped his gaze to the water beneath his dangling feet. Sakaki’s eyes followed, and he noticed how the ripples collided, then faded, to be replaced by countless others.

Sakaki realized with a faint thrill that he never saw rain anymore, not like he used to. As a child, he would stand in the gardens for hours, fixated by the simple sight of water on water, until his parents called him away.

Now he relearned the rhythm playing on the leaves of the shrine’s flora, over the steady rumble of the falls. He breathed the warm damp of rain-soaked wood. He felt the minute flecks of windswept spray on his face.

As a child, Sakaki had often dreamt of rain.

His clearest memory was of the night before his first visit to Yasukou Taisha. Though he had been so excited he had thought he would never sleep, he had plunged deep into a dream the moment he closed his eyes, and found himself in a bamboo thicket.

The air itself was green, smelled of green. The towering stalks parted before his small hands, inviting him into the misty depths. Farther and further he walked, his feet making no noise. Indeed, he heard no sounds but the distant rumble of a waterfall, and the rustle of the canopy, though he felt no wind.

In time, the bamboo surrendered its ground to a grove of hinoki. Sunlit rain fell upon the center of the grove, lavishing drops of radiance on the rock formation that stood there. Water thundered in his ears.

The dream remained with Sakaki the next day, and while his parents were speaking to the shrine priest, he slipped away, ducking under the vermilion fences and into the gardens. He crisscrossed the footbridges, clambered over boulders, and plunged into the bamboo thicket beyond.

The hinoki grove stood farther up the mountain than Sakaki remembered. Unlike in his dream, his legs soon ached from the effort of the climb, as his lungs ached from the thinness of the air. Still he climbed, following the thunder of churning water. He climbed until he reached the hinoki wood, its floor overgrown with weeds.

Sakaki stood for a moment, feeling the burn in his chest. Then he crouched and, barehanded, pulled up the weeds.

Their roots reached deep, and the task of removing them proved even more challenging than the hike up the mountain. Sakaki drew strength from the roar of the waterfall and redoubled his efforts, slowly clearing the heart of the grove.

His hand fell on a particular patch of weeds, and Sakaki cried out and fell backward. His hand did not hurt, but it tingled as though he had touched a live wire. Sakaki approached the patch of weeds cautiously. He passed his hand through the air above. He felt that same tingle travel up his fingertips and into his shoulders.

“Manabu,” said a familiar voice. “Why did you cry out?”

Sakaki started and turned to see his aunt, Sakaki Yuya, who had served as the shrine priest of Yasukou Taisha for as long as he could remember. He pointed at the center of the grove, then twisted the hem of his shirt in his hands.

The shrine priest glanced at the uprooted weeds before reaching a hand out to the spot Sakaki had indicated. She drew her hand back with a gasp, then dropped to her knees, heedless of the damp that soaked into her kariginu.

Sakaki helped her to clear the remaining weeds. Steadily, surely, a ring of stones came into view–a sacred iwakura, forgotten for generations. At that same moment, the branches of the nearest hinoki shed their water, and drops of light rained down on the unveiled iwakura.

The shrine priest gave thanks to Ame no Shoubumei no Mikoto. She asked forgiveness for allowing such a sacred place to remain neglected.

But when she looked back at Sakaki, her happy expression turned regretful–as though Sakaki had asked for a gift she could not afford to give him.

The youth murmured, “It’s been too crowded to do this sort of thing lately,” and yanked Sakaki back into adulthood like a fish on a line. Sakaki gave himself a shake as the youth said, “They do a lot of weddings here, so…”

Sakaki nodded and adjusted his glasses. He shifted his gaze to the distant Shusui Falls. “It’s not an official interpretation,” he said, “but people have long considered Ame no Shoubumei no Mikoto a protector of marriage.”

“How’s that?”

Because Shoubumei manifests so rarely, scholars scrutinize the legends of his interventions for insight into his nature. To date, only the following seem conclusive: that he loves justice, that he abhors suffering, and above all, that he is capricious.

Sakaki recounted one such legend.

“A long time ago–before this shrine was constructed, and the waterfall alone served as a site of worship–the village headman’s son fell in love with the girl who watched his younger siblings. When the headman discovered this, he flew into a rage. In an unprecedented move, he decreed that the girl would be offered as a bride to Shoubumei. He locked his son in the storehouse and ordered the girl to be dressed in a splendid red kimono, bound hand and foot, and cast into the lake.”

“Sounds like a bad story for a wedding,” the youth said, but his eyes slid shut, and a faint smile rose to his lips as he listened and filled the spaces between the words with images of his own.

“A strange thing happened, though. As the poor girl sank, the water vanished around her, until she found herself on the dry lakebed. The waterfall dried up as well. Before the villagers could even begin to understand this, an earthquake brought them all to their knees. Yet just one building in the entire village was damaged–the storehouse, and the headman’s son came running. He helped his beloved out of the empty lake.

“Once they had climbed out together, a great roar erupted behind them, and they turned to see the waterfall restored and refilling the lake. The people of the village stared in wonder, but the headman leapt up and said that this was no sign from Shoubumei, but the work of the witch who had enchanted his son. At that moment a commanding voice intoned from within the waterfall itself. According to some versions of the legend, this is what it said: ‘Trouble these children no further, for they are closer to my own heart than any other among you.'”

The youth’s smile was the flash of a fish’s tail as it dove into shadow. “And what do the other versions say?”

“Something along the lines of, ‘What’s the matter with you people? Just leave them alone and stop trying to defile this place already,’ I think.”

“That sounds better,” the youth said, chuckling as he crossed the bridge.

Sakaki followed. “That’s what I always thought.”

“You’re pretty knowledgeable about all this, Ossan.”

“My ancestors have long served here as shrine priests and maidens. I … had hoped to follow in their footsteps.”

“Oh?” The youth tipped his head to one side. “What happened?”

“I had prearranged obligations, it turns out.”

“You had to become an onmyouji instead.”

Sakaki froze, then jumped away.

“Relax, Ossan,” the youth said, shrugging. “It started raining right when you got here. That’s your shikigami up there, right?”

“It is,” Sakaki said, still on guard.

The youth laughed brightly and walked on. He said, “Clearly I’m making you uncomfortable. I’ll go ahead and leave now. Thanks for the story, Ossan.”

Without knowing why, Sakaki said, “I’d prefer ‘Sakaki.'”

“Hmmm?” The youth’s eyes contrived to sparkle mischievously, despite the lack of ambient light. “Shizuka,” he said. “Hope to see more of you, Sakaki-san.”

Sakaki returned to the shrine a month later. He found Shizuka crouched over one of the koi ponds like a cat waiting for an opportunity.

“Shouldn’t you be in school?” Sakaki asked.

“Worried about me, Sakaki-san? I’m touched.”

Shizuka was once again in short sleeves, without an umbrella or a jacket. Sakaki considered offering either of his, but it seemed rather late for that.

“I feel I should apologize for the rain,” he said instead.

“Why don’t you pray for Shoubumei to stop it?”


Shizuka stood and strolled to a different island. “I’d think if anyone could get that shikigami of yours to behave, he could.” His every movement balanced grace and strength. He moved as though he carried tea on his crown and shoulders, and weights on his wrists and ankles.

“I’ve never doubted his capacity.”

“Oh,” Shizuka said. He narrowed his eyes at Sakaki and grinned. “So you’re stubborn.”

“Not stubborn. I just don’t see the point in praying for something so trivial.”

“If you’re going to be stubborn, you should learn to control your shikigami yourself.”

“Why don’t you try praying for clear skies?”

Shizuka swept rain-wet hair from his face. “It doesn’t bother me.”

Storms ravaged Yasukou as Sakaki spent a sleepless week learning to control Youshun from a distance. He had managed this without effort where his more tractable shikigami were concerned.

But Youshun fought like a two-headed snake. Every time Sakaki brought one aspect of the shikigami’s spirit under control, a tongue of lightning would lash down, or a gust of wind would slam him against a wall.

One mild concussion and two bruised ribs later, Sakaki visited Yasukou Taisha. While the clouds gathered as usual, no rain fell.

Sakaki arrived still exhausted from his efforts, his eyes as shadowed as the sky. His hair, however, was in perfect order, and his suit freshly pressed. In an unguarded moment, he gave Shizuka a smile tinged with that smug fatigue that is a little like drunkenness.

Shizuka leaned farther over the koi pond that had so caught his interest lately. “Hmmm, still not enough sun to see myself by.”

Without allowing himself to think better of it, Sakaki strode forward, put a hand on Shizuka’s back, and pushed him into the water. A moment passed. A few more followed after, and Sakaki felt a touch of concern that slowly blossomed into panic. Did Shizuka not know how to swim? The pools of Yasukou Taisha’s water garden were far deeper than most.

Just as Sakaki was shrugging off his jacket and undoing his tie, Shizuka broke through the water’s surface as easily as the carp that circled him. He trod water, his teasing eyes taking in Sakaki’s state of undress with the approval Sakaki had not realized he sought.

His smile made him look older than Sakaki would ever be. An autumn-scaled koi slipped under his fingers, and Shizuka stroked it absently, as though it were a dog. His eyes never left Sakaki’s.


illustrated by fightfair

“Come on, what if someone sees you like that?” Sakaki said. He crouched to pull Shizuka out, but cautiously. It was entirely in Shizuka’s nature to drag Sakaki in as well.

But Shizuka allowed himself to be pulled up, and he shed radiance as he lit on the grass beside Sakaki. His hand warmed the water between them.

“I think they’d be more surprised to see you like this, Sakaki-san.” Shizuka slipped two fingers up Sakaki’s sleeve to glide over the tender skin of his inner wrist and said, “But I’d prefer to keep it for myself.”

Sakaki was so embarrassed he had to leave the shrine.

The next time Sakaki saw Shizuka was not at Yasukou Taisha, but in Sakaki’s own office. The door eased open, and Shizuka slipped inside. Sakaki had to look three times to be sure of what he saw.

To contain such a creature as Shizuka in such a mundane space struck Sakaki as somehow profane. The walls seemed to recognize this, and shrank back to a respectful distance.

“How did you get here?” Sakaki said, his calm tone concealing the dryness of his mouth.

Shizuka stared at him with wide eyes and pointed at his own feet.

“I mean here, to my office. How did you know where to find me? How did you get past security?”

“Your name is on the building, and I told them I was here to see Sakaki-san. They were pretty nice about it.”

Sakaki would have been angry, could he have blamed them. Shizuka sauntered closer, and Sakaki held up a hand.

“One moment,” he said, circling both the desk and Shizuka, so that Shizuka had to turn to face him. Sakaki guided Shizuka back until he was half-supported by the desk’s edge, then patted matter-of-factly over Shizuka’s back and shoulders, down his sides, around the slim angles of his hips.

“You think they would have left me with a weapon?” Shizuka said, smiling wryly. “They were nice, not negligent.”

“You could have … acquired one here.” Sakaki slipped his hands in and out of Shizuka’s pockets–no mean task as his jeans were even more snugly fitted than they looked. “Or made one. I trust my security team, but they aren’t the only ones responsible for keeping me alive. Open your mouth.”

“Just like that? I thought you’d make me work for it.”

Sakaki set his lips in a hard line and willed the blood from his face. Shizuka obligingly opened his mouth to show that he concealed no talismans, no amulets, no spell slips. Sakaki nudged Shizuka’s legs apart and knelt to feel around his ankles.

“Still seems kind of pointless. Even with a weapon, I couldn’t possibly kill you.”

“Any particular reason for that certainty?”

“Same way I know I can’t lift a car.”

Sakaki slid his palms over Shizuka’s calves. “I think you’re overestimating an onmyouji’s defenses.”

“I dunno,” Shizuka said, leaning back against the desk and gripping the edge. “Seems to me you’d have the upper hand in a fight, onmyouji or not.”

Sakaki glanced up as he moved on to Shizuka’s thighs and said, “It’s, ah, interesting that you take such things into consideration.”

Shizuka lifted one shoulder and let it drop. “I’m not an assassin, if that’s what you’re really asking.”

“Well, that’s always a relief.” As Sakaki brought one hand up between Shizuka’s legs, Shizuka hissed and jerked a little. Sakaki looked up in mild surprise and met a darkening gaze. “Here I thought it was all an act,” he said. He stood and pulled his jacket straight. “It must be nice to be young.”

“You’re the one who spends all your time acting,” Shizuka said. He stayed where he was. If anything, he leaned farther back and spread his legs wider, all of it calculatingly subtle. “And you’re looking pretty ‘young’ there yourself, Sakaki-san.”

Fighting down the urge to give his jacket another tug, Sakaki cleared his throat and walked over to one of the walls of windows, his back to Shizuka. Here, he had no other path of retreat.

“Why are you here?” he asked.

“I see the way you look at me, especially when you try not to. You like what you see? Sa. Ka. Ki. Sa. N.”

Sakaki glanced back over his shoulder and said, “I guess I do,” because it seemed profitless to lie about it. To his gratification, it threw Shizuka off. Apparently the script he had worked out in his head called for a denial, a little more of a struggle, and Sakaki could see the pages flipping as Shizuka searched for his next line.

“Then what are you waiting for?” Shizuka said eventually, skipping ahead. “You’ve got me alone in your office. I’m unarmed. What am I supposed to do, fight you off with my bare hands?”

And that right there was what would get Sakaki into trouble, what would damage his reputation even further and force him to work twice as hard just to keep from losing ground. Because it would be one thing if Sakaki played along, had the brat give him a little head, and sent him on his way. It was quite another when he was the one aching to drop to his knees, to let Shizuka’s cock slide over his tongue and down his throat and…

He was in trouble.

“That’s an… interesting take on my libido,” Sakaki said, closing his eyes and adjusting his glasses, “but wanting something is not the same as needing it. I’ve managed to build a very successful career on that principle.” Possibly he should have that engraved on a plaque, he realized. It could come in handy at times like this.

“Is there anything you do let yourself have?”

“Of course,” Sakaki said, though he could not honestly have said whether he was lying or not. “But there are certain things–”

“You want me to beg for it?” Shizuka said, sounding thoughtful. Sakaki’s eyes snapped open. He turned to see Shizuka’s smile grow, like thunderheads rolling in over the horizon, sparking with inner light. “We could do it that way too. Please, Sakaki-san, more, ahhh…, and all.”

“Why are you doing this?” Sakaki said, relieved that it came out flat and annoyed rather than pleading, that he had managed to leave off the to me.

“Is it enough that I’m bored and horny?”

Sakaki thinned his lips and frowned.

“That was good, by the way,” Shizuka said. He watched Sakaki from beneath lowered lashes, his lips so slightly parted. “Earlier, when you had your hands all over me. But you figured that out on your own, didn’t you? Felt me getting hard for you.”

That did it. Sakaki took a step toward Shizuka, against his will. He’d never had a chance, had he?

“You like that, Sakaki-san?” Shizuka said, his voice smug even as his breathing shallowed. “You want my cock?”

“Yes,” Sakaki confessed. It took less out of him than he expected. More than that, it made it easier to breathe, as though some knot in his chest–one he had not even known was there–came undone. He slid a hand between them, palmed the front of Shizuka’s jeans, traced his fingers over the contours of the growing bulge there, and pressed down hard with his heel. “I do.”

Shizuka bit his lower lip, a flush spreading over his high cheeks as Sakaki sank to the floor between his legs. “Nn … kay.”

Sakaki pocketed his glasses and went to work on Shizuka’s fly. It worried him, how it hurt to want this much. “I should warn you,” he said, pausing, “the last time I did this I was, uh… I was your age, I think.”

“I doubt that,” Shizuka breathed. His thigh trembled under Sakaki’s hand.

Sakaki considered arguing the point, then realized that he absolutely preferred not to. Instead, he bent to run his tongue over the head of Shizuka’s cock. He slid down, felt it jump against his cheek, and nuzzled into the springy hair at the base, breathing deep and filing everything away in his memory.

It was not quite like riding a bicycle. Sakaki supposed it was more like painting, or playing an instrument, if he did either of those things–all these fine movements and attention to detail, focus and stamina, skills easily lost if neglected.

Shizuka’s cock stretched Sakaki’s mouth wide when he finally took it in. That was where Sakaki felt it the most, that he was out of practice, because his jaw grew sore in no time at all. That and his knees.

Not that he had any intention of stopping, not with Shizuka writhing above him and making these beautiful pleading moans. Sakaki kept one hand wrapped around the base and the other over Shizuka’s hip to steady them both. At least, as steady as he could with Shizuka arching and jerking the way he was.

He glided over Sakaki’s tongue, the skin luxuriously soft over the stiffness beneath. Sakaki swallowed around him, his tongue pulling up and back involuntarily to press hard against Shizuka’s cock, just under the head.

Shizuka groaned. He wrapped his hands around the back of Sakaki’s head and pushed him forward. Sakaki had to open his throat or choke. His eyes watered from the pang that bloomed at the back of his throat, and he wondered why that only made him harder.

Maybe, he thought, it was because he had employees who could not even look him in the eyes, yet here was this teenage kid, forcing his cock down Sakaki’s throat without thought or hesitation. Yes. That was exactly it.

He had even more difficulty, taking Shizuka deep like that, trying to swallow without pushing him right out, and Shizuka was thrusting into him–just the short jerks that were all he could manage, tipped back against the desk as he was, but they were rough on the tender places in Sakaki’s mouth.

Shizuka could not last much longer now, though. Not the way his muscles were quiver-flexed, the way his rhythm stuttered and broke down, the way his breathy gasps were coming out like sobs, and–

And the little bastard had no intention of warning Sakaki before he came, had he?

Sakaki pulled back, just enough to get Shizuka’s cock out of his throat. If Shizuka noticed, he did not seem to mind. As Sakaki flicked his tongue over the slit and got his first, real taste of bitter salt, it occurred to him that perhaps he ought not to swallow. It could send the wrong message. Instead, he thought, he ought to make a point of walking over to the bathroom. Spitting in the sink. Rinsing his mouth.

…but, well, as long as he was indulging–and he could not let this happen again, not with Shizuka, not with anyone–it seemed a waste not to go all out. What harm could it do?

Shizuka pulled one hand back to clutch at the edge of the desk, his other hand tightening painfully in Sakaki’s hair, and he came with a strangled, “Ah.” Even though Sakaki thought he was ready, it hit him harder and faster than he expected. He choked a little before he could start swallowing.

Sakaki pulled off of Shizuka’s cock when he had finished, coughing once or twice more and trying to get his breath back. Even after that, he still had that tight, burning, water-in-the-windpipe feeling.

Except, well, not water.

“Wow,” Shizuka said. He squeezed his eyes shut hard for a moment and breathed a deep sigh. “That was… Wait, don’t get up yet. Let me…”

Shizuka slid off the desk to kneel beside Sakaki, and reached for the button of his pants. He took a firm hold of Sakaki’s cock but did not quite stroke. Instead, he used both hands to rub the skin up and down, over the shaft, which was a good thing because the slight dampness on his hands would not have been enough to countervail friction.

Sakaki’s eyes slid shut, and he sat back to give his knees a much needed rest. Shizuka moved with him, murmuring, “Come on, come on.” Sakaki was already so hard from sucking him off that it did not take much more than that before he was coming into Shizuka’s joined hands.

And a little on his shirt.

Shizuka smirked and licked his hands clean while Sakaki provided a rapt, if dazed, audience. Then Shizuka arched over him to tongue his throat. “That was fun, Sakaki-san,” he practically purred, and damn it, this would happen again, wouldn’t it? Probably any number of times.

“Well,” Shizuka said. He nipped Sakaki’s earlobe before sitting back on his heels and saying, “I won’t keep you any longer. You’re a busy man.” As he started to rise, Sakaki seized his wrist.

“Not like that,” he said, his voice low and rough from having Shizuka fuck his mouth. (That actually happened, he had just begun to process.) He gave Shizuka’s shirt a pointed look.

Shizuka glanced down in confusion, then laughed. “That’s sort of textbook incriminating evidence, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Sakaki said. He let Shizuka go, fastened his own pants, and stood. Then he crossed the room to the closet that stood hidden in the wall.

“Wow,” Shizuka said, zipping up. The sound slid down Sakaki’s spine like raindrops. “Secret compartments and everything, huh?”

“Hardly.” Inside were a few spare suits, half a dozen pairs of shoes, a rack of ties, and a series of shelves with underclothes and socks. Sakaki pulled down an undershirt.

It would be big on Shizuka, and someone might notice that it was different from the one in which he had arrived, but it was better than the alternative. “Here,” Sakaki said, tossing the undershirt to Shizuka. “Leave the other one here.”

“Why?” Shizuka asked, and he half-turned away before tugging off his shirt. It struck Sakaki as strangely modest. “You going to burn it?”

“No,” Sakaki said. Actually he was. “Should I reimburse you?”

“It’s just a shirt,” Shizuka said, shrugging as he dropped it onto Sakaki’s desk. He brought the fresh undershirt up to his face and breathed deeply. “Mm, smells nice,” he said, tossing a cheeky smile over his shoulder. “I’ll wear it to bed tonight and dream of you.” He tugged the shirt into place, then turned and said, “Speaking of which…”

“Yes?” Sakaki pulled his glasses from his pocket and cleaned them.

“Can I stay with you?”

Sakaki barely caught his glasses on their way to the floor. “I’m sorry?” he said, securing them on his nose.

“I’d like to be where you are. If I let you out of my sight again, who knows how long you’ll make me wait?”

Realization came slowly, like mist rising off a lake. “Shoubumei,” Sakaki murmured, and his mind replayed the past few months through a different lens. Strangely, they looked about the same. “I feel like I should be more surprised.”

“You knew me from the moment you saw me,” Shizuka said, his smile patient and amused. “Or you would have, if you’d let yourself.”

“Youshun should know you, even in human form. Even you couldn’t erase all traces of your presence.”

“I’ve separated from my divine element. This” –Shizuka summed himself up with a sweep of his hand– “is entirely human.”

No, Sakaki thought. Not entirely. Maybe not at all. He said, “Though humbled by your request, I could not possibly–”

“Stop!” Shizuka pressed a finger to Sakaki’s still-tender lips. “None of that. None of that. You know better, Sakaki-san.”

Sakaki frowned and pushed Shizuka’s hand away. Shizuka beamed like a sunshower. “You can’t stay here,” Sakaki said.

“Sure I can.” Shizuka hopped up onto the desk and crossed his legs like a Buddha in meditation. “My divine presence will continue my usual work–preventing earthquakes, floods, mudslides, droughts, and epidemics, easing childbirth, all that kind of thing. I can’t hear prayers, but I almost never answer those anyway.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Sakaki said, crossing his arms.

“You’re throwing me out on the street? Defenseless? And so unbelievably tempting?”

“‘Defenseless’ is hardly a word I’d use to describe you.”

“Well, sure, technically,” Shizuka said with a broad shrug. “But manifesting in my full glory would take out a city block or two. Do you want to risk that, Sakaki-san? Think before you answer.”

“Is this your way of reclaiming a stray shrine priest?”

Shizuka’s eyes softened. He held out his hand. Silence stretched between them like a rope, and Sakaki counted his breaths until he lost track. He reached for Shizuka, and his hand was warm.

“I’ve wanted to repay you, for rediscovering my iwakura, but you’ve never asked me for anything,” Shizuka said. He brought his other hand up to trace Sakaki’s knuckles like summer rain. “Not one thing. The only other people who fall into that category are a handful of hardcore Buddhists, and they just didn’t let themselves want anything. But you… You’re different.” He brought Sakaki’s hand to his lips and said, “Melting yet?”


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Sakaki yanked his hand back with a frown, pushed up his glasses, and adjusted his tie. He said, “I would expect a… nobler method of requital from a kami of your stature,” even though (this being Shoubumei) he really did not.

“What could be nobler than helping you attain the path of purification? You’re supposed to strive for clarity, brightness, and honesty, but you’re gloomy and fake all the time.”

“I don’t know that I’d equate tatemae with being fake, exactly…”

“Ahhh, what happened to the sweet, straight-forward boy I used to know?” Shizuka said with a dramatic shake of his head. “Your soul will never reach the level of kami at this rate. Poor thing. What has the world done to you?”

Sakaki stalked over to the door and flung it open. He knew when he was outmatched, but that did not mean he had to like it. “You can choose a room on one of the top three floors,” he said. “I’ll make arrangements for furniture, wardrobe, and any other necessities. We’ll also need a cover story.”

Unfolding himself, Shizuka slipped down from the desk. He trailed slender fingers over Sakaki’s arm as he drifted past. “I’ll make it worth your while, Sakaki-san.”

Sakaki sighed. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”



Ema: “Wooden prayer tablets” or “votive tablets” in the story. Worshipers purchase these small wooden tablets at shrines, write their wishes and prayers on them, and then hang them on a designated stand in the hopes that the kami will answer them.

Haiden: “Worship hall” in the story. A place for ceremonies and worship that is open to the public. The most important building in shrine complexes that lack a honden.

Hamaya: “Exorcising arrows” in the story. Sacred arrows that ward against both evil and bad luck.

Hinoki: Also known as “Japanese cypress.” An evergreen tree considered sacred, along with other evergreens such as sakaki and kansugi. Used in the construction of shrine buildings, among many other things.

Hokora: Small auxiliary shrines located either within the precinct of a larger shrine and dedicated to folk kami, or else along roadsides to enshrine kami who are not under the jurisdiction of any larger shrine.

Honden: “Main hall” in the story. The heart of many shrine complexes, this is the building that enshrines the kami. Closed to the general public.

Iwakura: Sacred rock formations upon which kami descend.

Kami: Spirits. May be personified deities, spirits that dwell within nature, or forces of nature themselves.

Kannushi: “Shrine priest” in the story. Responsible for the maintenance of shrines. Also lead the worship of kami.

Kansugi: “Sacred sugi tree” in the story. Also known as “Japanese cedar.” An evergreen tree considered sacred, along with other evergreens such as sakaki and hinoki.

Kariginu: A kind of traditional Japanese garb. It comprises a single width of cloth for the body, which is secured with a waist belt, and a double width for each of the sleeves, which are only partially attached at the back. The sleeves have a length of string run through their edges so that they may be gathered and tied to allow ease of movement.

Magatama: “Talismans” in the story. Curved beads that bring good fortune.

Miko: “Shrine maidens” in the story. Perform ceremonial dances and assist kannushi in ritual and clerical work.

Ofuda: “Prayer slips” in the story. An amulet bearing the name of a kami and usually made of paper or wood. Taken home to be enshrined in household altars.

Omamori: “Amulets” in the story. Pieces of paper or wood that have been inscribed with prayers and then covered in cloth. Carried to provide luck and protection in a specific area of one’s life.

Omikuji: “Fortunes” in the story. After giving a small donation, visitors pick up the lottery drum and shake it until one of the sticks falls out through the hole on the bottom. The attendant gives the visitor the corresponding fortune, ranging from very good to very bad. Tying the fortune to the designated area will both prevent bad fortunes and advance good ones.

Onmyouji: Specialists in magic and divination who are able to summon shikigami.

Shikigami: Summon spirits who serve onmyouji. Though usually invisible, they can take human or animal forms on command.

Shimenawa: “Sacred rope” in the story. Plaited rice straw or hemp rope with specially cut white strips of paper called “shime” hung from it. Placed at the entrances of sacred places to ward off evil spirits, or around trees and other objects to indicate the presence of kami or tree spirits called “kodama.”

Tamagaki: “Vermilion fencing” in the story, though tamagaki come in a variety of colors and materials (vermilion fences are known specifically as “shutamagaki”). One function of tamagaki is to set the honden apart from the rest of the shrine complex.

Tatemae: Behavior and opinions one expresses in public, in accordance with society’s expectations. May differ from “honne,” one’s true feelings and desires.

Temizu: Practice of rinsing the mouth and hands before approaching kami. Water from a purification font is ladled first over the left hand, then the right, and then transferred from the left hand to the mouth. Finally, the left hand is rinsed once more before the ladle is replaced.

Torii: “Shrine gate” in the story. Demarcates the transition from the secular to the sacred. Some torii are painted vermilion and black, while others are left unpainted.

Youkai: Preternatural beings that generally possess some sort of supernatural ability.

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